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The Portsonachan restaurant Christmas menu is ready. 
You are invited to join us for a very special holiday!

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New Year's Eve 2015 menu at Portsonachan Hotel

The history of the Portsonachan Hotel

In early 1306, Robert the Bruce met his Comyn rival for the Crown of Scotland, hot words were exchanged and Robert stabbed his rival. Realising that there was no going back, the Bruce had himself crowned King. Things went badly when he was surprised in two battles, one at Dalrigh to the east of the head of Loch Awe and, mocked as the ‘Summer King’, on 21st September 1306 he fled with Angus Òg of the Isles from the Castle of Dunaverty at the foot of Kintyre to the island of Rathlin off the coast of Ulster. The party was caught in a great storm but ‘the Bruce and the eldest son of the Campbell Chief’ were rescued by a skilled mariner.

The mariner’s name was MacPhedran, possibly the Cormacus McPaterin whose c. 1350 carved stone sits in Keills Chapel in North Knapdale. The tradition is that MacPhedran received the ferry rights and lands at Portsonachan for his actions. He was evidently a man of affairs as, probably dating from 1309 when the King had returned to Scotland and was winning the kingdom, one of the Royalist bases was at Ardchattan on Loch Etive. The force needed arming and this was probably when a MacPhedran forge was established nearby in Benderloch. It is celebrated in verse:
“ Bow of yew from Easragain
Eagle feather from Loch Treig
Yellow wax from Galway Town
And arrow-head made by MacPhedrain”
Easragain is on the north shore of Loch Etive and the yews are still there beside the road and a very old one is in a garden visible form the road. Ben Treig and its loch are in Lochaber and still associated with eagles. The yellow wax and silk for the drawstring were from Galway in Ireland. The poem must date from close to 1500 when muskets made their appearance and began to replace bows & arrows.

The first written mention of the ferry, lands and inn is at Inveraray Castle and dates from 1439 but is a copy and confirmation of an older charter, from somewhere between 1309 and 1316.  It reads that: “the foresaid Dominicus and his heirs will carry all infirm, lame, blind, poor and pilgrims without price or charge across the Loch” within an area bounded by the rivers Tetil, Boyclich, Gawain and Water of Awe, all identifiable on modern maps. It also granted/confirmed Dominic McFederane the ferry land ‘... in its ancient boundaries…’, with obligations to act as ferryman and to maintain the chamber erected by the landlord, with fuel and straw for four beds. It concluded: “In testimony of which thing our seal is appended to these presents. At Hynisdrey on the tenth day of the month of December in the 1439th year of our Lord.”  Hynisdrey was modern Inistrynich towards the northern tip of Loch Awe.

There are then successive charters at Inveraray in favour of the MacPhedran ferriars and innkeepers, for example dating from 1488, 1501, 1590 and a flurry from 1617 to 1618. By that time, various Campbell families were attempting to remove the MacPhedrans from what was evidently a profitable enterprise. There is a tradition that five of these kin got together and, in a battle beside the Lephan burn on the slopes above the hotel, massacred and scattered the MacPhedrans. It has been suggested that the mounds beside the burn are burials but these turn out to hide stones cleared from the fields. A visit to the church at Kilchrenan across Loch Awe shows the truth; a plaque on the wall records the death of the neighbouring Campbell of Sonachan and three of his sons in the 1630s.

Apart from carrying the pilgrims to the holy Isle of Inishail on Loch Awe, the cattle from the Hebridean islands reached the mainland at Keills in Knapdale and moved on across the Moine Mhór (the great moiss) to the mart at Kilmartin. Thence the droves moved on, mainly along the north shore of Loch Awe, until confronted by the heights above the Water of Awe and hostile MacGregor territories at the head of the loch where ‘blackmail’ a head levy on the cattle would be exacted. There the cattle were swum across Loch Awe and the drovers enjoyed the, no doubt spirituous, entertainment of the Portsonachan Inn. The modern road through Glenaray was a later construct so the cattle crossed the Leckan Muir behind the inn to Loch Fyne near Furnace en route for the market at Dumbarton.

The MacPhedrans were still ferrying at Portsonachan as late as 12th January 1691. To stop the ferries being used at night to move stolen beasts: “Bond of caution granted by Duncan Malcolm of Ardbrecknish in favour of Archibald MacPhedran ferrier at Port Sonachan John MacPhedran ferrier at Port Sonachan that they provide iron chains and locks for f(erry?)”. By then the restored King Charles II had opened the English border to the cattle trade and, with the help of a new bridge over the Water of Awe and the suppression of the MacGregors, it was serviced from a grand new mart at Crieff. John MacPhedran the ferryman moved on to a new ferry and inn at Crarae on Loch Fyne but the MachPhedrans maintained their service to MacCailein Mor: one had carried a Campbell Chief from Flodden Field in 1513 and sailed the ship with his body for burial at Kilmun and the family were attendants and pipers to Argyll into the 20th century. As for the Portsonachan Inn, apart from being rebuilt in its modern form, it waited quietly for the coming of the motor launch and car and for mass tourism.

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You are invited to enjoy the beautiful view and benefit of the good quality services at Portsonachan Hotel.
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