Friday, 28 December 2012

STAFFA

In 1829 a 20-year-old composer set out on a boat trip around Mull, calling at Iona and Staffa, which is characterised by its basalt columns. By all accounts he did not pick the best day for the trip: the weather was wild and people were throwing up all over the place. However, the composer was sufficiently impressed at the sight of Staffa, and in particular Fingal's Cave, that he was inspired to write a piece of music which was to become an all-time favourite. The composer was Mendelssohn, and the musical work was the Hebrides Overture.

It is perhaps not surprising that the cave provided musical inspiration, since the basalt columns that make up its sides resemble a grand church organ. The cave is a unique phenomenon: nowhere else does a sea cave exist that is formed completely from hexagonally jointed basalt. A visit to the cave is enhanced by the fact that a naturally formed walkway allows visitors to venture some distance into the cave. All of which is accompanied by the resounding swell of the sea. The name Fingal is thought to date back to an Irish general who led an incursion into Scotland prior to the Norse raids. In fact, it was the Vikings who gave rise to the name Staffa, which derives from the Old Norse for "stave" or "pillar island". The pillars reminded them of their homes built of vertical logs. There are a number of other caves around the island, such as Goat Cave and Clamshell Cave. Such is the renown of Staffa that there are numerous boat trips on offer during the summer months from Mull, Iona and the mainland.


Map
of the area.


© 2005 Josi, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

SALEN

In my piece on Ulva, we met the "Father of Australia" Major-General Lachlan MacQuarie, who was born on the island. MacQuarie rears his head again here at Salen, as it was he who established the village at the start of the 19th century, considering the location ideal, being the closest point on the Sound of Mull to his estates. MacQuarie is buried in the MacQuarie Mausoleum two miles from Salen at Gruline. The original community here which predated Macquarie's village was visited by St Columba, who preached here, although he was allegedly disappointed by the turnout. Salen used to be a stopover point on the ferry service from Mull, but Craignure took over as the main ferry port on the island as bigger vessels came into service, rendering the pier at Salen redundant. The pier was in a state of disrepair for a number of years, but has now been restored. There is still a crossing nearby at Fishnish, linking the island to Lochaline on the mainland. Salen does retain one transport link out of the island in the form of the airstrip adjacent to the Glenforsa Hotel. The airstrip, one of the most picturesque in the country, does not have any scheduled services, but acts as an air ambulance evacuation facility. Two miles north of the village lie the ruins of Aros Castle, one of a series of castles built to defend the Sound of Mull in the 1200s. The castle was last occupied in 1608.

Map of the area.


© 2008 Vangobanshee, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 23 December 2012

CRAIGNURE

In my previous post, I talked about Duart Castle. If you catch the ferry from Oban to Craignure you will get a wonderful view of the castle as you approch Mull. Craignure is the main ferry port on Mull, and the 40-minute crossing from Oban runs every 2 hours. The town itself is a picturesque blend of houses, shops, a tea room and an inn. About a mile to the south is the Victorian mansion Torosay Castle and its gardens, which used to be open to the public, who could travel from Craignure by narrow gauge railway. However, earlier this year it was reported that the castle had been sold to a mystery Swiss buyer, not without some relief for the seller, given the repairs needed which would have totalled over £1 million. As a result, the castle is currently no longer open to the public, and sadly the railway has also closed down. In July 2008 an extraordinary find was made in a sideboard in the castle: the oldest bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, dating from 1893, which is now on display at the Veuve Clicquot Visitor Centre in Reims. One would have thought that the find, which was described as "priceless" would have been enough to fund the repairs!

Live webcam.

Map of the area.


© 2008 RichTea, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 21 December 2012

DUART CASTLE

What do Duart Castle and Sean Connery have in common? Well, for a start the castle was the ancestral home of the MacLean Clan, and Sean Connery has MacLean ancestry on his mother's side. Added to which, appropriately, the castle was used in the film Entrapment, starring Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Another film featuring the castle was When Eight Bells Toll, starring Anthony Hopkins. It is not surprising that the film-makers were attracted to the castle, which makes a magnificent sight on a mound overlooking the Sound of Mull. The castle dates from the 14th century, when the 5th Chief of the MacLeans, Lachlan Lubanach, married the daughter of the Lord of the Isles Mary MacDonald, and she was presented with Duart Castle as her dowry. During the 17th century, the castle was subjected to repeated clashes between the MacLeans and the Campbells, until in 1691 the castle was surrendered to Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll. The Campbells then set about demolishing the castle, and it remained as a ruin until the 27th Chief of the Clan MacLean, Sir Fitzroy Donald MacLean, bought it in 1911 and a painstaking restoration was begun. The resulting born-again castle is now open to visitors, who can also enjoy the Millennium Wood, a collection of trees and shrubs indigenous to this part of Scotland which was introduced by the present Clan Chief Sir Lachlan MacLean.

Map of the area.


© 2010 Philippe Giabbanelli, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

LOCHBUIE

Lochbuie is a tiny community named after the sea loch that adjoins the eastern end of the Ross of Mull. So tiny, in fact, that during the 2005 general election the local populace had their polling station installed in a caravan. However, for a place of its size it has plenty of interest. The most prominent buildings are Lochbuie House and Moy Castle. Lochbuie House was built in 1752, and took over from Moy Castle as the seat of the chiefs of the Maclaine clan, the dominant clan around these parts. Within the grounds of the house is a group of standing stones dating from the Bronze Age. Moy Castle is a castle in need: according to its website the castle urgently needs a new front door, as part of ongoing work to stabilise the structure. All donations gratefully received. The castle played a starring role in the 1945 film I Know Where I'm Going, which tells the story of an upwardly mobile middle-class woman (played by Wendy Hiller) who falls in love on Mull. Like all good castles, Moy Castle has its resident ghost: a headless horseman who rides around the castle at great speed, said to be a son of the Chief of the MacLaines who was decapitated during a battle with his father. St Kilda's Episcopal Church lies on the shore of the loch, and was built in 1876 by MacLaine of Lochbuie. The most interesting feature of the church is a yellow sandstone Celtic cross built into the south wall of the porch. The cross was discovered when the foundations of the church were being excavated, but its origins are unclear, since there is no history of a chapel or burial place on the site.

Map of the area.


