Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Walk to Cravadale - 1

Last June I hiked from Hushinish to Loch Cravadale; something I'd wanted to do for many years. Loch Cravadale lies at the remote northwest corner of Harris, and although the walk is only four miles round trip, it requires a long drive to the end of the road at Hushinish.

On the day I walked to Cravadale I had planned to climb The Clisham, the highest mountain on Harris. But the weather was not great, and the summit of Clisham was shrouded by clouds. A walk to the top would not be very scenic, so I decided to stay low and visit Cravadale instead. So after making the long, but very interesting drive to Hushinish, I parked my car in the small sandy car park above the beach. From there I walked across the machair to Hushinish jetty (first photo). Due to the fog I could barely see the island of Scarp (off in the distance to the left).

The well-built path quickly ascended the hillside above the Kyles of Scarp. From there I had a good view over to Scarp Village, which you can see in the next photo. The renovated church is in the centre, and the derelict schoolhouse can be seen to the right of it.

The path then rounded the shoulder of Husival Beg. The next photo was my last look back to Hushinish before the path turned east around the hill.

The path remained level for a while, and then started climbing very steeply. As I walked along the only wildlife I encountered were a few scraggly sheep.

After an hour or so the trail climbed to a pass completely shrouded in fog (last photo). But the worn path was easy to follow up through the mist. Next time we'll descend the other side of the pass to visit the beautiful beach of Loch Cravadale.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Duntulm Castle

I wish I had visited Duntulm before 1990, when its last tower fell in a wind storm. Now all that's left are the few walls that you can see in the photo. I first visited it hoping to find the dungeon where Uisdean MacGhilleasbuig Chleirich was imprisoned. As the story goes, he was given his fill of salted beef, but then given no water to quench his thirst. However the ruin was in such sad shape that it was impossible for me to tell where the dungeon had been. This one-time seat of the MacDonalds has not only suffered from wind damage, but also from stone pillaging. It was abandoned in the 1730s. 

If you visit it these days a set of warning signs and fences will be encountered warning you to stay away. That was not the case during my first visit 22 years ago, when my wife and I stayed at nearby Duntulm Castle Hotel. I looked into staying there again this year, only to find out that the hotel has been out of business for a while and is now for sale. If I had a spare half-million pounds I might consider buying it.

The second and third photos show a memorial cairn next to the castle ruin. It commemorates the MacArthurs, who had a piping school in the 18th century at Peingown.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Busy Iona (but not always)

Iona can be a busy place. On a typical summer day there can be several hundred people wandering around the village and abbey. If you visit during that time of year the following photos show what to expect. The first is of a ferry full of day-trippers arriving on the island; the second shows the long queue on Fionnphort of people just off the buses waiting to board the next ferry. The best way to see Iona is to stay on the island and explore when the crowds are gone. The second photo also shows the MV Ullin of Staffa, one of several boats that take you out to visit nearby Staffa.

Ferry arriving on Iona
Queuing at Fionnphort

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hidden Gometra

If you visit Gometra don't stay on the road. Hidden in a broad glen above the harbour is this large abandoned settlement. It has no name on the map, but the nearby anchorage between Gometra and Ulva is known as Bailachlaidh Harbour, so perhaps the settlement's name was Bailachlaidh. I'm not certain, but the name may mean village of the burial ground, and the Gometra cemetery is not far away. If you look closely you'll see the photographer in the photo.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Here are three photos of Isay, a small deserted island off the coast of Skye. It is best known for being once owned by Donovan. It is less well known as the site of a mass murder. Sometime in the 1590s, Ruairaidh MacLeod, known as 'Nimheach' (the Venomous), killed several people here in an attempt to secure the inheritance of Raasay and Gairloch for his son. The murders took place in Isay House, which is show in the second and third photos. See book 2, chapter 4 for more on this.

Isay Village
Isay House - once home to Rory the Venomous

Isay House - front entrance

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Nollaig Chridheil - Merry Christmas

I have never been in the islands during Christmas; something that needs to be remedied someday. But here are two Christmasy Scottish island photos (there's snow, anyway). Both were taken from the hills around Heabhal on Barra.

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur dhuibh.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Looking south to Vatersay and Mingulay
A snowy Heabhal selfie - Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 6

While there are a half-dozen or so phone boxes on Tiree, this particular one, set next to a ruin above Traigh Bhagh, is memorable to me. I sheltered in it during an autumn storm (see book 2, chapter 8). After a few minutes inside I decided the rain was not going away. So I changed into waterproofs before leaving the box to resume my walk around the island. A few minutes later, as I was walking in the heavy rain, I was offered a ride. Tiree is a friendly place.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 5

Like the box on Soay, the Scarp phone box is now derelict. These photos shows it standing next to what had been the shop, but is now a private home. I have two friends who live on Scarp, Brian and Sheila Harper. If you stand in the right location near their house you can just barely get a mobile phone connection to Harris. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 4

Soay is known for having the first solar-powered telephone exchange. However it would take more than a little sunshine to make a call these days from the Soay Phone Box. The inside is gutted and the phone is gone. I would imagine that back in the day Gavin Maxwell made a few calls from this box.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 3

The Canna red-box is a communications oasis in a dead sea of mobile phone coverage. I have lost track of how many times I've made the mile-long round-trip hike from Canna pier to the phone box to make a call to see how things were going back home. 

