Tuesday, November 15, 2005

West Coast Interlude

River Strontian, Strontian, Argyll.
(click image for larger version)

Two weeks ago we packed up our wagon, harnessed up the oxen and headed west for a week. The journey was musical with two Siamese cats in performance the whole way. Our destination was Strontian on the Ardnamurchan peninsular. The five hour drive was momentous enough in itself, particularly the journey through Glencoe. Ben Ettive was shrouded in clouds as we drove through the dark and eerie Glen Coe. Other mountains were topped in deep mist as the water almost fell out of the sky, but the clouds on Ben Ettive were of a totally different order. Heavy black and spiraling down the sides of the mountain like evil black ribbons, they were incredibly spooky and threatening. We just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Some people find GlenCoe wild and beautiful; we found it haunting and deeply depressing.

The the route to the Ardnamurchan peninsular has a short cut over the Corran ferry. The one hundred yard crossing saves a thirty mile detour via Fort William. We arrived just as she was loading to sail and the journey was fun. Coming back in an approaching storm three days later the swell was four feet high and the water raced through the tidal narrows. You had to admire the skill of the captain as he manoevered the fully laden ferry up onto the concrete jetty in the waves.

Loch Sunart at low tide, Strontian, Argyll.

(click image for larger version)

We had booked a short break in a log cabin in Strontian and initially it lived upto expectations. What had us puzzled is that we had told the owner that we had come to look at one of the cabins he had for sale. In the absence of other holiday makers it seemed strange that we were booked into a cabin that was not on the sale list. It was cozy and warm, if a little small, immaculately clean and with everything to make our stay comfortable. That lasted until bedtime when we both realised the mattresses were so old as to give no support to our backs at all and sleeping was going to be a painful affair. Chris took a spare mattress from the third room and doubled it up with his. I tried to get away with using the extra duvet for padding. Chris was right and I was wrong. He did at least get some sleep. I spent the night between the living room sofa and my bed of nails, and in the morning neither of us was walking too well.

The next day we headed for Fort William and the council planning department there. Our alternative motive for looking in Strontian was an advert for three quite reasonably priced building plots. That was the first illusion to disappear – Planning knew nothing about them and could not find them on any map. The developer it seems was flying a kite. It was such a disappointment for Strontian was a truly beautiful place and the people were so friendly and kind. But more disappointment was waiting for us back at the holiday lodges. A quick walk around the lodge for sale showed us it was rotten and that it needed substantially if not wholly rebuilding. It had already been patched many times but now the crossover end timbers had rotted through and had been boxed in to conceal the damage.

It rarely stopped raining and it quickly became apparent that the life expectancy of any timber building in that climate was severely limited. Meanwhile the pain of trying to sleep was telling on us both and since Chris had a permanent unexplained headache things got rather gloomy. So we decided to take a trip around Loch Sunnart to Lochaline to look up some old friends. We hadn't gone more than a mile when Chris stopped to take some photos of the stunning waterfall that cascades down the mountain into Loch Sunnart. In the dead silence at night the noise of the waterfall can be heard for miles.

Sunart Waterfall
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Looking back across to our cabin, Chris spotted two mobile masts just behind the cabins, but hidden from view by the trees. Instantly we knew where his headaches were coming from and that they would be there for as long as we stayed, for Chris is very electrically sensitive indeed and those damned masts make him ill.

"Sense of Scale", Molvern, Argyll.
(click for larger version)

The journey to Lochaline and the ferry to Mull was over stunning landscapes. We stopped for lunch at a great restaurant and Chris took photographs (see above) that take your breath away.

Lochaline to Mull Ferry
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But next morning after another excruciating night harsh reality really hit us. Wooden homes were not for the wild west, building land didn't exist, the combination of the dreadful mattresses and the proximity of the phone masts made stopping any longer pointless. The winds were rising, a storm was clearly on its way and we would be housebound for several days. So we packed up, put the cats back in their traveling boxes and headed home on the Saturday morning only half a week into our stay.

Rainbow, Loch Linnhe
(taken when awaiting the Corran Ferry on the way back)

(click image for larger version)

They say the most valuable experience is often the most painful. This was in more than the obvious sense. Much as the beauty of the west is mesmerizing, it is not a suitable place to invest in timber housing. Nor is it a place for the electrically sensitive. The masts may not be so numerous as they are elsewhere, but each has double or more strength signal to cover the longer distances. The pain of living close to them then brings with it increased risk of being made more seriously ill by the microwave radiation.

We need to get back into the housing market as soon as possible – how is going to be the difficult bit.