Saturday, March 29, 2014

South Rona is Popular

In looking at my blog statistics I've noticed that posts on South Rona have seen the most visitors - and not by a little, but by a factor of 10. That is understandable, as Rona is an amazing place. Over the past 20 years I've had the privilege of visiting Rona five times, and two of those visits were week-long stays. For more on Rona see this link about staying on the island, and this link to read Bill Cowie's Rona blog.

Below are a few more photos from South Rona.

Fiona and Donald Macalman (the island managers in 1995) at Rona Lodge
Donald Macalman sees us off from the landing in Big Harbour - this was in 1995, before the pontoon dock was built
View towards Big Harbour from atop Meall Acairseid
My wife inside Church Cave
Schoolhouse ruin - Dry Harbour
Looking north from the hills above Loch Braig
Village ruins above Dry Harbour - you will see a house just about everywhere you look
Cattle grazing in the early morning
Rainbow over Dry Harbour seen from Escape Cottage
An Teampull - Chapel at the south end of Rona
A visitor admires the lush grass around Escape Cottage (we quickly learned not to leave the gate open)
Rona light seen from atop Commando Hill 
That's my name for it (due to the Bren gun shell casings that litter the summit)
The view from Escape Cottage
Bill Cowie (Rona island manager) waves goodbye to us at the end of a week long stay (2007)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Livingstone's Cave - Ulva

On a summer walk on Ulva I followed the Livingstone Tail. It took me down a treed glen to the sea. Halfway down the glen the trail passed through an old settlement called Tobhta Livingstone, where the great-grandfather of Dr. David  Livingstone farmed in the 1700s. I believe the name Livingstone was adopted by the clan Mac Dhunnshleibhe (aka Mcleay) after the Livingstones became the rulers of nearby Lismore in the 1600s.

In the cliff face above the old settlement was Livingstone's Cave, and I spent some time exploring it. The cave has been extensively studied, and traces of occupation there date to around 6000 BC. 

For a map showing the route to the cave see this link. For a description of excavations in the cave see this link.

The head of the glen that the Livingstone Trail descends - Inchkenneth in the middle distance
Entrance to the cave
Remnants of excavation work in the cave

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Starvation Terrace - Ulva

On my first visit to Ulva I walked the north road to pay a visit to Gometra. Along the way I noticed a string of abandoned houses above the shore near Ardglass Point. I knew nothing about them at the time, so I did not make the effort to descend through rough ground to see them.

Shortly after my visit I learned that this isolated settlement was called 'Starvation Terrace'. Here is a brief description of its history from the forargyll.com website:

'By 1848 the population (of Ulva) was down to 150. By 1921 nine of the townships were in ruins. Five more were inhabited by a single family and one by two families. Those who could not be cleared, because, old or disabled, no place elsewhere could be found for them in Scotland, Canada or Australia, were gathered together in a terrace of low houses at Ardglass Point. They were left to eke out what they could from the seaweed and the winkles on the shore. That terrace, for good reason, is known as Starvation Terrace and has usurped the name of the Point, now generally referred to as Starvation Point.'

After learning the history I wanted to return to see the ruins of Starvation Terrace. Ten years would pass, but finally, in 2010, on a cruise through the Inner Hebrides, we were set ashore at Starvation Point for a walk on Ulva. Once ashore we climbed through soggy fields to reach the string of roofless houses. They presented quite a sad sight, especially in light of their history. Here are a few photos of Starvation Terrace from 2010.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ian Latharna Caimbeul - John Lorne Campbell

August 14, 2013 was a miserable day at first. A cold wind and non-stop rain were sweeping over Canna. I had a few hours to spend on the island, and after phoning home from the shelter of the red-box, I put on waterproofs and started walking to the old burial ground. Over the years I've visited it several times, but I'd always walked there by crossing open fields and skirting the edge of the nearby woodland.

But with the heavy rainfall and wind I decided to cut through the woodland to take advantage of the natural shelter. I soon found a path through the trees that appeared to have been recently made, and started to follow it. As I was walking through the woods I came upon a solitary tombstone. It had a simple inscription:

Ian Latharna Caimbeul
1.10.1906    25.4.1996
Fear Chanaidh

It was the grave of John Lorne Campbell. In all my wanderings on Canna over the years I'd never walked this way. I'd been cursing the bad weather, but it had been a blessing: otherwise I would not have found his grave. Campbell died in Italy in 1996, and was buried there. But his body was returned to Canna in 2006. For the story of Campbell's life see The Man Who Gave Away His Island, by Ray Perman.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wallaby Island

I think I must be the only one who has been on Inchconnachan that has never seen one of it famous wallabies. The wallabies were brought to the island, which is in Loch Lomond, in the 1940s, and they've run wild since then. Hoping to get a few photos of a wallaby I was dropped off on the north end of the island. Camera in hand, I started walking to the south end, but there was nary a wallaby to be seen. Thinking my movement was scaring them away, I sat down quietly in a few spots along the way, hoping for one to hop by. But it was not to be. 

