Fwd: Lying in Loch Aline
Lying in Loch Aline
A combination of glaciers scraping earth down the mountain sides eons ago and sediment being carried down the rivers depositing lovely mud, created just the perfect loch bed for anchoring, so that as we motored gently in, we were spoiled for choice on where to drop the hook. We chose a little natural two-sided bay with the shoreline and a natural outcrop of rocks marked with a beacon. The surroundings in this sheltered loch were spectacular; high sloping mountains either side with a generous band of trees to absorb any downdrafts. At the head end a fine Victorian mansion, Ardtornish House, now apartments and a bleached terracotta tower house, the recently restored and now occupied fourteenth century Kinlochaline Castle, paid for by Dubh Chal, a Lady of Clan MacInnes, with the castle’s volume in butter. I wonder what the builder did with it, sold it on maybe.
The Aline River emerged between the two buildings and the gardens of the house were deemed worthy of a visit. At the opposite end of the loch, the entrance is banded with quays and buildings, the silica sand processing and loading site being on the right, as I described in my last blog, and across the Sound of Mull the island of the same name protects the area from the temper of the Atlantic.
Hook well dug in, log book brought up to date, engine and instruments turned off, kettle on for that quick cup of tea before G&T time and we were sat in the cockpit keen to take it all in.
Everything was in stasis, still, peaceful, utterly beautiful, as if waiting for something momentous to happen. From the sun-kissed slopes in the early morning to the golden glow in the western sky, the days were blessed. We were entering the second week of the most settled weather we had had all summer and as our Windy Apps suggested it was going to continue for a few days yet, we planned the walk on the next day. It was the 7th of September 2022.
A shed sized rock on the shore marked our chosen landing spot for the dinghy. I’ve often wondered about these random rocks, with none of their like in their vicinity, what colossal blast from a volcano heart propelled them there, how many million years ago I wonder? Not surprising that they find their way into human imagination and from there into folklore; the tethering point for the lead of a giant’s dog or maybe his killer weapon that felled an enemy.
The ‘butter’ tower house was hidden up in the trees until I backed across the bridge over the river and could just see the top floor with its house protruding above the foliage. These lovely old buildings were often plastered in their day and painted white or another ‘stand out’ colour. Inside, the wooden ladder from the ground to the first floor could be pulled up for greater security in the days of marauding clansmen and robbers. The top floor would be used in daytime for the ladies and children, to keep them safe and in the warmth from the sun shining in. All rooms, we noticed from other ruins, have a big fireplace, often with a finely dressed stone surround. Imagine a blazing hearth, colourful tapestries on the walls, chunky wooden furniture, lots of furs and rugs, a spinning wheel and a table covered in food and horn or pewter tumblers of wine and beer.
Chattering children, mothers giving instructions to servants and all anticipating the arrival of a clan group for a multi-day visit. Preparations galore; so much to think about to maintain the status and reputation of the family, but with an imagination like Dubh Chal’s she would soon delegate tasks and get things done I’m sure. It’s so nice that out of all the ruined tower houses we have stumbled upon in Ireland and Scotland, this one has been brought back to life and is now the loved home of the young Raven family. It looked as if there was a house on the roof. Or at least a big room. I was so curious; I’d loved to have had a look at the inside of a modern tower house and seen the view from the corner turrets.
Turning around we followed the tarmac road past the big house to the estate office where we would pay a modest sum to explore the lovely minimally manicured gardens, my favourite kind, just trees and shrubs and longish lawns, natural stone paths and maybe a pond, but that’s not compulsory! We also bought some plump, sweet plums and a jar of seaweed pesto, locally picked and made respectively.
We wandered the grounds, bag in one hand, hubby hand in the other. A steep little path led us to the upper boundary fence, to keep deer out for one thing, and we turned left down an even more enticing path, where the fairies run at night. The loving lack of a rigid pruning regime meant we were witnessing the natural flora along with a few continental additions. In the distance the old boat house set the mind wandering back to long summer days of yesteryear when the local residents would enjoy their home from the confines of motor launches and maybe sailing boats.
We picked blackberries from the hedges back down the path towards Zoonie. They were big, elongated and juicy and along with the plums and a couple of cooking apples bought in Tobermory, we would have fruit crumble for two days at least. I was beginning to wind down the fresh food stocks as we would have only three weeks left of our summer sojourn before we would leave Zoonie and head south.
Back on board it was time for tea. Rob was doing the honours, two rock cakes appeared through the companionway on plates and as I took them from him the radio started playing the National Anthem and I looked at Rob, “Oh no, The Queen has died.”
Something that interested humanity had been dreading for ages and despite knowing she was poorly and suspecting it would not be long, it was still a painful shock, our beautiful and extraordinary queen had finally gone. This was the momentous event that was suspended in time when we arrived.
We stayed in the gentle embrace of Loch Aline for another four days, watching the process of laying her to rest unfold, Zoonie’s Union Flag flying at half mast day and night, it was the least we could do.
She was a rock within our society and I read somewhere that these were her values and the standards she tried to live up to; modest, uncomplaining, thrifty, intelligent if not intellectual, sensible, feet-on-the-ground, unfussy, a dry sense of humour, with a great big laugh, slow to anger and always well mannered. Well, I share the thrifty and dry sense of humour (as Rob will agree) but I can only do my best at the others. Again, I read, “It was her life and work to be the best of Britain. This was the service she gave.”
As if to lift our spirits a magnificent sea eagle came and perched on the outcrop of rocks near us for a few minutes. We had seen both sea and golden eagles but to have one so close and bold was a real treat. I managed to get some photos and sent one to Hugh Raven in Kinlochaline Castle tower house along with one of the pug mark we suspected was a wild cat, that we found on our walk from Loch Drumbuie, at the far end of the Morvern Peninsula. He said the wild cat population was surveyed 4 or 5 years ago and only evidence of one genetically identifiable wild cat was found. Hugh is hopeful they might become eligible for the release of some captive-bred wild cats some-day.
On the 13th September we motored out of the Loch and made our way to Kerrera Island off Oban, sliding gently into a pontoon finger, our cruising over for the year, but not our exploring, as Kerrera had treats in store, as you will read next….
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