© 1999 Dave Fergusson, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 17 December 2012

IONA

St Columba's name has cropped up several times already in this blog, but nowhere is the saint's legacy more enduring than on the tiny island of Iona, just off the tip of the Ross Of Mull. St Columba crossed to Iona from Ireland in 563 with twelve companions and founded a monastery there, from whence missionaries went forth to the mainland to spread Christianity. Columba's monastery had a turbulent past, destroyed on several occasions by Norse invaders, then around 1200 Reginald MacDonald of Islay stepped in to turn Iona into a major centre of Christianity, replacing the Columban monastery with a swanky new Benedictine one. He also built an Augustinian Nunnery on the island, which retains its chancel, nave and parts of the Chapel roof. There are also nuns' graves still on view, including that of the last prioress, Anna, who died in 1543. To the west of the Nunnery is the Street Of The Dead, which leads from the Martyrs' Bay to the cemetery known as Reilig Oran, referred to as the "Westminster of Scotland" for the numer of kings buried there. The former Labour Party leader John Smith, who loved Iona, is also buried here. The cemetery adjoins St Oran's Chapel, which has a simple but beautiful Norman doorway. The Abbey Church on Iona became a cathedral in 1506, when Iona became the chief seat of the Bishop of the Isles. The Church of Scotland partly restored the church in the early 1900s. Behind the Cathedral is Dun-I, the highest point on the island, from which the view takes in more than thirty islands.

Faced with all this ecclesiastical grandeur, one should not forget the natural beauties of the island. These include the intriguingly named The Bay at ahe Back of the Ocean, from where there are views to the Spouting Cave, which as its name suggests produces a substantial fountain of sea spray when the conditions are right. Other beauty spots include Port Ban with its lovely white sands, Port na Curaich, or Harbour Of The Coracle, the landing-place of St Columba, and the remains of the Iona Marble Quarry, which ended production at the end of World War I. Iona is reached from Mull by a short ferry crossing from Fionnphort.

Map of the area.


© 2008 RichTea, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 16 December 2012

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: MY FAVOURITE SEASIDE PUBS

Going to the pub is one of the pleasures of a visit to the British seaside, and at Christmas the pub comes into its own. Whether you have been for a bracing walk along the seafront with a fierce souwesterly hurling seaspray across your path, or whether you have spent a pleasant interlude pottering around a harbourside, dodging the waves crashing over the harbour wall, there is only one place to head for to warm up: a cosy pub with a roaring fire, the heady aroma of hearty pub food and mulled wine, a clutch of local characters of varying degrees of eccentricity putting the world to rights and a jolly array of Christmas decorations and lights. The following is a list of my personal favourites, but it is by no means exhaustive. I would be delighted to hear about other people's beloved seaside pubs, so feel free to add yours to the list via the comments.

Penzance, Cornwall: The Turks Head

I had to start with my home town, and of all the pubs there it had to be the Turks Head. The oldest pub in Penzance, and situated in its most historic street, the pub is entered via a small door in its white facade, and is on two levels, with the bar on the ground floor and extra tables for eating downstairs. The good pub fare on offer includes a range of excellent fish and seafood options. The pub dates from the 13th century and has seen its fair share of action over the years, including part of the building being burnt down during the Spanish invasion of the 16th century, and the activities of smugglers making use of the tunnel leading from the pub directly to the harbour.

Polperro, Cornwall: The Blue Peter

Wandering through the impossibly picturesque streets of this Cornish fishing town you pass a series of increasingly inviting restaurants, cafes and pubs. Then, just when you think you've seen them all you come to the Blue Peter, right at the bottom corner of the village, overlooking the harbour. As well as a range of ales, ciders and wines, including mulled wine at Christmas, the pub offers meals and frequent live music, which has always been excellent when we have been there. Be careful on the way out: the only exit from the pub is not through the door at the front, but via a substantial flight of stone steps to the side. I shudder to think of the accidents that must have taken place on those steps.


Dartmouth, Devon: The Cherub

The Cherub is equally appealing outside and in, with its quaint black-and-white exterior and rickety interior with a roaring fire in winter. The building, the oldest in Dartmouth, dates from the 14th century and is thought to have been a Merchant's House originally. Upstairs, the restaurant does a nice line in fine dining, while lighter bar snacks are also available.

Seatown, Dorset: The Anchor Inn

Whether you've spent the morning huffing and puffing up and down the roller coaster clifftop paths on this part of the Dorset coast, or whether you've been wandering along the palaeontologist's dream of a beach, head down, fossicking for fossils, relief is close at hand in the form of the Anchor Inn, marvellously situated overlooking the beach, near the cliff's edge. In summer there are outside tables to enjoy the view from, but in winter it's all about wood-burning stoves and good value, warming pub food.

Lymington, Hampshire: The Kings Head

We stayed in Lymington a couple of years ago in the month of October, a time of year when I start to yearn for hearty, warming comfort food, ideally served in cosy candlelit surroundings with a lively, convivial atmosphere, and the Kings Head delivered on all counts. Occupying the top end of a quaint little street leading down to the harbour and marina, this pub also satisfied on the drinks front, serving my husband's favourite ale (London Pride) and my favourite cider (Aspalls).

Whitstable, Kent: The Old Neptune

I have to be honest. The beach at Whitstable is not going to win any beauty contests, but the sunsets just might. And the best place to view one of them is on a bench outside the Old Neptune or Neppy to its regulars, which occupies a prime position right on the beach. In fact, given its precarious location it is a miracle that there is still a pub there. The original building is long since gone, washed away by a storm in 1897, the second time that century that it had taken a lashing. However, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the pub was rebuilt, although it still retains a somewhat fragile appearance. The interior of the pub has a pleasingly lived-in look, and attracts an eclectic clientele. The walls are covered with an array of interesting artwork and photographs of celebrities such as Iggy Pop. Continuing the celebrity theme, scenes from the film Venus starring Peter O'Toole were shot in the Old Neptune bar. Live music is a regular feature at weekends, which always makes for a good atmosphere.


(Sorry, bit of a crap picture!)

Aldeburgh, Suffolk: Ye Olde Cross Keys

In a town full of quaint buildings, Ye Olde Cross Keys is one of the quaintest. Set slightly back from the seafront, the pub is perfectly placed to be dived into after a bracing walk along Aldeburgh's beach. Cosy and inviting inside, with a roaring log fire, the pub serves locally caught seafood washed down with Adnams ale. One evening during our stay in Aldeburgh we found ourselves sharing the bar with a large group of young musicians, not surprising in this town, which is famous for its musical connections, most notably its association with Benjamin Britten.

Whitby, North Yorkshire: The Duke of York

Ideally situated as a bolt hole after descending the steps from Whitby Abbey, the Duke of York has a history stretching back 1,000 years to the days when the monks landed their produce from the sea at this spot before taking it up to the monastery. You can satisfy the inevitable hunger and thirst produced from walking up and down all those steps courtesy of the pub's decent standard pub fare and local ales, while enjoying fabulous views of the harbour.

Seahouses, Northumberland: The Olde Ship Inn

I fell in love with the Olde Ship during two self-catering weeks in Seahouses, especially the main bar, which is stuffed full of nautical photographs and artefacts. Unfortunately, the pub's popularity proved to be its downfall on weekend nights, when the main bar could get uncomfortably crowded. During the summer, relief is at hand in the form of a small garden out the back. I have not experienced the pub during the winter, but I'm sure it would be the perfect place to head for after pottering around the harbour or going for a long walk along the fabulous beach between Seahouses and Bamburgh. The Olde Ship also offers accommodation and serves meals in a separate restaurant area.

