We know the song, but do we know the place? Was Paul McCartney being entirely upfront about its precise location, or did he apply a touch of artistic licence?
Norse longboats landed on this sheltered sandy bay a thousand summers ago. Saddell, or sandy dale, is rooted in the Norse language of the Vikings who first laid claim to these western fringes of Scotland.
Just up the path from the car park, close by the Allt nam Manach spring waters, are the fragmentary ruins of a Cistercian abbey said to have been founded in 1148 by the Hebridean warrior Somerled who defeated the Norsemen in battle and first established the Lordship of the Isles.
The grave slabs of medieval knights have been salvaged from the abbey cemetery and placed on display in a new glass-sided exhibition building. Two of these near life-size carved effigies depict Neil McNair and his son Donald dressed as knights in tunics and wearing gauntlets. They have a firm grip on their scabbards as if preparing to draw the swords sheathed within.
Another slab depicts a bìrlinn, or long ship, its oars and sails at the ready, emphasizing the control these sons of Somerled held over the Hebridean seas. The fearsome warriors are long gone now but their descendants still farm the land in nearby Saddell Glen.
A tree-lined avenue makes a beeline for Saddell Castle built near the beach on the orders of King James IV in the early sixteenth century.
Look out for ‘GRIP’, a metallic sculpture in human form, standing sentinel and exposed to the full force of the waves. GRIP was created by Antony Gormley and positioned near the castle at the southern end of Saddell Bay in 2015 to gaze out across Kilbrannan Sound towards Arran.
Music fans may recognise the castle and also the tiny cottage at the other end of the beach which featured in a video for the song ‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Paul McCartney and Wings filmed here in 1977 and the record sleeve photograph included Davaar Island as the backdrop. Ironically it is nowhere near the actual Mull of Kintyre!
© Robin Redfern 2022