A win­ter in Ar­gyll – part one

Argyllshire Advertiser - - LETTERS - By Carolyn McKer­racher

Over the next few edi­tions, we will be se­ri­al­is­ing a short story by an Ed­in­burgh writer with an en­dur­ing love for Mid Ar­gyll. We hope you en­joy it and look out for another chap­ter in next week’s edi­tion.

When I was ten, I wrote a story about my sum­mer hol­i­days.

‘Mrs Munro, what’s the name for a shop that sells sweet­ies and boats?’

‘Sweet­ies and boats? I don’t think that there is a word for that kind of shop.’

‘There is! I was there in the sum­mer. There’s a spe­cial name for a shop that sells sweet­ies and boats.’

Un­for­tu­nately, in pre-in­ter­net days, Mrs Munro was un­able to do a quick Google search to find the an­swer and it was another 40 years be­fore I dis­cov­ered it my­self. The Boa­t­ique. A shop that sells sweet­ies and boats. More com­monly known as the Cri­nan Boat­yard.

As chil­dren we used to hol­i­day on a house­boat on the Cri­nan Canal. For land­lub­bers like my sis­ter and I, it was an ad­ven­ture, ably led by our dad who took us on end­less wet and muddy walks, through miles of Forestry Com­mis­sion plan­ta­tions, fully kit­ted out in our iden­ti­cal cagoules and wellies. For mum, the midges, the sin­gle-ringed stove, the in­ces­sant rain on the tin roof and – best of all – the on-shore toi­let, it was all an ad­ven­ture too far.

Dad’s cousin was Mar­garet, who was lit­er­ally swept off her feet by Forsyth Hamil­ton when she fell off her bike when on re­cu­per­a­tion at her grand­fa­ther’s house in Ar­dr­ishaig. The house­boat was theirs. Con­se­quently, ev­ery on-board hol­i­day was pep­pered with kip­pers. Kip­pers for break­fast, kip­pers for din­ner and kip­pers in a big box to take home for fam­ily and neigh­bours. Mum’s com­pen­sa­tion? A bucket of pick­led her­ring, which she slowly picked her way through over the win­ter.

Alas, we grew up and hol­i­dayed on our own. Forsyth died, then Mar­garet. Ties were lost and kip­pers gone. I vis­ited once or twice over the years, but it wasn’t un­til one year af­ter my dad died that I came back prop­erly, to spend two win­ter months in Cri­nan, os­ten­si­bly to write but also to re­mem­ber and to grieve.

I did it all: the writ­ing, the re­mem­ber­ing, the griev­ing, but I also laughed, met new peo­ple, vol­un­teered, walked, fell, lost my phone and hit nu­mer­ous pot­holes. I loved it all. Ex­cept maybe the pot­holes.

My home for the two months was the pic­turesque Barn Cot­tages at Kilmahu­maig, right on the edge of the Celtic Rain­for­est. My hosts, Daphne and Mike Mur­ray, tended to my ev­ery need, an­swered ev­ery ques­tion and even for­gave the break­ages. Each day at sun­rise I hiked through an­cient oak, birch, hazel and ash, up to Dun Mor, down to Lock 14, along the tow­path to the canal basin, then back up through the woods.

A good hour’s heart-pump­ing yomp and, in the mud, ice and rain, safest with walk­ing poles. An omen, if ever there was one.

I wrote at the cot­tage, para­graphs punc­tu­ated by glimpses of oak, heron and blue tits, feed­ing greed­ily off what I learned was the co­toneaster bush by my front door. It was clearly de­li­cious - but only for birds. Just be­fore mid­day, I headed out past the don­keys and the Shet­land ponies, to the Cri­nan Ho­tel, where I spent two hours in the gallery on the third floor.

There I drank in not just cof­fee, but the har­bour, the red and white striped light­house, Loch Cri­nan and the hills and moun­tains be­yond. A view only sur­passed by that from Lock 16, the ho­tel’s Seafood Res­tau­rant, which of­fers a panorama of the Sound of Jura, from the Paps to the Cor­ryvreckan, Scarba and Mull.

To be con­tin­ued...


Beau­ti­ful Cri­nan – a place to re­flect for Carolyn.

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