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Saturday, 22 March 2014

A Trip to Argyllshire

The entrance to St Conan's Church,  Loch Awe

Possibly my favourite building, anywhere. Haunt of R.L. Stevenson. Still empty - what a shame.

A 'mort safe' in St Conan's Church cloister (formerly used on graves to prevent body-snatching)

Looking over to the island of Kerrera during truly horrendous weather

Arduaine Gardens - beautiful

Even in March,  wonderful pink camellias at Arduaine Gardens

Magnificent rhododendron trees at Arduaine Gardens

Looking south to Scarba and Jura from Arduaine Gardens

From the viewpoint at Arduaine Gardens

Loch Melfort

Rainy, windswept ferry terminal

Driving up Strone Hill towards Tyndrum through vile weather

The Falls of Dochart,  Killin

The Healing Stones of St Fillan - each one resembles the body part it cures - guess which one this refers to?

We've been to Oban many times before.  It makes a great base for exploring Argyll and the islands.  Normally we stay in a cramped but clean and decent B&B, or if the weather is good we camp, but this time we splashed out on a two-night all-inclusive stay in a hotel via a website specialising in short breaks and bargain deals.  I won't mention which hotel or which website but we certainly won't be going back to it and it definitely wasn't a bargain.  Horrible food, a vile breakfast, and it (food AND room) smelled disgusting.  
It didn't help that there was a force 9 gale blowing when we arrived, and we got soaked through on the walk from the car park.  We had intended to spend our middle day out in the fresh sea air exploring the island of Kerrera, which is a matter of yards off-shore.  But the weather was so dreadful (see photo) we decided to go for Plan B - a more sheltered trip to Arduaine Gardens.  Our twenty mile drive down the coast to Arduaine was a joy - the sun came out and the scenery was spectacular.  It was our first visit to Arduaine and we'll definitely return, although I gather from the National Trust website that the many larch trees in the garden are all to be felled due to a disease, which is a real shame.  It won't totally ruin the garden but it will lose a lot of its atmosphere, which is quite fairy-like and magical.  Lots of hidden paths and moss and lichen and tiny ponds and little stone steps. The camellias and rhododendrons are spectacular, even in March.  And the sea view from the top is wonderful.   
We generally return home from Oban via the scenic route - Appin, Ballachulish and Glencoe - but we took the short route this time due to bad weather ( see photo).   As we usually do we stopped off at St Conan's Church, which is a strange building on the north shore of spectacular Loch Awe, with the West Highland railway line running right beside it.   It looks older than it really is;  it dates from the late 19th/early 20th century, and was designed in truly hubristic fashion by amateur architect Walter Campbell.   One thinks, on the one hand, why not?  and, what an achievement! but at the same time there's a feeling of discordance and that the whole edifice doesn't quite fit with religion, and certainly not religion as it has been practised in Scotland over the last couple of centuries.  The architecture is quite eclectic and extraordinary, with the interior ceiling resembling an upturned boat, windows salvaged from various other churches, and all sorts of gargoyles and interesting sculptures and features.  At any rate it draws us back again and again.  I always put some money in the box (the roof leaks badly) and buy a pen, to add to my ever-growing collection of 'holiday pens'.
We stopped again at the little village of Killin and stood on the narrow stone-arched bridge to admire the Falls of Dochart, as everyone seems to do despite the discomfort of lorries and buses and so forth roaring and manoevring past in alarming proximity, and then went into the folk-lore centre, which is in the old watermill.  Besides having a thrift shop and crafts for sale, it houses the amazing healing stones of St Fillan.  It was my first encounter with them.  Apparently, they were taken from the river Dochart by St Fillan himself, many centuries ago.   The shape of each stone corresponds to the body part it is supposed to heal - the one in the photo was very obviously for the head, but I couldn't figure out any of the others.  The nest of river-wrack on which they rest is changed by tradition every Christmas Eve.
A nicely interesting end to our trip.  
We then drove the 20 or so miles along Loch Tay beneath a very snowy Ben Lawers to the pretty village of Kenmore, and from then on we were on the home stretch.

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