Walking with Stewart Heddon on 3 May 2010

Sandbank to the Camel’s Hump

I am walking with my brother, Stewart. It seems appropriate that this walk with my big brother (a whole three years older than me) begins where the one I did with his kids ended. Rachael, Ryan and I walked from Dunoon to Sandbank. Stew and I set off from his home in Sandbank to walk the Ardnadam Heritage Trail. It will serve as a reminder not to overlook what’s in your backyard.

The start of the Ardnadam Trail is a few hundred metres from Stew’s front door, yet as we arrive there he admits that he’s never actually walked the whole route – a 2-mile trek that leads to the top of the Camel’s Hump (so-called for obvious reasons). The fact that he’s never walked it is his impetus for choosing it, and it’s a good choice. The weather is surprisingly nice for a bank holiday Monday – sunny and warm. Realising that we’re over dressed, we discard our outer coats. Before long, we come across the ancient site that has prompted the creation of this formalised ‘Heritage Trail’. There are the remains of an old round house (apparently). The signage that would instruct us on its history, and the history of the other stones sunk into the ground, has not fared as well as the ancient remains. Empty posts signal where the information boards should be. We’ll have to make up the history of this place ourselves, but we are no archaeologists. (A peek at the ‘Walk Highlands’ website, consulted after the walk, will inform me that: “The only structure visible to the layman are the scant remains of a chapel at just 1,000 years old. The site of an iron-age house, 2,000 years old, and a rectangular 5,000 year old neolithic house are marked out by short posts. There are several information boards giving information on the settlers who once lived here.”)

Next to the ancient sites, a bridge crosses a beautiful clear burn. Burns take me back to childhood, and therefore to some sense of ‘home’. I remember throwing leaves into clear water, seeing how fast they travelled. I remember looking for sticklebacks in the mud. I remember building dams. Though I’ve never walked this route before, it feels deeply nostalgic, a combination perhaps of the landscape (Argyll, woodland, bracken, moss, trodden foot path) and of the season (Spring – time to leave the cooped up house, the winter, to venture outdoors). The Primroses are in full bloom and as I stop to take a picture, I discover that both Stew and I associate Primroses with our mum. I think it’s to do with the short walk we used to make as children in Kilchrennan, from home to the shore of Loch Awe, a walk at this time of year which would be illustrated with Primroses, then Bluebells. Spring is emerging here, but only just. The leaves on the trees are beginning to unfold, each one a breathtaking origami of intricate, symmetrical creases. Amongst the mostly still dried and browned bracken, the odd precocious shoot of green. (Bracken breathes memories of dens and tics.)

We pass through old oakwood, juniper and gorse. It even smells of spring. Eventually, we hit the forestry commission plantation (spruces?), with its very different atmosphere. But forestry plantations hold memories for us too, which serves to give them some personality. Walking down the fire break we remember our dad being on fire watch over weekends in the summer, when we both absorbed the lessons unconsciously delivered: stupid buggers discarding matches in the forest, stupid buggers leaving glass bottles in the forest, stupid buggers throwing cigarette butts in the forest… Stew and I know the forest fire code pretty well.

We begin the ascent to the Camel’s Hump. It’s brisk, we’re breathless, but it’s also short. And below us, the view over Cowal, from the town centre to the end of the Holy Loch, over to Ardentinny and beyond. The depth of vision that attaches to this landscape is always breathtaking. It rolls back, mountain after mountain. Below me, at a more local scale, the new Grammar School’s unfamiliar shapes and surfaces overwrite one part of my visual memory bank. But other things fit fine – the hospital, the curve of the shore line, the playing fields, the ferry. Sitting in the sun (though it’s a bit cooler up here), eating our sandwiches, companionably sharing a Mars Bar (when did I last eat one of those?), we survey the view. It’s a lovely spot. And it’s literally on Stew’s doorstep.

For the route back, we look for the lower path – almost erased by the building of a new forest road (to allow access for felling). Stew is much better than me at reading the land and detects the old bridge, hidden in the greenery. This is a route little used and it feels all the more special for that. Walking behind Stew, as he leads the way, I’m struck by the fact that we very rarely spend time together, just the two of us. I’ve enjoyed this time, this walk.

One Response to “Walking with Stewart Heddon on 3 May 2010”

  1. Rory Says:

    I too have many fond memories from Kilchrenan. Say hi to Stew
    Regards Rory

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