Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Viking Canal - Skye

Some sources say that the Viking canal of Rudha an Dunain (Skye), which links Loch na-Airde to the sea, could be 1000 years old. I came across it on a walk to see the nearby promontory fort of Rudha an Dunain. When I was there the canal was mostly dry, and it looked like it would take an extremely high tide to fill it. It may be that the Norse only used it to get their boats into the loch for safekeeping in the winter, and possibly for putting newly built boats into the sea.

A walk to Rudha an Dunain is a must; for in addition to the canal and fort, there is a passage grave and the ruins of a township, once home to the MacAskills, Macleod's watchmen of the coast. See this RCAHMS page for a detailed description of this fascinating site.

Loch na-Airde and the canal
The canal - 1
The canal - 2

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When You Wish Upon a ...

There are a few wishing stones scattered around the Hebrides, and a wish I made at one of them actually came true. 

The wish I made while seated on the Brownie's Stone of Cara did not come true. It was a hot day, and after taking a seat on the stone I made a wish. I then dug a can of beer out of my pack, only to find that my wish had not been granted, the beer was warm. Perhaps the Brownie does not of approve of drinking. Although warm, the beer still hit the spot.

Making a wish on the Brownie's Stone - Isle of Cara
On my first visit to Staffa I was so excited to see Fingal's Cave that I walked right past Fingal's Wishing Chair without noticing it. But on my next visit I took the time to sit in the chair and make a wish. That wish did come true, for when I went into Fingal's Cave I had it all to myself.

Fingal's Wishing Chair - Isle of Staffa
I am sure Robert Lewis Stevenson visited the Erraid Wishing Stone in his early days, but whether he stood on it and made a wish to be a writer, as is often said, I do not know. I have to admit that I did not stand on the stone, as that requires jumping over the small moat that surrounds it. Like the ringing stone on Tiree, the Erraid stone looks like a glacial erratic. I do not know if it also rings, but next time I'm on Erraid I'll find out.

Wishing Stone - Isle of Erraid

Monday, August 25, 2014

Scarba Bothy

Here are two photos of the bothy on Scarba. The first was taken in 2002, when I was set ashore to spend the day (see book 1, chapter 6). I took the second photo four years later from one of the Seafari boats that operate out of Easdale. Someday I hope to spend a couple of nights on Scarba. See this account of a group that did just that a few years ago.

Scarba bothy - 2002
Scarba bothy - 2006

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wildlife on Holy Isle

Aside from livestock, like cattle and sheep, there are other large animals you'll occasionally encounter while wandering on the Scottish Isles. I have come across wild goats on Islay, Mull, Cara and Jura, and horses while wandering on Muck and Eriskay. But there is only one island where I've encountered goats and horses at the same time, and that is Holy Island. You can read about the Eriskay ponies and the Saanen Goats that run free on Holy Island here, and below are some photos I took of them in 2002.

Saanen goat and kid meditating on the west coast
Saanen goat grazing above Pillar Rock lighthouse
Ponies grazing on the slopes above the Inner Light
Ponies grazing

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Uidhe Bothy - Taransay

It was back in 1992, while perusing the dusty shelves of a second-hand bookshop in Vancouver BC, that I first saw Seton Gordon's book Afoot in Wild Places (1937). The second chapter in the book is on Taransay, and in it was an amazing photo of St Taran's Cross at Uidhe; a 4-foot-tall standing stone with a large cross etched deeply on one side. The photo also showed a roofless, derelict croft house nestled at the base of the hill behind the cross.

I had to see the cross, but back then Taransay was, for me, as out of the way as the moon; I had no idea how I'd ever get there. But six years later, in 1998, I found myself on Harris after a planned trip to St Kilda fell apart. I was desperate to get to some remote islands, and so I managed to get to Taransay (see book 2, chapter 13).

