Patches of blue sky and sunshine breaking through the clouds promised a good day ahead as Lochranza castle came into view. Isolated on a narrow spit of land between the bay and the natural harbour behind, the castle was altered many times between its first building in the 13th century and abandonment in the 18th century. A picturesque ruin in a peaceful setting today, the strong, bleak building, with few windows and a single, narrow door, speaks of a beleaguered existence for the castle’s occupants through centuries of clan feuds, raiding parties and local wars.
Crossing the river upstream of the castle, we followed the footpath that led round the headland. Above the pebbly beach the path meanders gently across short turf, between wet bands of rushes, flag irises and meadowsweet. The high, fast moving clouds made an ever changing picture of sparkling sunlight and shadow.on the calm sea.
At the first headland, Newton Point, an orientation plate on a stone plinth identifies near and far landmarks; Lochranza Pier and the Village Hall within a mile, a forest and wind turbine farm fifteen miles away, over the water on Kintyre. Pointing on along the coast path, the engraved lines promise a Fairy Dell and Hutton’s Unconformity.
(Click on any of the small pictures for a larger image).
A wooded hollow in the angle of the cliffs looked like a convincing candidate for the title of Fairy Dell. We didn’t identify the Unconformity, as we didn’t know then what we were looking for, but we could see signs of a turbulent geological history. Grey schist with steeply angled strata alternated with layers of pink sandstone, eroded to gentle curves. The sandstone offered the more comfortable perch for eating our sandwiches, gazing down at the multicoloured pebbles under crystal clear water.
When James Hutton visited this coastline in 1787 he wasn’t out for a picnic. This was one of the sites that inspired Hutton to develop his analysis of the forces that have shaped the earth’s crust over geological ages, challenging the accepted, religious beliefs of his day. As Hutton set out in his ‘Theory of the Earth and Uniformitarianism’, published in 1795, the schist is a sedimentary rock, laid down in horizontal layers, then heated and folded by volcanic activity. The younger sandstone was laid down over the upended layers of schist, suggesting a sequence of geological processes taking place over a period of time much longer than the 6,000 years established by calculations based on the Biblical record. Modern techniques estimate that the schist was formed around 520 million years ago while the sandstone is a mere 360 million years old – an unconformity of 160 million years. The website of the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum gives a full explanation; interesting, scientific information today, uncomfortably controversial when Hutton first published his theories.
As the strip of raised beach below the cliffs narrows, the coast path winds through rock steps and boulders then scrambles round the headland to the sheltered natural harbour and ‘lost’ hamlet of Laggan. At the start of the nineteenth century Laggan was a community of over 100 people. Families of crofters supplemented their subsistence farming and fishing by small scale salt production, using coal dug from a shallow seam to heat the salt pans. Today one roofed cottage remains by the shore but only low ruins and overgrown field walls serve as reminders of the once busy community life. In the mid nineteenth century the 10th Duke of Hamilton, in common with landowners all over the Scottish Highlands and Islands, started on a programme of clearances to convert croft land into more profitable, large scale sheep farms. Laggan was one of the casualties of this ‘modernisation’. Crofters from the hamlet may have been among the emigrants, reluctant or willing, who accepted the duke’s offer of a one way, assisted passage to Canada.
From Laggan a clear track climbs steadily across the steep hillside to cross the ridge on the shoulder of Torr Meadhonach. Looking back, a panoramic view opens out across the water to Kintyre, Bute and the other Clyde islands. Today the rugged hillside feels all the more remote for knowing that this was once home to a sizeable, active community. The well built, stone track is the enduring legacy of that community. As we crossed the shoulder of the hill, the afternoon sunlight caught the grey schist stones of the track, transforming the route back to Lochranza into a silver ribbon across the wild moorland ahead.
It was a good day, the last of our short holiday on Arran. We enjoyed a peaceful walk in fine weather with ever changing views, richly varied wild flowers and interesting geology. The echoes of history along the way, from Lochranza Castle to Hutton’s Unconformity and the ruins of Laggan, reminded me of the everyday luxuries it is so easy to take for granted; a secure home in a country free from war, the freedom to ask awkward questions and to challenge accepted beliefs and the leisure to step back from daily life, to walk and rest in a beautiful place, enjoying a sense of wildness as an antidote to the convenience of city life.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Today Was a Good Day.”