Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wanderings on Raasay - A Walk to Eilean Tighe

Two weeks ago I made a walk I'd wanted to do for many years. Back in 2007 Bill Cowie (of South Rona) sent me a copy of Julia Mackenzie's book Whirlygig Beetles and Tackety Boots, in which she describes her life on Eilean Tighe and at Kyle Rona. While at Kyle her father, Norman Cumming, was the postman who rowed to South Rona to deliver mail to the residents of Rona and the lightkeepers at its far, north end. The book is wonderful. And in it she tells her story during a walk from Arnish to Eilean Tighe. I wanted to make that walk myself, so two weeks ago my wife and I went to Raasay for a few days. The weather had been terrible for a week, but the day I'd set aside for the walk dawned with beautiful blue skies. And so I eagerly drove north to Brochel Castle, and then followed Calum's Road to Arnish.

The route to Eilean Tighe from Arnish
Start of Calum's Road from Brochel to Arnish
Brochel Castle
From the end of the road at Arnish I set out along the path to Torran Schoolhouse (now a self catering house).  As the sign shows, I had about 8 km to go. I had not studied the map very carefully, and what I thought was going to be an easy, level stroll, turned out to be five miles of ups and downs separated by stretches of soupy bog.

Start of the path at Arnish - five miles to go
A short way into the walk the path forked, the route to the left led to the tidal island of Fladda, but I took the route to Kyle Rona and Eilean Tighe, which headed uphill to the right.

Path Junction at Torran - left to Fladda, right (and uphill) to Kyle Rona and Eilean Tighe
A mile later I came to another junction, where the path to Fladda rejoins the one to Rona. It had been raining for a week, and this stretch was a swamp.

Swampy junction with the Fladda path - three miles to go to Eilean Tighe
After another mile of gradual climbing the path reached its highest point (700 feet) at Faireadh an Da Mhuir (view of the two seas), where you can see both coasts of Raasay. From there the descent was gradual for the most part, but there was a steep section down a narrow slot in the rocks called Bealach a' Chruidh (cattle gap). It had been paved with stones to keep it from turning into a slide; stones solidly packed underfoot by years of cattle (and people) passing through. 

The cobbled (sort of) path down Bealach a' Chruidh (cattle gap)
The steep end of Bealach a' Chruidh
Soon I rounded a corner and came to Taigh an Achaidh (the house of the field), also known as Kyle Rona House. The only photos I'd seen of the house were the ones in Julia Mackenzie's book, but the house has deteriorated a lot since then (the northern half of the roof has collapsed). Julia, on her walk to the house (in what I'm guessing was in the late '90s) was disappointed to see how it had been taken over by shepherds and used to store wool. She would be even more disappointed to see it today, as with the collapsed roof the interior is pretty much ruined.

An t-Achadh (the field) with Taigh an Achaidh
Kyle Rona House on the cover of Whirlygig Beetles and Tackety Boots (Julia Mackenzie)
Kyle Rona House (May 31, 2015)
From the house the path descended to the shore opposite Eilean Tighe. About halfway there it passed Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh, once the house of Norman Mackenzie. It was a ruin when Julia Mackenzie passed by, but since then it has been fixed up into a very nice bothy.

Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh bothy
Inside the bothy
The path ended a half mile north of the bothy at a landing place for small boats. From there a vague trail led me 500 feet west to the narrowest part of the tidal channel that separates Raasay from Eilean Tighe.

Eilean Tighe
The walk had been timed to arrive at lowest tide, and the only challenge getting across was finding a place to get down to the shore. There I came across the remnants of An Stairean, a causeway of boulders that may have once allowed crossing at all but the highest of tides. It was extremely uneven, and the last bit, just before it reached Eilean Tighe, has washed away. But I did not need to use it. The tide was low, and it was an easy (but slippery) walk across the seaweed covered channel.

The crossing to Eilean Tighe at low tide
What's left of An Stairean - a small causeway to Eilean Tighe
Once on Eilean Tighe I followed the coastline north to the ruin of the house where Julia Mackenzie had been born in 1923. Her family lived here until they moved to Kyle Rona House when she was nine-years-old. It must have been an amazing childhood, growing up in this wonderful setting.

The main house on Eilean Tighe
It was almost time to start back, but I wanted to end the walk at the highest point of Eilean Tighe, so I carried on until I found an easy route to the top. The view was amazing: Raasay lay spread out to the south, and to the north I could see much of South Rona. Directly across the water, a kilometer to the northeast, was Rona's An Teampull, a beautiful little chapel that I've hiked to several times over the years.

Looking south to Kyle Rona from the top of Eilean Tighe
The chapel of An Teampull (South Rona) seen from the summit of Eilean Tighe (zoom)
From the top of Eilean Tighe I enjoyed the view for a while, along with a beer. When the time came to leave, worried about the tide, I hurried to the crossing. But I need not have worried, as the tide was still low. The views were completely different as I walked back to Arnish, and I enjoyed the return trip as much as the walk out. 

If you are looking for a wonderful hike I can recommend no better day out than the trek to Eilean Tighe. But be sure to read Julia Mackenzie's book first (which you can get here or maybe here); then get yourself to Raasay, check out the tides, put on some sturdy waterproof boots, and do it!

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