Autumn/Winter breaks at Sgath an Tighe…

Thought it might be worth mentioning our holiday let again- If you are considering a wee break then you might like to think about a trip to Dunoon…

The Annexe has a double bedroom and twin bunks, an open fire and a DVD player for lots of late night films with a hot toddy. At £250 a week (or £45 a night) you are unlikely to find anything of better value.

It has been really lovely to have Graham and Victoria (along with Matthew and Ben) over the last week. Graham is a minister in North Yorkshire, and blogs here. After exchanging the occasional comment we met up for a pint when we were on holiday a couple of years ago- only to discover that Victoria and I used to work together in Bolton. It’s a small world.

If you want to know more (about the Annexe, rather than Graham and Victoria) then feel free to get in touch…

 

Cowal- listed as one of the worlds best under rated holiday destinations!

…according to travel writer Nikki Bayley writing for yahoo travel.

Cowal is placed alongside The Azores, Newfoundland, the Falkland Islands and the West Coast of Australia. If this seems like a piece of Hyperbole- then you need to come and check us out.

And if you do- perhaps you might like to make use of our cosy annexe!

If you are looking for a great value summer holiday we still have some spaces- or if you are looking to organise something for later in the year- check out the calendar on the website here.

Here is a photo we took looking over towards Sgath an Tighe from the middle of the Clyde…

New website for Sgath an Tighe…

I have spent much of this weekend working on our new website for all things Sgath an Tighe. I hinted at a possible change of direction for the family recently- well here it is made real in cyber space!

Eventually this will be a portal for a number of different things happening in or around out house-

  • Self catering accommodation (already available)
  • B and B accommodation (still a work in progress)
  • Craft workshops (Blue Sky programme is on the website)
  • Crafts- woodworking, pottery, all sorts of other things
  • Retreats- both in the house and wilderness retreats
  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Information about our lovely area
The website is still under development, but there is a lot there already. I have used a wordpress platform, which has not been without the odd frustration, but is mostly OK, even to a relative novice like me.
Call by and let me know what you think!

Life cycles…

Towards the back end of 2007 a walker went missing in the hills above Colintraive. I wrote about it here, and here.

The area in which she went missing is not particularly dramatic- it is rough hill country, rising to a maximum height of around 300 meters, and heavily forested. The woman concerned was fit, well equipped and very experienced- a former teacher from Perthshire in her early sixties.

Despite extensive searches of the area, she was never found. I have often thought of her as I have driven, walked and canoed around where she was lost.

A couple of weeks, two sea kayakers were exploring Loch Striven, and set up camp in an area I know well- a flat patch of land that is only reachable by boat, and has signs of old habitation- I have canoed there with my family, and explored the remains of the houses. It is a lovely, romantic spot. We took a trip there in 2008-

The two Kayakers ventured a little further into the woods then we did- climbing up a steep gully through the trees.

And by some miracle, they stumbled across an orange survival bag and a rucksack.

More out of curiosity they cut the bag open- and discovered the remains of the missing walker.

I feel strangely satisfied that the walkers body has been found. It feels like a circle completed. Family are able to lay their loved one to rest, and a mystery has been solved. Or at least- partially solved. We will never know why she died, or what combination of circumstances contributed to her death.

The other thing that feels right is the humanity that the community celebrates in relation to this lady. The extensive searches- by police and by her friends in a mountaineering club (searches that must have passed very close to where she actually lay.) These searches were not done with even a flicker of resentment- just concern and care.

Then there was the final discovery- the kayakers, the doctors who examined the remains, the police who stayed with the body all night before it could be recovered, the contact with family…

It sometimes seems that our hold on life is so tenuous- a bit like the settlement in the photographs above, all too soon we are overtaken by time and sucked back into the ground.

But humanity is not just bones and buildings- we also have spirit and soul.

May one soul be climbing still.

A Victorian sugar baron and Spurgeon…

We went to the James Duncan exhibition at Benmore Gardens today.

Quite a story- which captures the character of Victorian industrial expansion, philanthropy, sponsorship of the arts and the importance of religion.

Duncan was born in Greenock, to a father wealthy from selling books, but who died young. His son was a bit of a clever lad, who did very well in his studies- particularly chemistry. As a young adult in early Victorian Britain, he had a choice of industries to apply his science within, and chose the sugar industry- one of the engines of prosperity for the West of Scotland. Perhaps even one of the reasons my house was built back in 1840.

After working for various companies, whilst on a wee trip down Loch Long, Duncan came up with a new way of refining sugar- slow boiling it to produce less waste and a higher quality product. He set up partnerships, factories first in Greenock, then in London- and made a vast fortune.

But for this Christian tycoon, born into an age of philanthropy, with such wealth came responsibility. Or perhaps guilt. Duncan began to sponsor all sorts of philanthropic schemes- sewer works, slum improvements, hospitals, libraries, churches (interestingly, despite his Free Church background, he supported both Protestant and Catholic church plants. He was reputed to be giving away 20% of his £100,000 annual income.

Around 1870, he bought Benmore Estate, and set about making huge improvements to the landscape. He built the biggest glass houses in the whole of the country, planted millions of trees, and opened his land for vistitors.

He also began to collect art. He was the first Scottish collector to buy impressionist paintings, and pretty soon, he needed more space to display his collection. He built a massive display hall next to his house at Benmore, and opened it to the public too.

He lost his fortune as the sugar market was transformed by the lifting of trade barriers, and opening the British Empire to cheap imports. He vanished into relative obscurity, forgotten within his own lifetime.

The place of my small sleepy town at the heart of the Empire is a surprise.  The morality tale of the rise of huge wealth at the expense of poor people half way across the world, whilst opening up a philanthropic urge to use this wealth responsibly at least in part for the poor people of this country, is also one that seems archetypal of the Victorian age.

There is another interesting footnote to this story. Duncan was a close friend of Charles Haddon Spurgeon- hero of the current Evangelical right wing, super-preacher and Pastor of the Christian world’s first mega church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Spurgeon took holidays at Benmore each year, and regularly preached to thousands of people on the grass of the formal gardens- people who flocked to hear his particular brand of muscular, Bible-first theology.

Both Spurgeon and Duncan were men of their age- forged out of the fires of the enlightenment during a time when everything seemed certain and the world was ripe for improvement. God may or may not have been an Englishman, but he certainly showed favour on the righteous and industrious men of the British Empire. Or so it seemed.

The legacy that these men left is far from insignificant. But from our perspective, it is nuanced and shadowed, like a finely carved marble statue, gathering layers of grime and bird droppings, belonging to another age.