|The Church—Heritage Centre—Balimackillichan
1. HERITAGE CENTRE TO LOST VILLAGE OF PORT A’ CHARRAIN
If, or when, you are visiting the Heritage Centre, you can add this short walk and discover a lot of history. A longer walk starting at Clachan covers some of this but, for convenience, relevant information is repeated.
Take the gate beside the Heritage Centre, walk parallel to the fence, continuing straight on through a field lined with runrigs (strips of once cultivated arable land) and after a time you will look down on the south end of the lost village of Port a’ Charrain.
Here are two ruined dwellings with a burn running below them. The other dwellings are spread out to the north, with five or six before a large enclosure and a substantial wall with a stile into Balimackillichan.
According to the 1841 census, Port a’ Charrain was once home to forty Liosaich. Ten years later there were twenty-eight and by 1861, only sixteen. More than half away in twenty years. But the dwellings remain, in ruins of course. It is not hard to imagine the place alive and busy, with people cooking, fetching water, tending to fires, to the land, to children. Or to hear them singing, dancing, and then weeping as loved ones leave. It is thought to have been a weavers’ village for the linen industry and lies beside Glac an Lìn—the field of flax. That field must have been a sight when the flax bloomed. They were surrounded by beauty anyway.
2. FLAX GROWING
Flax was first grown in the 17th century, and linen produced to industrial levels early in the 18th century. Lismore had three flax mills, the most well-known at Balnagown.
In 2007 the Museum Development Officers, Catherine Gillies and Jennifer Baker, decided to produce a flax crop in the museum grounds. The late Tony Baker sourced the seeds, in Belgium I believe, and Archie MacColl cast them in the traditional manner. In June, a large notice appeared asking visitors to ‘Keep off the Flax’. It was, after all, the first crop grown on the island for around two centuries.
In October, a team of volunteers harvested the crop, and Catriona White taught herself to ret, scutch and heckle it so that Freda Drysdale could spin and weave it. There were already fine examples of Lismore linen in the museum, donated by founder Cathie Carmichael and the late Jessie Stewart.
3. BALIMACKILLICHAN TO MAIN ROAD
Once over the stile, the ruined settlement in Balimackillichan is straight ahead, beside the track from Clachan to Port Castle. Here are three, maybe four, dwellings.
Turn right on the road towards Clachan, through a gate and round the field, heading towards the new house near the gate to Balimackillichan farmhouse, beyond which are the remains of the weaver’s cottage. Head up to a wee gate beside a wall and once through this you are in the glebe. Turn right and walk beside a large rock formation to its end and walk left round and you will soon see the church and the new and old graveyards.
Around the perimeter fence of the new cemetery is the gate to the main road, with an encouraging sign: you are 850 metres from the Heritage Centre and Café. The old graveyard is on the right as you pass and always worth a visit, as are the medieval grave slabs, with information boards, mounted beside the war memorial.
The old manse, now a private house, has what appears to be a quernstone in the perimeter wall, and the many resident peacocks may or may not be vocalising. The Smiddy is on the left, opposite the road to Port Castle, and after that is the telephone exchange, the ambulance and fire station.
On the approach to the Heritage Centre in springtime, the verges were full of water avens, marsh marigolds, primroses and a few early purple orchids.