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Issue 51 - A most glorious area

Scotland Magazine Issue 51
June 2010


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A most glorious area

Charles Douglas explores Argyll, Loch Lomond, Stirling and the Trossachs.

The glorious region of Argyll and Bute, with its administrative centre at Lochgilphead, embraces the second largest local government area in Scotland. It covers more than 3,000 miles of coastline, and from the north at Ballachulish on Loch Leven, the wild and dramatic landscape, tumbles inland south into Glen Coe , and, following the coastal road, coils through Appin and Benderloch towards Loch Etive and Oban, the sea gateway to the Hebrides.

In the wilderness of Glencoe, where a long steep-sided pass is encapsulated by high mountains, a political event of historic proportions took place over 300 years ago and shocked the Scottish nation. On 13th February 1692, thirty eight clansmen of the Clan MacIan of Glencoe, a branch of Clan Donald, were ruthlessly slaughtered by their house guests, a troop of Government soldiers under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

In a bid to establish loyalty to the incoming British monarchs King William and Queen Mary, the Government of the day had decreed that all Highland chiefs should swear an oath of allegiance to their rulers.

The elderly Alastair MacIan, twelfth Chief of Glencoe, was unintentionally late in doing so, but it was decided that an example should be made of him.

To begin with, it seemed that nothing much was amiss. Around 120 soldiers of Argyll’s regiment of Foot were billeted on the MacIans, but that was a normal enough occurrence in the Highlands, and besides, MacIan’s youngest son was married to Captain Campbell’s niece. As a result, generous hospitality was extended by the Clan. Then it appears that an order arrived from the Lord Advocate, John Dalrymple, Master of Stair, instructing the Captain to put the MacIans to the sword.

Quite how this compromised his family loyalties is anyone’s guess, but he obeyed his instructions to the letter.

Now under Scots law there is a category of murder known as “murder under trust”, which is considered even more heinous than ordinary murder. Although the condemnation that followed the news of the outrage was unanimous, nobody was ultimately held to account and the Massacre of Glencoe has gone down in history as one of the nation’s greatest acts of infamy. The stigma has clung to the Campbells ever since, although they were only obeying instructions. Nevertheless, a plaque on the door of Glencoe’s Clachaig Inn to this day reads, “ No Hawkers or Campbells.” Be sure and look in on the National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre with its interactive exhibitions and activities for all the family.

Those were deeply troubling and violent times for the Highlands of Scotland, inflamed by the exile of the de jure Stuart monarchs of Great Britain. Memories, as illustrated above, are long in the Highlands of Scotland. After another such outrage involving the Campbells occurred in 1752, Appin still resonates with the consequences.

Six years after the defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden, rumours surrounding yet a further insurrection swept the country and the British Government was put on alert to watch for signs of unrest in the Highlands.

For having supported the uprising of 1745, the Stewarts of Argyll and Camerons of Lochaber had their lands seized by the Crown.

In Appin, the man put in charge of this was the Hanovarian Government factor Colin Campbell of Glenure (or Acharn), known locally as “The Red Fox”, and he was in the process of evicting Stewart lairds from their properties when he was assassinated by an unknown assailant. Readers of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels Kidnapped and Catriona will be familiar with the story.

In the aftermath of the murder, The Red Fox’s neighbour and one-time friend, James Stewart of the Glen, was rapidly accused of the murder, sent to Fort William for trial and sentenced to death. It was a Campbell set-up.

With eleven Campbells on the jury and the Duke of Argyll as judge, his guilt was a foregone conclusion. James of the Glen was taken to Ballachulish where he met his grisly end on a scaffold and his body left to hang on the gibbet until it disintegrated. However, there was no convincing evidence as to his guilt and, to this day, it is widely believed that he was entirely innocent, the real culprit in all likelihood being his step-son Allan Breck Stewart, who vanished into exile. A monument at Ballachulish is inscribed with the words: In memory of James Stewart of Acharn who was executed on this spot on 8th November 1752 for a crime of which he was not guilty.

Offshore on Loch Linnhe is Castle Stalker, a thirteenth century MacDougall stronghold that extends over virtually the entire islet upon which it was built. In the fourteenth century, the castle passed through marriage to the Stewarts, and it remains in private ownership. Just across the water is Port Appin village with the adjoining Airds Bay where a ferry service connects to the Isle of Lismore. With a small population, this island boasts three ancient castles as well as the monastic site of Kilmoluaig.

