The rain and wind didn’t let up for a moment during the nights camping on the beach at Corpach Bay, at least a few hours sleep were had and I found comfort in being wrapped up warm and snug protected from outside where the gusts howled in from the sea and nylon took a battering from the relentless downpour. A gloomy dawn brought a little light and with it a growing acceptance that at some point we would both have to emerge from the comfort of our tents into the harsh elements and start walking. To be fair, we had voluntarily come to a remote Hebredean island at the back end of October so couldn’t really complain, we counted ourselves lucky to have had any dry weather at all. We could also reassure ourselves with the fact that we had the comfort of another bothy at Ruintallain tonight where we could find some brief respite from the weather.
Desperate to remain in my resistant stronghold I was slower to pack up than James, he patiently waited for me in a nearby cave whilst I grumbled and rolled up some rather soggy gear and stuffed it into my pack. Leaving Corpach Bay behind, we spent the next hour or so wandering along the cliff tops past Rub a Chaiginn Lionta hunched up and as we marched into weather that was travelling directly against us, hoods were adjusted and pulled tighter as the rain suddenly became very heavy and a little sleety. We didn’t speak much but I expect we were both having very similar thoughts that questioned the sado-masochistic nature of backpacking in all weathers.
We took a little shelter in Fionn Aoineadh where we accidentally stumbled across a tunnel cave that had been adapted into a shelter, it hadn’t been used for some time and was deep in goat poo but there remained some impressive looking structures knocked together out of driftwood and pallet boxes that with a little imagination could be almost homely and inviting. A few mouthfuls of jelly babies toughened our resolve and we departed the sanctuary of the damp goat poo cave and continued further along the coast, whilst it rained and rained and rained. Did I mention the weather yet?
Shian Bay had been built up to be something to savour on the trip, a perfect wild camping spot along the coast with beautiful extended stretches of white sand and short grassy areas perfect for pitching that looked out to Shian Island and rocky outcrops of various sizes. A brief window of dryness allowed us to have a little lunch whilst we perched on the rocks and contemplated the additional weight of the water that had soaked us both through. Mull and Canna both disappeared and appeared under swathes mist and rain on the horizon.
Vast raised beaches decorated the coastline, a hangover from the last ice age and a reminder of the ever-changing sea levels and their impact on the landscape, we mused how this was all once underwater, I found myself thinking if it didn’t stop lashing it down today it could soon revert to its previous state. Countless herds of deer and wild goat populated the cliff tops and beaches, the former galloping majestically into the distance and the latter more clumsily but hastily taking flight from us upon sight.
The rain subsided in the early afternoon, we took the opportunity to stop and rest and removed our extra waterproof layers with gratitude, dry weather is great but you only really appreciate it when you’ve spent a solid 24 hours in heavy rain. As the coastline became increasingly difficult to stick to we elected to walk more inland passing Loch an Aoinidh Dhuibh and Loch a Mhile. Walking on Jura is extremely challenging, the ground is populated by large tussocks with soggy slippy waterlogged ground in between. There are all manner of bogs, large, small and some that appear seemingly innocuous but when probed with a trekking pole turn out to be metres deep. When the deer tracks are absent each step feels unpredictable and slips and trips became commonplace.
A personal highlight of the afternoon was when we chanced upon a large herd of deer and goat at a stretch of beach near Ruintallain. We were quite close before they became startled, perhaps 30 metres or so. As they hurtled away from us at speed one poor stag lost its footing and experienced a You’ve Been Framed moment, the young buck proceeded to tumble head first into a forward roll before landing on its arse and rather ungracefully returning to its feet and dashing up the nearest hill. It was a bit like when you trip up in a very public place and pretend it hasn’t happened and carry on walking.
Although clearly positioned at the mouth of Loch Tarbert, the shelter at Ruintallain is about as inconspicuous as you can get, an isolated bothy on the most isolated coastal section of an isolated island. If you were unaware of its existence it would be very easy to walk the coast line along the higher ground and completely miss it. Half of the shelter is locked and looking through the windows appeared to be a pair of cosy and humble rooms with sofas and basic comfort for shooting parties. The unlocked shelter included some very rusty dusty camp beds, a table and open fireplace. The bothy book described the area as being once bustling and filled with traffic as it served as a busy stop off port between islands. Before removing our increasingly stinky damp clothes an attempt was made to gather some driftwood from a nearby bay, despite a good hunt, pickings were slim though we did have the pleasure of seeing some baby seal pups nestling by some rocks, they were very well camouflaged and we soon realised they were abundant around the loch (see if you can spot one on the second pic down).
I chose to pitch my tent rather than sleep in the bothy, for some reason I never sleep as well in a bothy and prefer a night under canvas if possible with the door unzipped. The mild night began to turn chilly as the clouds that had swamped the skies all day became increasingly dispersed, as the sun began to set a few remaining rain clouds hovered over Islay creating a dramatic stormy picture flavoured with the fiery tones of the setting sun.