Inverary, Argyll and Bute: The George Hotel

The George Hotel is a historic coaching inn. We were so taken with it on a visit to Scotland a few years ago that we drove all the way over from Loch Awe to have an evening meal there, something my husband does not do lightly. As the pub's website suggests, it owes its existence to the architects Adam and Milne, who were responsible for Scotland's first planned town.

Caernarvon, Gwynedd: The Black Boy

Although just a minute's walk from Caernarvon's famous castle, the Black Boy is tucked away in a narrow side street, so it may take some unearthing. However, it is worth the effort, as the main bar provides a welcome respite from Caernarvon's lively weekend atmosphere, and the restaurant is a popular feeding post for those in search of decent British pub food.

Porthgain, Pembrokeshire: The Sloop Inn

I have only visited the Sloop during the springtime, but I can well imagine diving into it after an invigorating winter walk on the Pembrokeshire coast path, which passes through here. Porthgain has an interesting past as a quarry port, offloading slate from the surrounding areas. The interior of the Sloop has bags of character, and the food is pretty good too.

Lynmouth, Devon: The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun ticks all the boxes for a traditional harbourside inn, although it is also an upmarket hotel, occupying a whole row of cottages in this prime location by the side of Lynmouth harbour. We once spent a lovely New Years Eve at the Rising Sun, culminating in a 60s singalong to the live musician in the main bar. Every time I hear You've Lost That Loving Feeling by the Righteous Brothers it reminds me of that night!


St Ives, Cornwall: The Sloop Inn

The Sloop Inn in St Ives occupies a superb harbourfront location, nestling among the bars, restaurants, gift shops and amusement arcades. At Christmas it is ablaze with lights and decorations, and there is a range of delicious seafood specials on offer as well as mulled cider, a welcome change from the usual mulled wine.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

THE ROSS OF MULL

The Ross of Mull is a large peninsula extending south west from the centre of the island - the word Ross comes from the gaelic 'ros' meaning peninsula. The eastern end of the peninsula is characterised on the map by its tightly packed contours, while the western end is a mix of lochs, inlets and small islands, one of which, Erraid, featured in Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, whose main character David Balfour was marooned for a while on the island. The peninsula has a rich variety of wildlife, from otters to adders, corncrakes to red deer and mountain hare. There are wildlife tours by minibus available for visitors to the peninsula who want to have the best chance of spotting its creatures. The peninsula also holds plenty of interest for geologists, with its columns of basalt, ravines and caves, most notably the Carsaig Arches, basaltic formations which have come about by the action of the sea, very similar to the more famous ones on Staffa. The tip of the peninsula is noted for its red granite, which has been extensively used for construction, including such famous London landmarks as the Albert Memorial, Blackfriars Bridge and the Holborn Viaduct. The peninsula has a scattering of tiny settlements, some of which offer accommodation and other facilities for visitors, such as Bunessan, Fionnphort - the departure point for Iona, of which more in the next post - and Carsaig, set in a beautiful bay with excellent walking options. The Ross of Mull Historical Centre is next to Bunessan old mill, and acts as a repository for historical records and data for people around the world who have traced their roots back to this area.

Map of the area.


Carsaig Arches © 2009 Hopgrove James, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

ULVA

In an earlier blog post I mentioned the fact that the west coast of Scotland is so peppered with islands that even the offshore islands have offshore islands. One of the islands off the coast of Mull is tiny Ulva, just eight square miles in area but packing in its fair share of beauty, wildlife and natural wonder. The island is reached via a short passenger ferry ride from Mull. Wildlife watchers will find plenty to look out for: on the land red deer, mountain hares or stoats, in the water Atlantic grey seals, otters or cetaceans, while feathered varieties include eider ducks, oyster catchers, shags, herons and corn crakes. But that is not all: the island is famous for its moths and butterflies, particularly the former, which include the striking Slender Scotch Burnet, which can be found on grassy banks and cliffs during the day, unusually for moths.

History buffs can follow in the footsteps of the Vikings, who washed up here around 800AD and named the island Ullfur, the Viking for "wolf island". However, they were not the first people to wander these shores: there are signs of habitation going back several millennia earlier than this. Relics from this time include standing stones dating from 1500BC, while a cave called Livingstones Cave houses a shell midden with remains dating to around 5650BC, along with signs of prehistoric wildlife including Arctic Fox and lemming. The missionary and explorer David Livingstone, whose ancestors came from Ulva, was reportedly full of tales and legends of the island passed down to him from his grandparents. The remains of Livingstone's croft, where the family lived, are near the aforementioned cave. When I was on holiday in Sydney a few years ago I had my picture taken sitting on what was known as "Mrs Macquarie's Chair". It turns out the lady in question was the wife of another Scot who ended up halfway round the world: Ulva-born Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, former governor of New South Wales and described back home as the "Father of Australia", quite a leap for someone who hailed from this tiny outpost of the Inner Hebrides. Near the harbour slipway is an old cottage called Sheila's Cottage, which houses the island's museum and heritage centre.

Map of the area.


© 2007 Chris McLean, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 10 December 2012

CALGARY

Calgary occupies a particularly lovely corner of Mull, nestling in Calgary Bay with its brilliant white sands. The beach, dunes and machair which make up the bay have been turned into a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in recognition of the need to preserve this beautiful location, where the wildlife includes otters, seals, deer and a variety of sea birds. From the beach, the Calgary Art In Nature sculpture walk leads to an art gallery with accommodation, weaving around the woodland, with interesting artworks around every corner. Calgary House, previously known as Calgary Castle, is a gothic mansion dating from 1817. One of the castle's guests in the 1800s was the head of the Canadian North West Mounted Polilce, Colonel James Macleod, and on his return from a stay there he suggested a fort back in Canada be named Fort Calgary. This in turn gave rise to the present-day city of Calgary, gateway to the Canadian Rockies. During the Highland Clearances people from settlements around the Calgary Bay area were evicted from their homes and many made their way to Canada. One of these settlements was Invea, above Calgary Pier, where the remains of the abandoned homes of the former inhabitants can still be discerned.

Map of the area.


© 2004 David Hambidge, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

DERVAIG

To get to Dervaig from Tobermory involves the thrill and challenge of following a twisty single-track road with hairpin bends. The road is a favourite with the drivers who take part in the annual Isle of Mull rally, held every October. Those who undertake the drive are rewarded with a picturesque village set at the head of the narrow Loch a'Chumhainn, with the distinctive whitewash pencil-shaped tower of Kilmore Church poking above the trees. Dervaig was established as a planned village in 1799 by the Laird of Coll to provide accommodation for the Quinnish Estate, although its only inn, the Bellachroy, predates it by nearly two centuries, having opened in 1608, making it the oldest inn on Mull. The name of the village suggests that the Vikings were here first, since it derives from the Old Norse for "good inlet". Another sign of earlier habitation in the area is the presence of the Cnoc Fada standing stones in a clearing to the east of the village. The Old Byre Heritage Centre near Dervaig has displays on Mull's history and wildlife as well as a tearoom and gift shop. The Dervaig Village Hall not only acts as a community centre hosting a range of events, but also offers hostel accommodation.

