A sailing spectacular at Ballantrae’s Smuggler’s Festival

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The Ballantrae Smugglers were delighted to receive a message that La Malouine a twin masted French Brigantine tall ship, had slipped unseen into the Port of 

There she took on supplies on her way to replenish Ballantrae’s stocks of tea, tobacco, salt and fine wines from France - all part of this year’s Ballantrae Smugglers’ Festival.

The Festival got off to a great start in fabulous weather on Sunday 16 August with the Smugglers’ Market – visited by over 800 people, including visitors from Spain, Canada, and England as well as locals from South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, who were able to sample and purchase great Ayrshire food and drink.

Monday’s “Smuggler Sam’s Children’s Day” was voted a great success by the children and their parents who attended. Storytelling, “Scaling the cliff”, and lots of other games and activities relating to smuggling and pirates were the order of the day.

But the arrival of La Malouine in Ballantrae Bay on Tuesday evening proved to be a highlight of the Festival. The villagers spotted her leaving the mouth of Loch Ryan, and with a fair wind and no interference from patrolling Revenue Cutters, she anchored in Ballantrae Bay in the early evening.

Her arrival had been eagerly awaited because stocks of strong drink in Ballantrae were getting dangerously low. The shipment had been arranged some months previously by the minister – who is a well known local smuggler - when he was travelling in France.

As soon as La Malouine had lowered her anchor, two smuggling boats rowed swiftly from the beach to collect the contraband and on reaching the ship, the contraband was swung out on a boom and lowered onto the waiting boats. But just as the second boat had its contraband on board, the Excisemen’s boat appeared. Brandishing pistols and cutlasses, the Excisemen demanded that the contraband be handed over. But when they turned their attention to La Malouine and started rowing towards the ship to arrest the captain, a loud bang from the ship indicated that they were being fired upon by the ship’s cannon! They made a hasty retreat and rowed frantically for shore.

As the smuggling boats arrived back on dry land, they were able to demonstrate to the villagers that they had managed to conceal sacks of salt, tea and tobacco to loud cheers from the locals. But unfortunately the casks of brandy and fine wine were nowhere to be seen!

When the Excisemen brought their boat onshore they were booed by the villagers and pelted with rotten fruit by the village children.

Wednesday evening’s skiff racing for the Ballantrae Smugglers’ Chase Trophy which would have involved the Coastal Rowing Clubs from Troon, Carrick and Girvan had to be cancelled because of bad weather.

On Thursday four new Smugglers’ Trails, starting and finishing in Ballantrae, were launched with the help of thirty two walkers from Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway. Each trail has its own true smuggling story. A “Smugglers’ Supper” in the evening involved tasting the contraband, a two course supper with local Ayrshire ingredients, entertainment by local musicians, and the re-telling of “Ballantrae’s Smuggling Story” by social historian and author Frances Wilkins.

“Music, Poetry and Smuggling Stories” , a family event on Friday evening, with the children from Ballantrae Primary School singing smuggling songs, characters in costume re-enacting part of Ballantrae’s smuggling history and local musicians, played to an almost full house.

The next day – the final day of the festival involved a Craft Fayre where local people showed off their skills with wood, rope, jewellery and needlework, a “Strongman Competition” in which the women did as well as the men and the children excelled.

But the Lighting of the Beacon on Saturday evening to signify the end of the festival proved to be another highlight of the festival. La Malouine arrived in the early evening. Just as the sun was setting the villagers, led by a group of smuggling drummers from Stranraer (“Drum for Fun”) made their way to the beach where they lit the beacon to signify the end of the festival. When the beacon was well alight and the sun had set, the tall ship fired her cannon and slipped out of the bay in the moonlight bringing another Ballantrae Smugglers’ Festival to a close.

Andy McAlpine, of the Ballantrae Development Group which organises the Ballantrae Smugglers’ Festival said “It has been a great privilege to have La Malouine, her Master Roy Kerr and his motley crew play a part in this year’s festival. She is a beautiful ship and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in the waters from Dumfries up Scotland’s west coast. We’ve had a great week and we are grateful to all of our festival partners who have helped to make it all possible”

The Festival is organised by a group of volunteers from the Ballantrae Development Group (a sub group of Ballantrae Community Council) with financial support from Carrick Futures Community Benefit Fund, South Ayrshire Council, SCOTMID and Ballantrae businesses.