Friday, May 30, 2014

A Sad Sight - 2

The last post included a photo by Erskine Beveridge, and it reminded of my first visit to Vallay in 2000. While on the island I explored the sad ruin of Vallay House. It was built in 1902 for Erskine Beveridge, who spent his summers there until his death in 1920. For more info on Beveridge see Chapter 16 of Book 2. My source for Beveridge's history was an interesting booklet by Hugh Walker: The Story of Erskine Beveridge and St Leonard's Works (1991). 

Vallay House in 2000
Main Front Room - Vallay House

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More Scenes from Boreray - 3 - Then and Now

Here's a Then and Now scene from Boreray. It is of the settlement next to the Monk's Field. I have not been able to find it's name, but on the RCAHMS website it's listed under An Corran, which is the place name of the sand-bar that juts out into the sound just to the east of it. The first photo was taken by Erskine Beveridge in 1904. The second one I took in 2010. Other than the outer walls there's not much left of the village. The 16 crofters who lived here asked to be evacuated, a request that was granted in 1923.

Boreray village at An Corran - 1904 (Photo: Erskine Beveridge)
Boreray village at An Corran - 2010

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Scenes from Boreray - 2

One of the many highlights of visiting the isles in the Sound of Harris are the views to be had of the many white-sand beaches in the area. Here's one such view from Boreray; it is looking east across Loch Mor to the narrow strip of land that separates it from the Sound of Harris. Two miles off in the distance you can see amazing white-sand beach of Berneray. As often happens in the Hebrides, even though gray, menacing clouds fill the sky, the sun is sneaking under them to shine on the beach.

Berneray beach (in the distance) seen from Loch Mor of Boreray

Monday, May 26, 2014

More Scenes from Boreray - 1

While we're on the subject of Boreray, here are a few more photos. The first is of the free church; constructed in the 1880s, and last used in the 1920s. Jerry Cox, the only resident of Boreray these days, told me rats often nest in the structure. I took a look inside, but did not stay long, as noisy critters of some kind were scampering around in the rotten rafters. 
Boreray Free Church, last used in the 1920s
The next photo is, to me anyway, a unique view: Boreray seen from Boreray. On the horizon to the left is Hirta, and to the right is Boreray of St Kilda.

Boreray of St Kilda (in the distance to the right) seen from Boreray (Sound of Harris)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Boreray and the Naked Monk

Boreray, in the Sound of Harris, is almost two islands; as it is nearly cut in two by Loch Mor. The loch is a bit brackish, as it is barely above sea level, and the only thing standing between the loch and the sea is a narrow storm-beach.

In 1885 a sluice was built through the beach and the loch was drained. With a flood gate in place, any seawater that got in could be drained at low tide. Although this effort reclaimed some 60 acres for cultivation, the sluice was eventually abandoned.  

There may have been some sort of connection between the loch and the sea before the sluice was built. Martin Martin, writing 300 years ago, had this to say of Loch Mor:
…a freshwater lake well stocked with eels… there is a passage under the stony ground, which is between the sea and the lake, through which it is supposed the eels come in with the spring tides; one of the inhabitants called Mack-Vanish (the Monk’s Son) had the curiosity to creep naked through this passage.

When I was on Boreray I looked for the mysterious tunnel, but there was no sign of it. That was probably a good thing, for if I'd found it I'd have been tempted to crawl through naked.  

Storm beach seen from the south
Storm beach seen from the north

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gateways to Paradise - 2

Last time I described the two gateways to a hiker's paradise on Lewis; the front door entrance via Morsgail, and the back door track to Hamanavay. There are two other gateways to this incredible countryside that need to be mentioned. The first is the track to Loch Bhoisimid that begins at the head of Loch Miavaig. Along the way you can make a slight detour to see the Miavaig beehive cells, and then spend some time in an eagle hide. From the end of the track you can wander to your heart's content; possibly north across the trackless bogs to Kinresort, or east to follow the path to Bogha Glas.

Start of the track to Bhoisimid
The  second gateway is on the track that leaves the main highway at Bogha Glas, on the Lewis/Harris border. This is a serious path, with some significant ups and downs, and at the summit of the climb you will be rewarded with an amazing view over Loch Langabhat and the vast, uninhabited interior of Lewis and Harris. For a day-trip to remember, carry on to Kinresort, then head south to Loch Bhoisimid to exit via the track to Miavaig.

Start of the track at Bogha Glas - the Gaelic on the sign says 'Walkers Welcome'

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gateways to Paradise - 1

There are several places in the isles that I can't wait to return to with a pack on my back and enough food for two or three days. Here are two of them. Both are on Lewis, and beyond them lie mile after mile of open terrain; a terrain full of history, wildlife, and some of the most challenging ground a hiker will ever face.

The first photo is of the gate to Morsgail. The tarmac ends a mile down this private road, and then you'll find yourself in the wide open moors. You can head south to Kinresort, or west towards Aird Mhor and Aird Bheag. If you decide to go to Kinresort, another wonderful option is to keep going south through the hills of Harris.

