Friday, November 29, 2013

Afoot on Eilean Tighe

It was a gray, wet day as we set out in the MV Rona from the pontoon dock in South Rona's Acairsaid Mor (Big Harbour). Bill Cowie was at the helm, and was taking the Cummings, a family from Cheshire who were staying in the Seacape and Skyescape Cottages, over to visit Kyles Rona. Along the way he dropped me off on the rocks of Eilean Tighe (the island of the house) - a tidal island connected to Kyles. I only had an hour to wander around Eilean Tighe, as the sea would shortly flood the shallow and narrow straight that separates it from Kyles. 

On the way to Kyles after dropping me on Eilean Tighe 
I spent most of my time on Eilean Tighe looking around the old settlement. Julia Mackenzie opens her book, 'Whirlygig Bettles and Tackety Boots', with a description of a visit to the island to see the house that she lived in as a child. She writes that it was originally occupied by her grandparents. And when her grandmother died Julia's family moved here, where they lived until she was 9. They then moved to Kyles Rona. Here are some photos of the house on Eilean Tighe.

After exploring the island I crossed over the slippery, sea-weed covered exposed beach to Kyles Rona, where I made my way to the bothy (once the home of Norman Mackenzie). Julia writes of visiting the house when Norman lived there. The rain was still coming down, so I went in to dry off, and inside I found the Cummings family doing the same. 

Norman Mackenzie's house, Kyles Rona - now a bothy
Bill was due to pick us up in an hour, so I did not have time to explore more of Kyles. Which was a shame as I would miss seeing what's left of Kyles House, where Julia's family had lived. I need to return someday to see it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A View to Eilean Tighe

During a week-long stay on South Rona I had the chance to visit Eilean Tighe (House Island), which you can see off in the distance in this photo of Rona Chapel and burial ground. Bill Cowie, who manages Rona, took a group over to Kyles Rona, and on the way there he dropped me off on Eilean Tighe. I explored most of the island, including the ruined house, then, as it was low tide, I could walk over the narrow pebbly beach that separates the island from Kyles Rona, the northern tip of Raasay.

All  I knew about Eilean Tighe at the time was that the postman lived there that once delivered the mail to Rona. He'd row over to Rona, then walk all the way to the lighthouse and back. A few months after my visit to Eilean Tighe Bill Cowie sent me a copy of 'Whirligig Beetles and Tackety Boots'. It was written by Julia MacKenzie, the daughter of Norman Cumming, who had been the Rona Postman. How I wish I'd read it before going to the island. It is a hard-to-find book, and a short look today revealed only one copy available. As soon as I can find where I put them I will share some photos of Eilean Tighe.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A' Chuli - Cuil-ri-Brennan - An Unwritten isle

This photo was taken from the north tip of Eileach a Naoimh of the Garvellach Isles. In the foreground, just beyond the three skerries, cloud shadow can be seen darkening the island of A' Chuli; also known as Cuil-ri-Brennan - St Brendan's retreat. Just beyond it rises the larger island of Garbh Eilean. 

Eileach a Naoimh, with its monastic ruins, sees lots of visitors. But few set foot on A' Chuli or Garbh Eilean. I described a visit to Garbh Eilean in Book 1, chapter 9, and although I have visited A' Chuli, I never wrote about it.

I wanted to go there because, in a book that I've forgotten the title of, I'd read there was once a chapel on the island, and that St Brendan used it for a retreat. And so I set foot on the island to see for myself if there were any ruins. It didn't take long to scour every inch of the small rocky islet, and no ruins were seen. That said, the thick grass, heather, and bracken hid much of the surface, so I could have missed something.    

Monday, November 25, 2013

St Finnan's View to Eigg and Rum

Here are two photos taken from the top of Beinn Breac, on the east side of Ardnamurchan. The first shows the view looking to the northwest; Rum is in the far distance, and in front of it you can see Eigg. From this elevation, around 1000 feet, the notch of the notched isle (Eigg) can be seen. The second photo shows the view looking northeast towards Invermoidart. 