Map of the area.


© 2007 Mrs V Bryant, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 2 December 2012

TOBERMORY

Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides after Skye. The island's stunning scenery and wildlife earned it a place on our TV screens in 2010 when the Autumnwatch series featured the story of the re-introduction of white-tailed sea eagles to the island. Tobermory, the capital of the island, has also played a starring TV role as Balamory in the popular children's series of the same name. The brightly coloured buildings which feature in the show are not a figment of the producer's imagination, but are a reflection of the real-life town of Tobermory, where the town's buildings are every bit as colourful as those depicted in Balamory. There is also a children's book called The Tobermory Cat based on a well-known ginger tom, so well-known in fact that he has his own Facebook page. However, the cat unwittingly became the focus of a spat between the author and the artist who created the Facebook page, who accused the writer of stealing his idea, although the cat was well known before the Facebook page was set up.

The name Tobermory derives from the gaelic Tobar Mhoire, or "Well of Mary", a reference to the since disappeared St Mary's Well and St Mary's Chapel which dated from medieval times. There is a monument marking the spot where the well stood. The town lies on Tobermory Bay where, in 1588, one of the ships of the Spanish Armada was allegedly sunk with a quantity of gold on board. Although the area has been inhabited for several millennia, the present-day town was established in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society. The town never achieved the Fisheries Society's aim of becoming an important fishing port, but the harbour still provides a safe haven for vessels. As would be expected for an island so well stocked with wildlife there are a range of wildlife watching tours available from Tobermory. Walkers can head to Aros Park which is reached by a scenic path from Ledaig. For history buffs there is a group of standing stones called the Baliscate Standing Stones just outside the town. The Mull Museum in the main street is full of artefacts relating to the island's history. Cultural activities include the Mull Theatre at Drimfin, just outside Tobermory, and the An Tobar arts centre overlooking the bay.

Events in Tobermory include a Highland Games in July, and a regatta in late July/early August. For a list of events, see here.


Map
of the area.


© 2009 David Baird, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 30 November 2012

OBAN

And so to Oban, one of the busiest ports on the west coast of Scotland. It is many years since I went there, but my over-riding memory of it is of a harbour bustling with the comings and goings of ferries linking the mainland to the islands, a feature of the town that has earned it the slogan "Gateway to the Isles". The town's skyline is dominated by McCaig's Tower, a folly built in the late 19th century by John Stuart McCaig, a "philanthropic banker" (something of an oxymoron nowadays). The tower was an imitation of Rome's Colosseum and was meant to house a museum and art gallery, but sadly McCaig died before this vision could be realised, and construction was stopped leaving an empty, though picturesque, shell surrounded by gardens with a viewing platform for gazing out over the harbour.

Oban and its surroundings played a vital role during World War II, when it was used by both the Merchant and Royal Navies. The Royal Navy had a signal station near Ganavan to the north of Oban, and there was also an RAF flying boat base there. The base operated in conjunction with RAF Oban at Ardantrive Bay on the island of Kerrera, which lies just offshore.  The base on Kerrera started off as a refuelling point, but World War II saw it elevated to full operational status.  The pier and some of the buildings remain as a reminder of that time.  Another important site near Ganavan was an anti-submarine indicator loop station designed to detect the passage of enemy submarines passing between Oban, Mull and Lismore by means of a submerged cable placed on the sea bed. There is a surviving World War II air raid shelter in the centre of Oban. Later on, during the Cold War, the Translatlantic Telephone Cable which carried the hotline between the US and USSR presidents passed near Oban.

Nowadays the town is a thriving tourist centre with a range of attractions for visitors. The War and Peace Museum tells the fascinating story of the town's past in and out of wartime as the name suggests. The Oban Chocolate Company offers visitors the chance to look in on its chocolate factory, while for those whose indulgences are more of a liquid nature the Oban Distillery runs guided tours as well as a shop and an exhibition. The Cathedral Church of St Columba is in the Neo Gothic style but is less than a hundred years old. Dunollie Castle is a ruin to the north of the town, and Dunollie House or the "1745 House" is a museum and cultural centre housing the Hope MacDougall Collection, a social history collection drawn from throughout the highlands and islands. As well as the ferries making use of the town's harbour there are boat trips available to some of the nearby islands such as Mull, Staffa and Iona and wildlife boat trips. Each August the Argyllshire Gathering is held in Oban, offering delights such as Highland Games and a Solo Piping Competition.  Those wanting to escape to somewhere quieter for some excellent walking can take the passenger ferry to Kerrera where the walks are rewarded with wonderful views of Mull, Oban and Lismore. 

For a list of events in Oban see here.

Webcam view.

Map of the area.


© 1994 Hartmut Josi Bennöhr, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

CONNEL AND DUNSTAFFNAGE CASTLE

Connel straddles the narrow mouth of Loch Etive and is divided in two: North Connel and Connel. The two communities are linked by the Connel Bridge, a cantilever bridge completed in 1903, originally built as a railway viaduct, but now carrying road traffic. Before the bridge was built there used to be a ferry service connecting the two shores, and the village in those days was called Connel Ferry. The name Connel derives from the Gaelic for "rough water", which is appropriate, since this spot is known for a phenomenon occurring with the ebbing tide named the Falls of Lora, which consists of dramatic rapids caused by a submerged rocky shelf. The Gothic Revival St Oran's Church, built in 1888, has an attractive interior with a timbered ceiling and fine stained glass windows, and a garden with wonderful views of Loch Etive.

A couple of miles from Connel, standing proud on a promontory near the mouth of Loch Etive, is Dunstaffnage Castle, founded by the MacDougalls in the 13th century. The castle was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1309 and remained in royal hands for some time before being granted to the Earls, and then the Dukes of Argyll. The well-known aider and abetter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora MacDonald, was incarcerated in the castle for ten days before being sent to London to go on trial for her part in assisting the Prince in his escape after Culloden. The castle was destroyed by fire in 1810, but its impressive curtain wall battlements remain, and a visit to the castle is rewarded with lovely views across to Lismore and Morvern.


Map
of the area.


Dunstaffnage Castle © 2009 Sylvia Duckworth, via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 26 November 2012

BENDERLOCH

The village of Benderloch, which lies on the shore of Ardmucknish Bay, is overlooked by the forested Beinn Lora, which is just 308 metres high, but a walk to its summit offers wonderful views of the Firth of Lorn and Mull on the way up, and further afield from the top. There is a waymarked trail through the forest on the approach to the summit. As well as walking, there is a segway centre for those wanting to explore the area by gliding along on a Segway personal transporter. For golfers, the nearest course is at the Isle of Eriska Hotel, which also has a croquet lawn. Water-based activities include diving and fishing charters and sea kayaking. Near the village, in an arable field, is an ancient standing stone nearly 2 metres high which, it is thought, once formed part of a stone circle. There are a number of other stones buried nearby. Across the bay from Benderloch is Lochnell Castle, which includes architecture from four main periods between the end of the 17th century and the end of the 19th century, and is currently occupied by the Earl of Dundonald. During the World War II, anti-aircraft gun positions were set up at the castle.

