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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.

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