If you can't make it to Inchconnachan there are lots of YouTube videos (like this one) of them hopping around the island. A few years ago there was an attempt to eradicate the wallabies; the reason was that they're 'non-native'.  I'm not sure, but I believe they finally gave up trying to kill them. Here are a few photos from my wallaby-less walk across the beautiful island of Inchconnachan. 



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Vandals Everywhere

We've all see evidence of vandalism, but when you come across it on a remote island it truly makes you wonder what drives people to do thoughtless things.

Over the years I've been to Canna several times; and seeing little Canna chapel, with its bell tower that's reminiscent of the great Irish round towers, is always a highlight. Sadly, like St Edward's Church on adjacent Sanday, this beautiful chapel has been the victim of vandals over the years. 


I always thought it would be great fun to climb the bell-tower. But on each visit to Canna I would find the door to the tower locked. However, on a visit in May of 2008, I entered the chapel and saw that someone had pried open the tower door; and in doing so had damaged its iron hinges.

The forced open tower door 
The rusty hinges were bent such that the door could not be closed. I stuck my head in to look up into the tower and take a photo (below). In the photo you can see the bell-rope, and the stepping stones embedded in the tower that allow someone to climb to the bell. I could not resist the temptation, so I used the stepping stones to climb to the top.


On my last visit to Canna (August of 2013) I entered the chapel and saw that the tower door had still not been repaired. But it has been pushed in enough to prevent someone from entering the tower (unless they're inclined to cause more damage by forcing it open a few more inches). Hopefully the door will get fixed in honor of the chapel's 100th birthday (which is this year).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Inner Meaning

Here is a Rorschach test. Tell me what is is - there's only one right answer.


The answer is, of course: I feel an intense desire to climb Eabhal; to return to na h-Eileanan an Iar, the Isles of the West, to spend a night afloat on a calm Loch Euphort. Then I'd be set ashore in the morning to make the long climb up Eabhal where, up top, I'd soak in the sight of the loch-spattered interior of North Uist. Then, back aboard the boat for the night, I'd listen to the seals sing as the sun sets over the western sea.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Sad Sight - 1

Sometimes, while wandering on the islands, you come across a sad sight (or is it a sad site?). Here is one of them: the empty cross socket atop Tor an Ab, the hillock of St Columba on Iona. One wonders what work of art and faith once stood here, but was destined to stolen by thieves or destroyed by vandals.

Empty cross-socket on Tor an Ab - Isle of Iona

Friday, March 14, 2014

Corodail - South Uist

If you’ve read the adventures of Prince Charlie, you know of his travels through the islands from April to July of 1746. Constantly eluding pursuers, he stayed in 20 places in 70 days, with just one respite: three weeks in Glen Coradail.

Coradail was, and is, an excellent bolt hole; a natural fortress guarded by Gèideabhal, Hecla, and Teach an Truibhais; a trinity of peaks praised in Beanntan Uibhist (The Bens of Uist), by the poet Dòmhnall Iain MacDòmhnaill:

Tha Gèideabhal nan geur-chlach cas
Mar leug ‘s i laist an òr-fhainne;
Tha Heacal chiar nan strìochdan glas
Na siantan bras cha leòn iad i:
Tha Teach an Triubhais dùmhail trom,
Le cìrean tollach cleòcanach,
A’ sgurrachadh suas le uaill bha ‘barr,
‘S gur dual dha plàsta ceò bhith air.

Gèideabhal of the sharp, steep rocks
Is like a jewel shining in a gold ring;
Dark Hecla of the grey streaks
Proof against the blustering elements:
Teach an Truibhais is bulky, thickset,
With a ragged, mantled crest,
Towering proudly at its top,
Usually tipped with mist.

 Two of these mountain names may not sound familiar: Gèideabhal and Teach an Truibhais.  Gèideabhal, which I think means 'Goat peak', is the old name for Beinn Mhor, the highest hill on S. Uist. Teach an Truibhais is the old name for Ben Chorodail, and means 'the crotch of the trousers'. 

The reason for the strange name is readily apparent when you look at the OS map of Coradail. If you do, you’ll see two ridges arcing towards each other that meet at the knobby tip of Beinn Corodail. This terrain looks like a pair of pants. The two ridges are Cas fo Dheas and Cas fo Tuath (the south leg and the north leg), and Beinn Choradail was once called Teach an Truibhais – the crotch of the trousers.