Map of the area.


© 1995 Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 22 November 2012

BARCALDINE

When researching Barcaldine on Google, I kept seeing references to bushfires, which was perturbing, because you don't hear about many bushfires in Scotland. However, it transpires that there is a Barcaldine in Queensland Australia, where bushfires have been raging during the last week or so, so let's breathe a sigh of relief for Barcaldine Scotland, but say a little prayer for its Australian counterpart. Barcaldine is on the south shore of Loch Creran and its main purpose in life is the provision of boatyard and marina facilities. The 16th century Barcaldine Castle, otherwise known as the "Black Castle" was the ancient seat of the Campbells of Barcaldine. The castle now provides elegant holiday accommodation and wedding facilities. Just outside Barcaldine is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, where there is a seal rescue facility and hospital, and otters and sharks are among the creatures on view. The kids will love watching the otters and seals at feeding time. Walkers can take the waymarked Glen Dubh forest walk, which passes a gorge on the way up and offers wonderful views of the islands and mountains on the way back down.

Live webcam feed from Barcaldine Marine Moorings.

Map of the area.


© 1995 Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

LISMORE

Although the present population of the island of Lismore, separated from the west coast of Scotland by the Lynn of Lorn, is less than 150, the island has a long history of habitation going back to the Iron Age, with the Iron Age broch of Tirefour Castle serving as a reminder of that time. St Moluag, a contemporary of St Columba, arrived in Lismore around 560, in fact legend has it that the two saints raced each other to the island in coracles, with St Moluag winning the race by chopping off his own finger and throwing it ahead of him. He went on to build a monastery on the island. The parish church of Kilmoluag once formed part of a 13th century cathedral dedicated to St Moluag which was the seat of the bishops of Argyll. The spiky ruins of Castle Coeffin on the west coast also date from the 13th century. The castle was probably built by the MacDougalls of Lorn, although the name is thought to come from a Viking prince called Caifen. Following a familiar pattern around these parts, the population of Lismore was once much higher than it is now, reaching a peak in the 19th century, but severe depopulation thereafter led to a dramatic reduction in the number of inhabitants, with a large proportion of those remaining aged over 60.

The island's name comes from the gaelic for "great garden" or "great enclosure", possibly a reference to the fertile grazing land that makes up much of its acreage. Its position in the middle of Loch Linnhe means that as well as wonderful views of Mull and Morvern, a view reaching right to Ben Nevis can be enjoyed. Anyone who wants to get a feel for what life is like in a place such as this should check out the fascinating Lismore community website, which has photographs and stories such as one recalling childhood memories of the island in the 1950s, or an account of a country dance night. Visitors to the island can find out more about the island's life and history at the Heritage Centre in Port a' Charrain. There are two ways to get to the island by sea, either by means of a ferry link from Port Appin connecting with the northern tip of the island, or via a car ferry from Oban which lands at Achnacroish on the east coast.

Webcam view of Achnacroish.

Map of the island.


Castle Coeffin © 1995 Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons



Sunday, 18 November 2012

PORT APPIN

Port Appin occupies a prime position on the west coast, nestling under the mountains of Appin, with wonderful views to the island of Lismore and the coast of Morven as well as views of Castle Stalker (covered in the previous post). There has been a ferry service from here to Lismore since at least 1750, and it is still running, although only for foot passengers. The port's inclusion on a steamer service from Inverness to Glasgow via the Caledonian Canal contributed to its development into a stopover for visitors. The village is ideal for walking, whether heading towards the Jubilee Bridge across Loch Laich where better views of the castle can be enjoyed, or a shorter walk to Clach Thoull, a natural stone arch, taking in a shoreline path peppered with wild orchids and harebells in the spring. The port is ideal for those wanting to take to the water, being perfect for sea kayaking or yachting. Wildlife enthusiasts may spot sea otters or seals in the water, or a variety of birdlife including oystercatchers, kestrels and sea eagles. Bookworms who have read Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped will find plenty of interest here. The area featured in the novel, which centres around the true story of the Appin Murder in 1752, which occurred in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising.

Map of the area.



Saturday, 17 November 2012

PORTNACROISH AND CASTLE STALKER

In a previous blog post I waxed lyrical about the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle, sitting pretty on its island just off the shore of Loch Duich. Loch Linnhe has its own version of Eilean Donan in the form of Castle Stalker, which is also perched on a tiny island offshore. The original fort was built in the 14th century by the MacDougall clan, who ruled Lorn, as the area was then known, but after the Stewarts took over the Lordship of Lorn the following century, Duncan Stewart of Appin rebuilt it in the form we see today. The castle was used as a hunting lodge - in fact the gaelic version of the name, Caisted an Stalcair, means "Castle Of The Hunter - and King James IV, who was a keen hunter, was frequently entertained there by Duncan, who was his cousin. Like Eilean Donan, Castle Stalker has had its moment of fame in the movies: it featured towards the end of Monty Python And The Holy Grail, where it appeared as the Castle Of Aaaargh with John Cleese standing on its battlements taunting Arthur in a ridiculous French accent, followed by a battle scene. The castle, which is accessible on foot at low tide, is privately owned, but a limited number of tours can be arranged by prior appointment. Aside from stunning views of Castle Stalker, the village of Portnacroish has a yacht marina and windsurfing centre. Clan warfare is recalled in the churchyard, where a memorial commemorates a battle in 1468 between the Stewarts and the MacDougalls during which "many hundreds fell".

Map of the area.



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

FORT WILLIAM

Fort William is the largest town in the Scottish Highlands, and second only to the city of Inverness in size. The fort of the name was a wooden citadel built by Oliver Cromwell after his invasion of the area during the English Civil War, and was named after William of Orange. The remains of the fort are just about still visible on the shores of Loch Linnhe. The town that grew up around the fort underwent a series of name changes before finally settling on Fort William as it is now known, although by the time this name was arrived at it was Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, who was instrumental in quelling the Jacobite Rising at Culloden, that the town was named after. Meanwhile, on the banks of the River Lochy, Old Inverlochy Castle, which predated Oliver Cromwell's fort, is open to the public. The castle, although a ruin, has lasted better than Cromwell's fort. The West Highland Museum on the High Street has displays on the history of the area, in particular the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites. St Andrews Church, built of granite with a slate roof, is known as the "Queen Of Highland Churches". This area is closely associated with the Cameron Clan, and monuments in the town include one to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 24th chief of the clan and one to Captain Peter Cameron, commander of the Earl of Balcarres, of the East India Company. There is also a Cameron Square in the town centre.

