Welcome to Ardfern
Ardfern is a small village situated 25 miles south of Oban, on Scotland’s rugged west coast, at the head of Loch Craignish in Mid-Argyle. The region which surrounds it is famed as the cradle of Scottish Christianity, due to the nearby island of Iona and its famous abbey, as a haven for wildlife (home to swans, ducks, otters, seals and birds of prey) and also for the warm currents of the Gulf Stream which make Scotland the warmest country in the world for its latitude and allow exotic species, such as palm trees, to flourish on the coastline around Ardfern.
Ardfern likely developed as a small fishing and perhaps crofting centre. The pier that was in place by the 18th century was used in the years after the industrial revolution as a calling point for steamers and puffers carrying pleasure seekers to Scotland’s remotest shores. Its development as a marina for pleasure craft was ensured due to its perfect location for the exploration of the Inner Hebrides and by the shelter offered by Loch Craignish, the absence of tidal access problems or lock gates. Today ‘Ardfern Yacht Centre’ welcomes sailing enthusiasts of all levels from all over the world.
Ardfern is also accessible by road and nowadays visitors come to take in views of the unspoilt sea and landscapes which surround the peninsula. Its place within the tourist industry has prompted the development of a number of amenities; walking, horse riding, cycling and golf are all available locally. While engaging in any of these pursuits one can not help but reflect on the history of the area, which jumps out at you from all sides thanks to commemorative cairns, ruins and standing stones.
While the fact that man has lived in Craignish for millennia is testified to by stone circles, burial cairns and ancient fortifications, it is difficult to be certain about any of the concrete events which occurred here until the arrival of the Vikings in the late 8th century. Although the arrival of the Vikings was heralded by raids on Scotland’s west coast, within one hundred years they started to come as settlers in the islands and coastal areas. The Scottish kingdom fought to assert its rights in the west and repeatedly came into conflict with the Scandinavians. Battles with the Danes are commemorated by a number of cairns at Bagh dal nan Ceann, on the western shores of Craignish, and in Barbreck Valley. At Drumrigh, the ‘Kings Ridge’, the army of the Danish King Olaf attacked an army of Scots. The Scots stood firm and eventually the Danes were forced into retreat. After regrouping a few miles up the valley, at Sluggan, the Danish army was routed and their general slain; a standing stone marks the spot where he fell. A large tomb at Dunan Aula was constructed to house the remains of King Olaf who is said to have been killed on this spot as he attempted to flee with what was left of his army.
Conflict in the area did not end with the departure of the Scandinavians in the 13th century. Craignish was disputed for generations as noble families and clans fought to posses it. One of Craignish’s many tales of woe involves a laird of the area who, forced into battle by a group of MacMartins on the river Allt Atha mhic Mhartein, killed the MacMartin chief, his wife’s brother. In repentance, the laird of Craignish had his brother, Duncan MacRath, adopt the slain chief’s son. Alas, years later this boy confessed a desire to revenge his father’s death while alone with his foster father by the banks of Loch Mhic Mhartein. Anxious to prevent further feuding, MacRath stabbed his adopted son before throwing his body into the waters. Another of Craignish’s tragedies took place at Port nan Athullach, near Craignish Point. Here a party of Atholmen was slaughtered in a feud with the Craignish chief in 1681.
The area in which Ardfern sits is undoubtedly a beautiful one. Its beauty has been recognised by writers as varied as MacCulloch, whose lyrical descriptions of Loch Craignish have undoubtedly encouraged many to visit the area for themselves, and George Orwell, who famously almost drowned in the Gulf of Corryvreckan in 1947. Still, no writer, no matter how much command he can claim to have over the language, could come close to providing a description which could do justice to the beauty of Ardfern and Craignish.