The people of Coradail were evicted in the 1920s. Their ruined houses still stand, and all around them are the remnants of cultivated fields. Above the ruins on the north side of the glen there's a small cave; Uamh a’ Phrionnsa (The Prince’s Cave). But the Prince did not stay there. He stayed in a forester’s cottage on the south side of the glen.  Below are some photos of Corodail I took during a camping trip in 2012.



Campsite extraordinaire - looking east to Rubha Hellisdale
Another view of the campsite - looking up the glen towards the Forester's Cottage
This is marked on the OS map as the Prince's Cave - but he did not stay here
Probable site of the Forester's Cottage
The Prince's Pool below the Forester's Cottage - that's my name for it, but it would certainly be a nice spot to bathe
Time to head back - the ridge to Glen Hellisdale - 6 hours later I would reach the road

Monday, March 10, 2014

Gamekeeper's Track

Often, while hiking through remote areas in the islands, you'll come across quad bike tracks. Typically made by gamekeepers, they are laid out to avoid steep terrain and the worst of the bogs. They are by no means the shortest route distance-wise, but time-wise they are often your best bet. 

On South Uist a series of these tracks cross almost the entire east coast from south of Corodale north to Uisinis. A couple years ago I followed one to remote Glen Corodale, where I wanted to spend the night on the spot where Prince Charlie hid for three weeks in 1746. Several sections of this track cross some steep terrain. To get up these challenging sections the gamekeeper has built several long, wooden ramps. At the top of the steepest ramps, a sturdy iron spike, with an eye-bolt at the top, is set in the earth; so if needed, the quad bike can winch itself to the top.

In the first photo you can see the quad-bike track as it winds up and down (and up and down), the seemingly endless series of ridges between Glen Corodale and Glen Hellisdale. The second photo shows one of the wood ramps. Next time we'll see what's at the end of the track in Glen Corodale.

Gamekeeper track to Corodale (see white arrows)
Quad bike ramp below Beinn Mhor on the way to Corodale

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tents - Two

I have two tents I use for backpacking trips. One, a tiny Eureka Zephyr, has been with me for nearly 15 years. Aside from a few dozen locations in the Cascade Mountians of Washington State, it has been pitched on St Kilda; six sites on Lewis (Crola, Ben Isobhal, Aird Bheg, Aird Mhor, Ardroil, and Upper Fidigidh); two sites on South Uist (Glen Corodale and Creag Spuir); Sgail-Saile on the east side of North Uist; and near Dun Ban on the west side of Barra.

Aside from being tiny, the Zephyr has one major flaw; its rain fly acts as a sail, and if the wind hits it side-on it tends to lean over. On one occasion, gale force winds hit in the middle of the night. I'd done a poor job of staking it down and the tent blew over. Then the tent, with me in it, rolled about 15 feet. I had to sit out the rest of the stormy night rolled up in the tent; for if I'd gotten out it would have blown away. That said, it's still a great tent - light and easy to set up - and I now pay extra attention when I stake it down. Here are some photos of the Zephyr in action.

The Zephyr in the moorland above Ardroil (Lewis) - Loch Stacsabhat in the distance
The Zephyr at Crola (Lewis)
The Zephyr at Corodale (S. Uist)
The Zephyr at Corodale
Behind it is the site of the cottage where Prince Charlie stayed for three weeks
The Zephyr atop Ben Isobhal - Kinlochresort below, the hills of Harris in the distance
The Zephyr at St Kilda
The Zephyr at Ardveg (2001)


The Zephyr at Ardveg again (2016)

The Zephyr (and a friend) at Aird Mhor (Lewis) - the scant remains of the 12-chambered beehive are in the beach rocks to the right)  )
The Zephyr at Aird Mhor (just visible at the lower left) - the hill of Taran Mor in the distance
The Zephyr at Sgal-Saile (N. Uist)
The Zephyr near Upper Fidigidh (Lewis)
The Zephyr on the west coast of Barra 
The Zephyr at Creag Spuir (S. Uist) - Maol na h-Ordaig in the distance
The Zephyr on the western shore of Blake Island State Park

The Zephyr on the eastern shore of Blake Island State Park
My second tent is an REI Quarter Dome. It is more spacious than the Zepher, but has only seen two Scottish islands: Inchtavannach of Loch Lomond, and Jura. I bought it because, as I got older, I decided the extra weight was worth the added comfort. I now take the Quarter Dome on all my US backpacking trips, but I only took it to Scotland twice, as the smaller Zephyr is easier when I'm flying and luggage space is at a premium. Here are some photos of the Quarter Dome in action.

The Quarter Dome at Jura's Na Rubhachan Dona (the evil headland) - overlooking Corryvreakan
The Quarter Dome at Jura's-Bagh Gleann nam Muc (Scarba in distance)
The Quarter Dome on the north shore of Inchtavannach (Loch Lomond)

The Quarter Dome pitched atop Tom na Clag (the hill of the bell) - Inchtavannach