Meeting the Kilpatricks at their Pirnmill home

The Kilpatricks recently published a new guidebook, Arran and Other Islands of the Clyde Archipelago, and the Voice went to meet them in Pirnmill one afternoon in August.

The Kilpatricks have made Pirnmill their part-time home since 2005, and their knowledge and love for the island is apparent. They talk engagingly and easily about its social and natural history, and are keen to share their knowledge with others. Their new book is testament to this. It has several in depth and informative chapters on different subjects relating to Arran and the other islands in the Clyde as well as a section on walks at the end with a diverse range of routes to choose from.

Talking to David and Alison about the book in the warmth of their sunny garden, they spoke about the development of it in a very self-deprecating way, as if it was something that just happened to come about. David explained that writing a book about Arran “Became an attractive idea when I was retired. I got started and thought more about it and how it could be different from other guidebooks, which often take the usual route round the island and then give a sentence or two on each village.”

The book is detailed and enlightening, giving readers facts about the history and archaeology of Arran which I hadn’t come across before. It is enjoyable and easy to read; I’d even go so far as to say a page turner which for a guidebook is unusual! It’s main standout point however is how they have placed Arran within the context of the other Clyde islands. This provides an interesting comparison to the island and with the connections that are drawn out by virtue of this context reminds us we are not an isolated community, a sense which being an island tends to otherwise promote.

David said, “Well I was working on it on and off for a while, and initially I wasn’t sure if it’s worthwhile to do a guide book unless it was different from or even in some respects better than others that are already there. And there are a lot of guidebooks on Arran and I just thought why not include the other islands, there seemed no reason why you shouldn’t include nearby populated islands”.

He said “The first chapter on the History of the islands took a long time to write. There were a lot of books to read first and a lot of fairly complicated material to make sense of. It took a while to read through it all and then decide what to select and what to write about.” David found that pre-historians have very little evidence for what they say and really it’s not that clear what went on, except that in Arran there is evidence of very early settlement as well as “a lot of fighting!”

After the first chapter however the rest followed quickly and it was relatively quick to write. As David said, “There is not usually a chapter on the flora and fauna of the island, and these chapters provide a decent survey on the birds and animals, and flowers.”

Alison said, “Dave is the family bird expert, and loves photographing the amazing variety of birds there are on Arran. He is thrilled for his photographs to reach a wider audience.”

As the author of the chapter on Fauna, Alison said, “I am certainly no expert on flowers, but am somewhat more knowledgeable than Dave. The advantage of flowers is they don’t fly away, so you have more chance to look at them carefully and compare what you see with examples in the flower book. I was very glad to make use of the compilation of flowers found in each island published by their individual Natural History Societies. When it came to sorting out the three endemic Arran whitebeams, I was very pleased to be able to photograph the leaves of each tree in the protected area in Glen Catacol, and then compare them with the reliably identified leaves in useful articles on the Internet.”

The Kilpatricks also have a love for walking and the section at the end gives an interesting variety of routes. Very helpfully, the Kilpatricks give an indication of how long the walks are likely to take and give an on the ground perspective of the land and the going that walkers will encounter. This book is a lovely addition to the number of other guidebooks that are out there on Arran and reflects the Kilpatrick’s love of history, both social and natural, and their substantial knowledge of Arran.