Tag Archives: Tarbert

Paps and posties

Looking out to islands

The rugged coastline of Knapdale with views of Islay and Jura.

On Monday morning I woke up to a fresh blue sky – the perfect day for a two-wheeled trip someplace new. And where better than Kintyre, the mysterious mass of land across the loch. I caught the ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert, stocked up on snacks from the co-op, and set off along the single-track road that winds its way along the western coast of Knapdale. After climbing up through shady woodland, I emerged into dazzling sunshine. The road stretched ahead of me, shimmering in the heat. Beyond the rolling, rough farmland and dark patches of pine forest, there was a splash of blue loch. White butterflies passed like pieces of tissue paper caught on the breeze. Foamy meadowsweet, thistles and harebells filled the verges, and honeysuckle draped in the trees. I raced on, listening to the bleat of sheep and wondering if my rattling bike chain was anything to worry about.

View of beach at Loch Stornaway

Looking back to the beach at Loch Stornaway. No sign of a bull...

Further on a streak of yellow caught my eye and I pulled up by a gate. There, beyond a grassy field dotted with clover and freshly shorn sheep, was a wide, empty beach. It would have been a perfect place to stop for lunch and a dip, but for the sign on the gate that said: ‘BULL ON SHORE’. I dithered, and like a big chicken decided not to take the chance and pedalled on. As I rounded the next headland, Jura and Islay came into view. They seemed to float, other worldly, in a sea of misty blue. It was as if I were looking down on a mountain range, the islands the peaks poking up through the clouds. A beetle landed on my hand, turned a few circles like a dodgem and then flew on its way. I too went on my way, hurtling along the road next to the sea with the smell of salty, sun-dried seaweed ripe in the air.

Road with view of the paps of Jura

The view of Jura just minutes before my bike broke.

I was thinking how perfect this all was and how I might describe the paps of Jura that rose, in a matronly manner, before me, when I heard a loud crack and my bike careered off into the verge. The derailleur had snapped off. The bike couldn’t be cycled or, indeed, pushed, and I was in the middle of nowhere in the midday sun. I sighed, fiddled half-heartedly with the chain and then resigned myself to hitching a lift on this, the quietest of roads. In a stroke of luck, a postvan rounded the bend. I flagged it down and begged a lift back to Tarbert. ‘Nae bother’, said the postie and threw my bike in the back of the van. As we motored back, stopping to collect the post and chat to passing farmers, he told me his story. At school his English teacher, a young Ian Crichton Smith, had spotted his talent for writing, but he was too young, too restless, to follow it through. Later in life, after years spent in the hills along the west coast working as a forester, he began to write. He was inspired by the landscape, its wildness and his place in it. ‘It seeps into you.’ ‘Aye’, he replied. ‘That it does.’

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Make do and mend

Wooden fish hanging from the rafters

Eight fish hang from the ceiling, whittled from driftwood to pass the time one rainy west coast day.

Nothing was ever bought new for the cottage. It’s full of hand-me-downs; things that became too worn for best would do just fine here, with a bit of tweaking. Old duvet sets would be reworked into curtains into cushion covers into napkins until, faded, thin and softened with age, they would see their days out as rags and dusters.

I love this thrifty make do and mending because it’s so carefree and creative. The crockery doesn’t match? So what? A bookshelf made out of driftwood and blue rope? Why not? With no style or fashion to follow, the cottage has been shaped by its surroundings and by the people who stay here. Beachcombing finds are woven into its very fabric – the fireplace is made from stones from the shore, a twist of bleached driftwood decorates the window sill and fishing rods hang from every rafter.

Books on a shelf

A shelf made from driftwood and blue rope. And my reading list...

The cottage happily absorbs cast offs, finding space for multiples: two rusty sieves, three sets of aging barbeque tools, four teapots. My uncle Davy was a joiner and would bring treasures thrown out by his clients, including a shower, cubicle and all, that’s still going strong today. He once offered a conservatory in mint condition, but dad drew a line. In his eyes this was too much of a luxury for the cottage – along with a washing machine, electric blankets and, quite probably, the shower.

So I’ve finally moved in and it’s not a holiday cottage for me anymore, it’s my home for a year. As I potter and settle, I’m temped to clear out the mismatching odds and ends and move in my more modern stuff. But that’s not the point and it doesn’t feel right to do it. The cottage is more than four walls and a roof. Everything in it has a history and each item holds a story, reminders of people and moments in time. I want to add to this and keep the thrifty holiday spirit alive. Although, having said that, the spanking new Ikea curtains do look great in the sitting room. And maybe in 20-years’ time I’ll be fashioning them into a tea cosy.

Fishing rod and a map

Old fishing rods hang from the rafters. Now I have to work out how to use them.

I did some proper foraging today and made gorse flower cordial. Gorse is rampant in these parts, splashing the landscape like bright yellow daubs of paint. On a still evening its heady, honey and coconut perfume fills the air. My recipe book says it’s best to pick the flowers when the sun’s out. No such luck – it’s been raining steadily since I arrived, so I just went for it. I boiled 600 ml of water with half a pound of sugar for about ten minutes. Then I took it off the heat, added the juice of one lemon and four big handfuls of gorse flowers, stirred and left it to stand for five minutes before draining it through a jelly bag. I now have two jars of summery smelling syrup, although one has a suspicious undertone of spicy tomato chutney – the jar’s original contents. Well, it’s all learning. I’m going to try the same thing with clover when it’s in bloom. I also enjoyed fat scallops, langoustine tails and the sweetest clams today courtesy of the very nice fisherman on the pier at Tarbert. Now I’m off to the marina to beg use of its wifi. It seems that getting broadband installed here could take longer than I thought – I need to get planning permission for a new telephone pole first. Who’d have thought?

And thanks to my friend Cath for the photos.

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