Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Memories of a Kilchoan Holiday, 1968

From Mike & Jane Harper:
We first discovered Sanna Bay in May 1967 on a short trip into the western highlands with two friends. At the time we had just become engaged and visited our friends who then were living in Edinburgh. It was the Spring Bank Holiday and we decided to go the Highlands for a couple of days.

On the first day we found a croft that could accommodate us, two men in one room and the two girls in the other. This was near Fort William somewhere near the Caledonian Canal. The next day we set off towards Mallaig. Early afternoon we started searching for a B&B that had two bedrooms - in those days you didn’t share unless you were married.

We could not find anywhere that was not fully booked and subsequently ended up with four of us trying to sleep in a Triumph Herald. By first light we were all wide awake. After a cold wash in a burn we set off towards Glenelg. At about 6am we came up on Sanna Bay.

To the amazement of a bleary eye in a lonely caravan, there were four idiots running around on the beach at six in the morning!

Jane & I married in March 1968 and my friend on the Sanna Bay excursion was my best man. We were so taken with Sanna that on 20th September 1968 we set off from our friend’s new house in Penicuik heading North for a holiday in Kilchoan and Sanna Bay.

We arrived late afternoon in Kilchoan and drove through the village looking for a B&B. By chance we came upon Craigard which still had their sign up. They told us they were about to take it down. Mrs Scott showed me the room and told me they did not have electricity but had oil lamps. I broke this news to Jane and said if it doesn’t suit you can move on tomorrow, thoughI had no idea where. The rest is history: my wife fell in love with the place and we stayed the whole week despite her not being able to use her hair-dryer. I had an electric razor and could not use that either. Jane noted in her diary that it was turning back the pages, old world.

The next priority was to get a drink, for having driven most of the day I was gasping. Granny McPhail said the Hotel closed at 9 or 9.30 and as it was almost closing time so I virtually ran all the way. I rushed into the empty bar and ordered a pint that I drank quickly and ordered another.

We sat wondering when they would call time, enjoying my pint when the door opened and in came some people. There was John McVee the local First World War hero, an accordion player and jolly good sing-song of well loved Scottish songs ensued. Granny McPhail told us their names the next day that it was John McVee, The DL (Daniel Livingston) and their mates, a 'bad lot' she said.

We very quickly adjusted to a life without electricity; however, the talk in evening was often about the Gillespies who had a generator; “just look at that, lights everywhere."

It was interesting to experience life on a croft. Mrs Scott milked the cows by hand and was always busy. She had a dog called Spot who was a slightly mad collie but very friendly. We often wondered how they all fitted into the house and yet managed to give us such wonderful food. We very quickly adjusted to life without electricity. Mrs Scott provided a “high tea” every evening which to us was better than a dinner, and a lovely cooked breakfast.

On the Sunday we drove down to Mingary Pier to see the ferry and found out the times of the crossings to Tobermory. The ferry in those days was passenger only and on a market day, sheep. If you went on those days you swept the deck with the brooms provided or just put up with the mess and accepted a smelly 45 minutes bouncing around in a small boat.

Afterwards we drove to Sanna Bay and spent a lovely sunny day paddling and clambering on the rocks before returning to a sumptuous “high tea”. After tea we ventured out to the lighthouse and saw it flashing its warning light. Then to bed and reading by oil lamp while Jane wrote her diary.

On the Monday we went to Tobermory in what was an exhilarating crossing. We spent the day in the town before walking up to what must have been the Treshnish Lochs where we ate a picnic provided by Mrs Scott. Before catching the ferry we went to the local shop to buy a wet razor… no luck, they had sold them all. As a result every morning Granny McPhail felt my whiskery face to see if they were growing.

Tuesday 24th September we walked over the cliffs to Ockle a funny little place with about only three houses. The sky was cloudless blue, the sea a cornflower blue and the islands looked beautiful across the Minch. After a picnic lunch we drove back to Sanna Bay and spent the day paddling in the warm sea.

The next day was our first wet day. However, that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves. We walked from the jetty to Mingary Castle and had a good look around. We then drove to Sanna Bay and donning our macs and rain-hats and spent several hours walking on the sands and scrambling over the rocks.

When had dried out we drove to the Lighthouse and were shown around by the lighthouse keeper. We were surprised to learn that the light was paraffin lit, as are many lighthouses around Britain, he informed us. After dinner we had a drink in the Kilchoan Hotel with another couple who were staying at Craigard. We again wondered how they fitted us all and themselves into the house.

Thursday was another warm and sunny day. We drove to Glenborrodale and tried to find a road inland to the lochs but found it was gated with a notice, private. So we drove back to near Sanna and walked across country to Glendrian cave (left). It was hard walking with bogs, rocks and slippery screeds. We got there and I ventured in. I only got short way when a pigeon took off with a loud crack of its wings. I nearly died of fright and came out much quicker than I went in. We trekked back and on to Sanna Bay and a paddle with a whole beach virtually to ourselves. In the evening we walked along the lane towards the point and watched the light-houses on Mull and those in the distant near Oban sending their message of safety to ships and boats in the sound.

Friday 27th September was our last day at Craigard. Mrs Scott could not accommodate us they were expecting a load of relatives from Glasgow later so we booked into the Sonachan House Hotel for the night.

We waited for the rain to stop which it did most conveniently. We walked and conquered the two mountains (hills) overlooking Sanna Bay. Although it was very windy and a long trek the views were worth the effort. We sat and watched the rough seas breaking against the rocks at Sanna. Our last day we were both sad but had had a wonderful holiday and although not looking to going back to work but were refreshed sufficiently to endure it.

On the Saturday as we left we called at Craigard and said our farewells to Mrs Scott, Granny McPhail and of course Spot. We said how much we had enjoyed our short holiday and agreed we would be back. In 1970 we returned to Kilchoan and stayed again at Craigard. We never visited Kilchoan again until this year when we met Tom Bryson the new owner of Craigard.

We still meet our friends, usually a couple of times a year. The health of Laurie, my best man, is not what it was so we have not been able to visit each other for the last year to avoid putting any strain on him.

Many thanks to Mike & Jane for this account and the pictures.


  1. Love it - thanks for sharing. It must have been around then when I had my first visit as a small child.

  2. What a lovely blog post. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Joyce

  3. I thought that was great. Thanks. I first came to Kilchoan 25 years ago this week - on honeymoon. There was mains electricity by then though I do remember the water that came out of the tap was still a peaty brown colour. It was also a boiling hot week 25 years ago -
    amazing weather. Another thing I remember, we met another young couple on honeymoon. They were on a tandem when we passed them on the way to the lighthouse. They asked us to take their photo when they got to the lighthouse - they'd cycled from Lowestoft and I think they said it took 2 weeks. They were going to stay in a caravan for a week and then cycle to Manchester!

  4. thanks, a very enjoyable read