Thursday, March 26, 2015

On Roads to the Isles - 5

The most frequent road to the isles I've taken is the 90 mile drive from Glasgow to Oban. There are many wonderful places to visit along the way, and the first I'd like to describe is Baile Mhoadain. It is a bit off the road, for when you reach the Connel Bridge, five miles before Oban, you have to take the highway north over the bridge, and immediately turn right at the road to Ardchattan.

Follow this road for five miles and park in the small parking area for Archattan Priory. The Priory itself is worth a visit, but my favourite spot lies hidden on the hillside above the Priory. On the west side of the car park you will see a gate, and a sign that says 'Walk to Ancient Church and Graveyard - 1800 mtrs'. Pass through the gate and head north across the field.

Gateway to Baile Mhoadain
The distance mentioned on the sign is exaggerated - perhaps to discourage visitors - as the site lies only 400 meters to the north. A 15 minute hike up the hill, across a field usually occupied by sheep, brings you to to Baile Mhoadain: the settlement, burial ground, and holy well of St Modan.

Baile Mhoadain
St Modan is thought to have worked in the 8th century. He died in Rosneath, but his first settlement n Scotland may have been at Ardchattan. Here is a description of the site from R. H. Story's St Modan of Rosneath (1878):

A short distance from the site of the old Priory of Ardchattan, near Loch Etive, may still be seen the remains of his first oratory. It bears the name of Balmodhan (St. Modan's Town); a few paces from its ruins is a clear spring called St. Modan's Well, and hither within the memory of persons still living came many a pilgrimage in honour of the saint. A flat stone near was known as St. Modan's Seat. It was broken up for building materials by Presbyterians not many years ago.

The ruins are situated amid scenery of impressive beauty, and command a view of land and water as far as the island of Mull. The masonry is strong and rough, but little more than the gables and the outline of two broken walls remain, overshadowed by the ash trees that have planted themselves among the stones, the existing trees growing out of the remains of roots, all gnarled and weather-worn, of immensely greater age. In every crevice thorn, rowan, ivy, and fern have fastened themselves, softening and concealing the sanctuary's decay.

The tumbled ruin of St Modan's Church
Inside St Modan's
Hidden in the vegetation east of the church, just above the west bank of a small stream, you will find St Modan's Well. Tucked up inside the well is a cup and, below it, a scattering of coins left as offerings. 

Water flows from the well of St Modan
Cup in the well
When I first visited the well its water fell from a spout into a dark pool filled with sheep droppings. It was a sad sight, and so I spent the better part of an hour scooping out the mess. In the process I discovered a large flat stone lying in the pool below the spout. With the pool cleaned the water splashed down onto the stone before draining to the stream. But when I visited again a few years later the stone had sunk out of sight into the mud.

See this RCAHMS page for more on St Modan's Church, and this page for more on the well.

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