358: around Kilmartin

OS Explorer map 358, Lochgilphead & Knapdale North: Kilmartin – I own this map, and have visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 5th January 2018. (Our video of the ASNC Trip is on YouTube on the ASNC Society’s channel – the section corresponding to this blog post runs from the 2:10 to 22:34).

This is the sixth of eight map posts that concern the ASNC Trip to Argyll in January 2018, and is going to be extremely long, as we were there for two days during which a great deal happened, and which I intend to document fully,and because the previous time I visited this map it was for four days of which I have a very good photo and text record, so that too will be lengthy enough that I very much admire you if you get through it all!

My last post ended dramatically with the seventeen tripgoers in three cars on the way from Glasgow to our hostel on Loch Awe – the drama was that first Erithacus had to get out of the car and get the train to Oban because we realised we didn’t have enough seats, and then that Tragic Sacrifice’s car had broken down by the side of the road in the pouring rain, and was just about to be loaded onto a recovery lorry when my car left them.

Alcove Gremlin’s car, having suffered no problems other than a lack of phone signal, arrived at the hostel first. A conversation by Facebook message – the hostel had internet but no phone signal – finally led them to discover the misfortunes that had befallen the others. As the rest of us wouldn’t be there for another hour, Alcove Gremlin and The Uncontestedly Virile (I did not choose his nickname…) nobly departed for the two-hour round-trip drive to get Erithacus from Oban station, on the condition that some of the plain cheese pizza be kept aside for The Uncontestedly Virile. Meanwhile the other three made a start on the pizzas, which fortunately had been in their car.

About an hour later, my carful rolled in; we entered and pizza was duly consumed. Tragic Sacrifice and her tragic crew arrived on the back of the recovery trailer almost another hour later, complete with impressive brave smiles.

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The final carful arrives, not quite as intended

Finally, Alcove Gremlin and The Uncontestedly Virile arrived back from Oban with Erithacus, having collected her from the Spoons where she had awaited pickup while eating chips. The last lot of pizzas was cooked and eaten, altered plans were made for the next two days due to the reduced number of cars, and bedrooms were assigned and soon sought.

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Our view from the hostel in the morning

We awoke to be pleasantly surprised by the view, having arrived in the dark the night before – the hostel was at the southern tip of Loch Awe, and there were many pretty hills around. Indeed the hostel itself impressed us rather; the rooms were lovely, evenwith televisions, and ensuite bathrooms between just the two to four; it was really more of a hotel than a hostel, but then there was the huge communal lounge and kitchen, so yes, very good!

We had a rather busy day planned, visiting a lot of places, but first we had to say a tearful goodbye to Tragic Sacrifice: her car breakdown meant that, alas, she had to go back to Wales that very day on the back of a relay succession of recovery trucks, for her car to be fixed there, due to that being how her insurance worked – unfortunately she therefore didn’t get to see most of the trip, and thus earned her nickname.

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Medieval stone carving inside Keills chapel

We soon piled into the two remaining cars and one hastily-booked taxi for the forty-minute or so drive to our first destination, Keills Chapel. The chapel in question, situated in a very isolated spot at the very end of a peninsula so that it really does feel like one’s driving to the end of the world, has been converted to house a collection of stone carving from the local area, and is open for visitors. The most notable of these crosses is the Keills high cross (the tall one at the back in the picture above), which stood outside the chapel itself until recently – it’s a very intricately carved cross from the 7th-8th century which is in just wonderful condition.

Anyway, yes, we drove there. My car left a little early and made a stop on the way at the Lochgilphead petrol station in order to be able to pay the taxi when it arrived at the chapel. Our drive was accompanied by some Irish rap courtesy of The Many-Named.

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Walking up the hill to Keills Chapel

Unexpectedly, considering that this was Scotland in January, the weather was really very good; although it wasn’t exactly warm it was still, clear and sunny; great really. When I had been to Keills before with Vesper and Millicent in September 2016 (see below), it was a grey day, and it really was much more beautiful this time – it being a clear day we could even see across to the snowy mountains on Jura!

For some reason I didn’t take a picture of the really very beautiful view from the chapel, across to the mountains on Jura, so here is a poor-quality screen capture from the video camera.

