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Open Features: Coatbridge’s Daughter - Eight

A visit to a ruined mansion in Scotland fills Linda McLean with sad thoughts of decline and decay.

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Lost Knowledge

Coatbridge used to wonder aloud to his daughter at the many marvels and systems which the Greeks and Romans had produced. His inability to understand how the knowledge to reproduce such things had been lost in the mists of time was voiced frequently. He would comment and ask in frustration "They were world leaders - the best in their field. How do you ‘lose’ knowledge?"

As I looked at Poltalloch House, I finally knew the answer to his question.


Poltalloch House is not far from Lochgilphead, nestling on a hillside overlooking Loch Crinan. It had obviously been a formidable estate at one time. There was a church in the environs, a comfortable stroll away for the gentry. This church is still used twice a month. A notice requests that its door should be kept closed to prevent swallows from nesting inside the building.

We stumbled across it by chance, pulled by curiosity after noticing a ruined mansion in an elevated position in the far distance. After several false turns, negotiating rutted roads, opening and closing gates, we reached our destination.

Poltalloch House was agonisingly eloquent in its suffering. Its empty elegance and grandeur cried out in distress. The beautiful workmanship on the finials, the very fine wrought iron craftsmanship on hundreds of metres of fencing, had stood the test of time. The sandstone too was in excellent condition, presumably because the roof had been removed.
We walked its boundaries, silently, respectfully, almost in awe, absorbing what it could tell us. We saw the great rooms, the conservatory and the stable block. We found the massive boiler room.

Great trees have taken up residence in the house, peering carelessly through the windows at us. Huge steps, fashioned in stone, were barely visible. The gardens that must once have been could now only be imagined. Imposing solitary weeds now stood seven feet tall.

What once was definitive of majesty was laid low. Where once there was glory, neglect had taken root. Yesterday confidence abounded: today none can be found. Everything appeared intact except the roof.

It spoke not only of Scottish history but also of Scotland's future. This house was a perfect study of so many skills, trades, and architecture; of how to create a dwelling of substance and beauty and place it in the perfect setting. Its creation had involved the best craftsmen, helping them to develop and pass on their skills.

Tomorrow the trees will undermine the house. Vegetation will claim it. No longer will it bring delight and awe.

The knowledge which went into its creation will also be lost.

© Linda McLean


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