Fort William is a major centre for lovers of the great outdoors, as can be seen from the number of outdoor gear shops in the town. The surrounding area offers mountain biking trails, and for walkers Fort William is the end point of the beautiful 95-mile West Highland Way long distance trail. Fort William also lies at one end of Scotland's newest long distance path, the Great Glen Way, the other end being Inverness, making it Scotland's very own coast-to-coast walk. The nearby Glen Nevis Visitor Centre has information for anyone brave enough to tackle the climb up Ben Nevis. Boat trips are available from March to October. For those more inclined to artistic pursuits, the Lime Tree An Ealdhain Gallery offers exciting art shows as well as providing accommodation.

For a list of events in Fort William and the surrounding area see here.

Map of the area.


Old Fort © 2005 Nathanael, via Wikimedia Commons



Monday, 12 November 2012

CORPACH

Look at any relief map of Scotland and you will notice one particular geographical feature standing out like a sore thumb. The big gash in the landscape which runs north-east to south-west with the Moray Firth at one end and Loch Linnhe at the other, otherwise known as the Great Glen, is a deep natural depression occupied by several lochs including the notorious Loch Ness. Running through this depression is the Caledonian Canal, which flows into Loch Linnhe at Corpach. The canal was begun in 1805 under Thomas Telford, and its most ingenious piece of engineering is Neptune's Staircase, on the outskirts of Corpach, a series of lochs, each with a drop of eight feet, which were built to overcome the problem of connecting Loch Linnhe to the much higher Loch Lochy. A walk along the shoreline of Loch Linnhe at Corpach offers fantastic views of Ben Nevis, which is a short distance to the south-east. The Snowgoose Mountain Centre is at the start of the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen Ways, and is an ideal base for anyone wanting to make the most of the area's mountain scenery. Meanwhile, for those who are interested in geology, there is an attraction called The Treasures of The Earth, an exhibition of crystals, gemstones and fossils.

Map of the area.


© 2007 C L T Smith, via Wikimedia Commons




Sunday, 11 November 2012

LOCH EIL

As I mentioned in my previous post, Loch Eil is an extension of Loch Linnhe, starting where this stretch of water swings suddenly westwards near Fort William. Views of the loch can be enjoyed by passengers on the Jacobite steam train, which runs the length
of the northern shore, and the A830, also known as the Road To The Isles, also follows this shore. On the north shore is an Outward Bound Centre located in a former highland shooting lodge in an area described as the "Outdoor Capital" of the UK. The Centre boasts spectacular views of Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis and it has its own railway station. In 2008 a northern bottle-nosed whale managed to find its way into Loch Eil, where it appeared to be having a nice time swimming around and jumping out of the water, feeding on the herring and mackerel which are to be found in the loch. However, rescuers, concerned that a loch so far from the open sea was not the natural habitat for such a creature, attempted to guide it out into Loch Linnhe and towards the ocean. Sadly, the whale died before they could achieve that aim. There seem to be more and more incidents like this involving whales; experts believe that we are to blame, that the whales are becoming disorientated due to man-made noise from shipping and other operations.

Map of the area.


© 2006 Jim Bain, via Wikimedia Commons



Thursday, 8 November 2012

CORRAN

I remember watching an episode of the excellent TV series Coast in which one of the presenters - Neil Oliver I think - imparted the astonishing information that Scotland has 7,000 miles of coastline. Given that the British coastline totals around 11,000-12,000 miles (estimates vary), that is well over half. Looking at the west coast of Scotland it is easy to see where all these miles come from. Not only are there the numerous islands offshore, but this stretch of coast has the appearance of having been shredded, what with all the sea lochs which have formed around the mountainous terrain. One of the longest and widest of these is Loch Linnhe, which stretches for 31 miles from the Firth of Lorne to Fort William, where it hangs a left and turns into Loch Eil. Corran is at the narrowest part of Loch Linnhe, appropriately named The Narrows, and provides a ferry service to the eastern shore of The Narrows. The Tate website has a sketch by the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner depicting the Corran Narrows. Just above the ferry slipway is the Corran Lighthouse, a picturesque whitewash building with an adjoining lodge which offers self-catering accommodation. There is little else here apart from an inn, a scattering of houses and wonderful views up the loch.

Map of the area.


© 2005 Norrie Adamson, via Wikimedia Commons




Tuesday, 6 November 2012

LOCHALINE

The chunk of land to the south of Loch Sunart, which on the Ordnance Survey map is all contours and forests, is known as Morvern. The coast of Morvern is largely bereft of habitation, or even roads, until one reaches the tiny hamlets of Drimnin and Bunavullin on the Sound of Mull. A few miles further on, we finally hit an A road at Lochaline, which lies at the mouth of Loch Aline. Across Britain it is depressingly common to come across stories of once thriving mines which have since closed down - Strontian in the previous post is a case in point. However, in the case of Lochaline it was recently reported that a quartz sand mine which shut down in 2008 is reopening, with the restoration of 11 jobs provided by the mine. On a hillside above the village is Kiel Church, with the Old Session House to the east of the church displaying intricately carved grave slabs, while further grave slabs and celtic crosses can be found in the graveyard outside.

A bit further out, at the head of Loch Aline, Kinlochaline Castle with its 14th century tower is a former seat of the chiefs of Clan MacInnes, restored in the 19th century. The nearby ruined Adrtornish Castle is in the grounds of the Ardtornish Estate, famous for its gardens. Also in the estate is the Gothic Victorian mansion Ardtornish House, which offers self-catering accommodation. The Sound of Mull offers some of the best wreck diving in Britain, and there is a Dive Centre in Lochaline catering for this and other forms of diving.

Map of the area.




Sunday, 4 November 2012

STRONTIAN

Strontian, which lies on an inlet off Loch Sunart, grew up around mining. During the 18th century there was a thriving lead mining enterprise here, and zinc, tin and silver were also mined. The village was created in order to provide accommodation for the miners, who at the peak of the extraction, around 1730, numbered 600. In the late 1700s French prisoners of war were working the mines, ironically producing lead for shot to be used in the war against France. It was during this time that another mineral was found which took its name from the village: strontium. The mining effort ended in the 1980s, by which time barite was being extracted for use in the North Sea oilfields. The decline of the village as the mining effort subsided reached the point, in 1968, where Strontian was included in a list of 2,000 dying Highland villages, and became the first of the villages to receive money for regeneration, resulting in a range of facilities including a shopping centre and a caravan and camping site. There is an interesting report in the Glasgow Herald from 1963 describing life in Strontian from the times when English "Landed Gentry" ruled the roost there, and discipline was such that whenever the laird and lady passed by the women had to curtsey and the men salute.

