Friday, November 14, 2014

The Prison - Canna

My first visit to Canna lasted 45 minutes. It was in 1997, and my wife and I were returning from a week long stay on Rum. On the way to Mallaig the ferry stopped briefly at Canna, and I dashed ashore, intent on seeing An Coroghan, also known as 'The Prison'. (See book 1, chapter 29.)

An Coroghan
The Prison (upper left of the stack)
I wanted to climb this 80-foot-high stack to see the small fortification that stands atop it; a mini-castle built some 400 years ago, that Sir Walter Scott mentions in The Lord of the Isles:

From Canna's tower that, steep and grey,
Like falcon-nest o’erhangs the bay.
Seek not the giddy crag to climb
To view the turret scathed by time:
It is a task of doubt and fear
To aught but goat or mountain deer

It took 10 minutes to walk from the pier to the base of the Prison. But when I reached it I noticed this tiny sign staked to the ground.

Having thought about it for years, I was tempted to climb the stack anyway. But there was a family with children picnicking on the nearby beach. They would witness my 'transgression', and so I decided not to climb up.

Looking up the steep approach to The Prison
I returned to Canna five years later, thinking that the castle, and the steep trail up to it, would have been stabilized by then; but no, that little sign was still there. I decided to scramble up to the tower's entrance anyway, and then crawled on up to the flat top of the stack.

The Prison seen from the nearby hillside
The Prison seen from the small beach to the east

Ancient oak lintel above the entrance

Was I wrong to climb to the castle? Maybe. But I doubt if it will ever be shored up, as it would be an expensive proposition (and they'd never collect any admission fees). In 2007 I returned for a third visit to show the Prison to a friend from Wales. It had been 10 years since my first visit, and that little sign was still there. (I'm guessing it's there now.)

Be careful if you decide to make the climb, and do not touch or step on any of the crumbling stonework. If you do get up there, here is the view over Canna Harbour that awaits you from the top.

The view towards Canna Harbour from the top of The Prison

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