Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Scenes from the Flannan Isles

The Flannan isles are difficult to reach. Of four attempts, spread over 14 years, only one was successful. My first try was in 2000, when I was hoping to get there with SeaTrek out of Uig (Lewis). But they were so busy with day-trippers in Loch Roag that they did not even attempt to go there. My second try, in 2002, was successful. It was on the ship Poplar Diver, skippered by Rob Barlow. For the story of that trip see book 2, chapter 26.

Even though I'd set foot on the island in 2002, it was such an interesting place that I wanted to return. And so in 2004 I was on the ship Halmar Bjorge as we motored to the Flannans on the way to St Kilda. But the sea state was bad. A heavy swell pounded both landing places, and so we had to pass by and continue on to Kilda. Another failed attempt, in 2013, was also with Halmar Bjorge. After a night at Scarp we started out to the Flannans. But once past Mealasta island giant rolling swells and a heavy wind battered the ship, and we had to give up the attempt. Those two failures will make the next success all the sweeter, and I hope to try again in 2015 or 2016.  

Below are a few photos from that successful landing in 2002, including a few I have not posted before. 

Approaching the Flannans from the east
Helipad with Soraidh isle in the distance
Derrick pad and crumbling trolley track above the west landing - where the keeper's may have been washed away
Churning sea at the west landing
Remnants of stairway to the west landing
How would you like to descend this on a stormy day? - the stairs to the west landing
Leaving the Flannans

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kerrera Monastery

For me, the most fascinating sites in the islands are old monasteries; like Sgorr nam Ban Naomh on Canna, Ailech of the Garvellchs, Charadail of Eigg, and Oronsay (off Colonsay), to name a few. Most are very remote, and it can take a lot of effort to see them. But there is one monastic ruin that, although it lies only a mile from a large town, is one of the least visited: Cladh a ' Bhearnaig, on the north tip of Kerrera.

Cladh a ' Bhearnaig is easy to find. From Slaterach Mill (see last post), make your way north to Oitir Mhor (the big headland). Here the road turns inland, but keep to the shore around the headland of Rubh Aird an Duine, and then continue for another half mile to a small bay called Port a’ Bheàrnaig, where, a small knob shaped headland, Rubh a’ Bheàrnaig, marks the north tip of Kerrera. At its centre is Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig, an enclosure of stones, 200 feet in diameter, that may be the ruin of a Celtic Christian cashel.

Looking north up the east coast of Kerrera
The monastic enclosure
On a 1750 map the site is marked as "Clyvernock, an old monastery". The meaning of the name is a mystery. Cladh means burial ground, but what could Bheàrnaig mean?  (Bheàrnaig is pronounced ‘var-nak’). The name is not just found on Kerrera, for the original name of fifteenth century Glen Sanda castle, on the mainland ten miles to the north, is Castle Bheàrnaig.

One possible meaning of Bheàrnaig is hinted at in the Gaelic spelling of Inchmarnock, an island dedicated to St Marnock. That spelling is Innis Mheàrnaig. Bheàrnaig is pronounced the same way, so perhaps Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig means the burial ground of St Marnock. Marnock was a bishop in the early 600s, and there is a chapel dedicated to him at Kilfinan, thirty miles south of Kerrera.

Looking down to the cashel from the high ground to the east
Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig has the appearance of a monastic site. It is a nearly circular enclosure split in thirds by low walls. Inside sit the remains of several buildings; one that looks like a beehive cell, and two that are rectangular structures with walls three feet thick. Even though it was early spring, when the bracken is just starting to sprout, it was still difficult to examine the structures under all the vegetation. There is said to be a stone with twenty cup-marks carved on it here, and I searched through the low bracken and brambles, but could not find it.

After wandering around the cashel I climbed to the giant obelisk monument to David Hutcheson. Reaching the monument I took a seat and, enjoying the silence of Kerrera, looked across the water to Oban as the Mull ferry glided into the busy harbour.