It provides the fiefdom for the Livingstone Clan (Clan MacLea). Hereditary Keepers of the Bachuill Buidhe, Pastoral Staff of St Moluag, an irish missionary who crossed to the island in AD562.

The mouth of Loch Creran, sheltered by Lismore and the Isle of Eriska, famous for its gourmet hotel, is a popular berthing place for the west coast yachting community. Out to sea, the open Atlantic Ocean beckons through the Sound of Mull to round Ardnamurchan Point. From the head of Loch Creran, the shore road curves on a southward course and strikes off towards Loch Etive. From the road’s summit, at around 500 ft, are seen the seven peaks of Ben Cruachan.

On a 70ft high crag, north of the town of Oban, sits Dunollie Castle, the ancestral seat of Clan MacDougall who fell from power as the Clan Campbell gained momentum in the fourteenth century. Pulpit Hill on the south side of the town, is the classic viewpoint of this busy, west coast conurbation, although McCaig’s Folly, floodlit at night and modelled on the Colosseum in Rome, can hardly be ignored. Alas, its benefactor John Stuart McCaig died in 1902 before he was able to complete his project and it has remained as we see it today, a quaint and unexpected crown for the town below.

One essential experience in Oban is a visit to the Oban Distillery. There is a small entry fee, but this is refunded when you buy a bottle from the distillery shop. Another great local attraction is the Argyllshire Gathering which takes place over two days in August and welcomes athletes, Highland dancers and pipers from far and wide. As one might expect from its strategic position, modern Oban thrives on its hotels and shops and visitor traffic.

From Oban’s horseshoe bay which fronts onto the Firth of Lorn, the ferries plough their routes to the islands of Lismore, Kerrera, Mull and Iona, Barra and the Uists. South of Oban, at Kilninver, the road splits off to the west to Clachan Bridge, the shortest crossing over the Atlantic Ocean to Seil Island, which, in turn, is separated from yet another magical island, Luing, famous for its distinctive breed of cattle.

It was in Kilmartin Glen on the road south from here that, to some extent, Scotland actually began. Stone circles, tombs and shrines with carvings etched onto the rocks, date from Neolithic times, but it was on Dunaad Hill that the first Gaelic speaking Scots built their headquarters on their arrival from Ireland in the fifth century. From then on until Kenneth MacAlpin relocated to Scone in the ninth century, Scottish kings were enthroned here in a ritual ceremony.

Certainly also worth a visit is the Kilmartin House Museum of Ancient Culture. In Kilmartin Parish Church are displayed 79 grave slabs, several featuring symbols connected to the ancient order of Knights Templar which was disbanded in 1307. For over two hundred years, the Knights Templar provided a unique protection and money-lending service throughout Europe until the very success and influence brought about their downfall. Excommunicated by Pope Clement V, it is said that a ship carrying several knights escaped to Scotland where the recently crowned Scottish monarch Robert the Bruce had also been excommunicated by the Church of Rome.

Although no documented proof survives to confirm this, it is generally believed that these Templars were given sanctuary at Kilmartin where they created the weaponry and trained the Scottish troops who would subsequently consolidate Bruce’s great victory at Bannockburn.

After Kilmartin, the road travels south towards Lochgilphead where it joins the A83 travelling north along the western shores of Loch Fyne, and south into Knapdale and Kintyre.

Close to Tarbert, at the top of Kintyre, is the Clan MacAlister Centre at Glenbarr Abbey.

On the finger tip of the Mull of Kintyre is Campbeltown, named after a seventeenth century earl of Argyll. Today , however, it is probably best known for its distilleries . At one time there were no less that thirty four, but through amalgamations and fluctuating demand, only three still remain, the spectacular quality of their single malts bringing them world renown.

From Lochgilphead, the A83 journeys north to circumnavigate Loch Fyne and recahing the pretty, white-washed town of Inveraray where stands the ancestral home of the Campbell earls and dukes of Argyll.

Although prior to moving here, the Campbells had their headquarters at Innis Chonnel Castle on Loch Awe, the turreted Inverary Castle , designed in 720 by Sir John Vanbrugh, has become very much a focal point for Argyllshire, hosting the recent Loch Fyne Food Fair and its own Highland Games in July. It also remains the home of the thirteenth Duke of Argyll and his young family.