The cross-stone was magnificent, and the derelict croft house behind it now had a roof, and had been fixed up as a bothy, I would later learn that this had been done by the Mountain Bothies Association in 1985. The Castaway TV show would invade Taransay after I visited, and the bothy was locked so that only participants in the show could use it. These days it remains unlocked, and below are some photos I took during visits in 2004 and 2011.

Note: The Mountain Bothies Association does not maintain the bothy. Uisinis on South Uist is the only one they have in the Western Isles (see Sept 18, 2013 post).

St Taran's Cross (2004) - Uidhe bothy in the distance
Uidhe bothy (2011)
Inside the bothy - 1
Inside the bothy - 2
Inside the bothy - 3

Friday, August 8, 2014

Carna - Loch Sunart - and the Lord of the Isles

Let me introduce you to the island of Carna, in Loch Sunart, with the following passage from Haswell-Smith's The Scottish Islands:

...the west side of Carna is steep and unwelcoming. Wet, slippery and boggy with abrupt rocky slopes covered in a profusion of flag irises, tufts of spagnum moss, bracken, grass and scrub birch.

How I wish I'd read this before my first visit to Carna. It was back in the spring of 2006, and I was on the boat Chalice. After anchoring in Loch Sunart, between Carna and Oronsay, most of the passengers were set ashore on Oronsay, but I asked to be dropped on Carna. And so the skipper, Chris Jackson, set me ashore on the west side of the island.

It was indeed unwelcoming terrain; steep, and covered with thick vegetation that hid treacherous holes in the ground. It was a tiring and slow slog to reach the high ground above the shore. But it was worth it. From up top I had panoramic views over Loch Sunart, Morvern, and Ardnamurchan. 

That was my first and, to date, only visit to Carna; however, my first 'encounter' with the island was in the early 90s, when I read Nigel Tranter's The Lord of the Isles (1983). The novel starts with a battle in Loch Sunart between Somerled (the Lord of the Isles), with his fleet of boats manned by army of Irish Gallowglasses (mercenaries), and Norsemen, who were occupying the nearby mainland. 

Somerled takes his fleet into the lagoon called Loch na Droma Buide, between Oronsay and the mainland (still a popular anchorage), and beaches his ships on the tidal island of Oronsay. At low tide his army marches across to the mainland and, with Carna dominating the skyline to the west, they proceed to Kinlochaline via the shores of Loch Teacuis, Loch Doire nan Mart and Loch Arienas. Somerled then proceeds to slaughter the Norsemen living in the Kinlochaline area, capturing some of their longships, and using those ships to make a raid into the Firth of Lorne to rout out more of the Norsemen.   

It was the memory of that exciting opening to Tranter's wonderful book, a book that tells the story of how the Lord of the Isles solidified his hold over the west of Scotland, that led me to ask to be set ashore on Carna. And I wanted to climb to the top to obtain a view over the terrain described in the opening sequence of Lord of the Isles.

From the highlands of Carna I could see down to Dailachreagain, Carna's main settlement area. Aside from not having much time, I was also too tired to walk down there and back. So I found a place to sit, enjoyed the view for a while, and then made my way slowly back down to the western shore.

Someday I hope to stay on Carna, as there is a holiday cottage for let (you can just see its roof to the left in the second photo). If you ever visit learn from my mistake, and go ashore on the east side. Below are a few photos from that all-too-short visit to Carna.

Looking north from the Carna highlands
Settlement site (Dailachreagain) - Carna
Atop Carna looking west up Loch Sunart - Eilean nan Eildean to the left, Oronsay to the right
Looking west up Loch Sunart - 2

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Long Lost Lines of Communication

War brought a series of telegraph lines to the remote west of Lewis. After the war they were left to rot, and it's an odd sight, as you walk across desolate moorland, to see them. Remnants of these lines lead to Kinlochresort from the north and west. Some of the poles still stand, but most have fallen; either rotting away on the turf, devoured by bog, or taken away for building material.

Several of the poles that still stand can be seen on the walk from Morsgail to Kinresort, and a dozen or so can be found east of Loch Grunavat. Here are some photos of the poles near Loch Grunavat (which is a easy walk from Hamanavay). As can be seen in the last photo, some of the abandoned poles have been reused to make quadbike bridges.

