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Tuesday, 22 April 2014



Ian Hislop said on television last week that he believes that the British obsession with history arises from nostalgia for a golden age that never actually existed. As you’ll know if you read my blog regularly I am fascinated by history but I have never wanted to turn the clock back. It seems to me that, in the past, if you were a man you were likely to die in bloody battle and if you were a woman you were likely to die in bloody childbirth- thank heavens for being alive in the 21st century! For me the fascination is to do with understanding why things are as they are today whether it’s in a family, local or global sense. It’s about recording and remembering so that the past isn’t lost for ever.

History is written all over Arran’s landscapes in buildings, ruins, earthworks and place names. I recently scrambled up to the ruins of Laggantuin- an old clachan, or cluster of homes, huddled in a sheltered bowl of hillside on the coastline north of Sannox. It is said that, long ago, islanders were able to hide from Viking raids there, concealed by a lip of land. Today you can still see the ruins of their blackhouses- long one-storey buildings in which families lived at one end and animals at the other- and the characters and conversations of the past can seem almost present. The land was farmed on the runrig system with each family cultivating strips of land which were rotated annually. Labour and implements were shared. As a way of life it had successfully supported the island population for millennia, although it would have been a harsh existence by modern standards and the people possessed little. Everything changed with the agricultural improvements of the late 18th century when the modern capitalist world extended its reach over the old communal ways and the inhabitants of Laggantuin were cleared out to make way for sheep farming.

Some of the displaced islanders went to Megantic County in Canada, some to Glasgow. A few were able to stay on Arran as fishing crofters. But sheep farming did not bring the prosperity that had been hoped for and much land that had been enclosed and managed reverted to a wild state. Look out for old enclosure walls all along the coast from Sannox to Lochranza. Ironically, today in Lochranza the hill sheep seem as if they must have always been here and the place certainly wouldn’t be the same without them and their lambs on the golf course in April and sleeping on the Boguille road at night. I wonder what traces the 21st century will leave behind? Something that future generations will enjoy but most of us alive now will never see is being created at Sannox this year, in fact you will see its beginnings as you walk to Laggantuin. The coniferous forest is being felled and native broad-leaved tree species are being planted by the Forestry Commission. Timber will be shipped out from a new platform. Sometimes history holds up the best practices for the future.