Hutcheson Monument
Looking back to busy a Oban from a quiet Kerrera

Next time you are in Oban I can suggest no better day out than escaping the crowds and spending the day on Kerrera. See this RCAHMS page for more details on Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig, and this Scotland Places page for a diagram of the cashel. Also see the April 21st through May 2nd (2013) posts for more on Kerrera.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Slaterich Mill - Kerrera

Kerrera's Slaterich Mill was in service for just over a century (1732 to 1843). I learned about the mill in 1994 when I first read the book Island of Kerrera: Mirror of History (1979). But I did not have a chance to see the mill until 2010, when I made the Kerrera North-Ring walk (see book 1, chapter 22).

Slatrich lies on the west side of Kerrera, directly opposite the island from the ferry landing. It was a bright spring afternoon when I made the walk, and playful lambs greeted me as I climbed up to the old church/school (1872).

The old Kerrera Church/School
A half-mile from the ferry the track splits. A left turn leads to the South-Ring walk (Gylen Castle via Barnabuck). But I stayed to the right for a short distance to another fork in the road. According to the map a left turn would take me to the shore near the mill. But a glance down the road showed I'd be walking right through busy Slaterich farm. I was hesitant to disturb anyone, so I took the track to the right. After a half mile the shore could be seen across a large field.

Slaterich Farm (left) - Lismore Light in the distance
I crossed the field, climbing a few fences in the process, and made my way to the shore to find the mill standing just above the beach.

Slaterich Mill
The mill-stream still flows past the mill to the sea, but the millstones were taken away in the 1960s. The stream flows from Loch na Circe, the loch of the water lilies, which lies up in the hills a mile to the south.
The mill-stream
The mill and Creag nam Fitheach (Raven's Crag)
Opening in the mill wall for the water-wheel axle
The tenants of Kerrera were required to bring their grain to the mill, and one in 17 pecks of grain was given to the miller. For more details on the history of the mill, see chapter 8 of Island of Kerrera: Mirror of History. The mill ground its last grain in 1853, from then on all Kerrera grain had to be sent to the mainland.

From the mill I followed the coast north to the Shepherd's Hat (see last photo). My next stop was the cashel (ancient monastic enclosure) at Cladh a' Bhearnaig. A great place for information on Kerrera is the Kerrera Development website.

Mill in forground - left of centre is Eilean nam Gamhna (Isle of the Stirk) - AKA 'The Shepherd's Hat'

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Walk to Shiaba

The walk to Shiaba is one of the best on Mull. It is usually done as an in-and-out four-mile walk from Kilvickeon Church. But it can also be done as a long through-hike from Kilvickeon to Gorrie's Leap and then north via Airigh Mhic Cribhain to Beach on the north coast of the Ross of Mull. 

At Shiaba you will find a dozen ruins dating to the early 1800s - it was abandoned in 1937. Most of the township lies a half-mile from the sea, but near the shore you will also find the ruins of fisherman's cottages, and the scant remnants of even older structures: beehive cells, a possible chapel, and a couple of standing stones (see sixth photo).

GoogleEarth view of Shiaba
To get to Shiaba leave your car in the parking area above Kilvickeon Church (see the last post) and follow the track to the east past Scoor Farm. I did this walk in 2007, since then Scoor farmhouse has been converted into self-catering apartments.

Scoor Farm - 2007
Once past Scoor continue to the end of the track near a large sheep wash. Then continue along a vague, but easy to follow route east for another mile. The village covers a large area, and it takes a while to see each house. The best preserved house is known as Shiaba cottage, which I assume was the one that was occupied until 1937 (next three photos).

Shiaba Cottage - 1
Shiaba Cottage - 2
Shiaba Cottage - 3
Standing Stone
When I made this walk in 2007 I intended to carry on to Gorrie's Leap (which you can see in the far distance in a few of the photos). I had tried to get there the year before by walking in from Carsaig, but I was not able to make it. (See chapter 13 of book 1 for the story of that failure.)

But a look across the three miles of rough countryside between Shiaba and The Leap persuaded me that it would be too much of a round-trip for one day, especially as my wife was waiting for me to return in time for dinner at the Ardachy Hotel (which is a wonderful base for exploring the Ross of Mull, Iona and Erraid).

So I turned my back on Gorrie's leap and started the hike back to Kilvickeon. Another two years would pass before I would finally stand atop The Leap - also see book 1, chapter 13. For more information on Shiaba, including details on the walking route, see this Mull Historical Society page. This RCAHMS page also has some - but not much - info on Shiaba. 