Much of the town of Inveraray, including the church, was designed and built by the Edinburgh-born architect Robert Mylne between 1772 and 1800. The Georgian Inveraray Jail in the burgh has been transformed into a museum, and certainly worth a visit are the nearby Argyll Folk Museum and Inverarary Maritime Heritage Museum.

Another popular stopping off point is the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Shop. After this, the road north east leads through the Argyll Forest to Cowal, dropping south towards Dunoon and the ferries across the River Clyde to Gourock, or heading over to join the A85 at Crianlarich and east into Stirlingshire.

This is spectacular hill walking country incorporating the 150 acre Benmore Botanic Gardens and Morag’s Fairy Glen with its Berry Burn and picturesque waterfalls. The Cowal Highland Gathering held annually in August at Dunoon claims to be the largest Highland Games in the world.

In 1263, before the Battle of Largs, Vikings led by King Magnus of Man launched raiding ships up Loch Lomond to plunder the settlements on either side. They had reached the loch by sailing up Loch Long from the Firth of Clyde, pulling their longships ashore at Arrochar and hauling them across the mile and a half of low ground to Tarbet, a name which means the isthimus between two lochs.

Loch Lomond forms the natural passageway to and from the western Highlands. Ben Lomond, the most southerly peak in Scotland, stands 3000 ft high and overlooks the largest surface area of freshwater in the United Kingdom and its archipelago of small islands. The location, just twenty miles north of Glasgow, therefore makes Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park a playground for Scotland’s largest city. Scenically it takes some beating, and all of the time there are the words of that old, world famous song sounding in the subconscious; a sad and haunting ballad recalling the fate of a young Jacobite prisoner condemned to death at Carlisle Castle.

The Trossachs, a wilderness area wedged between Ben A’an to the north and Ben Venue to the south, mainly incorporates the wooded glens and lochans lying to the east of Loch Lomond, and to the west, the breathtakingly beautiful Loch Katrine. A cruise up Loch Katrine on the steamship Sir Walter Scott is an essential part of a day out, and during the summer months the surrounding district is a favourite for bicyclists and hill walkers.

To some extent immortalised by Sir Walter Scott himself in The Lady of the Lake, and later by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin and pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, the sheer symmetry and unspoiled nature of the surrounding scenery remains unsurpassed anywhere. Canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and mountain biking are also to be found here.

Following the A85, our journey encompasses the small towns of Lochearnhead, Callander and Doune before arriving at the ancient fortified town of Stirling, Gateway to the Highlands. Now designated a city, Stirling stands at the head of the Firth of Forth and, created a Royal Burgh in 1128, was for centuries the stronghold of Scotland’s Stewart/Stuart monarchy. You have only to look at the journey we have embarked upon in this article to understand just how strategically important it must have been for mediaeval Scottish monarchs in their endeavours to hold their wild, remote and repeatedly rebellious territories together.

Strachur Smiddy
A restored smiddy, first recorded reference
in 1791, now a working museum and craft
shop. A useful insight into the lives of old
Scottish blacksmiths.
Tel: +44 (0)1369 860 785
Loch Lomond Shores
First port of call for exploration of the loch:
contains shops, restaurants, an aquarium
and all manner of information for the visitor.
Tel: +44 (0)1389 751 035
The Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway
Lots to tempt those passionate about
Scotland’s industrial heritage: ride a lovingly
restored steam locomotive and visit the
Birkhill Fireclay Mine.
Tel: +44 (0)1506 825 855
Stirling Castle
One of the grandest of all Scottish castles.
Displays on the castle’s rich history, medieval
kitchen, restored great hall and attractive café.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 450 000
Blackness Castle
One of Scotland’s most impressive
strongholds. This 14th century castle has
used as a royal castle, prison, armaments
depot and film location, to name a few.
Tel: +44 (0)131 668 800
Oban Distillery
This region boasts much for the whisky
enthusiast. Take a tour and learn about the
ancient art of distilling.
Tel: +44 (0)1631 572 004
Benmore Botanic Garden
Beautiful, 120 acre garden boasting more
than 300 species of rhododendron and a
spectacular avenue of giant redwoods.
Tel: +44 (0)1369 706 261
Moirlanich Longhouse
Nr. Killin
A perfectly preserved cruck frame cottage,
where you can discover what life was like
for Scots in mid-19th century.
Tel: +44 (0)131 243 9300
The National Wallace Monument
A spectacular 220’ high monument to
Scotland’s national hero. Learn all about
William Wallace and take in the spectacular
views from the top.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 472 140
Regimental Museum,
The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
A fascinating museum demonstrating more
than two centuries of Scots military history.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 475 165
Smith Art Gallery & Museum
A truly impressive collection of fine art,
archaeology and artefacts from throughout
Scotland’s history.
Tel: +44 (0)1786 471 917

