In the Shadow of the Ben…..

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Across Loch to Ben Nevis

The Tourist town of Fort William lies beneath the shadows of Ben Nevis. The Ben, at 4441feet – 1345meters, is not only Scotland’s highest mountain summit but also the highest in Britain. Part of the Highland Lochaber Range it is a major attraction for mountaineers as well as tourists.

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Fort William

The town itself sprawls along the eastern shores of Loch Linnhe  a tidal sea loch feeding in the waters from the Atlantic. Ben Nevis dominates both Fort William and the whole area…..on a good day, which are rare in our experience, the Ben stands proud from all approaches.  On a bad day the weather that the Ben creates also shrouds everything in mist and rain.

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Some of the best views I believe, are from the western shores of the Loch and a short but exhilarating  crossing of Loch Linnhe at the Corran Ferry takes you to a narrow road that winds its way northwards, hugging the shoreline for much of the way…every corner brings a new view.  Sometimes the summit is touched by the clouds then the wind blows it clear…

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Ben Nevis from Inverscaddle Bay

For us a drive or walk up Glen Nevis is a must.  The Glen can be found directly behind Fort William and is even more in the shadow of Ben Nevis and its neighbouring Lochaber summits.

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Glen Nevis and the approach to Ben Nevis

The Glen is well forested and the paths and roads twist, often alongside the Waters of Nevis which it crosses at various waterfalls. Trackways lead up into the  numerous valleys across mountain passes or to one of the many summits…

Fort William can also be described as a Port.  Shipping was once the vital link to the Highlands, the numerous sea lochs the major highways of that time. But it was along way around the north coast of Scotland so inspired thinking created the Caledonian Canal.  The canal links west to east, Fort William to Inverness, by linking the inland lochs of the Great Glen by means of the canal with large locks to adjust for height and the climb up from sea level.

Entry to this western end of the Caledonian Canal is at Corpach.

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Corpach Lighthouse and Ben Nevis

This is also the entry to Neptune’s Staircase a series of locks that lift that link the lower sea waters of Loch Linnhe with the first level section of the Canal. The canal was built for both Fishing vessels and the steam powered coastal Cargo boats and is still a link for Commercial boats but now mainly leisure sailors.

 

13th October

(C) David Oakes 2017

 

 

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Two places of Security…….A Port and a Castle

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Oban….Argyll

Oban….still a vital link to the outer Isle of the Hebrides.  Ferries plough still important links on a daily basis. There was a time when that link was vital for the many passengers who regularly made the journeys to replenish their store cupboards and essentials.  That still happens but progress has ensured that each of the Islands is now well stocked. The shops in the town still reflect the need to supply just about ‘everything’.  Always an important town, always busy, Oban grew more rapidly in the 1790 as the importance and fortunes of the Oban Distillery grew.

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There was also a time, a time that even I can remember, when it was the Fishing Fleet that filled the harbour.  Lorries jostled for places on the quay that was covered with fish boxes and crushed ice. Those lorries then sped away to distribute the Fish across the UK.

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Today the Harbour is much quieter and attracts Leisure Yachts ( a new marina is now in place). Cruise Liners occasional visit but have to anchor in the bay.

Oban was built on the importance as a port but like many other coastal towns of any size was developed in Victorian times as a holiday destination.  Today the promenade reflects this stylish building.

Less than 5 miles to the north of Oban can be found one of Scotland’s oldest Castles.  Dunstaffnage….. its history and location dates back to the times when Norway and Scotland shared the rule of this area. The Castle became the home of the MacDougall Clan in about 1164 and was proudly held by them for several centuries.

DOI_4125_00258bbb Dunstaffnage Castle

Built in the 1220’s the first appearance of the Castle is of a solid square fortress. The entrance is defensively above ground level…. but walk thru that Gate House and you find an inner court of what at one time was fashionable accommodation…..and importantly the vital Well.

 In the woodland behind the Castle you can find the Family Chapel.  Built by Duncan MacDougall in the 1200’s it was a clear illustration of the families wealth and importance. It was a single open space but well decorated with carvings and stonework.

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Dunstaffnage Chapel

For many of its years the Chapel was just a place of worship, a burial licenses was not granted.  It seems that family burials were carried out on neighbouring islands. The Campbell’s secured the Castle and with it the Chapel and following the Reformations they built a burial aisle at the end of the Chapel and into that many of the family Burial Stones were installed.

Locations for castles were supposedly selected for there defensive strength…but for me it is the Loch side location alongside Dunstaffnage Bay.

12th October

(C) David Oakes 2017

An Island with a Hole in It…….

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The Isle of Luing, Argyll.

Like several islands along the Argyll coast the now peaceful Isle of Luing was once a very busy quarry site.  Slate was the valuable resource they were quarrying, some of it above ground but most of it from below ground and being an island below the sea level.  The quarries where deep holes in the ground and soon filled with water. These pools now add what appears to be an attractive natural  feature to todays island landscape.

To reach the Isle of Luing it is necessary to first ‘Cross the Atlantic’ by way of  the Clachan Bridge which crosses, all be it a small, Atlantic channel between mainland Argyll and Seil Island….

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Luing is an island that still relies on Crofting for its fragile livelihood. True whilst tourism helps a little, visitor number are relatively small.  Those that do venture to the island can explore villages with names such as Tobernochy, Killchattan and Cullipool and enjoy spectacular sea views across the adjoining mainland and small islands. Many of the cottages in the villages are of course ex-quarrymen’s homes, some are now holiday lets but thankfully a good number occupied by lucky residents.

On the narrow roads, with crofts and hamlets well spread, it is a quiet tour to take slowly and to enjoy….

In the centre of  Luing is Killchattan Chapel.  Now ruined but still surround by its burial ground.  Reading the marker stones is interesting and moving and tells its own story of Luing. Stories of fisher folk, crofters and a large number of quarrymen, many who died in the dangerous work that brought them to the island…

Before we took the return ferry back across this little piece of the Atlantic the wind started to increase….a reminder that life here is not always idyllic…

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10th  October

(C) David Oakes 2017

 

From Loch Etive to Port Appin…..

 

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Loch Etive, Argyll

From Loch Etive to Port Appin is a stretch of West Highland coast that is distinctive in in its beauty.  Access northwards to this part of the Argyll is via the Connel Bridge, itself a tribute to the art and skill of the Victorian Railway construction companies.  Today the railway is long gone and the bridge makes way for the road.

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Connel Bridge over the tidal Falls of Lora

The coast road runs alongside Lochs with evocative names such Etive, Ardmucknish, Creran, Linnhe.  Bays, beaches and boats, hills and seascapes, rocky cliffs and wooded shores, big open skies….villages with Tea Rooms with that Mediterranean feel. You might also find the occasional Red Phone Box now converted into a local library…. even a Castle on its own Island plus there is of course the occasional old croft just ready for conversion to a summer home.  Glad we took our home with us…. cannot get much better views to wake to for the 6 days we were here.

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Castle Stalker and Loch Linnhe

9th October

(C) David Oakes 2017