Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Laundry Day on Rum

When the Bullough's built lavish Kinloch Castle on Rum they built a laundry far out of sight; five miles away at Kilmory on the north end of the island. On a visit to Kilmory a few years ago the old tin laundry building was open. What I saw inside was amazing: not laundry, but hundreds of deer bones and antlers.

The tin laundry building
Antlers in the laundry - 1
Antlers in the laundry - 2
Antlers in the laundry - 3

Jaws Galore

Monday, September 29, 2014

More South Rona Panoramas

Here are some panorama photos I took while visiting South Rona. See the December 4, 2013 post for a few others. I have visited Rona five times over the past 20 years, and am looking forward to returning sometime in the next two years.

Rainbow over Dry Harbour 

Big Harbour seen from the top of the island
Braig seen from the Norse Tomb

North End Lighthouse View
An Teampull seen from Kyles Rona
An Teampull

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Green Ray - Sight Unseen

I have seen many ocean sunsets; always hoping to see the Green Ray. But I have yet to see it. One attempt was from beautiful Halaman Bay on the west of Barra. It was a wonderful sunset, but no ray appeared. The last photo is, of course, doctored. Someday I hope to see the real thing.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Sandray Sortie

Sandray is a big island: too big to see in just one day trip, but that's all I've managed to do so far. A couple of years ago I went to Barra for a week, hoping to get day trips to Sandray, Pabbay and Muldonaich. But the weather was awful. Pabbay and Muldonach were not to be, but on my last day on Barra the sea and wind calmed, and Donald Macleod, skipper of Boy James, said he could drop me on Sandray for a couple of hours. 

But I had to make a choice. Should Donald drop me on the sandy east side of Sandray, or the rocky west? A hard choice, indeed. I ended up choosing the west as, in the limited time I'd have, it would allow me to see the settlement site of Sheader, the fort of Dun Sandray, and climb to the top of the island.

Here are some photos from that quick wander around the west of Sandray. I did not like having to rush, and I plan to return in 2016 for a more leisurely visit.

Dun Sandray - east end of Pabbay in the distance
Vatersay seen from the summit of Sandray
Mingulay, Pabbay, Greanamul and Lingay seen from the summit of Sandray
Late afternoon view of Sheader beach
Sheader village ruins
Return to Castlebay

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Mealista is one tough island to get to. I first saw it from the slopes of Griomabhal, during a hike to the Ardveg. Its golden beach was shining in the sun, and I promised myself that someday I would visit the island.

That promise has not been kept - yet. Sitting off the remote west corner of Lewis, it is far from any port, so day trips are rare. The Islands Book trust occasionally organizes a trip from Huisinish, and I signed up for one last year.  But the trip was called off due to stormy weather.  

A second attempt was made last August, when I was on a cruise with Northern Lights. We set off from Scarp, hoping to spend a few hours on Mealasta. But the sea was too lumpy to safely land.

Mealasta was once inhabited, and one of the strangest island tales I've heard, the story of the Pairc Murders, involved men from the island. In the late 1700s, a ship carrying timber, manned by men from Mealasta, sheltered from a storm in Bagh Ciaraich (in the Pairc, on the east side of Lewis). The crew was murdered, and their cargo stolen. See this link for the complete story.

Here is a photo of Mealasta taken from the heights of Scarp. Some day I hope to try again to set foot on Mealista of the golden sands.

Mealasta as seen from Scarp - its beach, on the shore facing Lewis, is not visible in the photo

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eabhal Views

Eabhal is a landmark visible from most of North Uist. Seeing it is easy, climbing it is not so easy. At 1138 feet, the difficulty is not its height. The difficulty is getting to the base of the mountain, as it lies some three miles from the nearest road.  But the long walk in is worth it, for as you climb the mountain the vast, loch-spattered interior of North Uist slowly comes into view. Here are some photos of that view. 

The first is looking to the northwest over Loch Obasaraigh.

Looking northwest from the slopes of Eabhal

The second view is looking north to Burabhal (aka Little Eabhal). The hill beyond it is Li a'Deas (South Lee). South Lee is another hard to reach island hill, requiring a long walk over tough terrain. It, too, is a walk worth taking; especially as along the way you will see the amazing causewayed duns of Loch Hunder (last photo). 
Looking north from the slopes of Eabhal
The causewayed duns of Loch Hunder

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Airidhean a' Bhaig

The Shiants are a special place, and my favorite spot there is the most isolated place on these isolated islands: Airidhean a' Bhaig, the pasture-land of the Bay. The 'bay' is the sheltered sea that lies between Eilean an Tighe, Garbh Eilean and Eilean Mhuire. Airidhean a' Bhaig (which Adam Nicolson referes to as 'Bagh' in his book Sea Room) lies on a level patch of ground at the northeast tip of Garbh Eilean.

