• Michael

#0003: The Lost Village (No. 1)

55.8703, -5.3059

The ghost village of Polphail. It sounds pretty magical, doesn't it? It wasn't. At least, not in the way you're imagining.

Back in the 1970's, Scotland was riding the wave of an oil boom, with grand plans to exploit new, deep water oil fields in order to ensure the future of the industry for decades to come. Loch Fyne was selected as the site of an oil platform construction yard, set to bring five hundred new jobs to the area.

But where would these workers stay?

Enter, Polphail. A purpose built village. A cutting edge, concrete, community designed to provide the workers with all the comforts of home whilst they played their part in Cowal's very own gold rush.

But it was never to be. The basic design of the proposed platforms was flawed, resulting in spiralling costs which could not be sustained by their expected revenue. As a result, no orders were placed, and no platforms were ever built. Even if the platforms had been constructed as planned, the tides in this section of Loch Fyne would have made the journey out to sea a treacherous one, risking damage to the platforms before they had even reached deep water.

The project was doomed from the start, and so, despite their new home being ready to welcome them, the workers never came.

No food was ever cooked in the kitchens.

No one ever kicked back in the lounge areas.

No dreams were ever dreamt in the sleeping quarters.

Slowly but surely, the land began to claim Polphail back as its own. No crevice was immune to invasion by plants. A thick layer of moss grew on every untouched surface. The virginal beds were taken over by mold.

Damage was inflicted on the site, not only by nature, but also by the occasional explorer. The rot set in.

But then, ten years ago, something beautiful happened.

The artists arrived.

A collective known as Agents of Change swept through the decay and turned it into a surreal, beautiful and often poignant landscape of imagery.

Washing machines became robots from outer space. Faces loomed from dark corners. High art rubbed up against crude tags and political slogans on the crumbling walls. Word spread and the site became the location of photoshoots and reportage. For a shining moment, Polphail, destined never to serve its intended purpose, became blisteringly relevant. A little piece of Berlin's edgy Friedrichshain on Argyll's Secret Coast.

I visited a couple of times in the summer of 2016. It was in turn bleak, beautiful, sad and yet strangely uplifting. I had no idea at the time, but Polphail's days at that point were severely numbered.

The bulldozers moved in later that year.

All that remains now is flattened land, a heart-aching view, and the spark of potential for the next chapter of the story.

Okay, so perhaps Polphail was pretty magical after all.

While it lasted, it was a grimly beautiful monument to a future that was never to be. A reminder of how quickly our fortunes can change. Testament to how beauty can be found in the least likely places.

What this site holds for the future of Cowal is up for debate, but there are currently plans for a distillery and visitor centre, which would breathe a new life into this fascinating place.

Whatever the future may bring, however, here's hoping it continues to keep the Secret Coast firmly (but quietly) on the map.

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