The ghost village

A view of Polphail village

Polphail village, where no-one's ever lived.

At the top of my lane there’s an abandoned village. It hasn’t been abandoned by its residents – no-one ever lived there – but by, well, I don’t know. Who has abandoned Polphail village? Someone must have, because it has sat, slowly decaying, for nearly 40 years now, unlived in and unloved, an ugly blot on a beautiful landscape.

It’s the strangest place. It was built in the early 1970s to house the 500 workers that were needed for the oil rig construction site just round the coast, where an enormous hole had been dug to create a dry dock. The plan was to build the rigs and then float them out of the loch and up the coast to the North Sea. But, despite the millions of pounds of Government money pumped into the project, the site never went into production. It seems that somebody discovered – a little late in the day – that Loch Fyne’s tides were too treacherous for floating oil rigs.

A sheep in front of the village

The village is home to a few scraggy sheep and a bat colony.

There was talk (perhaps even a promise) of the village being knocked down and the area returned to its original state. But it was sold into private hands, sold on again. Stories came and went about it being transformed into a hotel, into apartments. Whispers of change. But nothing changed. And then as the years went by, I stopped noticing it. Or maybe I just stopped looking. Until the other day, that is, when I walked past and something drew me in.

It’s much bigger than I’d remembered, but instantly familiar. We used to play here as kids, running down the corridors, our shouts echoing around the cold, concrete spaces. It was brand new back then, half-fitted out with light bulbs and towel rails and wardrobes. I didn’t have the words to describe it at that age. My older self would say functional, Soviet, stark.

A view inside the village.

It's a dank, desolate place.

It’s desolate now. The grey walls are stained and streaked with the years. The windows are long gone, apart from a few shards of glass that cling like rotting teeth to the frames. I peer inside. A wardrobe door swings half open, a ladder leans against the wall, an old sofa, floral pink, lies on its side and wires hang from the roof. Bright green moss, as thick and plump as a carpet, covers the floor. Further round there’s a kiosk, its shutters down, where cigarettes were never sold, giant washing machines and a canteen, the floor slimy with stinking mud. It’s quiet as I stand here, but it’s not peaceful. It’s sad and lonely and strange. Emptiness clings to the crumbling walls and hangs in the fetid air. It feels as seedy as the old caravans that have been left to waste away, mouldy curtains drawn shut, in the scrub at the back.

Graffiti in Polphail

Agents of Change did some great graffiti.

And then there’s the graffiti. In 2009, the owner of the site announced that within a year demolition would clear the site and 270 new homes would be built. Six street artists known as Agents of Change got permission to decorate Polphail’s battered walls prior to the demolition. Of course the demolition didn’t happen. Polphail’s still standing and now wears graffiti like a grey-suited man wears novelty socks. Not to say the graffiti isn’t good – it is. It’s brilliant and witty and clever and some of it’s very beautiful. But it was meant to be one last artistic hurrah before the whole place got knocked down. Now the fading art adds to the sense of dislocation, of something imposed on a place, not from it.

A photo of the Salen

The Salen before it was dug out to create a dry dock that was never used.

And what of the hole? It housed a fish farm for a while. Then a few years ago it became a spanking new marina. It’s really quite nice – all modern design, clean lines and bobbing boats. It’s a shame, though, that I never got to see the Salen – the sweep of sandy bay that was dug up and wiped out to make way for the hole. I was born too late. My gran used to say how she’d loved wading here at high tide, when the warm water would wash in over the soft grass. I suppose at some point, as the generations pass, the Salen and its stories will be gone from memories and maps. And who will know, when there’s no-one to remember, what this landscape once was; that it had ever changed.

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “The ghost village

  1. Mick Greaney

    You sure you are not in Swindon, Eve?

  2. Mick Greaney

    What a great post, Eve. It feels like I’ve been to a place like that but can’t think where. What a strange place to exist! I mean, a ghost village that no one has ever lived in……… Brilliantly described too…….

  3. I know! It’s the oddest place. I’d sort of forgotten about it even though it’s just 2 minutes up the road. Well worth a look round.

  4. Wow interesting. I find places like this fascinating. Modern relics I suppose. I wonder what’ll happen to it.

  5. Lucia

    You are so right, when we visited your mum and dad a few years ago they took us round the empty buildings, it was an empty place with no sign or feeling that anyone had ever been there, no soul, very strange. We visited it again last year and wonder why has nothing been done about it, it should be demolished, it is a blot on a lovely landscape. Is there anything that can be done? anyone we can complain to?

  6. Roper

    So nice to read this and know I’ve been there! Ps. I hope Minn is going to be memorialized in your next post?

  7. Pingback: Remembrance Sunday – what does it mean to us? – Scottish Roundup

  8. Fascinating post. I love the weirdness of places like that.

  9. Will (Sevier Street)

    That was a lovely post Eve. I really enjoyed it!

  10. I spent a night on a yacht in Portavadie Marina a couple of years ago with http://www.sailscotland.co.uk/. It never occurred to me that the coast had been changed so much in this area. Nor did I realise that there was a ghost town nearby – you make it sound really edgy. I suppose we can all be blinkered to environment change at times.

    • Hi Felicity. The marina’a a lovely spot though isn’t it? And it’s nice having it down the road when I feel the need for a capuccino! If you’re back this way it’s definitely worth having a look at the village – it’s about 10 mmins up the road from the marina (past my cottage!).

  11. boneland

    Really enjoyed this. These abandoned places are so strange – especially the unattractive ones, which have a whole extra layer of forlornness about them.

  12. Bob M

    I actually worked on the oil rig base excavation, I was there on day 1 of the start in 1975 and the bay was indeed very lovely, I seem to remember that the total amount to be excavated was on excess of 500,000 cubic metres. We were initially lodged in various hotels from Strachur right down to Kames. I stayed at the Glendarul hotel for a few months. The construction companies involved were a consortium comprising Cementation Construction, Marples Ridgeway and Irishenco

    • Hi Bob. What a project to work on – must have been so many people involved!

      • Bob M

        Did not seem like it at the time, it was all the initial stuff to get ready for the main build, drive the cofferdam gates, excavate the dock but before any of that can happen the temporary camp had to be built, toilets and drainage etc, install a water supply, start a quarry for rock to build the roadways over which the excavated soil would be ferried. All of the people were travelling workers

      • Bob M

        When I was there I saw a small curved roof wooden hut near the shorelinewhere a tinker or gypsy or hermot had lived it was supposed to be a listed or protected item and had a fence around it. Is it still there?

      • There was a wee gypsy caravan that the artist Joan Tebbot used to stay in. The hut round at Stillaig Bay was built for her as compensation I think and her family still use it. It’s all so interesting isn’t it, makes me think that somethng should be done to capture all the memories and stories.

  13. Bob M

    I will check if I have any photographs that I may have taken during the construction, don’t know if I still have them, its been a long time and I have lived and worked in various locations since. There was also a big hut which I think had belonged to the Boys Brigade or Sea Cadets (There was a big canoe, tangye stove, and a stags head in it, We used it as a temporary office anand eating place till the canteen was built

  14. Bob M

    My memory is a home made hut with a rounded roof – like a rowing boat hull upside down – when tou looked in through the windows it was furnished with a bunk type bed. If I find any photos you can have them

  15. John Carroll

    I really enjoyed this post, your descriptions about this long forgotten place are superb. Thank-you.

  16. John Carroll

    Hi Eve , i really enjoyed this article on Scotlands Ghost Village – i particularly liked your descriptions.

  17. Alan Wilson

    My Father, David Wilson, was the project manager responsible for the building of the accommodation at Pollphail in the 1970s. I worked on the site in the summer of 1975. Great fun, we all fell in love with that part of Argyll. In fact we are planning to move to Tighnabruaich, from the South East of England, next month!

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