ScotClans on the Road to the Isles
There is something about the North West coast of Scotland. Maybe it’s the ancient weather beaten rocks of the shoreline or the near perfect sandy beaches with their scattering of tiny tidal islands. Perhaps its the light or the remote locations. Whatever it is I always feel like I’ve ventured into another world, as if I’m a character in some hyper real video game looking for a puzzle in the rocks that will open a secret door to another realm.
I don’t think there is anywhere on earth that can compete with it, it’s a magical place.
Last week we packed up our camper van and began our journey North-West. We decided to take a two day rest stop on the way by Tyndrum. This scattering of houses on the road north is a popular stop; the West Highland Way has it’s halfway point here and the famous Green Welly stop has become an institution for those travelling along this way. We drove through blazing sunshine all the way and within minutes of arriving the skies darkened over and rain began to fall… typical!
Never mind though, the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum which serves the best fish and chips in the highlands was a short walk from our camping spot and we spent our free day taking a walk up through the woods to explore the path to Ben Lui.
With the van batteries charged and ready to cope with a few days of rough camping we set off for Arisaig. The journey to this remote part of the North-West highlands is like a history lesson in tarmac. From Tyndrum the road climbs up towards Rannoch Moor and then into Glencoe. Several miles of twisting road opens out at Fort William, a sprawling highland town that was once part of the government’s ‘quieting’ of the highlands but is now an economic and tourist hub for the area. Breaking away from the main route to Inverness you venture into a Jacobite story book; The Glenfinnan monument where Charles Edward Stuart raised the standard and lit the blue touch paper of the rebellion of 1745 and just a few miles further on Loch Nan Uamh where the Jacobite adventure both began and ended on mainland Scotland.
On the way we found a quiet lay by to stop for a short picnic. Loch Eilt is a beautiful location and one that might be familiar with Harry Potter fans. A small island in the loch featured as the site of Dumbledore’s grave. There are even more obvious links to the boy wizard on this route too of course, the Glenfinnan viaduct made famous in the second movie and you are almost guaranteed to spot the steam train that takes tourists from Fort William to Mallaig at some point – the train that doubled for the Hogwarts Express.
By the afternoon we had left the main road and we were bumping up and down over the twisting beach road to the site of Arisaig Games.
As locations go Arisaig has one of the best for a highland games you could imagine. From the back of the field you can look over stunning beaches to the Cuillins of Skye and the island of Eigg. This is a useful feature; when the island of Eigg disappears as it often does its time to find shelter!
With every campsite in the area full (and there are many of them) we were fortunate to be allowed to camp on the corner of the games area. ScotClans would be running a stand at the games a few days later. For now though we had a very interesting engagement to attend, the Clanranald barbecue.
On the map Castle Tioram looks like a short hop, even faster by boat but a twisting route along single track roads. Our ageing camper van struggled valiantly over the difficult terrain and after a bone shaking last few miles we arrived at the castle, well not quite the castle but the mainland across from it. Tioram sits on a tidal island and is cut off for a few hours at high tide, unfortunately the tide was coming in so ourselves and many guests had to take off socks and shoes to wade across to the island. in time several boats arrived with more guests and others were ferried over as the gathering began.
In my time I’ve met a lot of clans folk from the highlands and the lowlands, I’ve passed the time of day with many a clan chief but the Clanranald MacDonalds are from a mould that was broken a long time ago. They are welcoming, gracious but absolutely bonkers! Refreshing, hedonistic and above all great fun to be around.
under the presence of the magnificent castle a marquee had been erected. with the sun starting to go down I was keen to explore around the castle and was rewarded with some great shots in the fading light. Tioram is a fantastic ruin but still well preserved in its structural integrity, so much so that restoring the castle would not be impossible or prohibitively expensive. Imagine being the first to spend a night there in a wind and watertight dwelling in nearly 300 years!
The night soon fell and the tide once again revealed the sandy causeway back to the mainland and guests began to drift away, Fortunately for us our home for the night was just a short walk as we made use of the fact we had brought the camper van and spent the night in the small car park. While helping to clear up and taking back the camping chairs we had loaned for the night Amanda and I had discovered a large unsmoked cigar tucked in the cup holder. With the kids safely tucked in we stole an hour sharing a cigar and watching the last of the light fade behind the castle. We felt like a couple of naughty kids!
The next day we took a stroll along the beach and helped take down the marquee on the island before retracing our bone shaking journey back to Arisaig. There was more work to do here with another marquee to erect but in no time all was nearly ready for the games.
The wonderful thing about small highland games is the way they involve the community, everyone and his dog lends a hand and things may look chaotic but this is very deceptive. There is a method in the madness and in no time everything comes together. ScotClans had been asked here to take part in a new venture for these games, to provide an area that was more focussed on ancestry and heritage. With our experience of Grandfather Mountain Games we decided to replicate much of what COSCA does there and provide assistance tracing peoples clan roots. We also set up a small stall of clan merchandise in the hope that a few sales would at least cover our fuel costs.
The few hours we had there were well spent and the stand was busy right up to the end of the day. We had erected a large world map and invited visitors to place a sticker where they had come from. by the and of the day our map had stickers from Canada to Samoa and many interesting and unusual places in between. It was incredible to imagine how people from so many far flung lands had all descended on this little field beside a beach in the highlands of Scotland and for us it was a symbol of just how far our great Scottish Diaspora have travelled from these shores.
Hopefully our experiment worked and in a few months time we will be replicating this at Cowal Gathering at Dunoon. Our next stop though will be Killin games in a few day time as guests of Clan MacNab.
If you happen to be in that part of Perthshire please drop in and say hello.
To see more photos from our trip please visit our Flikr Gallery