Airidhean a' Bhaig seen from Eilean Mhuire
Airidhean a' Bhaigh seen from the northern slopes of Garbh Eilean - Eilean Mhuire in the distance
I had been to the Shiants several times without ever having set foot in Airidhean a' Bhaig. So on a visit to the the Shiants in 2013 I asked Mark Henrys, skipper of Halmar Bjorge, to set me ashore near the puffin colony on Garbh Eilean. After seeing the puffins I intended to climb to the top of the island, cross over to the south end, and then descend to the shore via the Eiger Pass (see December 2, 2013 post). Mark told me that I would see something quite special above the puffin colony, and he was right.

There is a small beach below the puffin colony, and once ashore it was an easy climb up to a level patch of verdant ground, covered by dozens of overgrown cultivation ridges to the north, and the massive puffin colony to the south.

The landing place at Bagh
Looking south from the puffin colony to the isthmus between Garbh Eilean and Eilean a' Tighe
The puffins
After spending some quality time with the puffins, I climbed a little further and discovered something amazing. At the time I thought it was a Beehive Cell. But after re-reading Sea Room I learned that it may be the remains of a medieval farm.  Here is what Nicolson has to say about the settlement at Bagh:

...you can still see the footings of the farmstead on the rich ground just beside the natural arch on Garbh Eilean: a house, a barn, a byre and a garden enclosure, just uphill from a fresh-running spring.

The ruins at Bagh
Bagh would be an amazing place to camp, and I hope to do that someday: to see puffins fill the sky at dusk, and to see a sunrise from here such as Adam Nicolson describes in Sea Room:

... dawn over the mainland of Scotland, the tangerine sun lifting up over the ragged mountains in Torridon thirty miles to the east with slabs of orange light daubed across the Minch at your feet.

Settlement site at Bagh seen from the climb to the top of Garbh Eilean

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Annat - Shiant Isles

There are several 'Annat' sites in the islands, and I have been fortunate to have visited the ones on Skye, Killegray, and Garbh Eilean of the Shiants. According to the 8th century Sencheus Mor (a collection of the early laws of Ireland, see page 65 of this link) Annat means:

'...the church in which the patron-saint was educated, or in which his relics were kept, and it ranked first among the various classes of churches.'

The Annat of Garbh Eilean is one of the earliest settlement site on the Shiants, and lies nestled in a beautiful spot at the foot of a glen on the west side of the island. And if the sea is calm it is also the easiest place to get ashore, as there are rock slabs that are easy to step onto from a boat. A small stream drains the glen. Just above where it reaches the sea there are remnants of a man-made platform, some 100-feet across, which may have been the foundation of a neolithic house. Although a sheep fank has been built on the site, you can still see the overall layout of the original settlement in the first photo.

Annat of Garbh Eilean

Adam Nicholson, in his book on the Shiants (Sea Room), discusses the possibility that this spot was the site of a religious settlement, and perhaps a hermitage for St Beccan, who is usually associated with the island of Rum. To quote Nicholson:

The lovely Annat on Garbh Eilean is just the place a Beccan might have chosen: good soil, good water, a place where you can bring a boat alongside... People had lived there before and there was building stone to hand.

The next photo shows the foundation of what may have been a bronze age roundhouse and a small enclosure to keep animals. I can picture St Beccan, some 1200 years ago, discovering this peaceful spot, and making use of the roundhouse as his disert, his hermitage in the sea.

Roundhouse ruin at Annait

Thursday, September 4, 2014

St Charmaig's Cave - Eilean Mor

Tiny Eilean Mor of St Charmaig lies two miles off the coast of Knapdale. If you do not know anyone with a boat the only way to see it is via a private charter. It is a remarkable island, both for the church ruin, and the cave of St Charmaig with its two incised crosses. I wanted to visit the island after reading about it in MEM Donaldson's epic tome Further Wanderings; Mainly in Argyll (1926). In it she describes two visits to the island and her descent into the dark pit of St Charmaig's cave.

I wanted to drop down into the cave, too. But when I looked inside I saw that the cave floor was eight feet below the entrance. It would be an easy drop down, but there was no way I could pull myself back up. (The boatman had to pull MEM Donaldson out of the pit). And so I settled for sitting on the lip of the entrance to take photos of the incised crosses on the cave's wall. Here are some photos of my visit to the cave.

Historic Scotland reader board below St Charmaig's Cave
St Charmaig's Cave
One of the two crosses incised on the cave wall

The two crosses