The Rubha nam Frangach, or the French Farland, can be found a few miles south of the town of Inveraray on the western shore of Loch Fyne. The name of the promontory, and also the cottage that was our home for a week over Easter, dates back to the eighteenth century and the height of the herring fishing industry on the loch. Back then, over 500 boats a day would be operating on Loch Fyne, and on the French Farland a small settlement of traders bought, cured and packed herrings from the local boats and took them back to France, returning with brandy, claret, silks and laces that they sold to the aristocracy of the region, including the Duke of Argyll in his castle a few miles up the road.
In 1848 an outbreak of cholera was blamed on these French traders and the settlement was abandoned, although they had been there long enough for the Gaelic place-name to have stuck. Later, during the Second World War, the area between the cottage where we stayed and the caravan park at the end of the track was used by the British Navy as part of a wider military presence in and around Inveraray that saw over 250,000 troops prepare for the Normandy landings, practising on the shore and the grassy slopes of Loch Fyne for operations that would take them from the Rubha nam Frangach to France itself.
The old Navy camp is now the aforementioned caravan park, and there are traces of the former military installations to be found all along the dirt track to our cottage, from concrete slabs to brick foundations, half-covered with weeds, bushes and young trees. At the cottage though all eyes were on the loch, and sitting for hours looking out across the water it was hard to imagine a time when 500 fishing boats were in operation, let alone a quarter of a million troops taking part in exercises. During our stay it was very rare to see more than one boat at a time out on the loch. There was a small fishing boat, a couple speedboats used by divers, and a white-sailed vessel that pottered along up and down the far shore, but that was it.
Instead we spent our time marvelling at the wildlife on show both around the house and in the loch at the bottom of our garden. Back in Berlin I flicked through my notebook and the list of what we saw: otters, porpoises, oyster-catchers, cormorants, red breasted mergansers, shags, an oft-returning heron, long tailed tits, chaffinches, goosanders, eider ducks, seals, buzzards, pied wagtails, hooded crows, bullfinches… later in the week, a little further along the loch, we would also see a newly-arrived osprey and, soaring high, high above Glen Fyne at the head of the loch, a juvenile golden eagle.
So although the human stories that we discovered along the shores of Loch Fyne were fascinating, it was the collection of other living creatures that really captured our imagination, and the fact that we saw most of them through the conservatory window of a small cottage on the French Farland, a mile or so down an uneven dirt track where the merchants once plied their trade and the soldiers once stored their ammunition.
I will be writing more about Loch Fyne in the upcoming first edition of my new print project Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. If you are interested in getting your hands on a copy, please support us via our crowdfunding campaign.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig