In the footsteps of the Clans Folk
Saturday 26th of April saw members of Crann Tara attend St Johns Church Ballachulish who were holding a sponsored walk from Glen Crenan back to the church a distance of nearly 10 miles following in the footsteps of the many clans folk throughout the centuries who used the wild mountain trails and passes to attend their place of worship. The route taken was to follow in the footsteps of the clans folk of Appin and re-create the spirit of these people whose unity and passion were at one with the wild and spectacular country they belonged to throughout the long and proud history of the area.
The church have started a restoration appeal to raise monies for urgent fabric repairs and have raised in excess of £20,000 to date and hope to obtain grant aid from The National Lottery and Historic Scotland. The current 19th century church, built in 1842 is a modern brother to the small and quaint chapel dating from just after the last Jacobite Rising where Bishop Forbes of Aberdeen visited in 1770 and the congregation stood in the open air or in caves and celebrated in Gadhlig in the time of the Penal Laws. The church houses a historic religious relic in the shape of The Appin Alter Vessel or chalice dating from 1723 and taken with the Appin Regiment on its support of The Stewart cause in 1745.It is said that communion was taken from the chalice on the morning of the battle of Culloden in 1746. The preservation of this important religious relic from these turbulent and passionate times is testimony to the Local People of the area and the spiritual bond that the church provided.
The morning started very wet with heavy overnight rain relentless. After missing the mini-bus it was left to Bruce of the church to rescue the day by speeding us round through Appin to Loch Crenan in his Mini. Once at the Forestry Commission car park at Elleric it was great to meet up with the rest of the people taking part, 30 in number and ranging in ages right up to 82! The pace was set by the oldest in the group and off we went following the forest tracks up Glen Crenan. The damage caused by the Forestry Commission in the 1950’s is now slowly being put right and some of the old settlements and tracks are being gradually mapped and archaeological works undertaken. The old route that the clans folk would have used has made way to forest roads for the first third of the walk and this takes you past the major settlement of Glen Crenan, Eas na Sgoinne and Salachail where a bronze age burial cairn is located. The Commission who were represented on the walk were very helpful with local knowledge of the area and it’s great to see that the Social History of Scotland in these forested parts is slowly being recognised by them.
Small sections of the ancient route have been left intact and these provided a steep climb up out the glen and a test of stamina for all. Once out the forest it was open hill at the top of Gleann an Fhiod and the birthplace of the River Laroch. Great views could be had here with stunning scenery all the way down the glen in both directions to Ballachulish, Loch Leven and the Eileen Munde burial Isle or back the way up Glen Duror. Once down in the Glen it was time to cross the fast flowing Laroch, swelled by the overnight rains and this proved good fun and a welcome cooling down of the feet. The route would now follow the Laroch down to Ballachulish under the mighty peaks of Sgorr Bhan and Sgorr Dhearg and one more rushing burn to cross at the Alt Sheilleac.
You must pay tribute to the resilience and strength of these people in that they used these passes and hill tracks every day of their lives in all weathers. Once down into Ballachulish it was a gentle stroll through the village made famous for it’s slate quarries then along the main A-82 to the church where a piper greeted the walkers and a well earned cup of tea and a piece. We met many good friends on the walk and it was great to see the spirit and passion of the walkers who are dedicated in preserving and restoring this lovely church with its historic connections. Thanks were given to the organisers of the walk and it was with great pride that we were allowed to hold the Appin Chalice to end what was a memorable day.
If ever you get a chance on passing Ballachulish, stop in and look around these lovely two buildings and you will feel the link to our great and proud history that these possess. If you can, make a donation to the Restoration Appeal, it’s a worth while cause as without Scotland’s Social History there would be no future.
By Stewart Connor