This is the second in the Argyll and the Isles Secrets Collection – and it has a substantial bonus. Getting there is a parallel delight.
Mid Argyll is famous for Kilmartin Glen, the second largest and most important collection of archaeological remains in the UK.
But, also in Mid Argyll, this time on the shores of Loch Fyne at Brainport Bay, just south of the village of Minard, is the Brainport Alignment, a little-known neolithic solar alignment.
It was only discovered in 1975 and was excavated between 1978 and 1984 by archaeologists from Glasgow University with members of the knowledgeable local archaeological society.
The alignment - on the midsummer sunrise – runs from an upper platform at the rear of the site, over a boulder setting, to the two standing stones, the rear stone and finally the pointer stone. This alignment is thought to have been in use as long as 3,000 years ago.
People came to live around Loch Fyne something like 6,000 years ago and although their habitations are no longer discernible, the structures they used for the communal burial of their dead can still be seen – chambered stone cairns. There is one immediately north of Minard that can be seen – with another parallel treat – the glorious ‘Himalayan’ garden of Crarae in whose grounds it lies.
The parallel treat that goes with the alignment is one of the loveliest and most charming walks in the area and arguably far wider, created by the local community – the Brainport Heritage Trail. This was done as a community amenity but also with the intention of drawing attention to the Brainport Alignment and of making it accessible.
The result is a circular walk that marries an open and mature broad leaved woodland with the coastal environment and links with coniferous woodland around its southern quarter.
The Alignment is a little short of the half way mark, the path is waymarked and the alignment has interpretation panels from Historic Scotland. Believe us, that does not mean that this is not a secret place.
It is so secret that a couple of years worth of fallen conifers have passed unremarked. The most numerous are the most recent – from the massive gales of the end of 2011 – and block the path just after the alignment. Worse, many have collapsed over the rear platform that is the start of the alignment – and over the boulder setting between there and the first standing stone.
We mentioned this situation to Councillor Alison Hay, who lives locally. She immediately went off to contact Historic Scotland with which she has an existing connection through her Chairmanship of the Trustees of Auchindrain, Scotland’s last preserved highland farm township, about five miles north on the road to Inveraray.
Councillor Hay says: ‘I’ve told Historic Scotland that the alignment is needing attention. They thanked me for reporting it and said they would send someone to look at the site. They struggle to inspect every monument so rely on the public letting them know if one of them needs repair.’
This is an important site and it will be cleared.
In the meantime, it is well worth going there. You can see and walk around much of the alignment. The two and a quarter mile walk is also quite wonderful – fairly level, tranquil, varied and enchanting.
You start at the little informal car park that drops down from the A83 to the shores of Loch Fyne, just north of the lights that slow traffic through the narrow exit south from Minard. This holds no more than a handful of cars but there is usually room. This is a secret, remember.
There’s an information board about the walk at the loch-end of this space – and you simply walk down on to the stony beach and turn right along the top of the shore.
The first section of the walk is the least comfortable, because of the stony underfoot but you are already in another world and you will see a sort of light track leaving the beach but running parallel to it in no more than a few minutes.
From here on in, you will get most delight from this walk if you approach it as if you were a camera lens – which you are, of course.
Look for the detail – the flow and curve of the path through the woodland; the narrowings and the clearings; the burns and bridges; the glimpses to and along the coast; the moss covered boulders and tree stumps; the wooded headlands projecting into the loch and seen through the slender veil of scrub where woodland joins shore…
… irresistible rock formations in the water, clamberable at the right point of the tide and with rock pools; the pond-like former fish trap towards the point before the privately owned Minard castle; the secret seats – and the access to the alignment.
When you see a wooden seat on the grass at the head of a little bay, with a point beyond it projecting into the loch and the fish trap ponds visible, you’re there.
Walk away from the shore and trust your eyes and feet. There is a little ankle-high Historic Scotland sign warning against using metal detectors. Stay left of this, look around you and move towards a rock platform a little ahead and above.
You’ll see what you come to realise is the pointer stone and as you walk up to the natural rock terrace it sits on, its identity becomes more certain.
Then just explore the place. Warning – this is Argyll, so once you move off the rock, its boggy – very much so towards the back of the site. Come prepared.
You can see information on the interpretation panels – although none of them explain this curious and very geometric stone, clearly shaped, which you’ll notice at the side.
Take your time and breathe in the time this place has been here, marking the transition of the seasons that shaped the way lives were led, in ways we have artificially overcome – for the time being.
It is a delightful and gently impressive place.
You can get around the next batch of fallen trees across the path at the base of the headland, if you want to complete the circuit – again, it’s boggy off piste just here.
Whichever way you walk, on or back, you will find all sorts of choices to follow paths from one side of the circular walk to the other and back again, sometimes bridged across little burns, sometimes curving mysteriously around a hill.
This is a playful place. You want everyone’s children to have the chance to come here – but not all at once.
Not for cardiovascular exercise but for strolling and observing, this timeless walk, marrying loch and woodland, taking you to a 3,000 year old stone calendar, cannot but leave you refreshed as well as more informed.
Being here is to touch base with another of the multiple secrets of Argyll and the Isles. Just remember, be a camera and don’t think you have to stay with the path. There’s the shore as well.
The first in the Argyll and the Isles Secrets Collection can be found here.
Note:We would like to recognise the initiative and imagination of a reader from Cowal – aka The Fox - who suggested that the Brainport Alignment would be a great addition to the ‘Secrets Collection’.
Tell us about your own secret places and For Argyll will act as a running transmitter and repository of these deep secrets, passing them on to the Argyll and the Isles website when it is is ready to receive them.
Every part of Argyll and the Isles has its secret places and hidden touchstones to other times. Knowing about these gives us alluring insights into where we live and offers our visitors the experience of being insiders, gifted with specialist information and getting under the skin of a place in a way that tourists, in the normal run of things, cannot do.
This is the sort of information that can demonstrate the almost impossible riches of Argyll and the Isles – the identity that has successfully brought together this most slippery of places in a common name.