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Margadale Circular, Islay

By Becky Williamson

The forecast was looking good for Monday 6th February so, with renewed vigour after a lethargic start to 2012, I poured over the Explorer OS map for North Islay and looked for green squares and figured out how to make a circular walk out of them. Delighted at the prospect of a good long walk in the rarely seen sunshine, I drove northwards, basking in the sun's warmth - until I reached Ballygrant, where suddenly the earth was plunged into a cloudy abyss. "Could this possibly be the same island?" I queried as I pulled over and questioned whether I should head south to sunnier climes. There's lots of green squares, I reasoned. But I would have lost time and maybe the sun would burn through the cloud and I'd kind of made a new year's resolution to stick with plan A wherever possible. So I turned off to Bunnahabhain, keeping one eye on the cloud and one eye on the winding single track road.

I don't like walking in cloudy weather. Optimal weather for me is sunshine with cumulus humilis or cirrus cloud waltzing across an azure sky. With much less gusto than earlier in the morning, I donned my essential wellies (Islay has had more rainfall this winter than any year I can remember) and accessories. I've always admired folk who set off for long walks with nothing other than a tiny platypus pack on their backs. For me going a walk, any walk, means binoculars, camera (at least one), lunch (lots of it), waterfproofs and extra layer in rucksack, map round neck and GPS. Inevitably this leads to feeling quite strangled and, whilst I enjoy the company of others on walks, I often feel I'm holding them up whilst I untwine whichever accoutrement I need next, so in many ways I'm better walking on my own.

I set off on the very familiar track and headed west towards the conifer plantation. As I did so, the cloud began to lift and before long I was walking in glorious sunshine. My gusto returned and I felt more alive than I've done in months. Just before reaching the plantation, the track forks and it was here that I entered new territory, taking the right-hand fork towards the reservoir. I expected the path to end here, but there are a myriad of quad bike tracks leading off into the hills, as well as plenty of deer tracks. I followed a quad bike track across a small wooden footbridge over the Margadale River NR4073 : Footbridge over the Margadale River by Becky Williamson. Looking eastwards I could see the Paps of Jura, lingering under an attractive swirl of cloud. NR4073 : Margadale River, Islay by Becky Williamson I couldn't find the shielings that were marked on the map, but I took a detour from the track to get closer to the Margadale River. NR4074 : Margadale River, Islay by Becky Williamson NR4074 : Small waterfall in Margadale River, Islay by Becky Williamson I stopped here to take photos, revelling in the beauty of the gushing river.

Back on the track I continued walking towards the ruin of Margadale across boggy moorland. NR3974 : The track towards Margadale, Islay by Becky Williamson. Before long I saw the ruin and headed towards it. NR3974 : Margadale, Islay by Becky Williamson I stayed here for a long time. Margadale is situated in lush green pasture, surrounded by hills, with an uninterrupted view of the Paps of Jura. NR3974 : Margadale, Islay by Becky Williamson It is one of the most tranquil and beautiful spots I have ever visited - of course the windless day contributed to this sense of tranquility. NR3974 : Margadale, north-west of Bunnahabhain, Islay by Becky Williamson

My route now took me northwards, following the Margadale River until I strode off up Margadale Hill NR3975 : Margadale Hill, Islay by Becky Williamson, passing shake holes on the way. The shapely form of Giur-bheinn soon entered my realm of vision, its northern bulk looking more formidable than its gentle eastern flanks. NR3974 : Moorland on southern slopes of Margadale Hill, Islay by Becky Williamson I was surprised not to see any Golden Eagles today, maybe the lack of wind accounted for that. I did see lots of Red Deer, however. Invariably they stopped in their tracks upon my approach, paused for a couple of seconds eyeing me up and then turned and fled. NR3975 : Red Deer on Margadale Hill, Islay by Becky Williamson

On the 283 m summit of this northern hill, there was not a breath of wind. Apparently today Islay was the warmest place in Europe. While the rest of Britain shivered under layers of clothing, I was on top of a hill with only one layer of clothing on. I was so elated I couldn't stand still. I had forgotten how good it was to be on top of a hill in good weather with a 360 degree panorama of mountain, moorland, Red Deer, lochs, lochans, islands and sea. I wondered why I had this goodie bag all to myself. What splendour and what joy! NR3975 : From the summit of Margadale Hill, Islay by Becky Williamson

I decided to head down to Loch Mhurchaidh for my lunch, not because, unusually it was too cold on the summit, but because I was just bursting with excitement - like a child with her Christmas presents - tearing the wrappers off each present without pausing inbetween. The ground was boggy and I was glad of my wellies, but I had my stick to test the depth of bog (forgot to mention that in my list of accoutrements!). I found the slippiness of the water-logged ground more of a problem, but managed not to actually fall, despite several near misses!

Loch Mhurchaidh nestles between Margadale Hill and Sgarbh Breac NR4076 : Sgarbh Breac and Loch Mhurchaidh, Islay by Becky Williamson. Today it sparkled in the sunshine NR3975 : Loch Mhurchaidh, Islay by Becky Williamson, unruffled by any breeze. I paused here for lunch and then headed eastwards, following quad bike tracks to Allt Bhachlaig NR4075 : Allt Bhachlaig, north of Bunnahabhain, Islay by Becky Williamson. This is a beautiful burn, twisting and turning towards the coast, often tumbling downhill in miniature waterfalls NR4175 : Allt Bhachlaig, north of Bunnahabhain, Islay by Becky Williamson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a berry-bearing Holly bush adorning its banks. NR4175 : Holly Tree on Allt Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson Another surprise lay in store for me. I reached the telegraph poles which mark the coastal path to Rubh' a' Mhail and was awestruck by the clarity and majesty of the vista before me. NR4174 : Rubha Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson I had not intended going down to the coast, but the sun and sea beckoned me and I decided to bag another square by heading down to the beach at Rubha Bhachlaig where, through my binoculars I could make out an otter scrambling on the rocks - too far away for a photo unfortunately. Grey Heron, Red-throated Diver, Oystercatcher and Grey Seals were also sharing this beautiful bay.

Getting down to the shore is quite tricky here, but worth it for the surprise in store; for the diminutive Allt Bhachlaig suddenly tumbles over the cliff in a spectacular waterfall. NR4174 : Waterfall at mouth of Allt Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson I was happy to snap away here before, clutching my GPS, I strode off to get the next square where Rubha Bhachlaig juts out into the Sound of Islay. NR4274 : Rubha Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson Walking back I noticed a natural arch not marked on the map. NR4274 : Natural Arch, Rubha Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson.

I made my way back up the cliff and rejoined familiar territory as I walked back to Bunnahabhain. NR4274 : Rubha Bhachlaig, Islay by Becky Williamson The day had been full of surprises from the moment I left the car in ominous cloud to the moment I returned to a car which, basking in sunshine all day recorded a temperature of 18 degrees! (It swiftly fell to a still respectable 9 degrees once out of the sun). This was by far my best day out in the hills for a long, long time.

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Marker only shows grid square

Wed, 8 Feb 2012 at 10:20
Grid Square
geotagged! NR3974

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