Friday, February 28, 2014

Climbing Ailsa - 4

After leaving the lighthouse I started to make my way to the top of the island, an 1100 foot climb. A third of the way up I reached Ailsa Castle. For a short summary of what's known about this little stronghold see this link.



The ground and first floor were intact and I climbed the circular stairway as high as I could.


A window opening on the first floor gave a great view down to the lighthouse.


Time was short, and I still had a steep 700 foot climb ahead of me to get to the top of the island. So I left the castle and followed a trail that climbed straight up to another section of level ground. Here I came across the castle well. It was full of clear water, but with all the birds flying overhead I was not tempted to take a drink. My thirst, however, would soon be slaked by something much better. In my pack was a can of beer I planned to savour while sitting on the trig pillar at the summit.

The well
The summit was now within striking distance. Next time we'll see what the view looks like from the top.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Climbing Ailsa - 3

From the trolley engine house I followed the overgrown rail line to the lighthouse enclosure. You can just barely see the rail line as it curves to the left in the lower right of the photo.


The outer buildings in the lighthouse enclosure were a sad sight. Built in the 1880s, they were derelict and open.


The inner buildings of the enclosure were ship-shape: freshly painted and locked up tight.  Although the tower was surprisingly short, about 36 feet, its light can be seen for 17 miles.


Here you can see the solar panels that power the light. If you want to read an interesting account of what it was like to be a keeper on this once rat-infested island, see Peter Hill's book Stargazing.


On the hillside behind the light I found the path that climbs to the castle. The castle lies at an elevation of 400 feet, and halfway up I turned to look back to the lighthouse. From a distance it made quite a picturesque sight, the dereliction almost invisible.


Although it was only a 400 foot climb, because of the heat I had to rest a few times. But they were short rests. I needed to rush. I only had a few hours, and after exploring the castle I wanted to climb to the top of the island (about 1100 feet). As I followed the path upwards the little castle soon appeared against the skyline. Next time we'll step into the castle to see what it looks like.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Climbing Ailsa - 2

As I mentioned last time, I visited Ailsa Craig in the off-season. That meant it cost a chunk of money to get there because I was the only one in Girvan that week who wanted to go to the island. But on the plus side, although it was expensive, I would have the island to myself for a few hours. 

Getting ashore on Ailsa requires stepping across a slimy derelict dock originally built to land supplies for the lighthouse. Similar to the Flannan Isles lighthouse, the Ailsa lighthouse had its own little trolley line that started at the dock. In the second photo you can see the trolley rails leading out to the crane at the end of the dock. The landing place here was the scene of a short battle in 1592, when Hew Barclay, the Laird of Ladyland, was killed. For more on this see book 1, chapter 2.  

Approaching the old dock
The dock and trolley tracks
The crane on the dock
Once ashore I followed the overgrown rails to the trolley's engine house.
The engine house
The engine - it's seen better days
Laying upside down in the grass was the trolley car. It's obviously been a while since it's been used. If the rails were not under the turf I might have been able to go for a ride.

Trolley Car - it, too, has seen better days
It was a very hot day, so after pausing to shed a layer of clothes I continued along the overgrown tracks to the lighthouse enclosure - which we'll see next time.

Next up - the lighthouse

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Climbing Ailsa - 1

Over the next few posts we'll be climbing to the top of Creag Ealasaid (Ailsa Craig). The name means 'Elizabeth's Rock', and it is one of the best known Scottish isles. It is famous both as a landmark, and as a source of curling stones. Boat trips leave from Girvan, and the best time to go is in the summer, when the boat operators have lots of customers. If you go outside the high season (which I did), be prepared to pay a lot to get there.

Once we're ashore we will explore the lighthouse and castle, and then climb to the tip-top of the island.

Approaching Ailsa
Ailsa lighthouse and castle

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lismore Day Trip - 4

After my failure to get to Bernera of the Yew I started the climb to the Barr Mor, the highest point of Lismore. From the settlement of Achinduin, where I would stay at a Guest House eight years later, I made the easy climb to the top. 

Trig Pillar atop the Barr Mor
The Barr Mor stars in one of the chapters of Campbell Steven's wonderful book, The Island Hills; a chapter that had been one of the driving forces that made me want to visit Lismore. Steven has this to say of the climb up the Barr Mor: '...it provides no meal for the mountianeer, not even a boulder problem to whet the cragsman's appetite. It is in fact a real lazy man's paradise, like Iona's Dun I, or Windy Hill on Bute; the way to its cairn, from whichever direction one approaches, is no more than a stroll. Yet your Lismore resident is as proud of his hill as any Chamoniard of Mont Blanc.'

