Forces of Nature

I think I’ve written a number of posts about the beautiful riding around mid-Argyll without really doing justice to the stunning detour-de-force that is Kilmichael Glen.

The Glen (pronounced ‘Kilmikkel’) starts from the village of Bridgend just off the A816. The township quickly thins out into a single track surrounded in all directions by natural spectacle. Squadrons of piglets can be summoned from their hiding places in clods of long grass to sniff and grunt at the gate to their field in search of biscuits, fruit, or whatever you’ve got on you; finches and pied wagtails like to dart in and out of your path, playing a game of catch that they’ll never lose; a solitary robin takes a wide-legged stance on a fence post, fiercely defending it’s territory. You’ll rarely encounter a vehicle on the 7.5 mile stretch of glen road and the reason for this is what makes the route fun and sometimes a wee bit scary; a gauntlet of three farm gates, each situated at a severe change in gradient requiring precision gear selection along the potholed tracks, and in front of each the very real possibility of a bovine blocker. Like Gladiators from the 90’s Saturday night TV sensation, except without even those skimpy Spandex bikini bottoms to conceal their heft, they tend to congregate around the gates. With the unpredictability of Wolf (he was the slightly older one) you never know whether they will stay, spook or charge. And if there’s calves afoot then you may as well plead to referee John Anderson to skip this one out. One of those giant cotton earbud weapon things* won’t help you here.

Luckily the cows were preoccupied forecasting the heavy rain that was already falling and were lying down out of the way. It definitely felt like the seasons were changing, with the ambient temperature cooler than we’ve been getting used to, and eruptions of ripening blackberries appearing along brambles amply lining the lanes. The slate-coloured skies and breath-stealing storm winds gave this Gaelic wildscape the feel of Henri Rousseau’s ‘Tiger in a Tropical Storm’. We sheltered under a great oak during an almighty tantrum of rain and watched a group of swallows flit and dodge, nimble like fighter jets, swooping around a feeding ground created by a flooded plain.

From the glen we took the main road north towards Kintraw where the views open up to the right and ahead: an army of tightly packed pines with perfect posture create an unlikely backdrop to the delicate chaos of the Argyll jungle, where leaves the size of bowling balls jostle amidst tiny, delicate flowers designed with mind-boggling detail. The fast-flowing river had burst its’ banks and devoured the greenery surrounding it. The estuary was flooded, some roads were submerged. I’m no climate change denier, but days like these in Scotland make it hard to believe that the world is short of water.

We descended into Ardfern, metropolis of white spires in the harbour but entirely quaint in all other respects. A quick stop at a pop-up café in a village hall before rolling with views out over tranquil bays that smell of seaweed drying out and along lanes lined with ferns that smell like crumbled crayons. Arriving at the end of the road in Aird, one of several peninsulas in Argyll that feels like you’re stood on The Edge Of The World: an apocalyptic harbour which surrendered itself to the sea (after years of being the alleged alighting point for cows that were swum over from a neighbouring nameless island pasture); a stone bothy with roof ripped away but fire grate still intact. The foam and roar of the Corryvreckan whirlpool distant but omnipresent.

I couldn’t complete today’s travelogue without mention of the family of robins that stalks the picnic tables of Kilmartin Museum. One a glossy, preened parent but the other – and bolder of the two – a tufty, unkempt juvenile. A hop, a chirp, a look to the sky and a stretch of the neck and a ‘feed me’ expression, and more ostentatious hopping until we threw it a scrap of our seaweed crisps. It scoffed at our offering – we heard it preferred scones – and with furious chirping and a poop on the table for good measure, off it bounced to the next unsuspecting diner.

*post script: apparently it’s called a pugil stick.

Miles by 🚴‍♀️: 45

31 August, 2019

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