The weather started off fine, but deteriorated slowly so that it was raining by the time we drove home. But we did quite a bit… walking around Oban’s town centre, going for a cup of hot chocolate and an eclair in the wonderful Chocolate Shop on the promenade, taking a short walk on Ganavan beach, then driving at a snail’s pace along the minor road that follows the north shore of Loch Etive, a long sea loch which reaches right up into Glencoe.
We stopped at Ardchattan Priory, a place I’ve only seen in photos until now; this is a ruined 13th century monastery, part of which was incorporated into a farmhouse in the 1600s. There are gardens to explore too, and the borders were bright with daffodils and the white stars of wood anemones.
There was no one else there, apart from the farmer who was coming and going in the farm buildings nearby. It should have been idyllic, but there was a chill wind getting up from the loch, swirling the dead leaves around against the stone walls with a dry rustling noise that seemed to emphasise the loneliness. The sky was lowering, with fast-moving grey clouds driving showers of drizzle down towards the sea.
Undeterred, I spent a while examining the row of carved medieval stones that were lined up as if for inspection, before wandering around the ruins themselves. I’ll tell you more about the history of the place soon on The Hazel Tree, but for now I still can’t quite decide what to make of it.
For such a tiny monastery, it’s surprisingly hard to decipher, and this is not helped by the fact that large lidded tombs of the vampire-emerging variety are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in sections that were once chambers of the monastery church. Memento mori, carved skulls and crossbones, are dotted around on walls and grave stones. I’ve seen enough of these now not to be creeped out by them, but when they’re at head height it can be quite disconcerting.
Ardchattan is also the home of the MacDougall cross, an elaborate memorial commissioned by (you guessed it!) a chap called MacDougall. He may have got the idea from his friend Mr MacMillan down in Kintyre. (I am pretty sure that it didn’t happen this way, but since this isn’t The Hazel Tree I can speculate as much as I like!)
Photos copyright © Jo Woolf