There are many places across the Highlands and islands that evoke the sadness of a way of life which has ceased to be, however, it is not necessary to travel to the mossy wilds of Glen Coe or the rugged and cliffy coastline of Sutherland to experience the eerie silence of abandoned ruins.
The weather today has turned rather cold and blustery and is forecast to stay so for a day or two yet, so it is fortunate that I chose yesterday to clamber along the rocks and cliff side path that runs from Kilchattan to the road-less southern extremity of the island.
The walk starts from the small car park at the very end of the Kingarth road and from there, in glorious Spring sunshine, I took the coastal path that runs southwards hemmed in by cliffs on the right and the spectacular views the Cumbrae Islands and the Ayrshire coast on the left.
After half an hour or so I arrived at the small and neglected lighthouse at Rubha an Eun (meaning point of the bird and pronouced ‘roo-a an ay-un’). Upon arriving at this rocky promontory, I happened upon gentleman from Greenock who was spending part of his week’s holiday trying to pull a Pollack or two from amongst the rocks and lobsters cages at our feet. We chatted about fishy stuff for ten minutes or so after which I bade him ‘tight lines’ and turning back on myself I scrabbled across the rocks and headed towards Glen Callum.
I’m no expert on geology, however, the grey granite like appearance of the beach itself and the stratified rock of the surrounding cliff faces lend a dramatic quality to Glen Callum Bay. Once at the far side of the beach, be careful to look out for the path which turns to your right and climbs up between the buttresses of the cliff face (if you take the more obvious path, as I did, which continues along the coast you will reach a dead end and will have to turn back on yourself). It is a fairly steep ascent at this point, but once up there, you can feast your eyes on the expansive blueness of the ocean, along the mountainous visage of the Isle of Arran and, if visibility is good, as far as Paddy’s Milestone or Ailsa Craig as it is more commonly known.
Once up there, follow this path for another ten minutes approximately and as the path turns to your right through a hill pass and then downwards in the direction of St Blanes, you will come across Loch na Leighe (Lake of the doctor or medicine and pronounced ‘Loch na lay-ya’).
Being so early in the year, there wasn’t a great proliferation of insect life or sight of hungry trout breaking the surface, but the abundance of bird life more than made up for this. A pair of Widgeon patrolled the far side of the lochan whilst a lonesome young Mute Swan preparing for it’s first Summer as an adult lorded it over the small water. The reckless behaviour of mating frogs was also apparent by the occasional carcass found torn to pieces by a bird of some sort, presumably, and the sight of an amorous couple along the bank side at the near side of the reed bed.
Having enjoyed the delights of this secret little lochan and pondered over the meaning of its name, I doubled back on the the road from whence I came until I returned once more to Glen Callum Bay, however, rather than making my way across the beach, I turned diagonally left towards the old ruined building – which used to be an inn – clearly visible as you descend. Before reaching the Inn, look out for the remains of a cairn and burial cist, a reminder that the occupation of this little enclave goes back centuries.
Continue on over the burn to the far right hand corner to where there is a small solitary Hawthorn. From here you will find a rough road taking you into Glen Callum itself. If you take this road later in the day whilst the sun is falling you can’t help but notice the impression of regular lines scored across the hillside to your left. These are what is left to mark the practice of runrig, a medieval farming practice in which cottars worked strips or rigs of land on a rotational basis. The photo below illustrates what I mean.
Just before arriving at the abandoned settlement shown below, I turned right and upwards and over the top, so to speak. By dead reckoning I hoped to arrive at the Upper Reservoir and close-by, Kelspoke Castle.
I should add that there was a good 20 minuted from the time I left the Glen Callum road till I arrived these scattered remains and it involved jumping over a couple of fences and a muddy field. I’m sure there is a more straightforward route, but I am yet to discover it. Tips are very welcome.
There is no record of there ever being a castle here, so what it was and what it was for is a complete enigma, however, its lofty location may indicate that it was some kind of lookout tower. Nonetheless, the expansive turf covered ruins indicate that it was a structure of considerable size. There is also a handsome mature Sycamore tree close-by, although, I don’t know if there is any connection between the two things.
From here, working your way down hill, there is a long patch of trees in the midst of which is a rather odd elongated body of water known as the Lower Reservoir.
All was quiet and cold when I arrive here, but I imagine that as the weather picks up this little isolated ecosystem will be teeming with all kinds of flora and fauna. From here it was a short ten minute back to the cosy warmth of the car, but I’ll be sure to pop back up here in the summer to investigate the bird and insect life.
If a better route could be found from Glen Callum and over the hill past Kelspoke Castle and down to the car park, the walk could make an enjoyable and interesting circuit. I’m keen to walk the full length of Glen Callum and investigate more the remains of abandoned settlements. When I do, I’ll be sure to post up what I find, In the meantime, any information regarding this or other aspects of the walk would be gratefully received. In the meantime, I’ll do a little digging into the history of this once populated glen and ponder where I should go for my next little adventure.