“Mark watch out there is a snake by your foot” – Conquering Jura’s Wild West Coast, July 2017

 

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Day 1

Steely skied and full of rain the Jura morning greeted us as tents were packed up and the bus to Ardlussa was taken. We had surfaced road for about 9 miles to get to the trailhead and this three hours would be the fastest we’d move, by far, for 5 days. The rain was relentless and my jacket, which has seen a few too many hikes now, failed which was annoying more than presenting any danger. What remained of the road got worse and eventually disappeared at the farm at Kinuachdrachd. A sign pointed the way to the Coryvecken Whirpool which was a very faint, boggy, bracken infested smear all the way to the very north of the island. The whirpool is a mass of rotating currents, eddies and other potential nautical disasters in the channel between Jura and the tiny Scarba, but I wasn’t really appreciating it since the way we were meant to go was punctuated rather frustratingly with a cliff.

This marked a pattern for the next five days of rough, pathless walking where you come up against a risky or impassable objective barrier. In this instance we walked along the rough upland before dropping back down to the coast. Here were cliffs, beaches and a sunny sky. We often had to go back above cliffs or scramble over cliffs. The distance from the whirlpool to Glengarrisdale was only six miles, but seemed like fifteen. The bothy was a welcome sight at the end of it.

Day 2

The destination today was Ruantallain bothy right at the edge of the sea loch, Tarbert. The walking was very rough and there was not a path which wasn’t made by a deer or goat. Bracken the best part of two metres tall was a real problem as it takes a long time to get through it and slows you down to a crawl.

Occasionally you were treated to a grassy patch on the side of a raised beach or (not too) rocky shore, but most of the time it was hauling over cliffs, traversing cliffs or climbing towards the interior to avoid an impassable gully. This is also where we kept seeing adders which are slightly more of a problem if they bite you than I thought, but none did. I found them quite cute in a serpentine way. They were coiled up like a miniature constrictor (or viper which is what they are) waiting, I assume, or some mouse to send into oblivion. I then became more concerned about stepping on one and hurting it than anything else.

As we made our way along the coast we saw an endless amount of deer in large groups and as well as wild goats which you’d smell before you see although when you did see them they’d scuttle off to some improbably small ledge on a cliff.

The last three miles were easy along some ATV tracks to the Ruantallain Bothy which is a shooting lodge with one room given over to hikers, kayakers and the like. We got a roaring fire of wood and peat going which was very pleasant.

Day 3.

Oh boy. This day went badly sideways. It was meant to be two hours until the next bothy and then we’d walk to the planning camping spot in Glenpatrick Bay. However, relentless bracken, tussocks, large rocked raised beaches and impassable coastline meant it took about three and a half. Once in the bothy we started questioning what we were doing and thought about heading to the road and finishing early. However, for varying reasons we decided to carry on, but didn’t do any more that day choosing to recuperate in the bothy whilst the heavens poured outside. It’s worth noting we’d had three days tough hiking in Islay before starting this in case you worry I am very soft. I’m just fairly soft.

Day 4.

The first few miles of this day were abominable. We tried to stick to the coast, but the tide was in and we were frequently forced inland to avoid being hemmed in. At a point where we thought we could get along the cliffs with a bit of a paddle we ended up waist deep in Loch Tarbert and had to turn back feeling rather defeated and then climb high to avoid the cliff and down a horrifically bracken infested slope into land which was somewhere between tussocks and a loch. I swore. A lot. Another river crossing and we eventually had crossed the head of the loch and started to make some progress down to the coast.

The day was never straightforward and there was often climbing to do and tussocks to deal with, but it never felt as bad as the morning. The weather was also quite reasonable and we were at our camping spot in Glenbatrick Bay in good time feeling like the back of the walk had been broken.

Day 5.

Very early start to ensure we got ferries off Jura and the connection on Islay to the mainland. Early on we thought we’d heard and seen a beached whale and made our way close to the rocky shoreline, but it turned out to the be noisy seals who were happily playing and fishing in the bay.

The walk was fine other than more tussocks, but only a couple of tough drops to deal with and a jog to make sure we caught the ferry at the end which I made as hard as possible by running the wrong way!

Final Thoughts.

This was easily equal with the Cape Wrath Trail in terms of difficulty. It’s difficult largely for basically having no paths and no paths through difficult to pass terrain. There are not any long climbs, but we were finding we had over a thousand metres of climbing on the full days one two and four. There was also a lot more scrambling than Cape Wrath and finally a total lack of support on Jura which adds a degree of difficulty in of itself. Not a walk for inexperienced through hikers, but one I recommend for those who feel they are up to it.

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