But yes, people walked up the hill to the chapel, enjoyment was had. There were some cows that we admired (there was some suggestion that we either carry out a cattle raid or that we offer them membership of the ASNC Society), and some people walked a little further along the peninsula to better see the view out to sea. When the taxi arrived, I talked to the driver who very kindly offered to charge us only waiting time if we wanted him to take us back at all, since it was on his way anyway – we took him up on this offer for the next two stops, which were on the route back, rather than our original plan of from this point always having one car do a second trip to get the remaining people. [1]

Good use of this OS map was made showing the taxi driver exactly where our next stop would be! In fact, as I’m talking about maps, for this trip I made a little sheaf of printed maps in order for the people driving cars to be able to get around – Kilmory Oib and St Columba’s Church especially are not signposted from the road so we needed to be precise about where to stop. Therefore the sheaf contained Explorer-level maps of where to stop for those two places and of the area around Kilmartin, as well as larger-scale mapping of the whole area for road navigation. I was quite happy with it, especially as it meant I used my OS maps online subscription for the first time in a few months!

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Some of the map-sheaf

But anyway, after a good while at and around the chapel, we got back into the cars and taxis and were off. Our next stop was a brief one in Tayvallich to use the public toilets, after which we continued to a car park at the head of one Loch Coille-Bharr, in order to walk along the loch to the abandoned village of Kilmory Oib. From the car park the taxi driver went off to do something mysterious for the next forty minutes before coming back to collect us. We had a brief look at some signs for the Scottish Beaver Trial before walking through some very lovely forest to get to the abandoned village in question.

Kilmory Oib is a village that was abandoned in the late 19th century. An initial suggestion that it might have been related to the Highland Clearances was rejected because not only was it rather a lot too late for that, but that presumably no landlord would have wanted to clear this land given that it was in the middle of a still-intact forest so one would think not very useful for sheep. We had a look around the houses, which gave Alcove Gremlin a chance to show off the habit for which she is named.

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Alcove Gremlin gremlinning in an alcove

After that we walked through the village to the feature of early medieval interest that drew us there – a holy well dedicated to St Máel Rubha, and an early medieval cross slab next to it. Standing in a circle around the well we launched into a rousing rendition of I Like The Vikings, one of the ASNaC Quire‘s warmup songs that has since spread through the department. We then went to have a quick look further down the loch before returning to the cars. There I paid the taxi driver, as this would be the last leg for which he’d be accompanying us, and off we went to Lochgilphead’s Co-op to buy lunch.

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An amusing headline in the Co-op. #scottishproblems. [2]
Lunch was bought, and then we drove off again to go to Dunadd, Alcove Gremlin’s car leaving early so that she’d have time to do two trips. She had a slight problem of getting a little lost, resulting in both cars arriving at once, and in the end I went back for the left-behind lot, who were waiting patiently on benches in the Co-op car park.

Dunadd is a hill in the middle of the otherwise very flat and marshy Kilmartin Glen, notable for having once been the fortified capital and crowning site of the early medieval Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata. We climbed up it, and at the top had a group photo. Millicent, Vesper, Erithacus and I had another photo in which we were edgily silhouetted against the sky, which ended up on the back cover of the latest issue of Gesta Asnacorum, our department’s silly magazine full of very niche jokes. [3]

Near the top of Dunadd is a stone with a footprint in it, which is supposedly where new Dalriadan kings once were crowned upon putting their foot in it. (Well, the rock there now is a duplicate as the original was getting worn by tourists wanting to be king for a day, but it’s hard to tell the difference.) There’s also theoretically some Ogam writing on the stone somewhere, but it’s very hard to make out. Naturally several of us stood in the footprint and left as Kings and Queens of Dál Riata.

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Erithacus receiving the submission of Vesper as she is crowned Queen of Dál Riata

From Dunadd we moved on to our last stop of the day, St Columba’s Church, at the south end of Loch Awe, and which was certainly the least-visited place that we went to. The church in question is ruined, abandoned three or four centuries ago, and used to be the parish church of the former village Kilneuair – although it was used for burials until more recently. It is not at all signed from the road, or indeed anywhere, and I’ve not found it mentioned on any tourist websites or anything (which is why the link above goes to an archaeological survey). Vesper, Millicent and I had found it in summer 2016 (see below), purely because it was marked on this OS Explorer map in the “old stuff” font, and we’d decided to have a look.

