My mum was born a Calder, of the clan Campbell of Cawdor. She was born in Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre in 1950, and lived the first part of her life around the small but ancient village of Clachan, nestled in beautiful, rural Scotland. We (my mum, dad, brother and I) spent virtually all the holidays we had up there. We’d pile in the car at our home near Manchester and later further down south, and my poor dad would drive all day or night up to Clachan. He can still remember the route, how many left turns (2), how many right turns (2), how many sets of traffic lights (4), and how many roundabouts (8). We’d stock up on sweets and fizzy drinks, a Beano annual for me, books for my brother, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on tape, and the inevitable puke-bags (me).
In many ways I grew up there. We had a cottage which belonged to my mum and her three brothers, and we all shared it over the years. It was a one-up-one-down job, with a tiny bathroom and very small kitchen, but it was perfection. Even the kitchen with its swan-adorned floor to ceiling wallpaper. My brother and parents shared the bedroom and I slept in the doorless cupboard over the stairs. It was my own little cave. My granny and grandpa lived over the road in a beautiful old church, complete with bell tower, and my granny's sister, my great aunt Margaret, lived in the cottage next door to us. Eventually my great aunt needed more help to get by so she moved down south closer to my parents in 1988, and after my grandpa died the same year (at the tender age of 18, thanks to being born on February 29th), my granny moved in to the cottage next to ours. It made sense, but I was incredibly sad to lose that old church, even if it was just over the road. Our visits didn’t slow down, but when my granny began to show signs of dementia, the decision was made to move her down south in 2004, closer to her sister, and closer to us. Although we swore this wouldn’t change anything, it did, and as a family we didn’t visit Scotland again until last year, 2013.
The first visit last year (there were two), was for Easter and a story unto itself, suffice to say the area saw the worst snow it had since 1963. Snowdrifts of 20 foot (just over 6 metres), blocked the road – the only road – to Clachan, so we ended up stayed in Tarbert for the week. Very cold, and very strange not to be in Clachan, but Scotland nonetheless. For a weekend in August 2013 we went up for the wedding of my mum’s cousin Bobby, 77, and his lovely bride, Anne, 69. It was thanks to the beautiful weather we had then that I started to think about heading back up after the worst of the winter in 2014.
So up we went again. We braved Easter, and we weren’t disappointed – bright blue skies, a warm sun, and the most wonderfully clear air there is to breathe (quite possibly anywhere on this planet). After a wonderful week of visiting spots I hadn’t seen for over a decade, eating way too much, drinking far too much, and a lot of gazing off into the distance, we made our way back home. I can’t wait to go again.
Dun Skeig is a large hill just outside of Clachan. It’s home to the remains of an Iron Age fort, a vitrified fort, and a slightly more boring trig point. You’ve not really been to Clachan until you’ve climbed Dun Skeig – at least, not as far as I’m concerned. It’s not the longest walk, nor the hardest, but the views are spectacular.
When I was little it was a mountain. We would make the trip, rain or shine, sometimes with a picnic, sometimes just for fun, and my dad would hide 20p coins – 50p if we were lucky – in amongst the rocks, and my brother and I would rush to find them. The best thing though to find was a dead sheep. From bloated, swollen, and fluffy carcasses, to sun-bleached skeletons. Not only was it fascinating, it also presented the possibility of gaining a skull. A ram’s skull was a thing of beauty, not to mention pride. That is, of course, if an adult could be convinced to boil off the last bits of meat.
This time, however, there were no coins, and no carcasses. The views, however, certainly made up for this.
I considered – I still do really – Tangy Beach to be our own private beach. It’s not, of course, but I doubt you’d find it if you didn’t know it was there. Tucked down beside the road it’s made of two beaches, with the left side more sheltered and secluded than the right. I’ve spent many days here swimming, catching crabs, eating rolls that would always end up crunchy with sand, and drinking more Irn-Bru than a child probably should.
This year, we ate our rolls, we climbed the rocks, we watched as waves crashed against the shore, and we lay in the sun. There was no swimming.
With our old cottage in Clachan being rented out by the new owner, we took a cottage in Tayinloan for the week. Tayinloan is about halfway between Tarbert and Campbeltown, and although we had eaten at the (now closed) pub there once or twice, the village wasn’t too familiar to me.
The ferry to Gigha, a small island 20 minutes away, leaves from Tayinloan, so one evening, we took a stroll down to the pier and watched as the sun went down, lighting up the strokes of clouds in the sky, and generally making everything look rather nice.
What are these photos about?
Believe it or not, Kintyre is quite popular with surfers. Westport Beach, not far from Campbeltown, with its huge expanse of sand and sheltering sand dunes, is where they head. Although it being only mid-April, hidden in the dunes were a fair number of campsites and surfboards stuck firmly in the sand, presumably waiting for the sun to warm up the water just that little bit more.
Anne’s daughter, husband and son live on the top of the hill range that runs down Kintyre in a house they built themselves. The house is next door to an old restaurant we used to visit, and in whose toilet I managed to lock myself many, many years ago. As I struggled with the lock, I clearly remember thinking that I’d be stuck in there forever, and how they’d have to cut a hole to pass food through to me. I’m told I wasn’t a daft child, but you do wonder.
Obligatory Highland cow and not-so-obligatory alpaca.
Clachan shore is a 30 minute walk from the village, through fields inevitably filled with sheep and occasionally cows, and alongside the burn that runs through the village. It’s a lovely walk, one which I’ve done hundreds of times. The most memorable of which was a very long time ago when I had gone up to visit my granny by myself. There are a few gates to go through on the walk, and I, being young and energetic, had decided to climb over them. As my granny warned me not to fall, I slipped and fell face first into a large and moist cow pat. I distinctly remember having to scoop out handfuls of cow poo so that I could open my eyes. All I saw, of course, was a very angry granny.
No cow pats this time, thank goodness, just a very friendly little sheep, and lovely views of the sea and Dun Skeig.
The old road to Clachan winds its way around the shore, below Dun Skeig, past the jetty where we used to keep our boat, and past The Ferry House at Portachoillan. It’s a beautiful walk, especially when it’s low tide and you can walk along the shore, which is what we did this time.
The jetty leads out into West Loch Tarbert, and gives easy access to the opposite side of the loch and the many bays there. Crystal clear waters, a multitude of mussels, and beautiful beaches make for ideal afternoon excursions. Further along the old road is Corran Cottage, where my mum spent many of her summer holidays.
After a wonderful week we began our journey back to the airport. The drive is also something to look forward to as you pass through beautiful towns and some spectacular scenery. Rest and be Thankful is a viewpoint that looks over Glen Croe on the road leading you to Loch Lomond. It’s a beautiful spot on a long and windy road. Always worth a stop.
The last stop before Glasgow is Loch Lomond, always a wonderfully deep and dark blue and more often than not covered with cloud. It always makes me think of a ghost story I read set not too far from Kintyre, in which seals come out of the loch and night and steal babies. It’s a lot more scary than it sounds.