Kilmahumaig Barns
Self contained flats in a lovingly restored
barn. A choice of accommodation.
Tel: +44 (0)1546 830 238
Culag Guest House
Loch Lomond
Picturesque guesthouse on the bonnie
banks of Loch Lomond. Boasts its own
private jetty and activities for active types.
Tel: +44 (0)1436860 248
The Lodge on Loch Lomond
Luxury hotel in a quiet lochside cove.
Award winning restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)1436 860 201
Foxglove Cottages
Spacious five star self-catering cottages set
in beautiful private country estate.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 661 128
Ormsary Farm
Southend, Campbeltown
B&B accommodation at a working
farmhouse on the Mull of Kintyre.
Tel: +44 (0)1586 830 665
Breacon House
Family run guesthouse with a gold-star
standard for providing quality and comfort.
Tel: +44 (0)1259 724 786
Kennels Cottage
Charming B&B in a recently refurbished
gamekeeper’s cottage. Also offers classic
car hire.
Tel: +44 (0)1259 742 476
Kilcamb Lodge Hotel
A very fine country house hotel in an
absolutely stunning setting. Also has an
award winning restaurant and a very warm
welcome (pet friendly, too).
Tel: +44 (0)1967 402 257
An elegant Victorian mansion which was
once the home of Kenneth Graeme, author
of Wind in the Willows.
Tel: +44 (0)1546 603 245
West Highland Lodge
A comfortable and very reasonably priced
guest house within the grounds of the
national park.
Tel: +44 (0)1838 300 283
Victorian waterfront home offering luxury
B&B accommodation. No children or pets
means it retains a peaceful atmosphere!
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 147

Manor House
A gourmet menu featuring fresh
local fish and game, changing
daily to capture the best of the
season. Open for lunch and dinner
seven days a week
(also offers 11 four-star bedrooms).
Tel: +44 (0)1631 562 087
Culcreuch Castle Bar
Fine dining in a restored castle
from courteous, tartan-clad staff.
Choose either the elegant Castle
Restaurant, or the less formal
Dungeon Diner with its stone walls
and antler chandelier.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 860 555
The Coach House Coffee Shop
Hearty snacks and tasty home-cooking are on
offer at this idyllic coffee shop. Have a browse
the adjoining gift shop after your meal.
Tel: +44 (0)1436 860 341
Loch Melfort Hotel and Restaurant
Well established venue offering fantastic local
seafood, alongside a 26 room family run hotel.
Tel: +44 (0)1852 200 233
Kilmartin House Museum Café
Glebe Café is open from 10am til 5pm; and
the Glebe Cairn Restaurant Thurs-Sat from
6-9pm. Dine in a beautiful building with
massive timbers and traditional stonework.
Tel: +44 (0)1546 510 278
The Tayvallich Inn
Renowned seafood restaurant on the shores
of Loch Sween. Open every day for dinner,
and Fri-Sun for lunch.
Tel: +44 (0)1546 870 282
The Black Bull
Lunch and dinner available everyday in the
Bull Bar and Bistro.
Tel: +44 (0)1360 550 215
Chatters Restaurant
Fab restaurant serving the best from
Scotland’s larder.
Tel: +44 (0)1369 706 402
The Green Welly Stop
Speciality and homemade food, ice cream
and whiskies from this unique shop.
Tel: +44 (0)1838 400 271
Poppies Hotel
A well-balanced menu of skilful dishes
freshly cooked to order, combined with
attentive friendly service. Nine rooms.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 330 329
The Cruin Bar & Restaurant
Open everyday for lunch and dinner, and
drinks on the patio overlooking the loch.
Tel: +44 (0)1389 850 588