St Columba’s Church marked on the OS map

It’s very overgrown now, but someone from the ministry of old things has evidently been checking up on it, as there are wooden supports that have been put in to keep it from falling down. There’s a lovely little font visible in the photo on the left below, and the right photo is of the little chapel at the west end which has lovely windows. (Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures this time, so these photos are from 2016 when I was there with Vesper and Millicent in summer, apologies.)

But anyway, the tale at hand. It was a twenty-minute drive to the church from Dunadd, and so when mine and Alcove Gremlin’s cars departed, we knew it would be forty minutes until one of us could get back for the four left behind, and an hour until we could all be there at the church. This was problematic as it was getting dark, so in the end Alcove Gremlin and her second load of people just went straight back to the (nearby) hostel and instead would leave early the next day to go to look at it. The rest of us had to park in a slightly-more-than-passing-place on the road, and walk to the church – there is a path that goes fairly near it, but the last bit consists of clambering over the churchyard wall and picking one’s way through foliage. (Admittedly this was easier than last time I was here, which was in summer when the plants were much thicker and more troublesome.) We looked around the church, and Guardian of Spirits came up with the name “baby dipping pot” for the font.

From there we went back to the hostel, my car making two trips since Alcove Gremlin was off bringing the last lot back from Dunadd, and there collapsed for an a laid-back evening. After a while someone noticed that the skies were extraordinarily clear, resulting in several of us lying on the cold ground outside for a while looking at stars. Our dinner plan for the evening was to get a Chinese takeaway from Lochgilphead, and so after I had everyone’s orders, Millicent and I got into the car, first to go to Kilmartin to use the phone signal there to order the food, and then to move to Lochgilphead to collect it.

Chinese food being eagerly divided up. (Another frame grab from the video camera.)

We returned victorious and food was received with joy. Much of the remainder of the evening was spent in a hair-braiding session with a great many participants, oiled by the consumption of some mead and ginger wine. Chief Necromancer did something spectacular to my hair, there were braids criss-crossing all over the place!

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My hair in its form after that evening, courtesy of the skills of Chief Necromancer

The morning saw us leave the hostel for the last time, but we awoke to a pleasant surprise, seeing that the loch had partially frozen over, which was very pretty!

Alcove Gremlin departed first, taking the people who had missed out on St Columba’s Church to see that before meeting up with the rest of us at our intended destination of the day, a car park near Kilmartin. We breakfasted – alas, forgetting to eat the eggs that Chief Necromancer’s aunt had given us – packed up, checked many times that no-one and nothing was left behind in the hostel, and were off. I found a phone charger in the hostel and picked it up, but still no-one has claimed from me, so I suspect I might have stolen it…

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Having a photo on a frosty bridge as we await the final carful of people

The plan for today was to look at a few of the nearby archaeological sites. Kilmartin Glen has a bewildering array of things of archaeological interests of which we’d picked only a few that were close together – two stone circles (“Temple Wood”), one set of standing stones in a field, and a burial mound (“Nether Largie South Chambered Cairn”).

At the burial mound, we naturally tried to all squeeze in there at once, and so we did apart from two brave door guards – it was quite fun. Now, we’d brought a wooden sword, our mead horn, and a bottle of mead along on the trip, and so, we thought, it would be a waste not to have some sort of mock-cultish ceremony with them at these millennia-old ritual sites. Therefore Erithacus and I took on the roles of Queen and King, and one at a time knighted everyone and gave them a drink of the mead, with everyone of course receiving an epithet of some kind. (These epithets have been the source of a good few of the nicknames for people you’ve seen on this blog.)

Guardian of the Spirits being knighted

Getting back to the cars, we found we still had forty minutes or so before we needed to be off back to Glasgow, and so we went a couple of miles up the road to Carnasserie Castle – I had been told before coming on the trip by Geochunderer that it was his favourite castle in Scotland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I must have been to at least ten Scottish castles by now, and I think I have to agree – it was a lovely medium between being ruined and present; there were lots of rooms to explore and nothing was annoyingly blocked off, one could climb right to the top of it.

