Lochgilphead, Argyll & Bute
Lochgilphead is a town and former burgh in Argyll and Bute, West of Scotland, with a population of around 2,300 people. It is the administrative centre of Argyll and Bute and it lies at the end of Loch Gilp (a branch of Loch Fyne) and lies on the banks of the Crinan Canal. Lochgilphead sits on the A83 road, with Ardrishaig two miles to the south and Inveraray 24 miles to the north-east; Oban lies 37 miles north on the A816.
As a planned settlement, Lochgilphead was created in 1790, shortly after the completion of a road from Inveraray to Campbeltown. After the the Crinan Canal was constructed in 1801, the town became more important as a link across the Kintyre peninsula. The town was connected to Oban, when a road was completed in 1830. In 1831 a pier was built, helping to link Lochgilphead with Glasgow and other major towns via waterways.
The 1963 James Bond film “From Russia with Love” used locations in Lochgilphead area for shots. The local cinema was used to watch screen rushes each day for the cast and crew. The cinema building was actually originally built in 1938 for the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. Following the event it was disassembled and put together again in Lochgilphead. It ceased to operate as cinema in 1980s and is now home to Empire Lodge, the area’s only purpose built travel lodge.
In July 1982, Lochgilphead competed against teams from Perth and Oban in the then highly popular BBC Television It’s a Knockout, presented by Stuart Hall. The town’s team won their round and later competed in the international version of the series, ‘Jeux Sans Frontieres’, which was recorded in Switzerland.
Lochgilphead is also home to Scottish motoring heritage. In 1970s the Argyll GT sportscar was built by Bob Henderson in Manse Brae. One of the few remaining examples can be seen at Grampian Transport Museum in Aberdeenshire.
Lochgilphead’s current facilities, serving both the town and the wider region, include a swimming pool, sports centre, fishing tackle shop, three banks, supermarket, two petrol stations, three homewear and hardware shops, a car dealership, a community hospital run by the local GPs, 9-hole golf course, bowling club, a hydrotherapy pool, a regional landfill site at Dunchologan and Lochgilphead High School, operating on a new campus since 2008.
The town annually hosts the Dalriada Provincial Mod each September. The event is a Gaelic festival organised by the local branch of An Comunn Gàidhealach, which provides opportunities for people of all ages to perform across a range of competitive disciplines including Gaelic music and song, highland dancing, instrumental, drama, sport and literature. The town is also one of the venues for the Mid Argyll Music Festival, which runs for about a fortnight annually.
In the Footsteps of Geddes at Mid-Argyll Youth Forum
Mid-Argyll Youth Forum is based in Lochgilphead and is an organisation that gives young people of this remote part of Scotland a chance to have a say on issues affecting them. Debates, discussions and actions at youth forums can affect decisions made at a local level, all the way up to the highest level in government. Mid-Argyll Youth Forum meets on Monday evenings in Lochgilphead Community Centre. The Forum also organises activities during school holidays which are open to all youngsters in the area. “In the Footsteps of Geddes” was part of the Summer 2017 programme. A group of eight teenage girls and boys from Lochgilphead took part in the project which was delivered over two days at the Community Centre; a field trip to the village of Arichonan also took place.
Day 1 at Lochgilphead Community Centre
Over the course of the first day the young people discussed extensively how they find living in Lochgilphead. As the discussion progressed, they raised various valid points about the positive aspects of this picturesquely located community, while also not shying away from being critical about its shortcomings. They appreciated the variety of sport and activity groups, accessibility of nature and green, the town’s location being central to the region and resulting attractiveness as a stopover point for tourism. At the same time the group was concerned about limited opportunities available to them following high school graduation; the desire to “leave for Glasgow as soon as possible” was a common sentiment. While appreciating it as one of the main drivers of the local economy and job market, they also expressed concern over the negative impact of the increasing inflow of tourists, in particular in relation to road safety and traffic levels. The participants also referred a lot to limited connectivity with the rest of the world, be it the physical connections via the limited public transport or patchy mobile and internet network coverage.
The above feedback was put onto large posters, acting as thought maps for the area. The group was then familiarised with the Place Standard tool in the form of a booklet. The fourteen categories, used to determine the quality of place using numeric and written feedback, are accompanied by prompts designed to make the survey easier to understand. Following this, the group was able to structure their ideas and opinions and also extend the discussion over the issues not covered initially.