Looking east to Gorrie's Leap
Shiaba township
Looking south to the sea

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cille Mhic Eoghainn - Kilvickeon

In the Mull area there are two church and burial grounds known as Cille Mhic Eoghainn (Kilvickeon). They are dedicated to St Ernan, who was the son of St Eoghan, a nephew of St Columba. 

One of the Kilvickeons is on the south coast of Ulva, and to see it requires a long walk (see book 1, chapter 14). The other lies in a remote location on the Ross of Mull. But, that said, you can drive to it. As you travel west on the A849 turn left onto the Scoor road (just past Bunnessen School). After a mile the single track becomes unpaved. Carry on for another half mile, turn right, and after another mile you will reach a parking area at Kilvickeon.

Kilvickeon - Loch Assapol in the distance
I wanted to see the Mull Kilvickeon for two reasons. The first is that mounted on the wall of the 12th century church is one of the rare Scottish Sheela-na-gigs. The site is a great reference for info on Sheelas, and they have a page on the Kilvickeon Sheela. Also see this Mull Historical Society page for information on Kilvickeon.

The second reason I wanted to go there is that the church is the starting point for two wonderful walks. One is a half-mile jaunt to see the beaches to the south (see last photo). The other walk is a four-mile round trip journey to the ghost village of Shiaba. It is one of the best hikes on Mull, and the subject of the next post.

Kilvickeon Church - both gable ends are gone
Kilvickeon Church - The Sheela-na-gig is set into the wall above, and to the left, of the doorway
This photo gives you an idea of how small the Sheela actually is
The Sheela
The beach below Kilvickeon

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

St Kenneth's Chapel - Mull

Since it is very much off the beaten path, I do not think that St Kenneth's Chapel, also known as Caibel Mheamhair (the Chapel of Remembrance), at Laggan on Mull sees many visitors. But it should be seen, for it lies in a beautiful spot just above Loch Buie. Portions of the building date to between the 12th and 15th centuries, and in 1864 it was converted into a mausoleum for the Maclaines of Loch Buie. 

Chapel of St Kenneth - Laggan
I wanted to see the chapel due to its association with St Kenneth; the same saint who established a monastery on the island of Inchkenneth, twelve miles to the northwest. So when the opportunity arose to go ashore at Lochbuie during a Hebridean cruise, I made a two mile round-trip walk to the chapel. The chapel/mausoleum is in very good shape, having been extensively refurbished in 1972. Interred here are several Maclaine chiefs; most commemorated with simple memorials; although the memorial for Murdoch Maclain (The 21st chief:1791-1844) is quite extensive. 

Memorial to Murdoch Maclaine (21st Chief)
A good source for stories about the Macleans and Maclaines of Mull is Thomas Hannan's The Beautiful Island of Mull (1926). In it I learned about another Murdoch Maclaine, the 22nd chief (see last photo). When he died in 1909, a steamer full of dignitaries set out from Oban to attend the funeral but, as Hannan describes below, they did not make it:

Murdoch Gillian Maclaine, who served in the Carabineers, and some experience of the Franco-German War in 1870-1871 as correspondent of The Times with the German Army. He did a great deal to develop his estate by turning it into a fine sporting estate... His funeral was a thoroughly Highland ceremony, carried out in one of those intense sea-fogs which occasionally shroud the island. A steamer had set out from Oban with a great company of Chiefs and others from the mainland, but it was not able to enter the loch (Lochbuie). Those on board were able to hear the wailing of the pipes as they played the lament, but the steamer had to return without its passengers taking part in the funeral service.

It must of been quite eerie, hearing the pipes echo across the sea from a fog shrouded chapel on a remote headland of Mull. For more info on St Kenneth's Chapel see this RCHAMS Link.

Memorial to Murdoch Maclaine (22nd Chief)

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Rona Cross

I think the North Rona three-holed-cross is the most intriguing early Christian monument in the Hebrides. When I first saw it in 1990, it looked a bit sad and neglected, standing in a dusty case in a dark corner of Teampull Mholuaidh in Eoropie, a mile south of the Butt of Lewis. Here is a photo of the cross from 1990 - you can see it to the left of the very young fellow in the white coat. (Oh how he wishes he took a close up photo of the cross back then.)

The Rona Cross in Teampull Mholuaidh - 1990
Teampull Mholuaidh - 1990
In 1992 the cross was placed in the custody of the Ness Historical Society, and it can be seen today in their museum in Ness. 

The most informative history of the cross that I have come across is Michael Robson's Rona: The Distant Island. In it, he says the cross was removed from Rona 'more than 50 years ago'. As the book was published in 1990, I assume that means it was taken to Lewis in the 1930s. Michael Robson's wonderful book was given to me by Rhoddy MacLeod in 2006. Rhoddy, who passed away in 2011, now lies buried in the holy ground of St Michael's, on the island of Little Bernera.

The Rona Cross on the cover of Rona: The Distant Island, by Michael Robson
Memorial to Rhoddy Macleod - Little Berneray
The Rona cross is an interesting stone. It is pierced by three holes; perhaps symbols of the trinity, and these holes line up with the neck, and armpits, of a figure carved on the cross. Even more odd is the giant phallus/fertility symbol depicted on the torso of the figure, which was either missed (or ignored) by those who wrote about the cross for many years. One of the first depictions of the cross, based on T.S. Muir's drawing from the 1850s, is a simple outline drawing used on the cover of an early book on Rona by Malcolm Stewart: Ronay (1933).

It is a shame the cross was taken from Rona.These days you'll find a half dozen similar cross-stones in-situ on Rona, and some collected inside St Ronan's Chapel, but none have holes in them.

Cross-Stones at the entrance to St Ronan's Cell - 1
Cross-Stones at the entrance to St Ronan's Cell - 2
Cross stone still in the burial ground
The earliest known (I think) photo of the three-holed-cross, is this 1887 photo that shows J A Harvie Brown at St Ronan's Chapel. Brown can be seen reclining in the grass (marked with a 'B'). The three-holed-cross is marked with an 'A'.

If you've read book 2, then you know that during a visit to Rona in 2002 I wanted, but did not have the time, to recreate that photo of Harvie-Brown reclining in the grass by St Ronan's Chapel. But on a return visit in 2011 I had plenty of time to play around, and so I took this 'selfie' reclining in the grass in front of the chapel. The original location of the three-holed-cross is marked with an 'X".

A year before that return to Rona, my wife and I visited the museum in Ness to see the three-holed-cross. Although part of me would like to see it in its true home, it is probably a good thing the stone is now in the safe-keeping of the museum. So next time you're on Lewis, be sure to visit the museum to pay your respects to the ancient cross of St Ronan. And if you want an experience to remember for a lifetime, dedicate a couple week's holiday to get out to North Rona. Northern Light Charters offers such a trip every other year. Unfortunately their 2015 trip is fully booked, but perhaps, if the demand is there, they'll offer it again in 2017.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ardtornish Castle

I've lost count of how many times I've seen Ardtornish Castle from the sea. The first time was in the early 90s when I took the ferry from Oban to Barra. Over the following 16 years I must of sailed by it at least a dozen times, always wanting to get ashore to see it close up.

Ardtornish Castle
This historic castle dates to the 13th century. It was a principal stronghold of the Lords of the Isles until the late 1400s, and Sir Walter Scott placed the opening scene of The Lord of the Isles in the castle's hall. Although it is easy to visit the castle from the mainland (by driving to Lochaline), over many years of island going I never found myself in that part of the mainland, and so I had to settle for seeing the castle from the sea for about 15 years.

Then, in 2006 while on a cruise aboard MV Chalice, we anchored for the last night of the cruise in Ardtornish Bay. We went ashore to wander a bit, and to see the castle. The castle ruin was extensively 'fixed up' in the early 1900s, when its most notable characteristic when seen from the sea was added (a large arched window). Here are a few photos of the castle from that visit in 2006. For more on Ardtornish see this RCAHMS link.

Approaching the castle from the mainland
The remaining south wall seen from where the hall may have been
On the shore below the castle are a couple remnants of galley slips. The worn stone shown may have been used as a mooring post.

Landing place below the castle
Mooring stone?
Looking up from the landing
The 'add-on' window
When the time to go came we departed from the beach below a large house known as Innibeg (also called Bay Cottage), which I believe is owned by Adam Nicholson (the author of Sea Room). What a marvelous location (except maybe when cruise boats show up).

Departure time - Innibeg (aka Bay House) in the distance