Map of the area.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

ARDNAMURCHAN

Ardnamurchan is a peninsula jutting out of the west coast of Scotland, so far west in fact that it includes the most westerly point on the UK mainland. The peninsula offers legendary sunsets and views across to some of the islands of the Inner Hebrides and, on a clear day, the Outer hebrides. The peninsula has been the scene of fierce battles in the past, including a Viking battle. Last year an extraordinary discovery was made at Port an Eilean Mhoir on the peninsula's north coast: a Viking boat burial site believed to be over 1,000 years old. The Viking whose body was found inside the boat is believed to have been a high-ranking warrior given the artefacts surrounding him. Ardnamurchan is home to a wide variety of wildlife, from deer to pine partens, otters to seals, and golden and white-tailed eagles. Activities available to visitors include sea kayaking, fishing, cycling and sailing. During the summer months wildlife watching boat trips and charters are on offer. The village of Kilchoan, towards the western end of the peninsula, is the most westerly village in the UK mainland and, although tiny, it provides a ferry service to Tobermory on Mull, operating out of a cute little ferry terminal with the appearance of a converted cottage. Nearby Mingary Castle was built in the 13th century and has seen plenty of action over the years, including a role in the Jacobite uprising, when the castle was used as a government garrison. Geologists will find the Kilchoan area of particular interest, as it was here that the minerals kilchoanite, dellaite and rustumite were first found, and there are also good examples of a type of igneous rock called a "cone sheet" to be found in the locality. Glenborrodale, on the south coast of the peninsula, has a castle which was formerly owned by Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists fame, and is now a luxury hotel. There is also an RSPB reserve here.

Map of the area.


Kilchoan © 2006 Stuart Wilding, via Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

LOCH NAN UAMH

Bonnie Prince Charlie has been popping up all over the place during my virtual meander around the Scottish coast, but few places can rival Loch Nan Uamh for the significance of their link to the Prince. It was here that Charles Edward Stuart landed at the start of the 1745 rebellion, and it was also here that he finally departed for France 14 months later after the ill-fated escapade was abandoned following the defeat at Culloden. There is a cave on the loch, below Arisaig House (now a hotel), where the Prince and his fellow fugitives hid from the English redcoats. There is a memorial cairn on the shore of the loch marking the spot where the Prince landed. Harking back to much earlier times, there is an Iron Age fort on a headland to the south; the fort is unusual in that the stones used to build it became "vitrified" probably due to intense heat from the accidental burning of the timber used to strengthen the walls. The other major feature of the loch, at its head, is the Gleann Mama Viaduct, built for the West Highland Railway and boasting eight arches. The viaduct provides passengers on the Jacobite, or "Harry Potter train" with wonderful views out over the loch and its beautiful shoreline.

Map of the area.


© 2007 Dave Fergusson, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 29 October 2012

CANNA AND SANDAY

Canna and Sanday are two separate islands, but they are linked by a road and sandbanks at low tide. Canna is the larger of the two, but even it is only 4.3 miles long and 0.9 miles wide, dwarfed by its towering neighbour Rum. Canna is known as the "garden of the Hebrides" due to its temperate climate and fertile soil, and one of its claims to fame is that it is one of the best places in Europe for viewing white-tailed and golden eagles, added to which it hosts over 20,000 breeding seabirds including puffins, razorbills and guillemots. An Coroghon at the eastern end of the island is a ruined medieval prison tower built on a stack overlooking the bay, while nearby Coroghon Barn was completed in 1805 and is an example of a traditional "bank barn". Canna House was occupied by a previous owner of the island, Dr John Lorne Campbell and his wife. Campbell was a champion of the Hebridean Gaelic tradition, and the house contains a large repository of works in Gaelic. Campbell died in 1996, after which the National Trust of Scotland installed an on-site property manager. Sadly, according to a recent report in the Telegraph, a number of people who have moved to Canna for a taste of tranquil small-island life, including the owner of the island's only restaurant, are now moving out again because the bullying nature of this manager is making life impossible for them, a situation not helped by the NTS which, having run a campaign to encourage people to move to the island, is now turning a blind eye to the problems with the site manager, a situation which appears to be threatening the island's very future.

Map of the island.


Coroghon Castle © 2003 LHOON, via Wikimedia Commons






Sunday, 21 October 2012

RUM

Rum is an island teeming with life, on the land, in the air and in the water. The island was made into a national nature reserve in 1957, ensuring a safe environment for the red deer, wild goats and ponies that roam the land, the golden eagles and sea eagles soaring through the sky and the grey and common seals frolicking offshore. There are also otters: you may spot one if you follow the signposted nature trail along the shore of Loch Scresort. Out at sea huge numbers of Manx shearwaters gather on summer evenings; they rear their young in nests on the mountains. The animal population vastly outnumbers the human population, which is barely more than twenty. Like Muck, Rum suffered a large-scale depopulation in the 1800s when almost all the inhabitants were evicted and shipped across to Newfoundland in Canada. Traces of human habitation on the island go back to Mesolithic times, with some of the earliest such evidence of human occupation in Scotland at a site near Kinloch.

The most imposing building on the island is Kinloch Castle, a rust-red Victorian mansion built for Sir George Bullough, a Lancashire textile tycoon who had bought the island. Tours are available of the main wing of the castle, and there is hostel-style accommodation in part of the premises, along with a bistro and bar. Outdoor activities on the island include summer boat trips, canoeing and kayaking, cycling and fishing.

Map of the island.




Saturday, 20 October 2012

EIGG

People did some horrible things to each other during the days of clan warfare in Scotland. On the island of Eigg an event took place in 1577 which was an early example of the "gas chamber" method of ethnic cleansing. During a long-running feud between the MacLeods and the the MacDonalds of Clanranald, whose lands included Eigg, a fleet of galleys occupied by members of the MacLeod clan sailed to Eigg from Skye. On the approach of the fleet, all but two of the island's families hid in a cave called the Cave of Frances, but they were tracked down by their enemies, who lit a fire at the entrance to the cave, suffocating all 400 men, women and children therein. The only people to survive the massacre were the two families who did not join the others in the Cave of Frances, but went and hid in another cave.

Eigg is just four miles long, and its terrain can be explored by hiring a bike, a moped or a a pony. For those who want to explore under their own steam there are wonderful cliff-top walks and sandy bays to tramp along. Laig Bay has a large white beach with views across to the Cuillins of Rum. The island's dramatic scenery includes the "an Sgurr" pitchstone ridge, the largest of its kind in Europe. One of the most unusual features on the island is on a beach at the island's main settlement, Cleadale, where the "Singing Sands" reward the walker with the sound of music underfoot. The "singing" comes from the white sand formed of quartz which produces a creaking sound. There is plenty of interest on the island for birdwatchers, with a variety of raptors including the Golden Eagle, winter visitors Great Northern Diver and Jack Snipe and in summer Cuckoo, Whinchat, Whitethroat and Twite.

Map of the area.