In a further part of the workshop the participants practiced assembling the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer. They then learnt how to take panoramic pictures with the use of a smartphone, a tripod and Cardboard Camera app. These newly learnt skills were then put to use on the second day.
Day 2 at Arichonan Clearance Village
Arichonan Clearance Village is located off the remote B8025, about 30 minutes away from Lochgilphead by car. Argyll’s picturesque Caol Scotnish can be seen from Arichonan. The terrain around the village features some great forest paths and tracks. There is also a yachting harbour at Tayvallich located just a few miles north.
The name Arichonan is a combination of the Gaelic “Airidh”, itself borrowed from Old Norse, “Erg”, meaning “Hill Pasture” or “Shieling”. The “Chonan” part is a personal name, also spelt as “Chonainn” and “Conan”. Arichonan therefore means Conan’s Shieling, providing summer pasture for Conan’s cattle.
The era of the Highland Clearances was a significant episode in Scottish history. Over the course of 150 years the demographic spread of Scotland was changed forever as thousands of families were forcibly driven from their ancestral homes. This was to make space for sheep grazing as it was more profitable to land owners than collecting rent from people. The abandoned township of Arichonan was the scene of a riot during the Clearances.
Similarly to other clearance areas, the inhabitants at Arichonan did not take kindly to the prospect having to leave their homes to make way for sheep grazing. When landowner Neil Malcolm of Poltalloch terminated his leases on Whitsunday in 1848, things turned sour. The determined tenants refused to budge and a riot ensued. Police were then sent in to quell the rebellion and many Arichonan residents were later imprisoned.
Arichonan was the subject of a school project done by Megan Davies, one of the “In the Footsteps of Geddes” participants. Although this part of Argyll & Bute is a recognised tourism and heritage destination, the awareness of this clearance village among newcomers and even some of the locals is low. Meghan hoped to shed some light on this place of historic significance and it was also the reason for choosing Arichonan as a place worthy a visit through the project.
To look forward one must first often look to the past. Following a short trip aboard a minibus, kindly provided by Mid-Argyll Youth Forum, the participants started the second day of the project in Arichonan. As eloquently put by Project Volunteer Michael Kordas, “being among the ruined crofts on a beautiful sunny morning brought the group together in understanding and reflecting on the sense of place which still pervades the area. This was true across both the ages since the village was abandoned and the age difference between the participants and facilitators”.
Exploration of the ruins ensued, with lots of walking, climbing and playful hiding behind the walls of the old crofts. The participants were keen to admire the views over the area from various points of the site. These, as well as architectural detail of the village, were captured in the panoramic group selfies that were taken using the smartphone technology, to be later viewed with the use of the Google Cardboard. The varied landscape of this part of Argyll & Bute – reminiscent of the Geddesian Valley Section diagram, illustrating the relationship between geography and human activity – was also admired and discussed by everyone.
Upon the group’s return to the project venue, the feedback gained from the Place Standard Tool on the first day was used in the most constructive way. The young participants discussed with enthusiasm how another element of local heritage, the former school, could be re-purposed into a community asset. The group came up with the idea of a “Gaffé” – a portmanteau of the words ‘café’ and ‘gaff’ (meaning “house”). The Gaffé would be a multipurpose place for the local youth with a community café at its heart where youngsters can gain work experience and learn responsibility. Facilities such as art room, music room with instruments, small cinema, study and meeting rooms and a large outside area for sport and other activities would form an attractive offer to the local youth. The Gaffé could be a central gathering place for the kids from the area, providing shelter from the rain, opportunities for personal development and be a nice place ‘to hang in’. The 3D scanning activity inspired the suggestion of ensuring that The Gaffé is also kitted out with up-to-date and interesting digital technology, to be used by everyone for fun and to develop digital skills.
Following this session of creativity and ideas, the day concluded with all people involved, both project staff and participants, leaving with new knowledge and appreciation for local history and the role of place in our everyday lives. The group enjoyed their time spent thinking about place in new ways, learning interesting skills and suggesting ideas that could benefit themselves and the wider community.