Thursday, 22 September 2016

Drimnin

Drimin

In Scotland, we’ve been to Edinburgh, Skye and Mull in years gone by, but never to Morvern. We hoped for a hunkering down away-from-it-all break and that’s what we got. We stayed in an AirBnB house, Tigh Darach, in Drimnin, a remote spot with a small pier and a postbox.

Tigh Darach

One of Sally’s rules about going on holiday is that we should be somewhere that is better than home, either in location or facilities. The house of Roderick and Amanda, our hosts, was a fantastic place for those who truly do want a “break” from urban life.

Hunkering down

Being at Tigh Darach felt a bit like being in a Grand Designs house. There was plenty of light, space, and luxury in terms of comfy places to sit (inside and out), restful textures, muted colours and oak beams crafted into the protective frame of the well-designed cocoon. Everywhere were nooks and crannies with quirky objects or higgledy-piggledy books about local history and geography. We spent a week snuggling into the sofas, relaxing on the verandahs, feasting round the table, and sleeping with the gentle tidal background of the lapping waves on The Sound of Mull.

The Rhenium Wars

My fantasy novel made a few leaps of detail, inspired by the setting and stories we came across of castles, churches, stoic Highlanders and brutal massacres. Every morning I managed an hour or two of writing overlooking the water off Drimnin pier.

St Columba’s Chapel

The weather was mostly splurty and misty but we managed to get out at least once a day and had two days that could be positively identified as sunny. Scotland survives any weather, in my opinion, and the Drimnin Estate near the house where we stayed had a clifftop chapel, dedicated to St Columba, built in 1838 overlooking The Sound of Mull with Tobermory in the distance and seals bobbing about in the water.

Drimnin Estate

All over Morvern there were mini-rapids breaking through woodland slopes, winding down creeks, and making their way to the coast. It was as if the land was bleeding fresh water. Forsaken ruins, probably left over from the Highland Clearances, and ancient trees covered in moss were scattered haphazardly through the landscape and reminded me regularly of Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings.

Lochaline and the Wishing Stone

The nearest shop was a 40 minute drive down a track with nerve-wracking passing places. But the Lochaline stores proved well-stocked and near a super-friendly, homemade-cake-filled O2 Café, run by helpful staff, who let me do some printing on their office computer. An odd geological phenomenon on the road to Lochaline called the Wishing Stone (Clach na Crich) boasted a legend that if you filled your mouth with spring water and jumped through the hole three times, without spilling or swallowing a drop of the water, or touching the sides of the stone, your wish would be granted. Hmm….

Squelchy bogs

Trudging through marshy ferns one day we were rewarded with a great picnic spot on a promontory overlooking Tobermory. Highland cows, caterpillars, dragonflies, crickets and frogs were all unimpressed with our urban terror of losing our boots in the mud.

After the bog, the banquet!

Incredibly, miles from large population centres, Lochaline also boasts The Whitehouse Restaurant, an award-winning unpretentious building with friendly service and food to savour.
We enjoyed starters of
  • Bread, olives and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Smoked salmon with quail’s eggs and caviare
  • Potted hog and toast
Mains of
  • Halibut
  • Trout
  • Lamb
  • Duck – (aka Jemima in the brambles)
Puddings of
  • Chocolate Dram
  • Highland Hedgerow Fruity Pudding
  • Whitehouse Border Tart
  • Scottish Cheeses, Oatcakes and Port
Chefs Mike and Lee and server Shirley gave us a great evening and, lo and behold, our AirBnB hosts, Amanda and Roderick were dining there with friends too. The food (and wine) was beautifully-presented and pleasurably-flavoursome.

Ardnamurchan Charters

In the middle of our holiday we made an early start along a picturesque road, via Strontian and Loch Sunart, to reach Laga Bay. Skipper Andy and faithful companion, Tag, a benign sea-faring Labrador, took us to the Island of Càrna, the Cairns of Coll and the Island of Muck. On Carna we learned about local conservation issues and the otter population; round Coll we gawped at the hundreds of seals on the skerries, rocks and pretty beaches; on Muck we stretched our legs, had a cuppa and a toilet break. What is life like for the people who live amongst these small islands? Hard to truly imagine, but Andy gave a good account of the hardships and the joys.

A life on the ocean wave

We were confined on the trim boat Laurenca for the best part of nine hours with Andy, Tag and eight other tourists. I’m sure Tag acted as a calming influence on us all, particularly when weird mists rolled over the sea or one or other of us started getting cabin-fever….! The point of all this out-of-the-comfort-zone nautical behaviour was to attempt to see wildlife and we did.

Arion on the dolphin’s back

Seals of all types and sizes, porpoises, sea eagles (an individual and two pairs, one pair posing and one pair wheeling spectacularly in the skies) and, most excitingly of all, a pod of common dolphins – sleek, sophisticated, synchronized, curling up and over in ones, twos, threes, fours and more, sliding by, following the boat for a time, seemingly entertaining us, being – well – dolphin-like. Wild and wonderful.

All that lives must die

Scotland, in my experience, has a tender melancholy air; the landscapes contain the echoes of hardships and massacres. Not far from Tigh Darach stood the ruins of St Fintan’s church which we reached by walking along what was described as a “coffin road,” apparently a route that Drimnin residents took carrying coffins across the land to burial sites at Lochs Arienas, Durinemast and Teacuis. The Killintag burial ground next to St Fintan’s church was poignant and bespoke untold stories; some cherished graves had been tended very recently. Cows and sheep, manure and rain, life and death. Every grave tells a story.

Highland Clearances

On the Ardtornish Estate we learned a first-hand account of the terrible Highland Clearances when long-standing settlers were evicted by rich landlords (in Ardtornish’s case a woman from Edinburgh, Christina Stewart, who never visited Morvern having bought the land from the Duke of Argyll.) Old ways of living and collective farming were thrown out to make way for the more lucrative sheep farming business, a practice that needed land but few workers. (The Dress Act of 1746 added insult to injury by banning the wearing of kilts and all tartan or plaid patterns. Is it any wonder that kilts are now a source of national pride in Scotland?)

Aoineadh Mor (Inniemore)

The Scottish Forestry Commission have done a great job restoring the walks around the abandoned village and commemorated Mary Cameron and her husband James by naming key pathways after them. Actress Anne Sinclair reads Mary’s sad story in both English and Gaelic in an audio-post with a great view out towards Loch Arienas. The walks are through mixed pine plantation of fir, pine and spruce, sometimes moss-covered, and heather and scrubby bushes lined the tracks. Perfect (apart from a sprained ankle.)

Getting away from it all?

One of the great pleasures on holiday is having the time to chat about any and everything, trying to make sense of the past, the present and what might happen in the future. So “getting away from it all” inevitably means reflecting on the reality of what is waiting back home and, in the case of this particular holiday, discussing the way the media is manipulated by vested interests – a topic prompted by our holiday box set of The Newsroom – a thought-provoking TV show with plenty of shout-at-the-telly moments. Like The West Wing it is a predictably fantastical left-wing hallucination of how things could be but never will be, raising many relevant issues but dealing with them in a soap opera style that is both infuriating and entertaining. The American patriotism is sometimes a bit cloying but the overall sentiment is absolutely admirable. Many thanks to Maggie for recommending (and loaning) The Newsroom!

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Scotland’s history, culture and attitude to education and the arts fascinate me for deep-seated reasons I don’t understand. So hopefully we’ll return to Scotland again; and stand "on the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond."