Campbeltown & the loch that is not a loch not made of whisky
I blogged recently about coincidences. Yesterday, I was in Campbeltown, Argyll in Scotland, near the Mull of Kintyre.
At the local Heritage Centre, there was a newspaper cutting on display saying:
THERE’S MORE TO KINTYRE THAN A DODGY SINGLE FROM AN EX-BEATLE
I was talking to Roger Clark, the English owner of the Craigard House Hotel which, until 1973, was the Craigard maternity hospital.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Watford,” he told me, “but I was born in Bushey.”
“Oh,” I said, “I live in Borehamwood.”
“You do?” Roger asked, taken aback. Watford is next to Borehamwood, separated only by Bushey.
I told Roger about the coincidences I blogged about in Edinburgh.
“Well,” he said, “Jung’s theory of synchronicity… these outrageous possibilities… billions to one… and they still keep happening. I know an English guy who owns a brewery on the Isle of Arran between here and the mainland. It’s a fairly remote island. For an Englishman to own a brewery over there is pretty remarkable. Pretty odd. After knowing him for a while, I asked where he was from and he told me he was from High Wycombe. But not originally, he said. Originally, I’m from Bushey. It turned out we were both born in the same lane – California Lane – in Bushey.”
The reason I was at the Craigard House Hotel was that I had been born there when it was the Craigard maternity hospital.
“About 1,500 of you have come back to see it,” Roger told me. “People who were born here.”
The building closed as a hospital in 1973, then it became two flats. By 1986, nobody could afford the flats, so the building lay empty for nine years, deteriorating quite quickly. It was deserted, nearly derelict. I know this, because Roger told me.
“Most of the windows in the first and second floors were broken by kids using pellet guns,” he said. “It was systematic.”
“Heavens,” I said. “It must have been awful. Damp, letting in rain. That’s a labour of love, restoring a big place like this.”
“Yes it was,” Roger replied. “Still is. “I bought it for £60,000 at an auction. But we turned it into a business and it now pays its own way. Thirteen bedrooms; we’re full all the time. The big room up there, which used to be the labour ward is £135 a night B&B. The old delivery room where you were born is £105 a night.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Twenty six years,” he replied. “I had a manufacturing company and I brought it here in 1986 to give it the best possible chance because of what I could see the British government were doing to industry.
Roger at Craigard holding his model aircraft
“I made model aircraft for the world’s airlines, including British Airways. I employed 70-90 people here for 13 years before it finally went under in 1999. I made all the model Concordes for British Airways – anyone who had a flight in Concorde had one of these models given to him. I had a factory in Corby at that point. I’m a plastic technologist basically. I started my own company when I was 27 years old in Aylesbury, then moved it to Corby when the Corby steel business collapsed and then I moved it here to a remote location to give it the best possible chance. I believe things should be made in Britain, not China.
“In 1900,” he told me, “apparently Campbeltown had the highest per capita income of any town in the UK – that was from the herring fishing, farming, coal and above all whisky. There were 34 distilleries in the town but the heyday of those was around 1874/1875 when there were 25 and the town’s population was around the same as it is now: 6,000.”
All the rooms at Roger’s hotel were occupied. The couple in the room in which I was born were in, but the couple in what used to be the delivery room were out, so Roger took me up and showed me the room.
It was… is… a big, airy room with a wide bay window looking out onto Campbeltown Loch – mis-named because it is really a bay not a loch.
The bay window my mother would have sat in before I arrived
“The women waiting to give birth,” Roger told me, “used to sit looking out at the water and the hills and the men on the fishing boats used to wave and toot their horns as they passed by.”
My father might have done that. Waved as he passed. He serviced the marine radar on the fishing boats. That’s why he was in Campbeltown; that’s why I was born there. I left when I was three; we moved to Aberdeen.
But, for some reason, I found it comforting that my mother had lain and sat in this big, airy room which way back then had six beds in it, waiting for me to arrive and she had, perhaps, waved to my father as he passed by in a boat on the waters.
The fishing fleet has long gone. The pier at Campbeltown has workmen and construction work on it. Roger has just bought an 8-ton digger for £9,000 on eBay but his plastic planes will live on beyond us all.
Ars long vita brevis.