After James and I had put the world to rights, I ventured out to my tent, a bright full moon had risen over the loch illuminating the night and casting dark looming shapes from Scrinadle and Beinn Bhreac on the opposite side of the loch. I tried my hand at some more long exposure shots by lighting all of my torches inside my tent, they’re a little blurry but not bad for a first attempt with a shoddy wee camera.
The night was still and cool, I woke occasionally to see that the moon and constellations had arced further along the skyline, it was a beautifully tranquil night, possibly my favourite of the three we spent on Jura. When dawn arrived I leaned out my tent porch and through bleary eyes saw the moon setting amongst wispy clouds in the west and the sun looming over the head of the loch in the east, the golden oranges and yellows bled out above us and almost made the icy cold water look invitingly warm from the reflection.
After stocking up on porridge (me) and super noodles (James) and a few cups of coffee (both) we were out walking by 8:00 as there were many miles to cover. Today was to include a stop off at the newly renovated Cruib Bothy which lay further up the coast of Loch Tarbert before making our way over the tussocky hills and finally back to the car on the eastern side of the island. In the distance the Paps of Jura were hung with mist, we could also make out Glenbatrick lodge of the opposite shore, a Victorian pile that serves as the favoured haunt of many a posh toff who love nature so much they just can’t help but shoot its face off.
The initial few hours were pretty easy going as we picked our way along the coast, we gained a little height and passed more vast raised beaches, as time passed there became a pattern of sharp climbs and even sharper descents to where larger streams cut down into the loch. Boots squelched and squalched onward and occasionally the greater part of a leg would disappear down into a deep boggy puddle before being sucked back out. The loch cuts inward for several miles and virtually separates Jura horizontally into two. After crossing some icy cold rivers we wandered down to the beach to have a break from the spongy ground, the uneven and slippy stony beach was however equally if not more difficult to walk across so we retreated back to the relative comfort of bogland. An intermittent track gave us some solid ground to make more steady progress.
We arrived at Cruib bothy after about three hours walking, it had been done up a treat and James took a few photos to give Pete for the second edition of his new guidebook. The bothy itself had been done up a treat, what great organisation the MBA is, there were two separate rooms with platforms for sleeping, a picnic table outside and to top it all a very extensive library that could keep you going for a good few months. We only stayed a short time as we didn’t want to miss the ferry to Islay but we each left with firm plans to return in the future and use the bothy as a base to explore Jura for a few days.
The final section of the day was also the most hard going, we deviated from the loch and attempted to locate a track that was supposed to clearly lay just below the rocky outcrops of Cruib. After some searching around the said track appeared though it didn’t quite guide us all the way, James’ GPS proved invaluable and on several occasions we realised we had invested some misplaced confidence in our map reading despite regular intensive checks and ended up on the wrong side of Torr an Lochain. A footbridge still exists on the OS map just passed the loch though it was nowhere to be seen in reality, a trepidatious river crossing was required with James going first. He then took great pleasure in filming me crossing like Bambi on ice and assured me he would upload the footage to YouTube and add the theme music from Last of the Summer Wine.
Some hours later, a glassy sea came into view as did the end of our journey on foot as we arrived at a ridge which looked out over the final stretch of the route. I was feeling a bit weary at this stage, the distant winding shape of the road gave enough inspiration to keep on plodding. An expansive boggy flat lay between us and the distant tarmac, from where we stood the ground far below appeared almost dry and covered in golden grass, the few deer that wandered made it look like African plains. As we descended the steep ridge this mirage faded, rather than galloping across the arid plains like gazelles, the reality was two hairy and slightly flustered men with backpacks stumbling and sloshing across a giant bed made out of very soggy shredded wheat.
As we left the bogs, tussocks and hills behind us the initial novelty of walking on tarmac for the first time in four days soon faded and was replaced by the mixture of emotions that comes with the end of any long walk. The euphoria of removing soggy boots and even soggier socks and their subsequent comfortable dry replacements. The ecstasy and anticipation of a long hot shower and a home cooked meal that is neither dehydrated or from a vacuum sealed bag and doesn’t require washing in a freezing cold stream half a mile away and of course the transcendental experience of a flushing indoor toilet. In turn, all these creature comforts are regarded with complacency and lose their appeal and become dull, the desire to disappear and rough it on a hill in all weathers for days on end comes back.
As you can see, we hit the A846 at the height of rush hour……
Following the ferry crossing we returned to the campsite in Islay and freshened up before hitting the town to go clubbing, well we went down the road for a well deserved fish and chips and had a few drinks anyway. The following morning the Calmac express made a choppy crossing and we were back on the mainland where James got us back to Nottingham in under 9 hours (thanks again James).
Jura had truly lived up its reputation as one of the last remaining wildernesses. Even after four days of solid walking along the rugged coastline, you feel like you have seen a mere fraction. The very idea that a place like Jura is only ever a days travel away puts a smile on my face.
The most alarming juxtaposition I’ve ever experienced remains that of going backpacking in barren wilderness for days and not seeing another soul or sign of human life and then going to a service station.