Late last month on a cold, wet and windy day I had my first visit to Inveraray as part of an Applied Research Collaborative PhD funded by SGSAH. This was, notwithstanding a fleeting visit to Fort William in 2014, my first trip to the west of Scotland. Thankfully the weather had cleared by the time Annie, Alasdair and myself had arrived and, together with Ishbel Mackinnon, the Argyll Estates archivist, we were in for a packed day of meetings and tours.
The day started with my first supervisorial meeting, which was, in a word, productive. This, however, was not my main concern as I was desperate to see the archives I will be fortunate enough to work in for a number of months in 2017 – and fortunate I will be as not only are the Argyll Estate Archives have one of the most important private collections in Britain, but they are held in a wonderful John Adam designed green-grey building on the estate policies. It is clear that some money has been spent on kitting-out the archive and starting the cataloguing process which, as a historian, is incredibly exciting. Over time, and through the generosity of the Friends of the Argyll Papers, I’ve no doubt this will grow into one of the finest and most accessible archives in private hands.
Next we met Inveraray’s Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) officer, Feargal de Buiteleir, for an insightful discussion on the future of Inveraray, which is undergoing something of a renaissance not too far removed from eighteenth-century ‘improvement’. The scheme assists residents and business owners by offering grants for repairs to the historic buildings of Inveraray. Unfortunately, the town has been subject to criminal neglect and all manner of quick-fixes for a perennial problem of rising damp, which has damaged the longevity of the buildings.
After a warming lunch we set off on a whistle-stop tour of Inveraray, given by the ever-knowledgeable Ishbel. The town is one of the finest examples of an eighteenth-century planned settlement, of which there are hundreds throughout Scotland. Inveraray is at present something of a crumbling relic of eighteenth-century idealism. Aesthetically, however, and notwithstanding the immense historical import, it has the potential to be one of the most picturesque towns of not just Scotland but the British Isles. There is something of a satisfying symmetry all throughout the town, within buildings, throughout streets and even the reflection on the clear waters of Loch Fyne.
A drive around the estate policies was an excellent way to round off an interesting and constructive day. Of course, any trip to Loch Fyne is not complete without a visit to Loch Fyne Oysters near Cairndow and a box of kippers and a few packets of smoked salmon later we set off on our way back to Stirlingshire.
Having started the project early last month I have been making good progress listing archival materials of not just Inveraray but a number of other planned settlements as part of the study. These include Ullapool (Ross-shire), Luss, (Argyll & Bute), Callander (Perthshire), Tomintoul (Moray) and Edzell (Angus), although Plockton in Wester Ross is proving something of an enigmatic preoccupation at present. 2016 will be my grand tour of Scottish archives and I will aim to keep you all up to date in due course.