I climbed Beinn Breac for two reasons. The first was that it is known as St Finnan's seat, where he rested on his walk to Loch Shiel after coming to Scotland, and I wanted to see the view he had. And quite an amazing view it is. The second reason was that somewhere near Beinn Breac there are inauguration-footprints carved in stone, similar to the one on Dunadd. But I could not find them.

Looking towards Eigg and Rum
Looking northeast from Beinn Breac

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cave View - 9

This cave view is from Tunnel Cave on the northwest tip of Hirta (St Kilda). A natural ledge drops down the cliff face giving access to the cave. Except for the final 50 feet it is an easy decent. But the last bit is a steep, slimy slab of rock. When I first visited the cave in 1999 someone had strung a thick rope along the rocks to ease the way (see 3rd photo). On my second visit, in 2007, I was anxious to show the cave to a friend, and expected the rope to be there. It wasn't. But we still managed to creep safely down to sea level to get into the cave. 

Looking out the west end of the cave
Looking towards Glen Bay from the ledge down to the cave
The rope that was there in 1999
Looking towards Boreray from the east end of the cave

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Northern Isles - Egilsay

On my trip to Orkney one of my must-see places was Egilsay. Two things drew me to the island: the martyrdom of St Magnus in the year 1116, and the 12 century church of St Magnus with its round tower. I was pretty naive back then, thinking I could just drive to the ferry terminal at Tingwall and await the next boat to Egilsay. They looked at me like I was from Mars. They said there was no on-demand sailing to Egilsay, and there was also not a lot of demand for regular sailings (this was 1990). But they did manage to get us to Rousay, where we had a 2-hour wait to get on a boat that was going to Egilsay. This gave us time to see some of the chambered-cairns that lie near where the ferry lands on Rousay.

When we finally got over to Egilsay we had two wonderful hours on the island. Egilsay is a beautiful, and quiet island. After finding the monument that marks where St Magnus was killed (first photo), we explored St Magnus' Church and round tower (second and third photo). The photos are marred a bit by the scaffolding that surrounded the tower, so I hope to return to Egilsay in June to get some better photos.

Monument where St Magnus was killed in 1116
St Magnus' Church, Egilsay
Scaffolding on the Round Tower
Looking up through the round tower
When time came to leave Egilsay the tide had dropped, so we had to descend the pier-ladders to get down to the small ferry. On the ride back to Tingwall the only passengers were my wife and I, and the Egilsay teacher returning to her home on Mainland Orkney.

Egilsay Ferry
My wife descending the ladder on Egilsay Pier

Monday, November 18, 2013

Barra Campsite

On occasion I roll the dice and go to Scotland with a tent and sleeping bag. The gamble is if the checked luggage with all my camping gear will make it over the Atlantic. Three times now my bags have been lost, so I usually come over with only carry-on. Much less stress. But that means the tent and sleeping bag have to stay home.

But the times when my gear did not get lost were memorable. Here is a photo of a Barra Campsite near Dun Ban, just south of the white sands of Halaman Bay. The first photo shows camp set up with all the essentials at hand: water, beer, and uisge-beatha. The second photo was taken later that day, an hour before the sun set over the Atlantic. Conditions were ideal, so at sunset I looked for the Green Ray, but it did not occur.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Northern Isles - Mousa Broch

I will be venturing to the Orkneys for a few weeks this spring. I have not been to the Northern Isles for nearly 20 years. So in preparation for the trip I'm digging out photos from my visit to Orkney in 1990 and Shetland in 1995.

I not only have to dig them out, but I also need to scan them. Although that's a pain, I do, in some ways, miss the film days. In my basement is a large set of photo albums of Scotland and Ireland trips from 1988 to 2005. But as I began to use digital cameras in 2006 I no longer added additional albums. And so from 2007 on all I have are collections of photo CDs and other file storage devices. I miss not having albums I can easily pull out and look through.

