Another year and it occurs to me that it has been months since I last wrote a post for this blog; life has just got far too busy recently. It’s a dreich February evening and as usual at this time of year my thoughts are turning to escapes to the great outdoors in brighter, sunnier months of the year.
A while back myself and canoe buddy Steve, spent a couple of days exploring Loch Awe in Argyll in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Although only a couple of hours North of Glasgow by car, Argyll is a real gem with lofty mountain peaks, dramatic sea lochs and a turbulent history featuring the escapades of the feuding Clan Campbell. Loch Awe itself is dominated at its northern end by the bulky presence of Ben Cruachan with its elegant summit ridge which makes for a fine day’s hillwalking.
We turned to the Loch though and equipped with kayaks we set off to discover the hidden secrets of Loch Awe’s many islands. Weather conditions on the Loch can be notoriously fickle; one minute you can be drenched in sunshine and the next you can be battling for control against waves and gusts which apparently just spring out of nowhere. This is part of the reason that there have been many accidents and drownings in the Loch over the years; particularly amongst the fishing fraternity (often sadly involving booze). Loch Awe is definitely a place to treat with respect. Kelpies and powerful water spirits lurk just beneath the benign surface ready to drag the unsuspecting down into the peaty depths.
Particularly fascinating is the island of Innis Chonnel with its amazing ancient castle, now covered in ivy and lost in time. The castle was the onetime stronghold of the Clan Campbell up until the 15th Century. Arriving by canoe is a great way to see the stronghold; there is nobody there to charge admission and we encountered no other visitors; a refreshing change from more organised “theme park” style historic experiences. Walking around the castle battlements and walls can seem pretty hairy and exposed; it’s easy to feel that you too can be the stuff of legends. The small hatchway leading to the castle dungeon looks particularly uninviting and we decided not to investigate this further.
Just off Innis Chonnel is another small island with an ancient celtic burial ground. In the Highlands, small islands in lochs were considered sacred and magical places and were thought to be prestigious locations on which to be laid to rest. These small island sanctuaries also offered protection from wolves and potential grave robbers. The island, with its ancient graves hidden in the encroaching greenery, is a fascinating and contemplative place to visit. There are also some remarkable ferns, mosses and lichens growing around the old grave stones.
The Lochside offers endless possibilities for wild camping but watch out for big groups of “coorse” fisherman from the Central Belt (who you’ll find easy to spot through their unfeasible stacks of Tenants “Special”, impressive sound systems and somewhat flowery language); my advice is to paddle off pretty fast in the other direction ! Who knows; you might even find your very own island stronghold to sleep in; just watch out for the spirits that inhabit the dungeon and which venture forth at night to walk amongst the living ! Perhaps the fishermen might be your best pals after all…
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