Ar­gyll’s mur­der­ous past ex­plored

The Oban Times - - LEISURE -

BEN­DER­LOCH’S Book­ends Fes­ti­val will ex­plore Ar­gyll’s blood­thirsty past this month.

Lindsay Campbell, the daugh­ter of a po­lice con­sta­ble, who lives in Kil­more near Oban, has al­ways been fas­ci­nated by true his­toric crime and the hu­man is­sues be­hind it, and Ar­gyll has proved fer­tile ground for a series of three books – so far.

Her first book, Ane Com­pact of Vil­lany, tells the true story of a gang of out­laws, led by Lachie Campbell, who roamed the hills around Oban and Nether Lorn steal­ing coins, fish­ing nets and salmon guns.

Lindsay said: ‘It struck me as a story that needed to be told. I kept meet­ing the gang in old records and felt it would make a per­fect story for lo­cal his­to­ri­ans, but then a pub­lisher be­came in­ter­ested, too.’

The pub­lisher ex­plained: ‘From the 1680s to the 1700s, a gang of early Ja­co­bites, thieves, house­break­ers and high­way­man ran a pro­tec­tion racket across the mist-sod­den, famine-rav­aged Ar­gyll hills, bring­ing mis­ery and fear to their own peo­ple and dis­may to the au­thor­i­ties. In the end, a work­ing-class hero, in­spired by a widow’s plight and bol­stered by his own dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion, brought the gang to jus­tice.’

Re­search­ing the book took Lindsay 15 years, and in­cluded trac­ing lost farm­steads and tracks in the hills around Scam­madale, Dalavich and Ap­pin, work­ing with orig­i­nal old doc­u­ments and ex­pos­ing the hu­man sto­ries be­hind true his­toric crime.

‘The places they tar­geted are not easy to find,’ she said: ‘The face of Ar­gyll has changed so dra­mat­i­cally. It gave me the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore th­ese places in the hills. You see a lot of things that you do not no­tice on maps: you see the way th­ese places were con­nected to each other, how the gang were able to pounce on th­ese places sud­denly. You be­gin to get in­side of the mind of th­ese crim­i­nals.’

The book proved pop­u­lar and the story of the high­way­men, thieves and pro­tec­tion rack­e­teers op­er­at­ing across Ar­gyll in the late 1600s con­tin­ues to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of lo­cals and vis­i­tors.

Lindsay con­tin­ued: ‘I did not re­alise the ap­petite for true crime in this area. Peo­ple in Ar­gyll are a blood­thirsty lot and are start­ing to link in with their lo­cal mur­ders.’

Her sec­ond book, which Lindsay will be read­ing from at the Book­ends Fes­ti­val be­fore it comes out on Novem­ber 28, is called Now Pris­oner Within, and presents 12 cases of true crime in old Ar­gyll.

She said: ‘Most of the cases are pre­vi­ously un­told, and in­volved theft, mur­der, riot, psy­chopa­thy and fraud from Camp­bel­town to Keil, Tober­mory to Dal­mally and be­yond. One crime is pos­si­bly solved more than 300 years af­ter it oc­curred and an anom­aly in the midst of an­other is at last ex­plained.

‘In other chap­ters, is­lan­ders rebel against main­land rule, ine­bri­ated gen­try brawl, a farmer’s wife poi­sons her hus­band, and a son kills his fa­ther.

‘Some sto­ries were gory, but th­ese were hu­man be­ings. Some of the sto­ries are so sad. You get a feel for the peo­ple you are re­search­ing.

‘I do feel for the ac­cused and the vic­tims: they would not be treated that way now.

‘There is no get­ting away from the fact the sher­iffs were quite harsh. I am con­vinced in­no­cent peo­ple have been hung at In­ver­aray, and guilty peo­ple have got away.’

True crime in his­toric Ar­gyll is prov­ing such a rich seam that Lindsay is now writ­ing her third book of cases called Ac­cused and Persewed. Ben­der­loch’s sec­ond Book­ends Fes­ti­val of the writ­ten and spo­ken word runs from Septem­ber 23-30, fea­tur­ing au­thors read­ing books rang­ing from King Arthur to free out­door fit­ness. The Vic­tory Hall in Ben­der­loch is turned into a sump­tu­ous read­ing room, where most of the ac­tion takes place.

Book bins are con­tin­u­ing to spread around Ar­gyll. From Bon­awe to Taynuilt and Kil­more, and many locations in be­tween boxes and bins will be rolling up filled to the brim with a col­lec­tion of pre-loved books to give you a chance to swap, bor­row or keep some new ti­tles, and whet your ap­petite for more ti­tles to come at the fes­ti­val.

If you have books you wish to do­nate to this year’s Book­ends, leave a mes­sage the fes­ti­val’s web­site, www. book­ends.scot or phone Joy Cameron on 01631 720247.

Au­thors Graeme Pa­gan, Rus­sell Campbell and Lindsay Campbell at Book­ends event in Taynuilt in Fe­bru­ary this year.

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