In the second in our series of stories about Argyll’s Secret Coast, come with us on an adventure into ancient, oak woodlands, to find the abandoned village of Glenan.
As I climb the hill, away from the bay, the sun breaks through the heavy cloud. For a moment, the woodland comes rushing back to life.
Where it hits the newly unfurled leaves, the sunlight explodes in sparks of fresh, brilliant green. The dappled light courses across the forest floor, picking out individual flowers from the carpet of bluebells rolling out under the twisted canopy of ancient, contorted oak.
Welcome to Glenan Wood, a pristine, native woodland, flanking the shore of Loch Fyne.
I’m here to find the abandoned village of Glenan. I tried once before but when the weather turned on me and I started to lose the light, I was forced away, disappointed but promising myself that I'd return. Today though, aside from a little west coast drizzle to add to the atmosphere of adventure, there’s nothing to hold me back.
Glenan was first settled in 1309 and, managing to survive the clearances that eviscerated the Highlands and islands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was continually inhabited for six hundred years.
I drop down the other side of the hill, toward the shore, scrambling around rocks and picking my way through the bluebells until I reach West Glenan Burn. Tracking the burn inland, I follow the path roughly north, heading back into the woods.
Although undeniably beautiful, this is a lonely place. With my only company the call of birds and the creaking of branches in the breeze, the woods begin to close in around me and the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise whilst I struggle to shake off the urgent, sinking feeling that I'm being watched.
Local legend tells of the final inhabitant of Glenan being so heartbroken to leave the village that he hanged himself.
In these woods.
I'm beginning to sense that he's still here. Still unable to say goodbye to his beloved home.
Just as my imagination begins to get the better of me, the path dips down to a little bridge across the burn and away from the haunting woodland. And then, as I cross the water and the sun breaks through the clouds once more, I get my first glimpse of what remains of the village of Glenan.
I was expecting to find this place bleak, but it really isn't. A tight little knot of buildings, the village is hunkered down on a hilltop above the burn, with breathtaking views over the treetops to Loch Fyne and beyond.
The houses are nestled close together, on either side of the path. Although the villagers are long gone, there's a sense that this was a close community. It's easy to imagine the occupants of opposite cottages leaning out of their windows, chatting over the path. Being there for each other when times got tough, as they undoubtably did living out in the wilds. On this exposed, weather-beaten hilltop, there's a pervading sense of warmth.
Of course, those cottages are little more than crumbling walls now, and the landscape has claimed what's left of them as its own.
At this time of year, with last season's bracken lying across the ground in long, broken shards, the ruins are clearly visible and easily accessed. In the summer, however, they will be dragged almost entirely into the undergrowth, hidden until winter comes around once more.
A village lost to time.
The roofs, doors and windows are long since gone, and mature trees grow tall within walls painted with broad splashes of lichen and moss. Abstracts of green, yellow and white, echoing the graffiti of the Secret Coast's other lost village, Polphail.
What's left of those stone walls aren't just piles of rock though. They were homes. They were built, and maintained, and cherished.
They were loved.
In an age before modern building techniques, these stones were carried, cut and placed, by hand, to forge together a community. Who were the people that slept under those long-gone roofs? What did they dream about? Where did they go?
I can't help but think of heartfelt goodbyes as the people of Glenan slowly left this place a century ago. Friends, neighbours and families going their separate ways in search of a better life. One by one making their way out until that final man took his last walk into the woods.
But what they left behind is something truly special. A monument to what people can achieve when they work together.
A reminder that nothing lasts forever.
Please visit here for more information about Glenan Wood.
Reproduced with kind permission of The Secret Diary (www.secretdiaryargyll.com