From the West coast
of Scotland

A fascinating ten-year archive of letters from one
the most beautiful parts of Scotland,
its people, places, landscape and wildlife.

map Pamela

"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..."

Pamela MacKinnon's

Letters from Argyll

Winter 2002

Skirl o' the Bagpipes, deer and jays

There can be no more instantly recognisable sound in this world than the 'skirl o' the bagpipes' and as soon as I hear the strains - whether at home or abroad - I am immediately transported to the hills and glens, lochs and forests, shaggy highland cattle, burly highlanders and clans, golden eagles and leaping salmon - all that is Scotland. In Strachur the tradition of piping is alive and well, indeed thriving and that unmistakable sound is never far away. Whether it's piping in the haggis on Burns' Night, a poignant Piobaireachd (pronounced pibroch - a solemn lament) or accompanying the bride into church, the piper is a very welcome site and sound.

The Patersons

The Paterson Family.

The photograph here shows three members of the Paterson family - son, Callum the piper, daughter, the Bride Katy-Ann and Angus, proud father and current Chairman of Strachur and District Piping Association, which was formed in the early sixties by farmer Niall Campbell and local parents. Mr Campbell had been a piper with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and he had a contract with the Education Committee to transport children to and from school in the area. He encouraged the children to take up the 'Chanter' - which is the first stage of learning the pipes - and parents took such a keen interest they formed a committee and the Association was born.

Piping became a very popular hobby in Strachur and Strathlachlan and it wasn't long before the children were competing all over Scotland. Indeed so high was the standard that Dunoon Grammar School Pipe Band was formed and the band travelled all over the world in competition and display. Mr Campbell taught piping at the Grammar School and Primary Schools in the district and was awarded the B.E.M. for his services to piping. Every year during a week in the month of July the pipes are to be heard almost every day in Strachur as youngsters from 7 to 18 are put through their paces by the Association's Annual Piping Competition.

Chanter Players

Village children in the 'Sixties practising the chanter.

The competition is held in Strachur Memorial Hall and our local Primary School and young pipers from all over Scotland arrive to take part in this competition. Trophies are awarded to the winners of all sorts of different sections and the music includes Reels, Marches, Strathspeys, Jigs and Hornpipes. Training in the pipes in this area is held in Dunoon and the children - starting at 7 years of age - are keen to learn. Many youngsters keep up with their training through work and because of the tremendous reputation for excellent pipe bands, join the army and police so that they can continue their hobby as part of their life's work.

The Pipe Band

Indeed a marvellous site to be held is in Dunoon on the last weekend of August when the competitors for the World Piping Championships march the length and breadth of the town playing and entertaining the thousands who flock to the Annual Highland Games. You can imagine the site of 100's of fully dressed Highland Pipers swaggering along. No-one knows the exact origin of the bagpipes as they are to be found in many countries and there are many different types of bagpipe, however I have to admit to a searing sense of pride every time I hear that 'skirl'- especially if played by kilt-wearing highlanders - and preferably outdoors!

Back here at the 'but-'n-ben'- well, may I present the rogues who have been eating their way through the garden stock. We don't usually have a visit from red deer but these two arrived a short time ago, ate their fill before we noticed them and chased them out of the garden when they turned, had a look at us, twitched when I clicked the camera and then sloped off into the woods - we haven't seen them since. However their smaller cousins - the roe deer -have been regular diners, and this year for some reason they have even been eating plants and shrubs they usually ignore. I had planted some quick growing conifers along the fence where they always get in but the red deer ate the tops of the new trees and so I await spring to see if there is a chance of continuing growth, otherwise it's back to the drawing board.

Red deer Beech tree

The single blue jay I mentioned in a previous 'Letter' (Summer 2002) soon became five so it's a race in the morning to see who can gobble up the most food in the few seconds they stay on the ground. The Autumn foliage was with us very briefly and this was the sight outside our front door for only a week or so in October. It is now January and we have been frozen solid for ten days - no snow, just freezing - with spectacular sunny days and amazing sunsets. Last night the sky was the most incredible deep salmon pink and, as we predicted, we are even more frozen today, however we just throw another couple of logs on the fire, bake some bread, defrost the home-made soup and wait for Spring - magic !

"Where the magnificence of the scenery is matched only by the beauty of visiting wildlife."

Text and photographs © Pamela Mackinnon.

Yours aye,

Till next time...


January 2003
Argyll map

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