Sagas of the Inner Hebrides: A Walk in Òban, and the Firth of Lorn

Out on the Scotch moorlands is where I put in my salt, it is where I plant my trees and earn my keep, but on my personal time, I like to roam the isles, and inlets, the peninsulas and estuaries. In the Highlands you are never quite far from a castle, or Celtic ruins, or a fortress, or mountains hikes, and with most settlements along the coast, the waves are always rolling to ease the thoughts. Today was one of those days to myself, so I went for a walk. And in my own words, to walk in the true spirit of walking is to let the walking, walk you. That is, it is important not to set carved time plans, routes or destinations. The most inspiration walks are usually spontaneous, mysterious, provocative and magnetic in the sense that the steps are attracted where they must. Each to their own, as some will stay on paved pathways or sidewalks while others will climb steep cliffs to reach areas of outstanding beauty, or trespass on farms to admonish respect for ancient goliaths of stone (at least in the United Kingdom).

On this day, I went out for a gander at the surroundings in a storm of hail which soon tempered off into a brisk cold sea wind. A few ‘eves prior, I walked up to McCaigs Tower, a grand piece of architecture that looks like it was built by the Greeks. Actually it resembles the coliseum, but not in size. By the light of day, one can truly absorb the aerial views of the Bay, while standing in one of the arched portals. My first endeavor here was under a light rain, though not at all unpleasant. The inside of the open air enclosure is now a garden, with some shade trees to sit under, a haven for writers methinks.

Taking a trail along the Bay of Oban, with sites of the island of Kererra and Isle of Mull in the far distance, one is moved from their immediate occupying place, and transferred to all navigable spaces of the view. I love Scotland, and I feel a home here in the highlands, even as a roamer. I soon passed an old style lighthouse, which I had gazed at a few nights prior with its green aura pulse across the torrents. Then following a pathway beside some woodlands, of which I came to find out contained some five hundred or more species of lichens! The rocks and boulders were formed some 400 million years ago from an ancient Volcano which had as it’s sibling, the great Ben More of Isle of Mull. These would have careened thirty some miles across the firth and formed part of these coastal hills, of where I walked. An ancient sea stack which now stands as an eldritch looking monolith is situated just beside said trail, and would have been connected to the slope, but over time crumbled. When the sea level was several meters higher just after the last ice age, where I put boot to dirt would have been underwater, with marine fauna, seaweed, and seals coming to breach.

I soon came to the edge of a dun, this a sort of hill mound naturally formed in the land scape, and was used often by the clans of Scotland to build castles, fortresses, and barracks on top of. At the Anglo-Scottish borderlands, I was familiar with these as some of the reiver and raider houses which still stand are near or on duns. This one did happen to have the remains of a castle, namely Dunollie or Gaelic Dùn Ollaigh, built by the MacDougalls were were allied to King Haakon in the 13th cent. and then remained loyal to the Scottish kings. It was raised in the early medievals, and burnt three times, captured and recaptured. Apparently some remains of a herb garden were found here, and the clan also planted all the woodlands in the immediate vicinity. Well, this one has a marked pathway, but alas this was closed off for some unknown reason, or rather the rich folks in the house below put up some private land signs. So I thought to make this an interesting climb. Bending round on the seaside roadway and hopping a wooden fence, I cut through some ferns and thorns towards the base of the dun, where I found a small cove, with white mineral growth coating the walls like snow. I stood in the cave and stared at the outside trees, my perception framed by volcanic stone. Certainly I was not the only to refuge in this cave. I read on a trail post that the first humans of Argyll also found shelter in these volcanic caves.

I began my climb up the near vertical dun, clinging only to loose rock, dried roots, and the odd tree to bear my weight. It didn’t take long to reach the top, I snuck behind one fence, and into the castle. There were barriers around it for undergoing restoration. Tucking behind another barrier, and under a third I was in the inner sanctum of the castle. Looking to the four airts I saw a spiral staircase in the the western corner, but blocked by iron bars about as thick as prison gates. I was able to maneuver through between the rusted bars and the stone walls. and climbing to the top, and the stairs gave way to singular stones jutting out from the side, quite precariously. Alas, I kept my footing safely and reached the roof, covered with moss and grassy and dying wildflowers. I drank in the views of Kererra, Mull, the harbour and the outlying isles like a powerful mead drink. One of these very tiny rocky islands had no inhabitants save for otters, seals, and seabirds depending on the turn of the seasons. I decided to drink a stout which I saved for a special time, and carried in my vest in case it arose. A brew from the Orkney islands called Dragonhead. Inspired by the Vikings who raided the Orkneys. Dark. roasted. chocolatey. malty. My favorite thus far I have drank in Scotland.

I stayed up there until I thought I might have aroused attentions as the castle overlooked also the seaside car road, then descended the spiral, and started walking back. On the return, passing the Dog Stone, a sea stack. In the Celtic mythology, this is where the hero Fingal tied his giant dog Bran by chain, and as it went around the stone, the chain wore away the base, it does stand as quite an impeding monolith especially viewing by night. Why I think it is important to mention the story told along with it is because it draws on the more essential task of preserving elder mythos, and imagination. Sure it is only a stone formed by natural processes, themselves which are of high intrigue and awe as well, but the story to accompany gives an impression of the mind of the first to bear it’s witness. The Picts and the Celts, who gave it life in oral tradition, and spiritual awareness. This motive and sentiment of the living mythos I shall draw on in a later journal. For now I am back at my dwelling, and I have some mulled clove wine, which needs drinking and another walk to await…

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