There, the trip having come to an end, Erithacus and I stood on the floor of the castle and shouted out to farewell everyone, and in a magical moment they all appeared, sticking their heads out from various holes in the towers on both sides. And so the trip was over!

All that remained was to get people back where they were going. Due to our missing car, five people had to take the bus to Glasgow from Lochgilphead, and so I left first to take these five to get their bus. I left them at the co-op to buy their lunch – from where they would walk to the bus stop – and then came back for the lot I’d be driving to Glasgow. Alcove Gremlin, of course, likewise left with a carful for Glasgow. Our drive back to Glasgow was uneventful, and featured Hamlet the Musical once more courtesy of The Many-Named.

Once I reached Glasgow I released my crew to go to their trains, with the exception of Guardian of Spirits, who was in my car for the drive back to Cambridge. The five arrived who had been on the bus and, excepting The Trivial, who was travelling on by train, got in and we drove off. Our next task was to rendevous with Alcove Gremlin, who having dropped off her passengers at the station and then dropped off the hire car had gone to Spoons for some warmth. Eventually we located spoons, collected her, and, all seven of us being assembled, started the long drive back south! (It wasn’t the same crew as had driven up with me, as The Many-Named was taking the train, and in their place Uncontestedly Virile and Guardian of Spirits were coming.)

(The next chapter of our journey home is told in my Hexham post in the “two days later” section, featuring icy roads and icier hostels. The tale will continue in my next post, about Escomb!) [4]

The final thing to mention is my jubilation upon leaving Scotland that I had broken my curse! Each of the three times I had driven to Scotland before this one, I ended up driving into a ditch, but this time I did not – possibly because of Tragic Sacrifice’s sacrifice. (The tale of one of these crashes is told below, and another mentioned in footnote 3 to my Skye post.)

Previous Visits

So indeed, I had, as was mentioned above, been to this area before, from the 1st to the 5th September 2016 with Vesper and Millicent. This was on what we called the Holy Island Trek, that is our trip from Lindisfarne to Iona that summer, about half of which we did on foot, which has featured on this blog several times before, for example here and here. Our day on the 1st started on Arran, from where we got the ferry across to Kintyre and drove up the coast to Lochgilphead, by which time we were very desperate for petrol, having failed to find any the past two days.

From there, we carried on north to Kilmartin, where the annal, our collaborative diary for the trip, records our doings:

Had lunch on a park bench by the church and then went down to the museum. Paid £5 for entry – it was a nice museum, and good for a local one, though [Vesper] thought plausibly a little steep. It was still nice to see the objects in their geographic position. [I] felt mildly guilty over leaning on a 10th-century cross slab in the museum. Went along to the church which had 12th– to 17th-century graves and 3 crosses, including a rather grand one with Christ and the evangelists on it. […] Parked and walked to an x-shaped set of stones, the Temple Wood Rings and an enterable burial mound, regarding which we discussed how good a home it would make if you were Guthlac. [An Anglo-Saxon saint.]

(Further down in this entry I won’t announce direct quotation the annal every time, but will just use the indentation and italics. When I’m not directly quoting I am often using it as a source.)

Indeed the burial mound and rings in question were the same ones mentioned above! The ASNC Trip, being the trip which the main part of this blog entry concerns, was something that it was my job to plan, and I chose this area because I knew it from my previous visit with Vesper and Millicent. Unfortunately, the museum was closed in January, so we didn’t get to go to that this time, it was good.

From the burial mound, we got back in the car and drove to our campsite for the next three nights, which was in Lochgilphead. Our pasta dinner was bought in the Co-op, and cooked and eaten in the “parlour” – that is, a bit with benches covered by a wooden roof that was usefully provided by the campsite. (We weren’t as impressed as we could have been by this as our previous campsite, on Arran, had had a “warming room” for the use of campers, which was like the parlour, but warm and with plugs.) We then went to a fairly average pub for a while before coming back and going to sleep.

On the next day, the plan was to do a fairly significant walk, starting somewhere in the forest of Knapdale and ending at Dunadd. Now, since this trip had originally been conceived as an end-to-end walk from Lindisfarne to Iona, we already had a route planned, which was drawn in orange highlighter on our OS maps. Since we were no longer walking all the way (see my Hamilton post about that), we weren’t going to be sticking to that route, and therefore each day I would draw in pink highlighter indicating our actual route. However, on this day, the serendipitous discovery of a new path not marked on this map led to us disregarding this plan – the route we finally walked is indicated on the picture of our map below with the red arrows hastily added in Paint. (I’m not quite sure what the blue biro arrows meant.)

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The copy of this map we were using on the walk; particularly the section relevant to this day’s walk. The orange highlighter is original possible routes, the pink the route we planned to walk that day, and the red arrows drawn onto the image in Paint is what I think we actually did.

To get to Barnluasgan, our starting point, we’d need to take a bus.

There was some confusion about the bus which, according to the timetable in the bus shelter, did not exist, but which did ultimately arrive, according to the updated timetable accessed via internet. Futher confusion unfurled when the driver was unable to decipher [Vesper]’s pronunciation of Barnluasgan. Nevertheless these hurdles were overcome: the group boarded the bus, arrived at Barnluasgan and went down their elected path through the forest.

Yet they did not remain unimpeded for long; what was marked as a ford on the map did not transpire to be so easily fordable. With some artful stick-usage and thin-river-section-finding, the water was forded, but some socks became a little soggy. The next aquatic obstacle was posed by the sky, which chose to open periodically to shed a light but effective downpour, from which the three initially sheltered before surrendering to the inevitable soaking.

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Our path

We then encountered some difficulties around the place marked on the map as Dunans due to some no admission signs put up by the forestry commission, but these were solved by finding an alternate route. Descending to the road and the Crinan Canal, we were very pleased to find signs for the Dalriada Heritage Trail, a fancy and entirely new walking trail that was really very convenient for where we wanted to go. We therefore followed that througth the forest all the way to Dunadd rather than having to take a longer way around.

Further blessings provided by this route appeared in the form of a wooden boardwalk, practically a yellow-brick road, leading us safely across the “seasonally wet patches” of ground advertised by the sign on an earlier gate. Yet, it was not to the Emerald City, but to Dunadd, the seat of the kings of Dalriada, a sight with much greater promise to our eyes.

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Approaching Dunadd

We of course climbed up Dunadd, and James and Eve placed their feet in the kingmaking footprint, thereby becoming Dalriadan monarchs. We ate our lunch atop the fort before descending. From there I got into a taxi back to Lochgilphead to bring the car to collect the other two later (I think my knees were causing me pain that day as I’d forgotten to bring my walking poles). Millicent and Vesper walked the few miles to Kilmichael, and I met them there in the car.

There, we made for the ancient cup and ring marked stone, from which we were able to observe the emergence of children from the local primary school and to feel appropriately jealous of their local history lesson opportunities. After a quick flick around the village graveyard, we headed for an abandoned village, complete with well patronised by an obscure patron saint and an early medieval carved stone cross. [Millicent]’s stick, [My] foot, and a newly-minted penny received their blessing in the well.

Indeed the abandoned village in question was Kilmory Oib and the obscure saint St Máel Rubha, to which we returned for the ASNC Trip (above)! Millicent’s stick became known to us as the Stick of St Máel Rubha, and had a distinguished history – I had found it for Millicent earlier in the year in Wales when we were walking near Offa’s Dyke, and it was so good that it lived in my garage until this trip!

From there we went to Keills Chapel, again as mentioned above, meeting a cyclist who had lost his girlfriend but whom we later saw driving towards him. We departed after admiring the crosses, as

Sudden rain put us to flight and dissuaded us from visiting the home-baked good honesty box. Returning to the campsite, we got as dry as is possible while camping. Then [I] headed to the Co-op to buy ingredients for supper whilst [Vesper] and [Millicent] began the process of washing clothes – a process they were unable to complete until [I] returned with Hilda [my car] and soap. Finally, after enjoying a surplus of chicken curry, rice and naan, to the point where the consumption of Jamaican ginger cake no longer seemed practical, we went to the pub.

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Millicent pictured in front of Lochgilphead’s creepy-looking pharmacist’s.

Our next day, Saturday 3rd September 2016, featured another walk, this time further south, as we parked at Kilmory and did a round-trip walk around the headland to see St Columba’s Cave, which, as one might expect, is a cave associated with St Columba.

We began our walk – deciding not to take a bag at all and try to be back by lunchtime – by walking to the end of the road and entering a clearly-marked “private road”. The “dogs must be kept on leads” sign, however, assured us that humans were permitted if not quite welcome. Our walk through the Desolation of Argyll was interrupted by an extremely scary cattle grid – this farmer had had the bright idea of combining a cattle grid with a bridge over a stream far below. This was truly terrifying to walk over, stepping only on the poles, with the river raging below. […] We reached a public road again near Ellary, once we had limboed under a strapped-up gate. After being passed by a convoy of hatchback-driving grannies, we reached a sign pointing us to St Columba’s Cave. […]

However, we had some difficulty following the path as it wound steeply up a muddy hillside, and we found no cave even though the GPS showed us to be directly on top of it. The reason for this was, it transpired, that we were in fact directly on top of it – coming down again, we entered.

There was a probably-not-that-old altar and a carven cross, upon which offerings and prayer-slips had been left. We stopped here to consume chocolate, and as we were doing so, another group came to the cave, including a pleasant old lady (or “biddy”, as a possibly confused as to the definition Millicent referred to her as), who told us her story of the cave […]: St Columba, she recounted, was washed ashore in the cave while he fixed his boat, when first leaving Ireland. Her private theory was that a depression in a rock below a little spring nearby was in fact a Bronze Age cup mark, which Columba would have seen as a holy sign. She also told us of the animosity of the Ellary estate to visitors, explaining the large PRIVATE signs. [5]

We soon set off back the way we came, and encountered our friends the cows. […] they walked up the path in front of us for at least half a mile, leading to much consternation on our part. Eventually they led us over a rise into a dale filled with cows on all sides  – a perfect ambush! Fortunately, calf Byrhtnoth eventually left the path as he began to moo to encourage the warriors there. His mother followed and, for his ofermoode, we escaped.

Hehe, if that last paragraph seemed a little incomprehensible to you, our annal was there making humourous reference to the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, which recounts that same battle of 991AD. In the poem, Byrhtnoð, leader of the English troops, allows the Danish invaders over to the mainland unhindered, an action which costs him the battle; the “ofermoode” is a very bad cow pun, as in the poem that action is described as something he did for his ofermōde, which I hope I’m not being too controversial in translating as something like “because of his excessive pride/wilfulness”. [6]

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Cow Byrhtnoth and his gang.

Upon reaching the car again we ate our lunch and visited Kilmory Knap Chapel, the second of three converted chapels full of medieval stone carving we’d see on the trip.

Our next stop was Castle Sween, to which we were directed from a caravan park by a man trimming grass. There, [Millicent] entered the castle proper, while [I] crawled into what turned out to be the latrine tower. [Millicent] later channeled his inner [Alcove Gremlin], however, by entering the bread oven. After this, he fell asleep on the drive back to Lochgilphead and awoke very bewildered in the Co-op car park, where we once again encountedred the grass-trimming man from Castle Sween, seemingly loading up a lifetime supply of 2-pint bottles of semi-skimmed milk.

That evening, for a change we got dinner from the only slightly worryingly named “Chinese and European Takeaway”. Our attempt to return to the same rather average pub as the last two nights failed as it was full, and although there were two other pubs, we didn’t really want to try either of them, since “The Comm” had only tiny frosted windows and looked distinctly dodgy, while the other one had a sign on the door warning people not to take drugs in the toilets again. We were, however, saved by a tea shop that was opening late because of the Lochgilphead Music Festival or something, although it didn’t seem to be doing a roaring trade.

The next day, Sunday 4th, we planned a pre-lunch walk again, this time starting from the chapel in Kirkton, rather further north than we’d been so far. This was for the first time a walk entirely off the route we would have been walking if we’d been walking from Lindisfarne to Iona as was the original plan. We chose to come here just because the OS map showed several things in its “old stuff” font, particularly another ruined chapel and a cross-incised stone.

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The section of the map for the day – the pink highlighter shows the possible routes we planned that morning, while my red arrows drawn on on Paint show what we actually did.

We parked in Kirkton, near the chapel that’s marked with a blue star on the map, and started walking, our destination being the “cross-incised stone” marked on the map, Leac an Duine Choir. According to this website, “This stone (Leac an Duine Choir – ‘Flat stone of the Just Man’) is said to have been taken as a lintel for the farmhouse, but was replaced when ‘a voice came every night asking for it to be put back”, while the somewhat dodgy-sounding Celtic Encyclopedia claims that it marks the site of a “fierce battle between the Celts and Vikings” and that “according to legend, [the stone] speaks to those who have the ability to hear”.

At Barrackan, nearly the northernmost point of the route on the map, we

reached a very tasteful farmhouse where the outbuildings had been joined by glass, and then we went into one of their sheep fields where we found the cross-inscribed stone. […] Personally, [Millicent] thinks it might have been better off in the house given its weathered state.

Indeed, it was very weathered; the carvings on the surface were barely visible, and our identifying them was made slightly more difficult by the fact that when I had read out about the stone to the other two, stating that it had a carving in the shape of two B’s back to back, Vesper had thought I meant “bees”.

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The stone Leac an Duine Choir, with the back to back B carvings just about visible

We then tuerned back to the farmyard and tried to follow the path across the field, but we must have missed it since we ended up too high on a very ferny hill, which did however provide great views of Luing, Scarba, and Jura, with Colonsay and Mull in the background. […] Had to beat our way through many ferns to get to a wall, which we unceremoniously climbed over and carried on fern beating until we reached the track, which we followed round to an actual tarmacked road to Craignish Castle, where we had to slip through a farmyard with a yappy dog.

Craignish Castle looked a bit disappointing, not very pretty, but we soon got back to the car and had lunch in the graveyard before looking into the chapel. It wasn’t as good as the last two had been, not being in the care of Historic Scotland probably having something to do with that, but still it had been partially roofed over and the stones were pretty. Millicent found a book called “The Gifts of Reading” sitting on a stone, which according to the message in the front had been left for someone to find, read, and leave somewhere else, so that was nice!

Got back in the car and drove  north towards Loch Awe, stopping in Ardfern to buy the bread for our cullen skink soup, as well as lunch and a Sunday Telegraph. Carried on up to the east coast of Loch Awe, where we parked the car and went to find St Columba’s Church in the former village of Kilneuair. Went down to the Loch first though to try to see the crannog but failed. [7] Went up to the church, after more fern beating, an interesting place.

Surrounded by a low stone wall the central church was much bigger than other local medieval churches, with two south-facing doors – a priest door? The reconstructed font at the west end was nice, as well as the 19th-century graves there were also half-buried slabs that looked like 15th-century; Loch Awe style? Also three strange sockets in the south wall of the church, and a small oratory – very grand, possibly a chantry chapel for the Lords of Glassary? – which had a curious semicircular indent in it as well as ornate dressing.

Indeed that is the same St Columba’s Church mentioned above – the pictures up there were actually from this trip so I won’t post them again, but yes, ’twas a lovely place!

However, our good fortune this day was not to last, for once we got back in the car, I managed to reverse us off the road into a ditch when moving out of the way into a passing place for another driver.

This was the third time that I had ever driven to Scotland, and this made the third time out of three that I had fallen into a ditch while there, leading us to think I must be cursed. Anyway, yes, we were stuck. There was no phone signal to call the AA, [8] so we dispatched Millicent to walk into the village of Ford a couple of miles away, where the map claimed there to be a phone box.

[I] and [Vesper] meanwhile stayed by the car and met some passers-by of various levels of helpfulness. One couple early on, very local, stopped, and at once the man went around to his boot and got out a vicious-looking toothed-hatchet and approached us with it. Fortunately he wished only to cut back the foliage to avoid scratching his car as he passed. Meanwhile, the woman lent [me] her signal-endows phone and [I] called the AA, who promised to be an hour or so. We then waited, having farewelled the helpful ones, reading the newspaper, and eventually sent a message to [Millicent] with the next car passing in that direction that he could return to us.

Upon reaching Ford [Millicent] had discovered the telephone box to be out of service and, upon asking an elderly chap, discovered it to have been so since a storm in January. As a result [he] was forced to knock on the door of the Ford Guesthouse and ask to borrow their phone, which they very kindly allowed. Discovered that the AA were already on their way so walked back to the car, receiving on the way the news [I] had got through to the AA.

