Heritage—Balnagown—Achnacroish

Heritage—Balnagown—Achnacroish

11 August 2020

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.

Possibly our hottest walk ever. It was 11 August 2020.

We biked to the Heritage Centre, a great place to visit and start many walks. It’s central and there’s a cafe. And a wonderful museum.

We headed for Balnagown, turned left before The Mill and climbed down a very overgrown steep track to the raised beach. We backtracked to the wall at Tirfuir (as we hadn’t walked on this bit) through a beech-tree-planted glade known as Aonaidh MhicColla. It had no house but two walls and planted trees. Not even the remains of anything that could have been a house. Did they change their minds, did they leave?

The way south passes the area known as The Mill where the house is still occupied by the Stewart family, but the meal and linen mills remain quiet reminders of former times. According to Donald Black’s book, Sgeul no Dhà às an Lios, A Tale or Two from Lismore, it was last operated by a Donald MacColl until just before World War I, the family having run it for much of its life. There’s more about the linen industry in my post about the Lost Village of Port a’ Charrain.

Nearby is Stoker’s Cottage with a most extensive volcanic dyke at the end of the garden. Surely unique. When H was a child and spent every holiday at The Mill, where his mother had been born, he remembers what he called an old woman (she was probably fifty, if that), a Mrs Paxton, living there. (More information if anyone has it.)

In the 1960s, Professor Sir Michael Stoker bought the cottage. He died in 2013, but it is still owned by the family, and run by his daughter Jenny and her husband David Norgrove. Professor Stoker was the first ever Professor of Virology in the UK; his research at Glasgow University into cancer-causing viruses and herpes simplex broke new ground, and led to the medication for herpes. We all have reason to be grateful for this. Lismore has always had some connection with Glasgow University, as the late Professor Subak-Sharpe (Laggan) succeeded Professor Stoker. A frequent visitor to Kilcheran was the late Professor Marshall Walker, an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Scottish Literature, among other things.

The kissing gate at Stoker’s is one of many on the island. Three on this walk alone. Two work well but the third near Achnacroish has been demolished by tree roots.

The way south to Achnacroish along the raised beach passes the large Celtic cross, a memorial to Waverley Arthur Cameron, the son of Duncan Cameron, inventor of the “Waverley” nib pen and the owner of The Oban Times newspaper. Waverley was drowned in 1891 when his yacht foundered off the coast nearby. Otherwise no connection to the island that I know of.

The path to Achnacroish can be very muddy but was bone dry this summer. It’s a popular walking route from the ferry to the Heritage Centre or the Broch etc. It mostly requires stout footwear. The vehicle ferry from Oban arrives here.

Through the last kissing gate we passed in front of a row of cottages before turning right up the hill towards the Lismore Primary School which opened on this site in August 1965. The 1872 Education Act provided state-sponsored schools, with compulsory attendance for all children aged five to 13; Lismore originally had two schools, one at Baligarve and one at Baligrundle. Those who went on to Oban High School were away from home from the age of 11 or twelve as they are today. Sadly, not all scholarly children were able to go to the high school. With improved ferry services, it is now possible to travel daily.

Beyond the school we passed the remains of the World War II lookout before turning off next to the white building onto a clear path leading to a sturdy stile into Balnagown. This leads to the ruins of Connel’s Croft, the Connels having been boatbuilders. The remains of their sawpit and workshop can still be seen at Port Moluag which is not on this walk but will be on others.

Through a small iron gate we skirt the grounds of a house and once through a main gate we climb a rickety stile, rickety but crossable.

Eventually we are looking down on Loch Balnagown, one of the island’s most photogenic lochs. A lovely cairn sits on a peak, the work of the late Jimmie MacCormick who farmed this land. We reach the road near some barns and pass the now-ruined school at Kilandrist which, before the 1872 Education Act, was one of two parish schools, the other being at Baligrundle. Samuel McColl, the last Gaelic-speaking schoolmaster on Lismore, taught here from 1809 to 1862, fostering the talents of Alexander Carmichael and Captain Hugh Anderson, amongst many others.

An easy walk full of interest. The more you know of this island the more brightly it shines. And of course, you can just as easily do it the other way round. 6.49 miles including the bike ride and almost 2 hours


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