I have also sheltered in the box a few times when the rain was pouring down and there was no other shelter to be found. If the weather is bad Canna can be a frustrating destination; the cafe is no longer in business (once a great place to sit out the rain), and never on the ten or so times I've been there has the Church of St Edward's, or Canna House, been opened to the public. But, hopefully, one day I'll be able to step inside both those historic buildings.

Speaking of historic things, if the weather is good, be sure to make the long hike to Sgorr nam Ban Naomh (second photo). It is one of the premire Hebridean hikes.

Sgorr nam Ban Naoimh

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 2

Island phone-boxes are special to me in that prior to the availability of mobile phones they were the only way I could call home during island trips. These days that is still the case for Canna, where there is no mobile phone coverage. The photo below is not of a unique box, in the sense that it is on Mull, where there are a dozen boxes. But it is unique in the sense that it appeared in the 1945 movie "I Know Where I'm Going". Filmed party on Mull, there is a scene where a call is made from a phone box set next to a noisy waterfall. Nearly seventy years later it is still a noisy place to make a call. The box lies about halfway down the road to Carsaig pier, and in the photo you can see the waterfall to the right of the box. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Island Phone Boxes - 1

Although I have seen a few, I've not seen all the 'unique' western-island phone boxes. By 'unique', I mean where there is, or was, only one phone-box on the island. Rum, Muck, Canna, Scarp, Tannara Mor and Soay come to mind. Over the next few posts we'll see some of those, along with other island boxes I've found in interesting spots. How I wish I'd taken a photo of the box on Rum. I am not sure if it is still there, but when I last tried it I wasted a few coins unsuccessfully trying to call the mainland.

We'll start with the abandoned red-box on Tannara Mor. There is a new box on the island, located a half mile north by the post office, but it is not quite as picturesque. Next time we will visit the most famous red-box in the Scottish Isles: the one above Carsaig on Mull that appeared in the movie 'I Know where I'm Going'.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tannara Mor - 2

I love the old William Daniell prints. One of them from his book 'A Voyage Round Britain' depicts the pier on Tannara Mor as he saw it in 1815. In the second photo, even though it was a gray day, you can see the mountain Suilven, 12 miles away on the mainland. Compare its actual appearance to Daniell's depiction; it illustrates how he often exaggerated terrain for dramatic effect. You can see several examples of this here. The final photo is of a plaque that commemorates Fraser Darling's restoration of the pier in 1939.

Suilven in distance
The pier seen from the walk to Garadheancal
Plaque on the Pier

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tannara Mor - 1

I've only been ashore on one of the Summer Isles: Tannara Mor. Someday I hope to set foot on 'An Cleireach' (Priest Isle), Isle Martin and Tannera Beag. As with most people, I first learned about the Summer Isles from the books of Fraser Darling. 

Over the next few posts we will explore some of Tannara Mor. We will start with two photos of the interior of the island. It is interesting terrain, dominated by two large lochs: Loch Ard and Loch Allt a' Mhuilinn. Loch Ard is very strange, one loch divided in two by a large humpy hill that has the look of being a man-made dun. The photos are a bit dark. It was a drizzly day, and a thick layer of gray cloud hovered over the sea.

Divided Loch Ard  - if the water level was higher the hill might be an island
Divided Loch Ard in foreground, Loch Allt a'Mhuilinn in distance at left

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Island Inverie - 2

On another visit to Inverie I hiked up the the path to Kinloch Hourn that follows the Inverie River. It was a sunny spring day, and as I walked through the village I had to resist the urge to go into the Old Forge for a pint. (I would fail to resist that urge a few hours later.) The pub can be seen in the next photo of the village (the two buildings on the left).

It was a beautiful walk up the glen. A landmark along the way is the large cross-monument to Lord Brocket, one time Knoydart estate owner.

On my way back to Inverie to get a pint at the Old Forge I passed this peacock on full display. Truly amazing.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Island Inverie

Although it is on the mainland, due to it's sometimes sheltered location, and well known pub, a visit to Inverie is often on the agenda of a Hebridean cruise. There is no road access to Inverie, so it is almost an island. The only way there is by boat, or via a long hike, as shown in the the mileage markers in the first photo.

Last time I was there I set out to visit the Madonna statue that lies on the coast a mile and a half west of the village. The statue is made of fiberglass, and was put there by Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, who once owned the estate. The only photos I had of her were taken from the sea (next photo), and I wanted to get a good close up photo.

