Saturday, April 26, 2014

Inchgalbraith - Loch Lomond

Little Inchgalbreith island in Loch Lomond is very interesting. The island is only about 100 feet in diameter, and the ruin of a 16th century castle occupies most of the available space. A tangle of trees have grown throughout the tower, and a thick cloak of ivy covers many of the walls.

The castle was one of the power bases of the Galbraiths (Clann a' Bhreatannich - the Clan Briton). One might wonder why they'd build such a large castle on so tiny an island, but the castle was built when the level of the loch was lower. There is some thought that several of the islands in the loch were once linked together, and from a boat afloat on the loch (say that ten times in a row) you can see the traces of what may have been a causeway that linked Inchgalbraith to Inchconnachan.

Ospreys have nested on Inchgalbraith over the years, and Boswell and Johnson were taken to look at them when they visited Loch Lomond during their Scottish tour. In the 1800s the ospreys were deemed to be a danger to the game fishing, and were shot during a so-called 'vermin crusade'. But the ospreys have returned to Loch Lomond, and I was fortunate to have seen one last year. Below are a few photos of Inchgalbraith from a visit in 2004.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pabay Mor - 3

After visiting the arch and the lobster ponds I made my way to the south end of Pabay Mor. (As with most day trips to the island, we were dropped at the north end, and picked up near the village ruins at the south end.)

After reaching the south end of Pabay Mor I spent some time in Briomanish, the island's only village, which was once home to Clann Thormaid, a branch of the Macleods. These Macleods were often at odds with the Macauleys of Lewis, and they had quite a bloody feud - which you can read about in Massacre of the Macauleys by the Macleods of Pabbay in Donald MacDonald's book Tales and Traditions of the Lews. As you can see in the photos, the current owner of Pabay has fixed up a few of the old blackhouses.

Pabay Village
Some of the Pabay houses that have been fixed up
Looking over Pabay village to mainland Lewis

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pabay Mor - 2

At the north end of Pabay Mor a narrow channel, Kyles Pabay Beg, divides Pabay Mor from the tiny island of Pabay Beg. Branching off from the Kyles is a tidal lagoon once used as a lobster holding tank; lobsters caught in creels at sea were held here until the market price in England merited shipping them south. A small secondary holding pond can be seen at the upper left of the first photo. The construction date is unknown, but a similar pond in Loch Risay, on nearby Bernera, was built around 1860, and is thought to have been one of the first of its type.

The lobster ponds
Looking north towards the Kyles and Pabay Beg

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pabay Mor - 1

Pabay Mor is a beautiful little island in West Loch Roag. Last time I visited I was set ashore on the small white-sand beach below St Peter's Church. There is not much left of the little church, and there is some thought that it may have been the target of canon fire in 1506.

St Peter's Church - Pabay Mor
From the church ruin I wandered north to see the natural arch that I'd missed seeing on my previous trip to the island.
Looking seaward through the arch
The Pabay Arch seen from the sea

After herding some shaggy sheep over the arch I took a look at the massive lobster ponds that lie nearby, which we'll see next time.
Sheep taking a shortcut over the arch

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eilean Chaluim Cille - 2

When I arrived at the crossing to Eilean Chaluim Cill the tide was too high to cross; the sea still a foot above the causeway.  I waited for 45 minutes, crossed over, and then walked to the church ruins and burial ground, which lie a quarter mile from where the causeway reaches the island.

The ruined church of St Columb Kill is a sad sight, as its crumbling walls are half fallen. It is surrounded by a burial ground, and there are also graves inside the church. Sometime in the seventh century a monastery was established here, and the burial ground was still used in the 1800s.  It's been said that the monks had a large orchard on the island, and in the Ravenspoint Visitor Centre in Kershader you will find a mural painting of monks at work in the orchard. When I walked to the island in 2012 I meet a man who lives near the crossing to Eilean Chaluim Cille. He told me local opinion is that the orchard was actually at nearby Cromore, on the mainland of Lewis.

St Columb Kill
The ruin of St Columb Kill - the 'modern' tombstone marks the grave of Kenneth Ross 
Here is what TS Muir had to say about Eilean Chaluim Cille in 1855:

In a shockingly-conditioned burial-ground….is a not greatly ruinated chapel, dedicated to St Columba…..with features much resembling those of the other Long Island chapels. The east elevation, which is nearly entire, contains a flat-headed window, 4 feet by six inches, and in the west gable there is a smaller one of the same shape. The south side contains a narrow lanciform window, and a broken doorway on its left; the north side is down to the ground nearly, except a bit at its west end.

In the 159 years since this was written the 'shockingly-conditioned burial ground is in even worse shape. Still, the old monastic site, isolated on its tidal island, is beautiful. I spent an hour wandering around the island; taking about a hundred photos before walking back across the causeway to Crobeg.

For more info on Eilean Chaluim Cille see this RCAHMS link. An even better reference is a booklet entitled Eilean Chaluim Chille: St Colm's Isle, produced by the Pairc Historical Society in 2008.

Looking back over St Columb Kill to Crobeg
Time to leave - back across the causeway before the tide rises

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Eilean Chaluim Cille - 1

It is always fun to walk to an island. The tidal isles of Oronsay (off Colonsay), and Vallay (off N. Uist) come to mind. But there is another, lessor known tidal isle that is just as fascinating: Eilean Chaluim Cille in Loch Erisort. On my first visit to this island I was set ashore from a boat (see book 2, chapter 28). But as with Vallay and Oronsay, the best way to visit is afoot.

That first visit was in 2002, when I spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of the old chapels and the burial ground. I only learned then that a causeway had been built so that you can cross to the island from mainland Lewis. And I promised myself that someday I'd return to walk to the island.

The causeway is tidal, so you can only cross at low tide. And it was on a June day of 2012, while staying in nearby Gravir, that I finally made my way on foot to the crossing. Although I'd checked the tide tables I was a bit early, and had to wait 45 minutes for the tide to drop another foot before I could cross over.

Below are two photos of the crossing; the first taken just before low tide, the second at low tide. Next time we'll see what lies across the causeway to Eilean Chaluim Cille.

The causeway to Eilean Chaluim Cille - just before low tide
The causeway to Eilean Chaluim Cille at low tide

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kilnave Church and Cross - Islay

I've always thought that the 5th century cross at Kilnave (Cill Naoimh) is beautiful. Its two worn arms, one pointing skyward, the other pointing down, give it an almost human look.

The cross is not mounted on its original pedestal, but I wonder if part of the original base still exists. For at the doorway of the adjacent chapel lies a stone slab with a circular depression that visitors have left coins in (see third photo below). It could be that this stone was part of the original cross base. I say that because the depression is similar to one on the base of the Kilchomain Cross, which holds a prayer stone that is turned deiseil (sunwise/clockwise) to insure health and well being; or that your child will be male. For a complete description of the Kilnave cross see this link.

There was a monastery at Kilnave, and the monks had a remote hermitage, a cluster of beehive cells, four miles due west on the other side of the peninsula. For photos, and a description of a walk to the hermitage, see the posts for April 17th to April 20th of 2013.

Stone slab with circular depression at the chapel doorway