The leaning poles of Grunavat
Fallen pole near Loch Grunavat
Standing pole near Loch Grunavat
Pole bridge near the Morsgail Beehives

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Calum Ban MacKillop and the Macleod Gunnery - Berneray

I do not claim to know much about Calum Ban MacKillop of Berneray (1887-1937). I am only acquainted with him via a few, well written glimpses, in Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's Searching the Hebrides with a Camera (1933). In chapter 6 of the book, entitled Echoes of the Cromwellian Wars and the Jacobite Risings, MacGregor describes a walk on Berneray where he meets Calum Ban at an old building known as the gunnery of the MacLeods. MacGregor writes:

Here I am introduced to one Calum Ban MacKillop, whose very fair hair and bonnie blue eyes would put the spell on you. Calum Ban's eyes are the colour of forget-me-nots; and he is as fair as any Northman. This day he is eident with the hay-rake by an old building used as a barn in connection with the Town farm. This building is said to have been the gunnery of the MacLeods of Berneray. Placed above its entrance is a white marble slab bearing the Latin inscription, Hic natus est ille Normannus Macleod de Berneray, eques auratus - Here was born the illustrious Norman MacLeod of Berneray, a distinguished cavalier.

The gunnery
Calum Ban goes on to tell MacGregor the history of the 'gunnery', which I will not repeat here. This interesting structure, beside its use as a barn (see this RCAHMS link), may also have been an old chapel (see this RCAHMS link). 

Having read Searching the Hebrides with a Camera many times since acquiring it in 1992, I was excited when the opportunity arose to stay on Berneray in the late 90s as part of a trip to St Kilda. I wondered if Calum Ban might still be alive, maybe I could meet him. And I also wanted to duplicate MacGregor's photo of the gunnery, which included Calum Ban (see below).

When I was on Berneray I stayed at Burnside Croft, a B&B run, at the time, by Gloria and Don Alick 'Splash' MacKillop. I asked Splash about Calum Ban, and he told me Calum was his uncle, and that he passed away at the age of 50, only a few years after MacGregor's book came out. He told me where Calum's grave was, and so I set out to pay my respects to Calum Ban of the bonnie blue eyes.

Burnside Croft lies at the west end of Borve. From there I crossed the machair to the grand white-sand west beach of Beneray; one of the most beautiful in the world; a three mile stretch of brilliant white sand. From its north end I climbed to the trig point atop Beinn Shleibhe, the highest hill on Berneray, and then descended a ridge to the south east. Halfway to the shore I came to a small, walled cemetery. In it I found the grave of Calum Ban MacKillop.

Grave of Calum Ban MacKillop
I don't think there are many of us MacGregor devotees these days, and so I doubt that, aside from family, anyone visits Calum Ban's grave. I paid my respects to this man who'd inspired MacGregor to write of him, and then descended to the shore. A half mile walk south took me to Baile, at the north tip of Bays Loch. Here I found the MacLeod gunnery, looking mostly the same as it did in MacGregor's old photo. I put the camera in timer mode, and then took a photo of myself standing in the spot where Calum Ban posed some 65 years earlier.

MacGregor's photo of the gunnery in 1930s - Calum Ban Mackillop at right
Standing where Calum Ban stood - I wish I'd taken off the sunglasses
On the following day I set out on my first trip to St Kilda. As the sailboat Annag departed from Berneray Harbour I could just make out the little cemetery on the hill that I'd visited the day before, where Calum Ban rests in peace. I was so glad that MacGregor's book had inspired me to visit Berneray, where I'd met Gloria and Splash MacKillop, and found Calum Ban's grave. MacGregor's experiences on Berneray led me to experience the island. And, although I did not know it at the time, his books would eventually inspire me to write about my own island experiences; experiences that, I hope, will inspire others to see amazing islands like Berneray; to learn their history and meet their people.