The gate to Morsgail - the front door to the Back of Beyond
The second photo shows the start of the track to Hamanavay, south of Uig. This rocky road traverses several miles of ups and downs before ascending 1000 feet to the highlands of Roansagal. From there you can drop down to the sea and pay a visit to Hamanavay, Aird Bheag, and Aird Mhor; or you can head east to search for the beehives of Bothan Ruadh. Another option is to hike over to Crola and Kinresort, and then head out to the north via Morsgail and the gate show in the first photo.

The track to Hamanavay - the back door to the Back of Beyond
Both these places are gateways to a hiker's paradise; to places where you can sleep in beehive cells, or pitch your tent near old crofts and lonely shielings. Or you can chose to sleep high atop the hills overlooking Loch Reasort, or nestled in a hidden glen. And the best part is that no matter where you go, the chances are that you'll not see another soul.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shiant Sea Cave

Most every visitor to the Shiants has seen the sea-cave that traverses the north-eastern tip of Garbh Eilean. And if the sea is calm, and the skipper is so inclined, some of them may have had the privilege of motoring through the cave in an inflatable. Here are a few shots of my transit through the cave in 2009 on a RIB piloted by Mark Henrys.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cathair Moluaig - St Moluag's Chair

One of the ways to make a day trip to Lismore is to take the Port Appin Ferry to the north end of the island. That was how my wife and I first visited Lismore, and after seeing the church at Clachan we followed a track down to see the dramatic ruin of Castle Coeffin. On our way back to the ferry I jumped over a wire fence to take a seat on St Moluag's stone chair. The tradition is that the saint rested here often, and people suffering from back pain once came here to sit in the chair. It used to look more like a chair, but at some point the arms were broken off.

St Moluag's Chair - Lismore

Sunday, May 11, 2014

High Atop Rum

One of my most memorable Hebrides hikes was to the highlands of Rum. My wife and I were staying in the B&B accommodation in the back of Kinloch Castle, and late on a sunny afternoon I started up the path that ascends the Allt Slugan a' Choilich. After reaching the black cauldron of Coire Dubh I climbed the short, but steep zig-zag path to Bealach Barkaval. 

From there I crossed a moonscape of rock before starting up the rocky mantle of Hallival (first photo). At its summit I rested for a while next to the pillared cairn, enjoying a great view down to Loch Scresort and north to Soay and Skye (second photo). All the Small Isles were in view, especially Eigg, five miles to the southeast (third photo).

I really wanted to follow the ridge south to climb Askival, the highest hill on Rum. It only involves a drop of 120 metres, followed by an ascent of 200 metres (last photo), but I decided to save that for another time; for I was dead tired, as earlier in the day my wife and I had walked to Kilmory and back. After enjoying the view for a while I started down in search of a cold beer in the bistro at the back of Kinloch Castle. Someday I hope to return to Rum and ascend Askival.

The tip-top of Hallival
Looking down to Loch Scresort from the summit cairn of Hallival

Eigg seen from Hallival
The view over Glen Dibidil from Hallival
The ridge between Hallival and Askival

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hebridean Roller Coaster

I'd heard about the roller coaster for a few years before I saw it. It is a mini-tramway built to bring supplies up to a house at Gearraidh Mhurchaidh, on the southwest shore of Loch Seaforth. There was once a small settlement here, and the shells of a half dozen houses can be seen. No roads lead to this remote spot, a half-mile north of Rhenigidale, so building the house must have been quite a challenge. I wonder if the residents ever go for a ride on their roller coaster.

The Roller Coaster

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ceilleagraigh - Killiegray

The owners of Killegray (Ceilleagraigh) don't exactly welcome visitors (but I went anyway). In fact, the boatman who took me there (who knew I would be writing about my visit) asked that I not mention his name. 

Killegray is a beautiful island, rolling hills and white-sand beaches. It is an historic isle too; the church site at Annait one of the oldest in the isles. But sadly there is not much to be seen at Annait; just the grass-grown outline of the church and a small standing stone, perhaps an ancient tombstone. 

The first photo shows the rolling hills and sandy beaches near Killegray House (late 18th-century). The second shows the holy ground of Annait with its standing stone. The OS map I had indicated that there is a holy well at Annait, but I could not find it. Several years later I came across the RCAHMS page on Annait. In it I learned that the well lies a quarter-mile south of the church site. I need to return to Killegray someday to find it.

The view from the south end of the island looking towards Killegray House
Annait - old church site - Pabbay and Shillay in the distance

Monday, May 5, 2014

Little Cumbrae Light - Three Generations

I visited Wee Cumbrae a while back to try to find the tomb of St Bey. Another site I wanted to visit was the historic coal-fired light-tower that sits at the top of the island. As I climbed the hillside to the tower I also had a good view down to the derelict Little Cumbrae lighthouse on the west side of the island. It was built in 1793, automated in 1977, and decommissioned in 1997, when a light beacon was put into operation. 

So from my vantage point on the hillside three generations of Wee Cumbrae lights could be seen. The first photo shows the coal-fired light of 1757; the second shows the Stevenson light of 1793; and in the third photo you can see the light-beacon of 1977.

See this link for Robina McLaren's story of living at the lighthouse when she was 9 years old; and this link for an amazing set of photos of the Stevenson lighthouse.

The 1757 coal-fired light
The 1797 Stevenson Light
The 1977 light-beacon (lower left)