The north eastern arm of Loch Awe is confined by the steep-sided Pass of Brander, which has provided a route across the Highlands throughout history. The name comes from the Gaelic for "ambush", and this gives an idea of another use to which the Pass has been put from time to time. It was here that in 1309 Robert the Bruce soundly defeated Edward II's supporters in western Scotland en route to besiege and capture Dunstaffnage Castle.
Though a through route, the area around the northern end of Loch Awe has always been a lonely spot. In 1756 the Government built a military road to connect to the Bonawe Iron Furnace near Taynuilt and this helped travellers. But when the Callander and Oban Railway arrived in the 1870s, there were still virtually no buildings between Dalmally to the east and Taynuilt to the west.
The railway succeeded in opening up the north shore of Loch Awe in a way that the military road had not. The first major development was the Lochawe Hotel built in about 1880. This remains today and has some of the most magnificent views you can imagine across Loch Awe to Kilchurn Castle and Ben Lui beyond.
The next addition was an oddity, but remains one of the major attractions in the area to this day. A certain Walter Campbell built a large house on Innis Chonain, and island at the north end of Loch Awe. And to save his mother the weekly trek to Dalmally, he built St Conan's Kirk, a marvellous but eccentric blending of church styles from across the ages.
A village called Lochawe eventually grew up around the hotel and railway station and straggling along the main A85 as it traverses the wooded slopes above Loch Awe. It is by not a large village, but it does come complete with services like the village stores, a pub, the Tight Line. It also offers respite to those following the route of the Coast to Coast Walk from Oban to St Andrews.
On 15 October 1965 the Queen visited Loch Awe to open the Cruachan power station, the "Hollow Mountain". Water stored in a loch high on Ben Cruachan is released when there is a sudden rise in demand for power on the national grid. It flows down through turbines housed deep inside the mountain and then out into Loch Awe, generating large amounts of power for short periods. When power on the grid is plentiful the operation is reversed, with water being pumped from Loch Awe back up to the higher storage loch.
The timing of the Royal opening had been planned well in advance and Cruachan was actually still two months away from being operational when the day arrived and the Queen pressed the button to set the station in motion. Some carefully conceived special effects concealed this from most of those present on the day. Cruachan was, however, fully operational by the following year, and it needed to be. It is not a well known fact in Scotland that except for Cruachan's capacity to cope with the wholly unprecedented demands on the grid caused by the event, few in England would have been able to watch the 1966 World Cup Final all the way through to the end of extra time...
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