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Life around Carradale

Just a few miles to the south of our village lie what few stones remain of Saddell Abbey, a monastic settlement established in the twelfth century by monks coming from what is now Northern Ireland.Saddell Abbey Permission to build the abbey was needed, just as it would be today, and the story goes that this was granted by none other than Somerled, a powerful figure in the history of Scotland who after a significant battle in 1158 declared himself as the first ‘King of the Isles’. As such he ruled an independent kingdom which was subservient neither to Scotland nor indeed to the King of Norway whose influence was still strong in the Western Isles at this time. Although Somerled’s kingdom was short-lived his blood line still continues because as many as half a million people alive today can, according to the evidence of their DNA, claim him as an ancestor.

Although this is disputed by some, Somerled’s remains are said to be buried somewhere on the site of Saddell Abbey, something that gives these crumbling ruins something of an aura, despite their condition. The monastery did not survive to the present day, its fate is lost to history, and over the last two hundred or so years the site has been used as a graveyard, the gravestones peering out from every corner, even from within the bounds of the building remains themselves. Much of the stone from the original abbey has now gone, to be used in other buildings such as Saddell Castle where local tales tell of the bad fortune that this brings to those who stay there. Fortunately for the owners this does not appear to prevent holidaymakers coming to stay here, indeed they appear to make much of the tale to add to the cachet of the place.

Kate and I arrived here on our bikes after negotiating the five miles of road from our village, this being the horizontal distance we had to travel. The length of the journey, however, gives no impression of our movement in the vertical dimension. Both the beginning and the end of the journey are at sea level, as indeed are several other spots along the way and the problem is that each of these places are separated by high ground over which the road winds its merry way totally indifferent to the plight of those who try to ride a bicycle on its surface. To negotiate steep hills on a bicycle we change into our lowest gears but the fact is that the same amount of effort is required to ride uphill regardless of the number of gears a bike has. Then if the gears are too few in number and the hill too steep then there will come a point when the rider’s weight simply cannot push hard enough on the pedal to rotate the wheels and move the bike up the incline. This is a scientific fact few are aware of simply because they don’t cycle along the lanes around Carradale where most of the hills fall into this category.

Our real motive for visiting Saddell was to visit not the abbey but the beach which, aside from its outstanding natural beauty, was the setting for something even Somerled might have found entertaining. Kate at Saddell beachThis short strip of sand and pebble, dominated by the well maintained and classical features of the castle, was once the backdrop for a video made to accompany the UK’s best selling single of all time, ‘Mull of Kintyre’. In the song accompaniment is provided by the Campbeltown Pipe Band who were seen in the video marching along the Saddell shoreline beside the sea and being joined by Paul McCartney singing and playing his guitar. In subsequent verses of the song they are joined by local schoolchildren, many of whom may now be adults still living in the area – the song was released in 1977. In many ways the beach location would have been an obvious choice since it possesses so many of the vital ingredients needed – it is easy of access by road but secluded enough to remain undisturbed during the filming; it has the tall castle as a backdrop, a proper one with battlements all in good repair; there is spectacular scenery in every direction. It lacks, however, the most essential ingredient which is that the beach is not actually located at the Mull of Kintyre.

Having been to the Mull, of course, we know why this would not have been suitable for the video. It has no beach, it is a remote, inaccessible and windswept place often surrounded by fogs and it has no Disneyland-like castle to use as part of the backdrop. So perhaps history can forgive the deception. After all Saddell is on the Kintyre peninsula, so many would say it is is close enough to be authentic, and very few will ever know the truth anyway.

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