But that mile an a half is as the gannet flys. For someone walking it is more like three miles, as you have to round the west end of a boggy lagoon (next photo). That slowed my progress to a crawl, and due to limited time I had to turn back.

Although I did not make it to the Madonna, I did find these two beautiful little statues on the shore below Inverie House. Does anyone know the story behind them?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Some Bad Panoramas

On every island I try to take a series of photos that I'll try to stitch together later to make panoramas. Some times I'm successful, other times not. Here are two examples of failed stitches; where the exposure was not quite the same, and you can easily tell where the two photos merge. Both these examples are photos of Sheadair, an old settlement site on the northwest corner of Sandray. The odd shadow at the lower right of the second photo is of the photographer.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Shark Factory - Soay

I was fortunate to have visited Soay (off Skye) on a picture perfect spring day. I believe that the last permanent residents left Soay in 1953. But when I visited in 2007 it appeared that at least one of the houses was lived in year round. The island is best known from Gavin Maxwell's book 'Harpoon at a Venture', which tells of the Shark factory he established there from 1945 to 1948. The first two photos show what's left of the factory. A typical basker would yield around 160 gallons of oil, and the meat and skin were also sold. 

Soay is also known for having the first solar powered telephone exchange, and you can see the solar panels at the top of the third photo. Sadly, the old phone box (also seen in the third photo) is a ruin. An interesting book on Soay is 'The Soay of our Forefathers', by Laurence Reed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some South Rona Panoramas

It is always rewarding, while searching for a specific photo, to come across some that I'd forgotten about. That happened while looking for a picture I'd taken of Garbh Eilean, a tidal islet off the south tip of Rona. In doing so I came across some panoramas I'd made (stitched photos) of South Rona. The first is of the keeper's house at Rona Light. The second and third are views of Big Harbour seen from the track to Doire na Guaile. The fourth is of 'Ob an Dreallaire' (the bay of the loiterer), which lies at the north end of Rona. It is a beautiful and rarely visited spot (I did loiter for a while).

Keeper's House - Rona Light
Big Harbour seen from the track to Doire na Guaile (2 stitched photos)

Big Harbour seen from the track to Doire na Guaile (3 stitched photos)

Ob an Dreallaire (Bay of the Loiterer)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Some Challanging Island Visits

I have had a few challenging and, at times, scary island encounters. I've written before about the climb up the south peak of Skellig Mhichael, where I had to turn back after being faced with having to traverse a 10 inch ledge, a shear 400 foot drop to its side. I could not do it.

The narrow ledge on Skellig (in immediate foreground)
Another 'turn back' that I regret is Garbh Eilean (the rough Isle), a tidal islet off the south end of South Rona. I'd been told there may be some ruined habitations on the island, and so on a fine spring day in 2007 I made my way to the crossing. But the only way onto the islet was to ascend a steep, rocky, and muddy ledge, some 20 feet high. Tracks in the hillside showed it had been traversed by deer, so I tried to climb it. But I'm not a deer, and being alone at the time, one wrong step and it would be a while before help would arrive, so I gave up the attempt.
Where Garbh Eilean joins South Rona (route up marked in white)
Another island-challange was the climb up, and back down, the slopes of another 'Rough Isle', Garbh Eilean of the Shiants. On my first visit in 2002, not knowing there was actually a route, I made the climb up the steep hillside to the top of the island from the stony isthmus that connects it to Eilean Taigh. Fortunately I managed to make my way up without injury, and from the top the 'safe' route down was found. But the beer I had in my pack, which I planned to drink at the high point of the island, went un-drunk, as I realized I would need all my faculties to make it safely down.

Looking to Eilean Tighe from the beginning of the descent down Garbh Eilean (Shiants)
That experience paid off 11 years later. In August of 2013 I was landed on the north end of that same Garbh Eilean. I had always wanted to see the puffin colony there, and to try to climb to the top of the island. And I knew if I could make it to the top, I could descend back to the sea on the south end of the island along the route I'd found in 2002. It was a close thing, getting to the top at the cliffs at the north end, and I almost gave up. But after zigzaging up the steep, grassy slopes I saw a notch in the clifftop that looked doable. I made my way slowly up to it, very slowly, for the gradient was about 65 degrees. I nearly turned back again, but taking my time, step-by-step, I was able to get to the top.

The way up the north end of Garbh Eilean (Shiants)
It was worth the effort, for I was then able to traverse the upper plateau of the island. Reaching the south end I started looking for the route down. Over a decade had passed since I'd stood there, and I could not see the route at first. But after traversing around the entire south end I eventually found the 'Eiger Pass', a small ravine that marks the first part of the route down the hill. In the last photo I have marked the route with a black line. Where the black line disappears, halfway up, is where the route through the 'Eiger Pass' lies hidden behind the humpy hill in the foreground.