Thursday, August 5, 2010

Skipness Castle on Kintyre

Skipness Castle overlooks Kilbrannan Sound. During the wretched 17th century Wars, most of the Highland castles were destroyed, dismantled, altogether razed to the ground. Skipness avoided this fate through the efforts of its guardian who begged and pleaded, and claimed that it was in fact, his personal home.

You can find an extended essay about Skipness on my Knapdale People site. This time, we walked down to the shore to look at the St. Brendan chapel. St Brendan is famous for his voyages into the North Atlantic, and therefore was a special favorite of sailors. At the "Skipness Castle" page, I include a short bio of this Brendan.

Over Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre

Well within sight of Arran is the Kintyre Peninsula. The trusty ferry wafted Mary, me and our behemoth of a Volvo across Kilbrannon Sound from Lochranza (which delights in the ruins of Lochranza Castle) to the tiny port of Claonaig.

The whole area was very busy: we managed to arrive during a popular yachting event, which means that we had a difficult time finding a place to live. However, the Knap Hotel came through, and we settled in Tarbert for a few days, using it as a base to travel south to Campbeltown and north to Kilberry.

Tarbert Harbour is beautiful and is overlooked by a castle ("Tarbert Castle"), built by Robert the Bruce after he 'made good', became King, and wanted a trusty fort overlooking Loch Fyne and the Sound of Bute. In my own site, Knapdale People , I have devoted a page to Tarbert Castle and its history.

Arran: the King's Cave

If it had been up to me, I would have taken to my bed while in Arran, because I had picked up a dreadful cold whilst in Glasgow. My sister, however, is a nurse, and is firmly of the (correct) opinion that physical activity is GOOD, especially when one has a cold. So, we marched off to see The King's Cave.

The King was Robert the Bruce, and the Cave was one of the places in which he and his followers hid while on the run from Balliol and the English. The caves can be found on Arran's west coast, directly across from Kintyre. We walked from a car park, through the usual West Highland wilderness, which is festooned with gorgeous scenes of far off houses, sheep, hills, coastal plains, etc... down a very steep decline, to the rocky beach.

Along this beach are natural caves. One of them, the one that sheltered Robert the Bruce, is protected by a very attractive gate.

It is here that tradition claims that the Bruce had his famed encounter with a spider. It seems that Bruce was dejected (he had lost a series of battles, and had been on the run for a long time, and here he was camping out in a cold damp cave), and on the verge of giving up trying to gain the Crown of Scotland. But then he saw a spider spinning a web on the cave wall, only to have it collapse from the wet slippery stone. But. The spider did not give up. It tried and tried yet again, until finally, the web held. It was this determined spider that inspired Bruce to continue his efforts against the English, until he finally led the Scots to victory at Bannockburn. And it is a foolhardy person who says "tradition" has no basis in Fact!

Arran: Machrie Moor

Arran sits between mainland Scotland and the Kintyre peninsula. We landed at Brodick, on Brodick Bay, which delights in the remains of an old castle, named "Brodick Castle." We found shelter on the opposite side of Arran, at Blackwaterfoot, a tiny place with a couple of nice pubs.

.As far as we were concerned, aside from the stunningly lovely scenery, Arran offers 2 outstanding attractions: the Machrie Moor Stones and the King's Cave.

Machrie Moor is a flat area not far from the road, with no less than SIX stone circles, while the immediate surrounding area comes complete with chambered cairns, a standing stone and more hut circles.

These arrangements of stones, in circles and in lines, can be found throughout the Western Highlands. It has been determined that they are thousands of years old, and therefore, have probably meant different things to different generations of inhabitants. Amazingly, so many of them still stand, in all their spectacular grandeur.

Compared to the Kilmartin Temple Wood array (more on this later), Machrie Moor is an unadvertised backwater, with an inadequate wee space for cars, and with little more than one of those informative plaques at the site itself. But make no mistake, this is a very impressive site in itself.

It's as wonderful as Stonehenge, but without the crowds!

from Glasgow to the Isle of Arran

As will become obvious, the west highlands is a land of waterways. We left Glasgow, were lost only once (in Greenock), drove south to Ardrossan, and then, crossed the Firth of Clyde on one of the many ferries owned by Caledonian McBrayne. And a very efficient ferry system it is, given that its crews are faced with multiple tourists driving rental cars "on the wrong side of the road", and perhaps, totally unfamiliar with this whole 'ferry thing.'

The Clyde river flows through Glasgow and Greenock. "Firth" means 'an arm of the sea', or an 'estuary', and is related to Norway's "Fjord".