Thursday, April 23, 2015

South Rona - The Whisky Isle

Port a' Chreadh, on the east coast of South Rona, was once the site of a whisky still. The name, Port a' Chreadh, means Port of Clay, which is usually assumed to mean Port of the Clay Pot. Few visitors to Rona make their way to Port a' Chreadh; for although it is only a quarter kilometre off the track to Dry Harbour, it is a hard, bush- and bog-whacking walk down through dense vegetation. It took me the better part of an hour to struggle through the forest and bog to reach the site.

Two whisky sites - South Rona
The walk down to Port a' Chreadh was worth it. Once I reached the shore I came to a beautiful small peninsula with landing places on its north and south sides. Whichever way the wind was blowing, you'd have an option to get ashore, or set out to sea with a load of hooch.

North Landing - Port a' Chreadh
South Landing - Port a' Chreadh
Somewhere here was 'The House of the Black Pot', where the whisky was made. At Port a' Chreadh I did not find any ruins the size of a house, but I did find a small rectangular ruin, its stones covered in a thick cloak of moss. Perhaps the still was here.

Ruin of small square building at Port a' Chreadh - could this have been the site of the whisky still?
Alasdair Alpin Macgregor, in his Over the Sea to Skye, talks a bit about the whisky distilling and smuggling around Rona, and you can read an excerpt from it here. (It was this story that made me want to visit Port a' Chreadh.) There were several distilling sites on Rona, and another was at Acairseid Fhalaich (the Hidden Harbour), four km to the north. These days no whisky is made on Rona (that I know of...), but at the same link above you can read about a special bottling of Edradour Whisky that commemorates Rona's history of whisky making.

I did see something strange at Port a' Chreadh: a thick electrical cable that came ashore and disappeared under the turf to the west. It appeared to head up the treed glen to Meal Acairsaid, the highest point on Rona, and made me wonder if it was an old power cable to a beacon on the hill. Any one out there know what it was?

Old cable from the mainland to Rona
Next time I'm on Rona I hope to get up north to Acairseid Fhalaich - the hidden harbour - to search for the site of the other still. Maybe the MOD (now Qinetiq) guys, whose base is only 500 feet away, are carrying on the tradition.

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