After having walked some four miles, and still having a few more to get back to the ferry, I was glad it was a lazy man's stroll to get to the top of the island. Even though it was overcast, the view was expansive, and just offshore to the east I could see the 60-foot tower-rock on little Eilean na Cloiche. 


The next photo is the same view on a bright spring evening eight years later.


From the Barr Mor I descended to Kilcheren, and then followed the coast north to the ferry. It was difficult terrain: ridges of limestone hidden in tall grass that made for an ankle twisting obstacle course. It took an hour to cross the final mile to the ferry terminal, and I made it there just in time to catch the last ferry to Oban.

I'd had an amazing day afoot, and it remains one of my fondest memories of solo hiking in the islands. For a complete description of my walk on Lismore see chapter 25 of book 1.

MV Bruernish arriving at Lismore
Drying off in MV Bruernish on the way back to Oban

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lismore Day trip - 3

From Acadun Castle I headed west to the Bernera crossing. Bernera is also known as Bernera of the Noble Yew. As the story goes, Saints Moloug and Columba preached there under the branches of a large yew. My interest to visit the island was peaked when I obtained the Pathfinder Map of Duart Point (Mull).  Way up in the right corner of the map was tiny Bernera island, and marked on it were the words "Chapel and Burial Ground". I had never read anywhere that there had been a chapel on the island so, from that moment on, visiting Bernera became a must.

As I descended from the castle I could see all of Bernera except for the crossing point (to the right in the next photo). The tide must still be low, I thought. So thinking I'd be able to cross to the island I hurried towards the shore.

Looking to Bernera from Acadun Castle
But as I neared the crossing my hopes were dashed. The tide had begun to fill the channel that separates Bernera from Lismore (next photo). I might have been able to cross over, but I knew that if I did, after spending any appreciable amount of time on the island I'd have to wait for the next low tide to cross back. Unfortunately there was only one more ferry back to Oban. If I lingered too long I'd miss it. In a depressed state of mind I had to turn my back on Bernera to start the climb back towards the centre of the island. My next destination the Barr Mor, the tip-top of Lismore. 

Tide filling the crossing to Bernera

Note: I would return to Lismore eight years later to finally cross over to Bernera to find the chapel ruin, St Molaug's Well, and to see if there are any descendants of Columba's Noble Yew (see Book 1, Chapter 27).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lismore Day Trip - 2

The sea-fog was thick as the ferry approached Lismore. But soon the old pier house at Achnacroish came into sight to announce that the skipper had not lost his way.



Once ashore I made the easy, mile-long climb up to the main road that runs along the spine of the island. There were three things I wanted to do on Lismore: visit the ruin of Acadun Castle, walk to the tidal island of Bernera to see the site of Columba's Noble Yew, and then climb the Barr Mor, the islands highest point.

On reaching the main road I turned left (south) then, five minutes later, came to a small track at Baligrundle. It branched off to the west, and after following it for two miles the 13th century Achadun Castle came into view.


From where I was on the track I could not see any sort of path leading across the field to the castle, so it was time to go cross country. It was raining on and off, and the ground looked boggy, so I donned waterproofs and gaiters, and then set out across the open country to the castle. It was slow going; a mile of wet patches of tall grass set between a series of soupy bogs. As I continued to the southwest the castle, seen against the skyline, began to look quite dramatic. 


Once I climbed the knoll to the castle I could see that it was in a very ruinous state; jagged stumps of walls and towers ready to fall in a strong wind.


Acadun is also known as the Bishop's Palace, as it was once home to the Bishop of Argyll. Which was convenient as his Cathedral lay just a few miles to the north. For more information on the castle see this link, and for a description of a better way to reach the castle than my route back in 1998, see this link.

My next stop was to be the tidal island of Bernera, which lies a few hundred yards west of the castle. From atop the castle knoll I could not see the crossing point, but as I thought the tide was low I set out towards the crossing. I had high hopes to step onto an island I'd wanted to see for many years. But as you'll learn next time, those hopes would be dashed to bits.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lismore Day Trip - 1

Over the next few posts we'll make a wet walk across Lismore. It was raining buckets in Oban the first time I walked onto the ferry that travels between Oban and Lismore. On that occasion (way back in 1998) it was the MV Bruernish, one of the oldest Small Island Class ferries running at the time. These days I think she's operating the Clare Island run in Ireland. 

