Kilberry to Dalavich
“****ing HOT day! Loch Awe road is a BEAST with too many hills that just go on and on forever. Saw a lizard & slow worm on the road. Got water and directions to this site from lad in shop. Haven’t eaten enough but not hungry – am drinking enough though. Washed in loch. Made fire to keep midgies away”
This was a testing day. Character-building, as they say. Not a cloud in the sky and the sun beat down on my back relentlessly as I pedalled north. The road over to to Lochgilphead from Kilberry was longer than I had remembered when I first cycled it at 15 years old with a friend.
A nice flat stretch along the Crinan canal brought back memories of a couple of family holidays staying in a lock keeper’s cottage – and then the wide expanse of the flat lands just north of the canal were just as much fun to cycle as they had been all those years ago. I didn’t get to Dunadd sadly (the Iron Age fort defending the old kingdom of Dalriada) as I took a wrong turn and didn’t notice for about 4 miles; by which time I couldn’t face making up the miles again. I was still determined to keep heading North.
Along the western edge of Loch Awe there is a quiet road which has been marked as part of the National Cycle Network’s route 78 – “The Caledonia Way” which links Campbeltown to Inverness over 237 miles. I think the toughest 18 of those miles must be alongside Loch Awe! The undulating road combined with heat saw me getting off and pushing far more often than I’d like. Due to lots of felling by the Forestry Commission, there was scant shade for respite – and the shade I did manage to seek naturally harboured ravenous midgies, so stopping for longer than about 2 mins was out of the question.
Puncture on the hottest day
Just before arriving at Dalavich, Bessie got a puncture from a piece of tiny sharp metal in the road. Being so hot and tired, it took me almost an hour to fix it (it’s such a faff when you have to take all the luggage off the bike first!). Anyway – I reached the only shop for miles at Dalavich at 5pm – they shut at 5pm! Thankfully the boy in the shop stayed open for me as I begged some water and asked where I could camp locally. “There’s nowhere to camp round here, but there is an unofficial camp spot down by the loch about a mile back the way…” I was given detailed directions to look for a certain bin by the road. Being so hot and exhausted, I had run out of options, so this was it.
Thankfully, after breaking off road and crashing through bracken which was taller than I was, I got to the water’s edge and a small flat piece of woodland which had obviously been used for campfires in the past, although not for some time, judging by the undergrowth. I trampled down an area for my tent and got to work setting up camp. Had a quick and refreshing wash in the loch (both myself and my clothes) and dried my clothes in the sun.
Secret Camping Spot, Loch Awe
Cooked some rather disgusting instant noodles on the beach and made a very small fire to keep the midgies at bay (though again, I was too tired to go gathering much firewood).
To tell the truth – even though the setting was idyllic and I was in much need of a rest, the place unsettled me. Something very sombre and gloomy haunted the air, inspite of the glorious summer’s evening. It was a feeling that stopped me wandering far to explore and stopped me from wading in too deep in the loch.
Midge net at the ready – cooking tea by Loch Awe
Around 3am I awoke groggy… there was a strange sensation on the crown of my head – I’d never felt anything quite like it. I put my hand to my head and felt nothing but the mesh of the tent inner. Turning to look behind me, I saw a dark shadow – about the size of a saucer – a weighty clump of *something* attached to the mesh where my head had been. I grabbed my phone and lit it up – and immediately wished I hadn’t. The clump in question was a ball of around 20 slugs; all entangled and entwined in a slimy, slithering, sticky mess. They must have been attracted to my body heat – as as my head was touching the inner, that was where they had gathered. Allowing my eyes to wander further in the tent I saw around 20 more slugs all sliming their way up the nylon. I, in turn, formed the smallest ball I could in my sleeping bag, shut my eyes and managed to fall asleep to escape the encroaching slugs. I was bloody pleased I was zipped up tight in the inner tent!
Ben Cruachan in distance – Loch Awe evening