Friday, August 24, 2007

Ancient Scottish hunter-gatherers traced to Benderloch, in Appin

Reconstruction of Mesolithic settlement in Finland.

When our girls were young we used to go caravanning at Ledaig, near Benderloch on the Oban road. Once we climbed a small hill overlooking the village and picked up a tiny rock which seemed to be sliced into layers, interleaved with fibres, which looked burnt. It could not be natural.

I sent it to the British Museum who sent a report back to me that it looked like the remains of a Vitrified Fort. These strange embankments have no lime or cement to hold the stones together. It seems to have been done by the application of intense heart. But no one knows why. I remember our young Joanne was particularly disinterested at the time. When you are seven you have other things on your mind.

Now the archaeologists have gone back a lot further. They’ve found the bones of the Mesolithic people at the end of a garden in Benderloch. They lived between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago. They’ve found a jawbone and other bones and have uncovered some caves – in a garden! They think there are the remains of two individuals there possibly a youngster s well.

Times past, people roamed throughout Scotland, in small tribal groups. For 4,000 years, after the ice retreated the climate was warmer and wetter, For their living, woodland was good with its plant gathering possibilities, rivers and sea were good for fishing, They travelled, pursuing herds of animals as they moved inland in the Summer and to the West Coast in the Winter with its more tranquil, warmer climate. They butchered the animals with their stone tools, cooked the fish on open hearths. Nuts, fish and game is what they ate.

But the West Coast had one other thing in its favour. Caves. Caves were the housing estates of the day. Lewisian gneiss one of the oldest rocks in the world and it is perfect for creating rock shelters. That is what we have around this part of the country.

You know, this land is absolutely marvellous. We can trace the story of our people from the Mesolithics in their caves, the Neolithics with their the standing stones which are everywhere. The biggest in Argyll is just 2 miles down the road from the cottage. Then we have the unexplained vitrified Forts and the equally mysterious Brochs – on Lismore.

The duns and burial mounds of Kilmartin, the early Scots from Ireland, St Columba, the clash between the early Gaels and the Picts, followed by the Vikings, then their settlement and integration with the population. Angus Og, son of Somerled ruled the Western Isles and formed an alliance with Robert the Bruce. He won the War of Scottish Independence at the famous Battle of Bannockburn. This led directly to the Stewart Kings and Queens. The first Stewart to rule was his son-in-law. He led directly to Mary Queen’s of Scots, her son, James, the first Stewart King of England, ending with Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.

The rest is history.

What a place this is!

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Wonderful week of weather in Scotland. Yes!

The garden wall at Ardchatten Priory near Connel. About 13th century. The wall, not the flower.
Dear John

We had an absolutely wonderful time up there, I think we had the best weather in the UK during that week! Only one day was a complete washout...
The countryside and scenery is stunning, I could certainly see myself spending my retirement there.
Apart from the walks (hidden waterfalls was a smash with the kids), we went ww rafting in Glengarry, talk about adrenalin.., seafari trip was also incredible

Cottage is very snug and cosy, everything you need was there. Thanks again for all the useful advice and tips on what to do.
I’m sure we’ll be back.

Note from editor: you might not believe this, but Kentallen has a little micro weather system all of its own. It has more sunshine and less rain than the average for the West of Scotland and about one-fifth of the rainfall they have in Glencoe itself six miles to the East. How do we know this? Because there is a Met station at Dunstaffnage near Oban.

Forget the Med. It is far too hot there. Try Kentallen, it is near perfect. And on the odd occasion when it is not perfection, it is wondrous to watch


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Booking local services - good and bad

Three ladies from Australia are coming to the cottage for a week. They've been to the area before and love it. We can all understand that, can't we?

They'd like to go on the Harry Potter train to Mallaig, the Calmac dinner cruise from Oban to Tiree, and the Glencoe Land Rover Safari trip, and please could I book them?

Love to. Actually I thought I'd use it as an exercise to test out the booking services.

Here are the conclusions. The general accessibility was poor for all of them. Goodness knows how everyday visitors get on when they try and get through. You've got to be persistent. They'd give up, half of them.

Once you are through, though, the staff are nice and helpful. No probs. Can't tell about the Visitors Centre, Glencoe. Haven't been able to speak to anyone at all to-day.

The Jacobite train web links are pretty poor - if you get Scot Rail, you'll find it easier to book a journey to Paris than the famous Fort William line. "Where exactly is Fort William?" But I got the local number - from our web site actually, says he brushing his nails on his shirt. They were too busy dealing with face to face customers the first time I rang when they did not answer, understandable. But once I'd got through it was brilliance all the way. An e-mail confirmation, credit card and see the guard on the train. No probs. 3 minutes

Now I don't usually have anything good to say about Calmac. (MacBraynes was always ok for me, what is all this Calmac stuff?) Their Gourock office was useless as usual.
Along the lines of "Where is Oban exactly?" - not quite, but nearly. Even gave me the wrong number for their Tour office. The management is real rubbish - the people are nice but they do not have the information except for straight ahead ferries. I got the local Tour Office number - from guess where again? - and they were very good.

We do not even have to book, let alone pay for the Calmac trip in advance. Just turn up and you'll get on. It is a regular ferry, this trip, that is why. Calmac have always been far more concerned about cars and their length than people.

Only one thing wrong. They don't serve a meal on board - oh yes, you can get one, but it is self service. Actually we know this service and it is pretty good, the meals are good, and the prices are fair, so I'm not marking them down for this.

Only the blinking Glencoe Visitors Centre, run by the Scottish National Trust was awful. You can't get an answer on the phone. Left three messages to call me back, no one picked them up. They do give you a duty managers number, but why don't they just transfer the calls? Will have to do it all again to-morrow. Will have to ring the manager I suppose.

Real pain, this lark. Best to use the tips in our web site, events page.

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