Once we get to Lismore we'll set out on foot to see the Bishop's Palace. After that we'll try to get over to the tidal islet known as Berneray of the Noble Yew.

Bruernish arriving at Oban

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

MV Loch Mor

The Loch Mor plied the seas between Mallaig and the Small Isles for many years until she was replaced by MV Loch Nevis in 2001. It was always an adventure getting to Rum, Eigg, and Muck on Loch Mor, because you would have to transfer to the small island flit boats to get ashore.

I sailed on Loch Mor three times; two were week-long visits to Rum in 1997 and 2000, where my wife and I stayed in the B&B rooms in the back of Kinloch Castle (book 1, chapter 28). Another time was in 1998, when I took the 5am Saturday sailing out of Mallaig to spend seven hours hiking on Rum (book 1, chapter 25).

Loch Mor is now called MV Jurassic Scene, and offers cruises in the south of England. Below are a few photos of Loch Mor from the journey to Rum in 1998. 

Aboard Rhouma (the Rum flit boat) as Loch Mor arrives in Loch Scresort (Rum)
Loch Mor in Loch Scresort
The Rhouma taking hikers ashore on Rum
Riding high atop Loch Mor after a day on Rum

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Barra Funeral

In June of 2010 my wife and I stayed for a week at the Craigard Hotel in Castlebay. The hotel is set in a great location, high above the harbour next to the Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church. One day we noticed that a hearse had pulled up to the church, and we were told that a funeral procession would be heading to the cemetery on Vatersay. Since we had planned on visiting Vatersay that day, we decided to get there in advance of the procession so that I could get some photos of the cars driving across the causeway.

Hearse at Our Lady, Star of the Sea
Here we see the procession crossing the Vatersay Causeway.
Across the causeway - 1
Across the causeway - 2
After the procession passed over the causeway my wife and I followed it across Vatersay's single track road. It was probably the most traffic the island had seen in a long time.

The procession winds along the single track to Vatersay's East Bay
The coffin was then carried across the machair into the Vatersay Burial Ground.

Vatersay Cemetery
At the time I had no idea who the funeral was for. Two years later, in 2012, I returned to find the grave. It was for a Jessie Campbell, who had died on the last day in May, 2010; just two days before we had arrived on Barra. Even though we did not know her, it was a privilege to have witnessed her funeral.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eabhal - North Uist

Here is a view of Eabhal taken from Loch Euphort (North Uist). The low peak to the left is Burabhal, more commonly referred to as Little Eabhal. I tried to climb Big Eabhal last year. I was set ashore near the base of Little Eabhal, and given three hours. The route to Eabhal is circuitous (you have to walk all the way around an inland loch). So it took me an hour just to reach the base of Eabhal. When turnaround time came I'd only made it to the 200 metre elevation (the mountain is 347 metres high). Someday I will try again.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Strone

Here are two photos of the strone: an overhanging cliff on Sron Ulladale (North Harris). It attracts rock climbers from around the world. I have always wanted to hike in to see it up close, but the nearest I've come is the shores of Loch Resort, three miles to the north. The first photo was taken at Crola on the north (Lewis) side of Loch Resort. It shows the ruins of Luachair and, rising behind it in the distance, Sron Ulladale can be seen. The second photo shows more of the strone, as it was taken from the high ground above Kinlochresort.

Someday I will see the strone up close by doing the classic North Harris triangle loop: head north from Miavaig to Loch Bhoshimid and then on to Kinlochresort. From there head south through Glen Ulladale past the strone to Glen Chliostair, which is followed to the sea at Amhuinnsuidhe. From there a three mile road walk returns you the the starting point. Eighteen hard miles, and best done as an overnighter so you can take your time. 

Luachair with the strone in the distance (left)
The strone

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Pabbay Tram

As I was wandering around Pabbay I came across this old wooden cart half buried in the turf above the shore. Its two iron wheels were rusted solid to a single axle, and I had no idea what it was. Any guesses?

Cart buried in the turf
Twenty minutes later, as I was searching for a way to get over to the nearby Roisinis headland, I noticed an odd slot in the bedrock leading down to the sea. On closer examination it was obviously man-made; a series of small steps hacked out of the rock. On each side of the steps there were grooves where wheels could roll. I then realized it was a tramway made for the cart I'd found in the turf; a way to get supplies up onto the island. An interesting find, and like nothing I've come across on any other Hebridean Isle.

Cart slot leading down to the sea

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Departure Lounge - St Kilda

I did not have enough frequent-floater miles to gain access. Maybe someday...

St Kilda Departure Lounge