With the weather calling many of us outdoors, this seemed like a good moment for the third in the Argyll and the Isles Secrets Collection.
On the A83, between Lochgilphead and Lochgair is the township of Port Ann, on a lovely bay with the long stony-topped ridge of Glas Eilean, out off the headland.
At the eastern end of the bay where that headland comes ashore, there is a small Car Park on the shore side of the road, and a Forestry Commission path leading to Otter Ferry. The three mile walk is almost circular, or you can simply walk out to Otter Ferry and back, which is probably around a two mile walk.
The views on this walk are better than they have been for some time because much of the forestry has been clearfelled, an added incentive to go exploring here before the replanting takes the light.
The path runs out then turns left, inshore of the forested headland, to cut through to Otter Ferry itself.
This place is part of the history of the way Argyll folk used to get around. Steamers stopped here in the early 20th century and a small passenger ferry operated until the late 1940s – between this Otter Ferry and its twin across the narrows on the east shore of Loch Fyne in Cowal.
Their shared name refers to the Gaelic original, An Oitir, which is a sand or gravel spit. This one projects almost two thirds of the way across the narrows from the east shore, just south of the Oystercatcher Inn on the waterfront at the other Otter Ferry, looking right on to the old stone pier there with its extension into a modern pontoon jetty.
There are two good dive sites in the narrows, one west of the buoy at the western end of the Oitir; and one just off Glas Eilean to its south east. One of the attractions is a magnificent maerl bed – an unusual hard seaweed that looks as if it’s half way to coral and hosts a wide selection of marine life.
Back on land, the walk on the way to the cut through along the edge of the remaining forest passes a wonderful felled tree trunk, weathered to silk, stretched out and reaching to the sun like an animal rolling on its back.
At the old ferry pier, there were three unsuspecting backs, lined up on the bridge deck, content in the sunshine and absorbing the tranquillity – only by the time the camera was ready, one of them had sussed out raiders on the port bow.
The pier itself is in a lovely counter curve to the headland just north of it, together creating the essence of shelter that made this place what it used to be. Its outer retaining stonework remains quite strong and relatively stable but the inner infill is now exposed, tumbled and unslabbed. Walking – clambering – out to the end is irresistible; but take care. Just because some of the rocks are big doesn’t mean they don’t move.
As we walked back, we heard buzzards keening above but the sun was too bright to see them. This developed into some sort of a screaming match which was either prey being taken or a stand off between combative species. A pair of white tailed ses eagles is now being regularly seen over the waters of Loch Fyne in this area – but those guys – whose 8 foot wingspan earns them the name of ‘flying barn doors’ – are such a size, we’d have expected at least to have seen a shadow between us and the sun. But who knows?
You can sit for ages at the old Otter Ferry pier here, taking in a different world where short water passages and a lot of walking were the order of the day.
David Fiddes, from Letters at Strachur, once told us that his mother, who lived in Glendaruel in Cowal when she was young, would walk across the hill from the glen to Otter Ferry and take the boat over to this Otter Ferry. Then she’d walk into Lochgilphead – over five miles away – see some friends, ‘get the messages’ and walk back, carrying them, to take the boat home across the loch and then walk on over to Glendaruel.
We really have no idea – but walking to Otter Ferry and just being there starts to conjure it. You can hear the slap of the water on the hull, the scrape of the rubbing strake against the stone pier and almost catch the laughing and the calling of the travellers as they leave, chatting as they go and returning. This will have been a communal occasion.
Even alone, it still is.
Here are links to the previous two articles in the Argyll and the Isles Secrets Collection: