From the West coast of Scotland
From one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland,
the West Coast Highlands of Argyll,
Pamela MacKinnon writes from her home, Burnside Cottage,
about life in and around the village of Strachur.
"Strachur is a small, sleepy, sprawling West Highland village spread along the north eastern shore of Loch Fyne - the longest sea loch in Scotland. This is a very dramatic and beautiful part of Scotland, full of ancient history, magnificent forests and wildlife..."
Sadly, after 10 years Pamela has decided that this is her last Letter from Argyll.
Individually each is an entertaining and well-researched snapshot, and reading the letters as a whole, it's a privilege to be given such a genuine wide-ranging portrait of West Coast Scotland, with itineraries, ideas, historical anecdotes and always a fine sense of humour, a love of landscape and a real sense of place.
Thank you, Pamela, for giving us all a very real insight into the life of this magical part of Scotland. May your squirrels always bring good news!
A walk in the Park
A couple of years ago there was a great stushie (hullaballoo) over the introduction of the First National Park in Scotland named Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. However, many of us knew that there was already a National Forest Park in Scotland - Argyll Forest Park - and indeed this park forms a large chunk of the new National Park. Argyll Forest Park was established in 1935 by the Forestry Commission which had been set up after the First World War to ensure timber sustainability.
This huge area of around 55,000 acres stretches from the west side of Loch Lomond, all the way across Loch Long and Loch Goil and covers half of the Cowal Peninsula right down to the far western corner of the Park at Kilmun Arboretum. Sitting high above Holy Loch, Kilmun Arboretum was set up as a testing ground for new species of tree and how they would cope with our environment. There is also a conifer conservation programme, started in 1991, to provide a seed bank for endangered species and they have some spectacular eucalyptus trees surviving very nicely far away from their Australian place of birth.
Kilmun itself is a lovely wee village stretching along the eastern shore of Holy Loch so called because St Mund - a follower of St Columba - alighted on its shores and erected a church here and Kilmun is the Gaelic name for Church of St Mund.
There are many entrances to the Park, the biggest probably the visitor centre at Ardgarten, which lies off the A83 just north of Arrochar. The Centre, in the form of a log cabin, hosts all the information you could want about the area and what you can do there and if you visit look for the Guide Book which is a beautifully photographed and exceptionally well written and informative Forestry Commission free publication. Three managed walks start from the car park - 30 km, 14km and 8km. Also, the Arrochar Alps include four Munros if you want to be really adventurous. Outside the centre these beavers are the nearest you can get to the real thing as discussion continues about the re-introduction of European beavers to the Knapdale forest. Apparently this will happen in 2009.
Driving north from the Centre you can cut off the A83 and take the B828 - a single track road with the most stunning scenery. This road will take you to Lochgoilhead village - which sprawls across the top of Loch Goil - is a lively settlement, offering the holidaymaker every kind of outdoor activity possible. I'm afraid by the time we reached Lochgoilhead the rain had caught up with us and you couldn't see the loch for the mist so we repaired to a local hostelry and enjoyed a long lunch. It was still raining when we decided to make for home so we took to the B839 driving west through Hell's Glen - understandably named - and this brought us out to Loch Fyne and the A815. It is quite easy to imagine that you could spend your entire holidays exploring Argyll Forest Park and you'd never repeat a walk or a climb - but be prepared - weather and midgies are more of a problem than getting around.
Not soon after we returned to the cottage, as if often the case here, the sun came out, so a couple of hours were spent racing round the garden as the forecast is not good for the next few days. We've had some strong winds recently and torrential downpours so herbaceous perennials were looking a bit battered and floppy. Half a dozen bamboo canes later and everything was righted and enjoying the late afternoon sun. I sat down to enjoy the late afternoon warmth and you can imagine my delight when, after a disappearance of almost two years, this little fellow made his way to one of our feeding stations just feet from where I was sitting. I had noticed in the last few days that peanuts were disappearing fast but this was not surprising as some of the blue tit and great tit families have five or six chicks who seem to spend all day eating but what a delight to find the real culprit - I hope its not a one-off visit.
Well my friends, this has been a rather difficult letter to write as this is my last Letter from Argyll. A change in working pattern has meant that I can't just take off on good days and go exploring with my camera so research and photography are becoming somewhat difficult. I also realised recently that I've been writing these letters for 10 years and that's a nice round figure to stop at. I hope my writings will encourage you to visit the West of Scotland - you won't be disappointed. It has been my great pleasure to share my travels with you and I've truly appreciated all the encouraging comments many of you have sent me over the years.
I hope you have a wonderful summer.
"Where the magnificence of the scenery is matched only by the beauty of visiting wildlife."
Text and photographs © Pamela Mackinnon.
Pamela organises the self-catering holiday rental cottages for Sir Charles Maclean on the Strachur Estate which you can see at www.aboutscotland.com/strachurestate/
To stay near Ben Nevis on the way to Loch Ness, see Old Pines Hotel and Restaurant. Log fires, cosy places to sit, views through the pine trees to distant hills and excellent food.