As I go through photos from 1990 and 1995 I will scan the more interesting ones and share them here on occasion over the coming months. We'll start with these photos of Mousa Broch, which as you can see my wife and I visited on a very gray day. The first photo was taken with one of those cheap throw-away panoramic film cameras. Back in those days I would always take one on a trip. These days photo stitching software can create much better panoramas out of two or three separate photos.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shiants - Again

I never get tired of looking at photos of Eileanan Seunta, the Sacred Isles - The Shiants. Here's a view of the ship Halmar Bjorge at anchor off the Shiants in August of 2013. It was taken from the top of Garbh Eilean, the largest of the islands, and the tip of the garden isle of Eilean Mhuire can be seen to the left.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Barra - Room with a View

Before we leave Barra there is another photo I want to show you. This was the view from the room I had at the Castlebay Hotel on one visit. What a great sight to wake up to every morning!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our Lady Star of the Sea - 3

Last time we were with Our Lady on a cold February day. Here are a few photos of a visit to her on a cloudy, but warm summer afternoon.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our Lady Star of the Sea - 2

Our Lady Star of the Sea, carved by Hew Lorimer, was placed on Heabhal in 1954. I first visited her on a freezing February day in 1998. On that occasion I walked up to the statue from Castlebay, a climb of 900 feet over 1.5 miles. An easier option is to take the bus (or drive) the road out of Castlebay to its highest point. From there you only need to climb 600 feet spread out over a quarter mile. Here are a few photos from that snowy February climb. Next time we'll see her in the summer.

The snow covered isle of Sandray in the distance and a frozen rain storm falling on Vatersay

Looking towards the summit of Heabhal

Our Lady Star of the Sea - 1

On every visit to Barra I try to climb Heabhal, its highest mountain. On the way up (and down) a great resting spot is the bench next to Our Lady Star of the Sea. Over the next few posts I will share some photos from that spot, one of my favourite places in the Western Isles. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mingulay - Up Top

One of the great Hebridean walks is to climb up the central glen of Mingulay to the saddle between MacPhee's Hill and Carnan. Along the way you pass the ruins of a mill (first photo). From the saddle you climb the steep hillside above the cliff-edge of Biulacraig to the summit of Carnan, 900 feet above the sea. The following photos show some of the sights along the way.

Next time we'll make a 12-mile jump to Barra, where we'll visit a lady who also stands 900 feet above the sea, and has graced the slopes of Heabhal for 60 years. 

The Mill
Mingulay Bay seen from the central glen
The highlands of Mingulay - Barra in the distance
The stacks
Barra Head lighthouse seen from atop Mingulay
Trig pillar atop Carnan - looking north to Barra

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mingulay - The Cliffs

Here are some views of the Mingulay cliffs seen from the sea. Twice now I have had the privilege of being on a boat as it threaded its way between the stacks and through the caves. Both times were aboard the boat Boy James, operated by Donald Macleod. Watching Donald pilot the ship through the narrow channels and into the caves is something you will always remember. On my second trip I saw something unexpected: several dozen climbers descending the cliffs, which you can see in a few of the photos. The last photo shows the inner sanctum of the cliffs, the spot I believe inspired Neil Munro's 'Long Gallery', where the climax of his novel The Children of Tempest took place (see Book 2, chapter 9).

Note the climbers in red

I don't think she was expecting an audience
Climbers starting down the cliffs
Under the cliffs and into the caves

In the Long Gallery - Is this where Col of Corodale drowned?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mingulay - The Village

After St Kilda, Mingulay is probably the most desired deserted island destination in Scotland. Although I prefer Mingulay, as it has been allowed to age gracefully. To me Kilda village looks like an old movie star who has had too much plastic surgery: the fixed-up houses and the blight of the military buildings giving it an artificial look. That said, the island is still an amazing place.

There are many reasons Mingulay attracts: The story of how the people lived here until the island was abandoned; the village ruins gradually being buried in drifting sand; the story of Big Kenneth MacPhee being stranded after finding all the people dead. And then there are the puffins and the cliffs. Seen from above, the cliffs are astounding, and even more so when seen from below on a boat threading its way through the stacks and sea caves. We will visit those cliffs and caves next time, below are some views of the sand-engulfed village.