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Most people who have heard of Gigha know about the gardens at Achamore House, rebuilt in the late 19th century on the site of an older house, and again in about 1900 after a fire destroyed the top storey. In 2014 it was for sale, £900,000. By 2019 the price had dropped to £750 000. It is about 20 minutes walk from the anchorage — and very well worth the effort. The house is privately owned and is but a side show to the beautiful gardens which are now owned by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. They are set amongst mature trees from all over the world providing the very necessary windbreak from the salt-laden air of the Atlantic gales. In fact the trees had been planted in the early 20th century to provide not a windbreak for plants, but cover for game. Later, in 1944, the late Sir James Horlick bought the island and, helped by Kitty Lloyd Jones, started planting the hundreds of azaleas and rhododendrons which make the spring and early summer one of the best times to visit. Later, the herbaceous borders and flowering shrubs of the delightful walled garden come into their own. And after that the glorious autumn colours. The whole place is remarkably well looked after — despite funding problems and the need for volunteer weeders (at its height Horlick employed up to 10 gardeners). The attractions are signposted with nice touches like the secret passage amongst the bamboos in the walled garden, and notices inviting you to walk on the grass, stroke the pine needles, and touch and sniff the flowers. Perhaps these gardens cannot really compare with Inverewe but they are a delight to wander around and sit in, particularly if you are looking for some stable dry land after a rough passage.
Just up the track from the entrance to the gardens you will find the 13th century remains of Kilchattan (St Cathan’s) chapel and burial ground, well looked after and restored in 2010. The east gable is complete and has a fine tall window, originally a pointed arch but now round-headed. There are mouldering medieval graveslabs with carvings which are mostly difficult to make out, as well as modern gravestones, including James Horlick’s who died in 1972. A hundred yards further along, and up the rise to the right, is the rather dull but famous 7th century Ogham stone, apparently with an inscription (invisible, to me and certainly incomprehensible even if I could read it as it is written in an ancient linear script, which originated in Ireland, without the use of vowels). The script is named after Ogma, an Irish monk, and was used for writing secret messages by monks and scholars.
Walking back from the gardens to the anchorage you can pause at the shop for a locally-made ice cream, and again at the late 18th century with a late 20th century extension Gigha Hotel for whatever liquid or solid refreshment seems just right for the moment (ph 01583 505 254). The bar seems to be open all day for bar meals, but is perhaps a rather cramped accessory to the hotel (I have not been in the restaurant). New owners took over in 2015 so things might have changed. The Craft Workshop and Gallery is next door and needs checking out because it hosts exhibitions, and the kids can dabble in paint, or nip up to the small play park.
The ‘modern’ church opposite the shop is worth a look. It was built in the 1920s. Apparently the minister at the time had been an architect and designed it himself. It seems very large for the population but is well kept and there is some good stained glass. The font is medieval, taken from Kilchattan chapel. Carry on north for 20 minutes, lugging your clubs if you want a game of golf.
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Certainly the anchorage is a very handy place to regroup and gather strength, either just before or just after rounding the Mull of Kintyre. There is a 24-hour washing machine and drier with showers and toilets right by the jetty, plus the Boathouse restaurant has a very good reputation for snacks, lunch and dinner (ph 01583 505 123), mooring buoys for visitors, and the shop just up the road (but no decent marmalade when I was last there). And bikes for hire. And nowadays pontoons for those that fear anchoring.
By the landing pontoon are some tiny sandy beaches where children can be safely left to paddle, and the more adventurous can launch their windsurfers.
A woodcarving in Achamore Gardens