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| climbing lodge western isles of scotland
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Oban is beyond compare in the splendour of its approaches. All the superbly scenic roads of Lorn converge upon the town.
The meandering coast road front he south plays hide and seek with the Firth of Lorn; a firth richly patterned with islands and crowding shoals of skerries and reefs. Their names sound like an incantation to old, forgotten gods.
Scarba and Lunga; the close-flanked western scimitar of the Isles of the Sea – Eileach an Naoimh, A’ Chuli, Garbh Eileach and Dun Chonnuill – Shuna, Luing and Torsa filling the broad mouth of Loch Melfort; and that long stepping stone to the mainland, Seil.
Clachan Bridge – inevitably given the touristy tag of ‘The Bridge Across the Atlantic’ – spans Clachan Sound linking the Isle of Seil to the mainland. Designed by Thomas Telford – whose lasting imprint upon the Highland scene constitutes a remarkable memorial to a long life of incredibly sustained creative energy – the bridge’s single stone arch rises steeply above the sound, enabling small vessels to pass below at high tide.
The road from the north swings down through historic Appin along the placid shores of Loch Linnhe. Close to Portnacroish, on a green-topped islet in the inlet of Loch Laich, stands the ancient seat of the Stewarts of Appin. It is Castle Stalker, surely the most attractive castle in all Scotland.
Standing proudly four-square on its tiny islet of green, ringed by the blue waters of the loch, the little castle looks out on a backdrop of the Morvern Hills rising high above the long thin finger of Lismore.
Seen in the brilliant early-morning light of a glittering summer day, with a flat calm on the loch carrying a three-dimensional mirror image of the Castle of the Hunter, even the most avaricious property speculator would be tempted to abandon his city fortress for a site such as this.
Built in the thirteenth century, the castle was refurbished in 1450 by Duncan Stewart of Appin as a hunting lodge for James IV, and in the course of its long history it has been the focal point of infinitely more deadly pursuits. But it has a curiously innocent, domesticated air, enhanced by the outside stone stairway leading to the gateway on the first floor. Not that any medieval visitant would have failed to observe the b ulging parapet on the battlements above the entrance, carefully holed so that boiling oil or pitch could be accurately directed on the heads of unwanted guests.
From the east, the road to Oban skirts Loch Awe under the dominant peak of Ben Cruachan. Cruachan is the hollow mountain, heart of the hydro-electric pumped-storage scheme. It is an impressive example of the way in which natural forces can be harnessed without despoiling the landscape.
The only visible signs of the colossal engineering exertions which have gone on here are the screened, curving intake on the loch adjacent to the Administration Building, and the reservoir, high above Loch Awe, made by damming a natural corrie under the peak of Ben Cruachan.
An access road-tunnel penetrates two-thirds of a mile into the heart of the mountain where an enormous cavern – 300-feet long and 120-feet high – has been hacked out of solid rock to house the Machine Hall and its incumbent giants, four huge turbine/generator sets. One of the staggering statistics relating to Cruachan is the fact that the Machine Hall – big enough to swallow Coventry Cathedral with ease – is located 118 feet below the level of Loch Awe.
In the aseptic control room it is difficult to believe that the three shirt-sleeved operators are working deep in the heart of the mountain. From such an unlikely base, they have gigantic power under fingertip control.
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