Clachan—Port Castle—Port a’ Charrain—Heritage Centre

Clachan—Port Castle—Port a’ Charrain—Heritage Centre

Important reminder: All dogs must be on leads, and remember to keep clear of all livestock, especially sheep and sheep with lambs and … please leave all gates as you find them. Thank you.

We took the small gate on the north side of the church and walked through the Glebe, behind the new graveyard and heading for Balimackillichan. The new grass was coming quite quickly; the rookeries were busy. A chestnut tree stood fully leaved.

A small gate above the farmhouse led us left towards the main gate beside a newly-built house, a second home. We could have walked diagonally across the next field but, because it was lambing time, we kept to the road and, after the handmade sign for the castle, went soft right as this road curved round towards the next gate.

An extensive ruined settlement was on our left; two dwellings, maybe more. I would love to know about these disappeared lives.

We rejoined the road to Port Castle; Glensanda on Morvern was soon in view, with a large bulk carrier in the port, not yet loading (you can hear them) but awaiting the higher tide.

We followed the road round with Castle Coeffin ahead and, after the welcome to Port Castle sign, a gate led down the hill (quite steeply, we were warned) with the croft house and the equestrian training area on our right. After two more gates—always leave them as you find them—we turned off the road and crossed the field towards the fish trap at the beach, the castle on our right.

The MacDougalls built Castle Coeffin in the 13th century and there is some evidence of earlier Iron Age activity. Historic Environment Scotland care for it now and ask visitors not to climb it; its precarious state is a danger to the castle and the climber.

But we were not going to the castle this day; we were heading for the raised beach opposite. As the tide was well out it was perfect for seeing the fish trap. It is said to be medieval. The water in this image is the trap from which fish were unable to escape once the tide went out. A low wall kept them imprisoned. It now resembles a horseshoe, but the remaining stones would have been put to other purposes, as all stones on the island were and are.

The raised beach cliff was impressive as we approached the substantial wall between Port Castle and Port a’ Charrain. There was no way round it, but fortunately there are stepping stones and a large boulder beside it. Care is always needed to avoid damaging walls (and limbs). They should only be climbed when they are sturdy and there is no other way.

Across the wall, the raised beach was mostly dry underfoot, with plenty of buttercups, primroses, early marsh orchids and wood anemone. The flag irises were coming along too.

We stayed on the raised beach until we spotted a wooden gate up to our left and, once through, we turned right along the cliff towards the south, Coeffin still supervising our walk. Ahead in the distance lay Bernera, Mull and Morvern. We turned north once we met a fence, beyond which was the gully leading to Sloc a’ Mhuillin, and walked back towards the lost village of Port a’ Charrain, once an extensive settlement, now busy with sheep and lambs.

According to the 1841 census, forty Liosaich lived here. Ten years later there were twenty-eight and by 1861, only sixteen. More than half away in twenty years. But the dwellings remain, in ruins of course, some stones where they left them, others taken away to build walls or roads. It’s not hard to imagine the living village; to conjure people cooking, fetching water (there are two streams nearby), tending to fires, to the land, to children. It is harder to imagine how it was as the numbers dwindled.

It is thought to have been a weavers’ village for the linen industry and lies beside Glac an Lìn—the field of flax. That field must have been a sight when the flax bloomed. They were surrounded by beauty anyway. Flax was first grown in the 17th century, and linen produced to industrial levels early in the 18th century. Lismore had three flax mills, the most well-known at Balnagown. Lots more information at the Comann Eachdraidh website and in Robert Hay’s book, Lismore: The Great Garden. To quote Bob:

Lismore tenants and cottars in the 17th and 18th centuries living at subsistence level were effectively self-sufficient. They fed themselves from the land and the sea and clothed themselves from wool, flax and leather produced on the island.’

At the end of the settlement, the wall into Balimackillichan has an Explore Appin and Lismore stile, but we stayed in Port a’ Charrain and walked east, parallel to the wall towards the main road and the Heritage Centre. We met two museum pieces on the way, the first a hay turner made by W Dickie and Sons, Victoria Works, East Kilbride, the second a hayrake with no details.

We continued due east, seeing the tops of trees ahead at Killandrist and to the left the trees of Balimackillichan and Clachan. Soon the Heritage sedum roof and the thatch of the cottage were visible.

We stopped for refreshments at the Heritage Centre cafe, open from 11-4 every day and famed for its hospitality and cakes. Had a browse in the museum and shop before taking the road back to Clachan, now ablaze with primroses.

After the ambulance, fire station and the telephone exchange (on the right), we were at Clachan, with the road to Port Castle on our left and the Smiddy on our right. The peacocks in the Old Manse garden were vocalising keenly, as were the rooks in the Clachan rookeries, and bluebells bloomed in the verges.

We detoured into the old graveyard to enjoy the abundant primroses.

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