Our website

Visit our website at www.arran-campsite.com
and our Blog of our
"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Friday, 29 May 2015

Our Day Off: Enjoying RET

There’s something special about crossing water be it by boat or bridge: for me it’s  the anticipation of reaching new land. Watery boundaries emphasise the differences between places.

 In summer, a little Calmac ferry criss-crosses the Kilbrannan Sound all day long between Lochranza and Claonaig on Kintyre. Thanks to the reductions in the Arran ferry fares this year, a day trip with a car on this ferry is about £30- less than half what the fare was last year. You can’t book for this ferry- you just turn up and queue for the next one. It is possibly the loveliest place for a queue in the world! Right next to the car park you can get fresh coffee and sandwiches at the Sandwich Station whilst you wait. Of course, there’s no end of things to see and do on Arran but it’s also nice to visit the places you see across the sea from Arran’s shores, and whichever way you look back at Arran (so long as it’s not foggy!) the view has you reaching for your camera.

Much mutual marauding across the water went on between the people of Kintyre and Arran in the past. I enjoy the folk tale of the boy from Bailemargaidh near Blackwaterfoot who was sent to watch for raiders from Kintyre who would sail over to pillage, burn and capture pretty girls. The story goes that the lad fell asleep and the raiders were able to sneak ashore. He watched in dismay as a pitched battle ensued. Fortunately, the Arran women were very strong fighters. Unfortunately, one lass called Laidir Mhari ,or strong Mary, got knocked unconscious and was carried off by a Campbeltown raider. Before they got to the shore she had woken up and almost throttled her captor. She tossed him over her shoulder and carried him back to Bailemargaidh as her prisoner. Soon after they married and then they lived happily ever after! That’s what I call taking destiny into your own hands! (You can find this tale and others like it in the Arran High School Project book which is available from the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum.)

There is probably less crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound by boats now than at any time in its history but Nigel and I always look forward to time out on Kintyre. On our day off last week, with no agenda other than to explore and see what we would find, we headed south down the narrow road on the east side of the peninsula- a route that isn’t recommended for large vehicles by the way. Recently installed raw-looking pylon lines stride beside the road to transmit green energy from Kintyre wind farms via a subsea cable. Despite them, it’s still a pretty route with views of Arran and wildflowers spilling out of the lush verges. Our first stop was the village of Carradale where we bought home baking in the village shop and watched eider ducks in Carradale’s little harbour. A footpath goes past the attractive cliff-top golf course and the bay of Port Righ to the Carradale Caravan and Camping Site with its sandy beach. At the west end of the village there is a community-owned bike network cafe where you can hire bikes to explore the area or have yours repaired.

A few miles further on, we stopped again at Saddell Abbey where the ruined chapel contains medieval carved grave slabs. From the car park you can wander down a leafy lane to Saddell Castle on the seashore where Paul McCartney and Wings were filmed performing “Mull of Kintyre”. Our final stop of the day out was at Campbeltown, home of the erstwhile Blackwaterfoot raiders and somewhere I have only driven through before in order to head further south. Here you can buy property for £25,000 in a town that has a lovely setting overlooking a circular bay with Davaar Island (not unlike Arran’s Holy Island) in the background.  We were glad we stopped to explore the town this time and enjoyed wandering along the harbour-side and round the interesting mix of old and new shops.

Kintyre is a long, long peninsula, like an arm reaching out to almost touch Northern Ireland, so from Campbeltown it was time to head back north to catch the teatime ferry. It had been a grand day out.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Archaeological Arran

High on the hillside above the campsite, in a place where few people walk these days, a horseshoe of ancient cup marks can be found gouged out of a boulder. Why should such a remote site have warranted this attention? The situation certainly offers spell-binding views over Lochranza right out to the Paps of Jura but the answer is more likely to lie with the nearby water source of the Allt a’ Creamh which tumbles down to Newton Shore. The Ancient Britons worshipped wells and springs.
All over Arran, as in most of the Highlands and Islands, you walk amongst the ruined monuments of prehistory- they are not hidden deep in soil. I am always amused, as I drive into Brodick on bin collection days, to see a blue plastic wheelie bin next to the standing stone near the primary school, looking like it’s staking its own claim to importance. Over time, Arran’s ancient stones and cairns, worn by weather and patterned with coloured lichen, have almost reverted to nature . Only their structures and strange carved symbols, remind us that they represent human prehistory.
You can easily fill a holiday exploring Arran’s Neolithic and Bronze Age sites which date back to 3,500 BC. The profusion of archaeological sites on the island has led some experts, such as Thorbjorn Campbell, author of ‘Arran: A History’, to suggest that Arran must have been a sacred island. But most theories regarding prehistory can never be verified. We do know that early settlement and farming began at this time and hierarchical communities developed which set store by material wealth. We can safely assume that powerful leaders could command the labour necessary to build monuments that would endure through millennnia.  Then four thousand years ago change came with the new technology of casting bronze from tin and copper, driven by a prehistoric arms race to possess the most effective weaponry. In West Scotland, copper was extracted in mid-Argyll and alloyed with tin imported from Cornwall to make bronze. As the trade routes followed the western seaboard it is likely that Arran was an island of strategic importance. It was a golden age of prosperity; its monuments, including the burial cairns of important individuals and families, and the stone circles where communities came together, would survive into our time. But simultaneously farming, tree felling and climate were exhausting the soil and eventually the island would be left infertile. Technological progress and ecological challenges – now what does that remind you of?
A good place to set about discovering Neolithic and Bronze Age Arran for yourself is in the Archaeology Room at the Arran Heritage Museum, Brodick,  where you can see an early Bronze Age grave and pottery vessel, a carved stone ball, a fish vertebrae necklace and many more finds from excavations. Whilst in Brodick you can also pay a visit to the Roundhouse at Brodick Castle where you can do things the way the people of the Bronze Age did, such as making jewellery and pottery. After that, have a look at Historic Scotland’s website to find information about some of these Neolithic and Bronze Age sites on Arran:
·         Auchagallon Stone Circle near Machrie
·         Carn Ban, four miles inland from Kilmory and probably best reached by cycling along forest tracks
·         Giants’ Graves, above Glenashdale Falls at Whiting Bay
·         Kilpatrick Dun near Blackwaterfoot
·         Machrie Moor Stone Circles
·         Torrylin Cairn at Kilmory
The Machrie Moor stone circles are well-known but the smaller sites are well worth visiting too. At all the sites a shortish walk will usually lead you to a location of magnificent views where you can soak up the spirituality of a place long invested with the hopes and fears of different peoples. Walking guidebooks, such as ‘Walking the Isle of Arran’ by Mary Welsh and Christine Isherwood, offer routes that include the prehistoric sites. A particular favourite of mine is Kilpatrick Dun because of its lovely views over the archaeological landscape of Machrie Moor and Shiskine Valley. (Best to catch the bus to this site though as car parking is limited.)
I wonder what will survive of us four thousand years hence? Will our Information Age survive time?  We certainly throw a lot away as a society so could it be layers of plastic bottles?  Or bits and pieces of vehicles which future archaeologists painstakingly piece together? And I wonder what future people will make of who we were based on what we left behind?