Cleadale Beach looking towards Rum © 2008 Calum McRoberts, via Wikimedia Commons



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

ISLE OF MUCK

Muck is one of a group of islands to the south-west of Skye known as the Small Isles, the others being Rum, Eigg and Canna. The island's climate benefits from the North Atlantic Drift and from the shelter afforded by its higher neighbours, and the island is a riot of wild flowers in summer. There is evidence of human habitation on Muck going back to Mesolithic times, and Bronze Age burial cairns and artefacts have been found there. In addition there is a building believed to be of Norse origin called the Toaluinn, and remnants of a prehistoric fort at the entrance to the villge of Port Mor. There are less than forty people living on the island now, but at its peak in 1821 the population was 320. Then, in 1828, the island's landlords the MacLeans, following a familiar pattern in these remote parts, decided to evict the island's indigenous crofters. They were sent to Nova Scotia, where some of their descendants still speak Gaelic. Muck is primarily an island for walking and wildlife watching, with around 40 species of breeding birds, including puffins, while the marine life includes Grey Atlantic seals, porpoises, Basking sharks and Minke whales. In fact, the name Muck is not some derogatory reference to the state of island, but comes from a shortened version of the Gaelic for sea-pig, or whale (muc-mhara).

Map of the area.


© 2005 L J Cunningham, via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 15 October 2012

ARISAIG

Arisaig lies at the head of a sea loch called Loch nan Ceall, which is separated from the open sea by a jumble of rocks and tiny islands, making the loch a wonderfully tranquil stretch of water, ideal for sea kayaking; in fact the name actually means "the safe place". However, it has not always been this peaceful: in 1746 the loch was the scene of a fierce naval battle involving two French ships which turned up in the area to lend assistance to the Jacobites after the Battle of Culloden. The ships were caught by the Royal Navy, but they managed to escape, but not before offloading a hoard of gold being carried on board. The gold was then carried inland to Loch Arkaig, where it was hidden, but was subsequently lost.

As well as being on the A830 from Fort William, Arisaig is on the West Highland railway line, and is one of the stops on the Jacobite train journey (see Mallaig post). From April to September there are wildlife cruises from Arisaig to the nearby islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum, with opportunities to view creatures such as whales, otters and dolphins. Back in the village an old forge has been renovated and turned into the Land, Sea and Islands Visitor Centre, with displays on the social and natural history of the area. At nearby Barrahead is a lighthouse built by Thomas Stevenson, brother of Robert Louis. One of the people who worked on the lighthouse was one John Silver, who is believed to have been the inspiration for the Long John Silver character in Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel Treasure Island.

Map of the area.


© 2005 Mick Garratt, via Wikimedia Commons



Saturday, 13 October 2012

MORAR

In my post about Pennan I talked about the filming of Local Hero, which was focussed on the east coast village. However, fans of the film who want to visit the wonderful beaches featured in the film will be disappointed if they expect to find them in Pennan; they will need to head west to Morar and Arisaig, in particular Camusdarach Beach, which lies between the two. One of the most amusing scenes in the film was when the local populace gathered in the little church overlooking the beach to hold a meeting about the oil company's bid to exploit the area, while the oil men stood on the beach, oblivious to the line of people filing into the church. This scene was filmed at Morar, however as is so often the case in the movies all is not as it seems. The building used to depict the exterior of the church was actually a house dressed up to look ecclesiastical! The interior scenes were filmed in another location entirely. However, the shack occupied by Ben known as Ben's Shack was filmed in Morar, in the area between the sand dunes and a rocky promontory. Just to the east of the village of Morar is Loch Morar, which is home to Scotland's lesser known monster, a relative of Nessie called Morag. Legend has it that whenever Morag is sighted it heralds the death of a member of the local branch of the MacDonald clan. This area has also been used in the movies: scenes from Rob Roy were filmed here.

Map of the area.





Thursday, 11 October 2012

MALLAIG

Train buffs and Harry Potter fans alike will be delighted by a visit to Mallaig. The small port town is the terminus of what is generally considered to be one of the great railway journeys of the world, an 84-mile round trip between Mallaig and Fort William on the The Jacobite steam train. The Harry Potter connection arises from the fact that the route was that followed by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, with some of the Jacobite's carriages being used in the filming. The train runs from May to October, however outside this period some of the magic can be captured on normal train services, since Mallaig is also the terminus of the West Highland Line. The arrival of the railway in Mallaig led to a rapid growth in the local economy and the population. Aside from its rail links, Mallaig is something of a hub for a number of ferry services, to Armadale in Skye, the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna, and to Inverie in Knoydart. All this activity takes place against a backdrop of dramatic surrounding scenery and wonderful views over the Sound of Sleat to the Cuillin Hills on Skye. There is a Heritage Centre in the town with photographs and exhibits recalling the history of the locality.

Map of the area.


© 2003 Gordon Brown, via Wikimedia Commons


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

KNOYDART PENINSULA

Knoydart is one of the wildest, least accessible parts of mainland Britain. The peninsula's 11 miles of road are not connected to the UK road network, meaning that the only way of getting to the peninsula is by sea or by means of a 16-mile walk over rough terrain. Even flying in is only an option by helicopter. The main sea route is from Mallaig to Knoydart's only village, Inverie. The ferry service which operates on this route is not only used by visitors to the peninsula, but provides a vital lifeline for the residents, bringing essential supplies to the village. Knoydart's past has been a turbulent one, marked by conflict between clans over control of the land and by forced evictions as part of the infamous Highland Clearances. In 1948 a group of men known as the "Seven Men of Knoydart" mounted a raid in an attempt to claim land for their own use, but the owner of the estate took the case to the Court of Session, and the claim was overturned. A subsequent appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland was also rejected. There is a monument to the seven men in Inverie. Nowadays the preservation and development of Knoydart is looked after by the Knoydart Foundation, which bought the estate in 1999, ending years of conflict with private landlords. The estate is powered by a micro hydro-electric scheme operated by the Foundation. Inverie has a population of around 100 and its few amenities include Britain's remotest pub, The Old Forge Inn.

Map of the area.


© 2004 Richard Webb, via Wikimedia Commons


Sunday, 7 October 2012

GLENELG AND SANDAIG

Many towns and villages in Britain have twins in other countries, for example my home town of Penzance is twinned with Concarneau in Brittany. Glenelg, however, has gone one better by being twinned with a location on Mars! The space rover Curiosity is currently sending back images of a rocky valley which scientists have called Glenelg - although the name has been chosen for a geographical feature in Canada, rather than the Scottish Glenelg. Glenelg is a village located on the bay of the same name with views across to Skye. The village has a range of accommodation from the acclaimed Glenelg Inn to a campsite, and there is a summer ferry service between here and Skye. Just outside Glenelg lie the ruins fo Bernera Barracks, built by the English after the Jacobite uprising. The barracks are fenced off for safety reasons. Near the village are the brochs, or Iron Age settlements, of Dun Troddan and Dun Telve. The latter is the best preserved broch in mainland Scotland, with a 10m external wall. Three and a half miles from Glenelg is Sandaig, where the author Gavin Maxwell lived with his otters. The house where he lived was sadly burnt down in 1968, but there are memorial stones to Maxwell himself and to his pet otter Edal.

Webcam views.

Map of the area.