A winter in Argyll – part one


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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.

By Carolyn McKerracher

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 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. a13_Crinan01