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The Arran Civic Trust is much concerned that, if buildings with their strong historical references continue to decay, part of Arranʼs history, and an important part, will be lost for ever.
Iain Ferguson, who wrote this article, said: ‘We appeal to the owners, whether major landowners or smaller private ones, to make proper provision to conserve or restore what is left. At the very least photographed and written records should be made and archived for future generations.’
Those readers lucky enough to have had access to ʻIsle of Arran Heritage: the Arran High School Projectʼ, the so-called childrensʼ book, published in 2002 with the aid of Lottery money but, sadly, not in general circulation, will find under the section devoted to ʻThe South Endʼ that references are made to the lifestyles of the people who inhabited Bennicarrigan and Glenrie during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
People live in houses. Houses define people and provide the ambiences for their living, surrounded as they are by friends, neighbours and work places. People lived in Bennicarrigan and Glenrie, but also in now forgotten places such as Bogarie and Gargadale. A visitor today will find little trace of these old clachans, just sufficient to stir the imagination and ask the questions why and how?
Arran has been settled for millennia and was for many centuries settled by folk in settled ways. But those ways came to an abrupt end with the Highland Clearances, when the old ʻinefficientʼ clachans, of which there were many on the island, were swept away to make room for sheep and the far more profitable wool trade. The legacy of this terrible time was ruination of the old clachan buildings and their replacement by fewer, larger buildings to house that part of the population which refused or was unable to take ship for the New World.
In Glenrie we can still see the relics of the old ways of life. The yellow-windowed cottage opposite Gelenrie Farm on the Ross Road (1) is now uninhabited, but it occupies one of the sites to which the inhabitants of Lower Bennicarrigan were forced to flee when that township was demolished. Until the 1980s it was inhabited by Muriel Tod. It is of
importance in that it is the last remaining visible manifestation of the time of worry and hardship, when the great-great-grandfather of Mrs Walker and his family had no choice but to ʻ move into bog and heather, taking with them only their last cropʼ.
At the foot of the glen are the remains of Glenrie Mill with its attendant cottage and outbuildings (3, 4). To the right of the road, just before the bridge, stands the old shepherdsʼ cottage (2), until recently occupied but now deserted. The mill is important. It was a carding mill, carding being the process whereby the disorganised wool fibres are teased out ready for spinning, and was in use until the beginning of the 20th century. A Mrs McKinnon was said to be the last of the wool carders, but her son John was shown in the 1861 Census to have that as his occupation.
What is of interest is that by the 1860s the Arran clearances were approaching their end, the croftersʼ old land being turned over to sheep. Hence, for half a century nearly, the mill had importance until it became more profitable to process the wool off the island.
Of even greater significance is the ruined building to the right hand side of the Ross, opposite the quarry, as the road climbs up towards Bennicarrigan (5). Catherine McLardy, interviewed for the childrensʼ book, related that, at the time of the eviction from Bennicarrgan, her great-great-grandmother was expecting a child and could not face the voyage to Canada. The family was offered 81 acres of bog and heather further inland at a
place known as Bogarie (Gaelic for ʻThe Kingʼs Bogʼ). They built the house and barns illustrated with their bare hands. She commented: ʻIʼm proud to say that I was born under that roofʼ.
Bennicarrigan itself was a substantial township, with the many cottages each leasing its share of in-bye land but sharing common grazing. The arable parts were cultivated on the rig system, whereby the land was farmed in strips separated by drainage areas. The remains of the rigs at Bennicarrigan can be seen to the south-east of the church. Of the
buildings, the church is all that remains (6): it was the place of worship for the Free Presbyterians until it fell into disuse many years ago.
That is the sorry tale of Glenrie and Bennicarrigan. But there are other sites on the island of equal importance. Two, for example, are in Catacol and Lochranza, where are to be found the remains of the barking sheds (7, 8).
These semi-industrial buildings were used at the time of sail, when fishing boats required their sails to be in pristine condition. The technique was to impregnate the latter with vapour from the bark of trees found only in this part of the island.
At Lochranza a canal ran from the top of the bay to the shed, the ruins of which can be seen to the north of the road, enabling boats to be moored and their sails brought inside to be hung up and impregnated
in the burning vapour. At Catacol, one of the steaming vats can still be seen in the small, ruined enclosure adjacent to the road.
- The yellow-windowed cottage opposite Gelenrie Farm on the Ross Road. NO_B51derelict01
2. The old shepherdsʼ cottage was occupied until recently but now deserted. NO_B51derelict02
3 & 4. Glenrie Mill with its attendant cottage and outbuildings. NO_B51derelict03 and NO_B51derelict04
5. Ruined building to the right hand side of the Ross Road. NO_B51derelict05
6. The church at Bennicarrigan is all that remains. NO_B51derelict06
7 & 8. Remains of the barking sheds to be found in Catacol and Lochranza. NO_B51derelict07 and NO_B51derelict08