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Portavadie

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Portavadie, 2009, Fox
Portavadie

Portavadie is small settlement on the western side of the Cowal peninsula, and lies on the eastern shore of Loch Fyne. Once a small fishing village, it came to be a popular holiday destination for many visitors from Hamilton, Motherwell and Glasgow. Road access from the east is along a single track road which leads from the B8000 road connecting Tighnabruaich and Kilfinan. A ferry terminal with slipway provides access for the Cowal and Kintyre ferry which connects with Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula to the west.

The area became more widely known during the 1970s, when it was chosen as one of the sites where concrete oil platforms were to be constructed, but was abandoned when this plan collapsed.

The derelict modern village of Polphail lies nearby, built to accommodate workers of the planned construction yard, but the yard was never completed, and the village was never occupied.

Failed oil platform construction yard

The area became a victim of the collapse of the oil boom which Scotland enjoyed during the 1970s. Easy access to deep water offshore led to its selection as a site for the construction of concrete North Sea oil rig platforms. The failure of the site has been attributed to a number of reasons, most common being that the authorities only realised after completion that the treacherous tides on Loch Fyne meant that it would be too risky to float the massive platforms out to sea once they had been completed. However, it seems that the basic concept of construction at Portavadie was flawed from the outset, with the columns being made in three sections rather than one. This required the three parts to be joined and reinforced, making them heavy, complex, and therefore expensive compared to conventional single piece designs, and no platform operators were interested on both cost and safety grounds.

The go-ahead for the yard at Portavadie - by Sea Platform Constructors (Scotland) - was announced in January 1975, together with two further yards at Macringan's Point, Campbeltown (to be operated by Mowlem-Taylor Offshore), and at Hunterston on the Clyde estuary, for the Andoc group.

The Government yesterday took an enormous stride towards meeting the needs of the North Sea oil industry by authorising three more sites in Scotland for the construction of concrete production platforms.

Mr Ross, Scottish Secretary, said he had given planning approval for construction yards at Macringan's Point, Campbeltown, to be operated by Mowlem-Taylor Offshore, at Portavadie on Loch Fyne for Sea Platform Constructors (Scotland), and at Hunterston on the Clyde estuary for the Andoc group.

This means that six of the seven "preferred platform designs" identified by the Department of Energy in August have sites available for construction. Planning clearance has been given in time for the contractors to accept orders for delivery in the summer of 1977.
- Go-ahead for oil platform sites | 1970-1979 | Guardian Century.[1]

The area was described by some who worked there at the time to have been reminiscent of the type of sudden wealth the villagers enjoyed in the 1983 film, Local Hero.

Despite promises to reinstate the site to its original condition, the area was ultimately abandoned and left to decay.

The site was eventually sold, and the sheltered hole was used for a fish farm from 1988 onward.

The ferry terminal had used the same area to reach its slipway, and this was relocated outside the hole, a short distance away to the northwest.

The relocated slipway and ferry terminal location took some time to update on online maps, and some had still not been corrected when last check in 2011. However, OS mapping shows the correct location of the terminal.

The hole

One story from the time describes Portavadie as home to the world’s largest man-made hole, on the Salon (see below), said to have been dug at a cost of £14 million or £4 million, for oil rig construction orders which never materialised. The figure given may be a typo, or simply result from different accounting practices used to produce alternative reports, as multi-agency involvement is said to have produced alternative costing that ranged from £7 million to £11 million. Whatever the actual figure, it was a very expensive hole.

The Salon

The reference to the Salon came from an off-line report, which failed to identify the location, and no such location could be found on maps or in gazetteers. This was later explained by the following contribution:

Salon is simply a variant spelling of the common Gaelic place name An Sàilean (the small inlet), usually written Salen in the English version of Scottish place names. The names Salen in Mull and Ardnamurchan, and Saline in Fife, come from the same Gaelic word.

The Place-Names of Argyll (H Cameron Gillies MD, Ballantyne Press, 1906)[2], has no mention of the Salon specifically. However, OS maps of the area from the mid-19th century (six-inches-to-the-mile or 1:10,560) clearly show an inlet where the big hole was dug. No name is shown, but Gaelic was still widespread locally at the time and people would quite naturally have referred to the inlet as An Sàilean.

Portavadie is Port a’ Mhadaidh (the port of the dog), and nearby Polphail - or Pollphail - is Poll Phàil (Paul’s pool).

Hansard question regarding building cost

Mr. Bill Walker : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the total cost to Her Majesty's Exchequer for the building of (a) the platform yard at Hunterston, Ayrshire, and (b) other platform yards in Scotland in the periods 1975 to 1978 and 1978 to date.

Mr. Moynihan : I have been asked to reply.

Under the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Act 1975 expenditure was incurred on Portavadie and Hunterston. The trading account for the year ended 31 March 1986 indicated expenditure of £29.2 million, of which £22.8 million was incurred between 1975 and 1978. A breakdown between the two yards is not readily available. Any financial support for other platform yards in Scotland is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

- House of Commons Hansard, May 16, 1991.[3]

Marina development

Marina, 2007
Marina
© Johnny Durnan

Developments at Portavadie have taken place since the proposals made in 2006. The harbour has been modified and, as of 2007, hosts a marina with over 200 berths available. There is also an award winning restaurant, luxury apartments, cottages, hideaways and bed and locker facilities.

In 2011, dedicated facilities were added to make the venue an attractive location for wedding parties.

Marina faclilities, 2009
Marina facilities
© Gordon Brown

The picture of the marina facilities building which opened in 2009 is of interest, as it shows the edge of the hole referred to above.

Derybruich House

Derybruich House, just to the north, is understood to have been in the one family since 1933, but there appear to be no historic references to the building. All that has been found so far is Derybruich Cottage, in a photograph.[4]

Portavadie Distillery

Portavadie Distillery is a project intended to open and establish a small distillery in Portavadie. It seeks to establish a visitor centre, with the distillery fuelled by its own biomass plant and sustainable forest.

Further plans could eventually see the setting up of a new village, Port Sandy, with the potential of 100 homes and a leisure complex.

As of 2016, the business supplies whisky from its own stock and bottled it in the name of Portavadie Distillery.

Photographs

References

1 Go-ahead for oil platform sites | 1970-1979 | Guardian Century Retrieved May 01, 2010.

2 The place-names of Argyll : Gillies, H. Cameron : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive Retrieved December 04, 2011.

3 House of Commons Hansard, May 16, 1991

4 Derybruich Cottage photograph

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