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Monday, 31 March 2014

The Barking House

The photos show Lochranza’s Barking House in last week’s lovely sunshine. It is screened by rambling gorse bushes and to be found on the other side of the road from the church. Each winter sees it tumble down a little more so, if you visit, please don’t climb on it both for the safety of yourself and the preservation of the building.

The Barking House is a grade B listed building dating from the mid 19th century when it was situated by a cutting from the burn made for boat access. It is single storey but used to have an attic and a slate roof. Inside the walls is a cobbled ground floor with a pump shaft.

In the middle of the 19th century Lochranza was a bustling and self-sufficient fishing village. It wasn’t easy at that time to walk out of Lochranza to other parts of the island but the surrounding sea waters were full of boats which connected Campbeltown on Kintyre and the Clyde with Arran. The Barking House was used by herring fisher families as a place to carry out the barking process- the nets would be strengthened and preserved with a mix of water and “cutch”- a tannin-rich bark extract from India (hence the barking). The nets would then be hung to dry on frames outside. Gaelic was still spoken in this part of the island at that time and apparently the Arran Gaelic of the period had a great many words for rain!

 Herring fishing was no easy life. In the S.W.R.I’s ‘History of the Villages of Arran’, Neil Clark remembers that the crofter fishermen would “sail on a Monday morning, and on the first haul their clothes got wet through, and were still wet when they came ashore on Saturday mornings”. A look at the headstones in Lochranza and Sannox churchyards reveals many lives lost at sea. At the same time it was a life that offered opportunity and many young men from Lochranza rose to become Master Mariners and Chief Engineers. The large villas near the pier weremainly built by prosperous sea captains in the early 20th century.

Today, the Duarchan (the inner harbour behind the castle spit) may look like a timeless scene, with waders feeding at low tide and a few sailing boats bobbing on their moorings by the castle, but this tranquillity belies a past when the loch shores were busy with the comings and goings of boats. As you wander around Arran it’s easy to stumble on half-hidden history like the barking house and get jolted into past times, glimpsing the lives of people who weren’t recorded in history but who belonged here.


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Cock of Arran Coastal Walk

Nigel and I took these photos as we walked this classic route on February 28th. We saw two porpoises in the sea near Laggan cottage, plenty of otter droppings and two large deer skeletons.

We prefer to walk this circular route anti-clockwise, avoiding a steep ascent after Laggan cottage.

The route begins on the Narachan track above the campsite. Before you reach the cottages of Narachan a signpost directs you along a clear gently-ascending track.

At the highest point of the track, a vista of the islands of the Firth of Clyde and the Ayrshire coast opens up. Descend the track above the ruins of Cock Farm to Laggan Cottage. Before the 20th century more than a hundred people lived, fished and farmed in this area. Look out for evidence of small-scale coal mining and salt panning  industries along the shore.

From Laggan, head left or north-west along the coastal path which is rugged and boggy in places but sheltered when westerly winds are blowing. In about half a mile you reach a little harbour and it is here that the tracks of a giant millipede which existed around 300 million years ago be seen on the rocks.

Further on you reach Ossian’s Cave. It’s possible to wriggle inside and find old sailors’ carvings on the walls.


Red sandstone


Sheltering from a hail shower under the Cock of Arran.

Just before the white cottage and boatshed at Fairy Dell you come to An Scriodan-  a short section of easy scrambling. Faded yellow dots guide you along the best line. You can avoid the scramble altogether if you arrive at this point at low tide.

 At Fairy Dell you can either head uphill to join the North Newton track, or follow the coast, which is full of geological interest, back to Lochranza.

Length: 8 miles
Time:  4 hours
Verdict: Constantly-changing views, varied terrain, wildlife and marine life, history, rocks- this walk is never the same twice.