In return for readers’ help in identifying the strange structures he had photographed on the south east coast of Kintyre, north of Campbeltown – which turned out to be an uncompleted World War II gun battery – Norwich-based photographer, Martin Claxton has let us use these fabulous photographs he had taken of St Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe village.
These are the best photographs we have seen of St Conan’s – the shot of the chancel, above, is breathtaking. You can see the internal cloister that wraps around the outside of the chancel, inviting the subversion of appearances, disappearances and pursuit.
The detail shots underline what we meant when, in a recent article on the just launched campaign to raise £1 million to repair the building – we described it as irresistibly playful.
The delight clearly taken in designing every last element of this place is a delight transmitted down the years. St Conan’s lifts the spirits.
Martin Claxton says ‘My wife and I visited St Conan’s on one of our regular visits to Argyll.
‘The weather was very changeable whilst we visited the kirk; dull when we first arrived which caused problems with the cloisters and some of the internal shots. Consequently, I didn’t take too many pictures.
‘The skies then cleared for some nice external shots, but then it quickly clouded over again as we were preparing to move on. We’ll be back.’
The detail in the rose window is stylistically of a piece with the external downspouts of the chasing dog [top] and the chasing hares.
The weather may have given Martin Claxton some problems in the external cloister, but he clearly saw it off.
While the building as a whole, in its essential nature and in the performative opportunities it offers to the imagination, is theatrical, the sense of the sacred is not lost in its secular flourishes.
Everywhere, this building combines a sense of massiness with the urge to entertain.
With Loch Awe lying below St Conan’s – the water that reputedly saw the last of the MacDougalls who had hoped to defeat Robert the Bruce at the battle of the Pass of Brander [1308-1309ish], losing everything to a fatally clever ambush – it seems appropriate that the last of Martin Claxton’s shots we have chosen should be a carving of a galley.
The narrow defile of the Pass of Brander is to the south of St Conan’s, linking Loch Awe and the River Awe at the barrage. The MacDougall chief, Alexander, was too old to fight so the battle was left to his son and heir, John of Lorne, also known as John Bacach ['John the lame']. Recovering from illness, John Bacach could only watch the fighting from his galley on Loch Awe. When the battle was lost, he is said personally to have escaped in the galley, away down Loch Awe.
Note: All of the images above are © Martin Claxton and are reproduced here with permission.
We can all help to secure this fabulous building. This page of the website for St Conan’s Kirk carries the link to its donations page – with the opportunity to donate through the Gift Aid measure, which sees the taxman hand over the tax on your donation to the fund – at no additional cost to yourself.