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Millicent enjoying his paper as we awaited rescue

After a while, [Millicent] arrived back and, having heard [my] tale of doing so, he sat on the roof of the car (with a leg up) and read his paper. A couple of local fellows turned up and tried to push us out with muscle-power, but failed in both directions. Soon enough, however, at a time by which the AA should have arrived, there came yet another local couple, this time endowed with a tow rope, and very willing.  With some misuse of the car wishbone, they managed to get us out of the rut.

(It was naturally only several days later that we discovered that we had had our own tow rope all along…)

We then got back in the car, cancelled the AA callout somehow, and drove around to Torran Bay to our campsite for the night, which was the Torran Bay Hostel, the very same as the place mentioned above. While it is a very lovely hostel, its qualities as a campsite left much to be desired, as it was rather expensive at £8 per person, and they put us on a very soggy and unhelpfully sloping piece of land among lots of picnic benches; furthermore campers were allowed to use the toilets in the hostel, but not the showers! There we introduced Vesper to cullen skink for dinner, had Jamaica Ginger Cake in Millicent’s preferred way of with butter, and then went into Kilmartin for our evening at the pub.

We awoke the next morning, the 5th September, to rain, and packed up our wet tents to drive off in the direction of Oban, from where we would be getting our ferry to Mull! We took a vaguely scenic route along Lochs Awe and Avich, and Millicent was annoyed to miss seeing a red squirrel because of his Sunday Telegraph, but yes, that is the end of our activities in this map area, and the end of this extremely long blog post, which is only just shy of reaching 8000 words! (Goodness, that’s two thirds of the length of the dissertation I wrote last year this year, and over half of the one I need to do this year…)


[1] We had gone to the furthest away place first so that the longest drive would be the one we wouldn’t have to do twice, as the other places were all vaguely on the way back.

[2] I believe the article reveals the issue to actually have related to a lack of running water rather than alcohol, but it’s amusing to imagine otherwise.

[3] In Gesta, The Many-Named (who is the editor of that esteemed publication), made the picture into an edgy album cover with the title Straight Outta Dunadd and band name The Shadow Manifesto – the latter being a reference to mine and Erithacus’s manifesto to be elected as ASNC Society Presidents last year, which featured a second page titled The Shadow Manifesto on which we made such suggestions as to conduct a cattle raid on King’s College and a séance to resurrect Ifor Williams, the noted medieval Welsh scholar.

[4] I am omitting one brief service station stop – on the A74(M) we stopped for petrol and toilets and were very suprised to find that the services – Cairn Lodge services I believe, seemed to have their own castle gatehouse thing! Only in Scotland…

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The weird castle/gatehouse thing at Cairn Lodge services

[5] I had also read about the Ellary estate – and about Kimory chapel – previously, in In The Land of Giants, a really good, lovely book recounting the author’s walks in Britain visiting places of early medieval interest.

[6] Nearly every ASNaC undergraduate at some point ends up writing an essay about the Battle of Maldon, and it was one of our first year set texts so we knew it well. Most Old English poetry essays eventually reach the point of talking about the tension between the Christian society of the time of composition and the #pagan social values evoked by the #heroic verse form, and how tragically beautiful this means the whole thing is; this one was no different. In this vein, there has been a lot (many say too much) written about the meaning of ofermōde, and my half-remembered knowledge of my probably cringily bad first-year essay about it includes reading lots about how mōd – courage, strength of mind, pride, etc. – was something that it’s only possible to have too much – ofer – of if you’re a Christian; heroic society (yes, yes, a construct that only ever exists in the past, yes, yes) would think you’re great for being brave enough to give your enemies an extra advantage and then dying honourably in the battle. Or something. Goodness, I’ve become a cynic in my old age.

[7] A crannog is a type of ancient dwelling out on a loch, a sort of artificial island that would once have had a house on sticks on it.

[8] My AA membership has had a lot of use, especially in Scotland, and a curiosity regarding it is that my membership card actually says I have been a member since 1987, despite this being eight years before I was born. I eventually worked out that this is because my parents added me as an extra to their account, and that was when they joined, but it was a mystery for a while.

7 thoughts on “358: around Kilmartin

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