Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pigmies Island

One of the first Hebridean books I acquired, back in the 1980s, was Alasdair Alpin Macgregor's Behold the Hebrides. One of its chapters has an intriguing title, one that certainly grabbed my attention at the time: The Isle of the Pigmies.

It described a tidal island off the coast of Lewis, near the Butt of Lewis, that Macgregor said you could visit at low tide. Its legend of pigmies came from the reported discovery, in the 1500s, of many small bones and skulls. The Gaelic word for pigmie is Luspardan, and if you look at the modern OS map of Lewis you will find the island marked as Luchruban at NB 507 661, a kilometre SW of the Butt.

Location of Luchruban
In the early 1900s William Cook Mackenzie explored the island, and wrote about it in the Proceedings of Scottish Antiquaries, which you can find here. Mackenzie did not find any human bones, but he did uncover something amazing. He found what may have been a Christian hermitage with an oratory ruin, similar to the one on North Rona. A 10-foot diameter oratory connected by a passageway to a rectangular structure measuring eight by five feet.

The story of the pigmies, and the oratory ruin, made Luchruban an islet I had to see first hand. So in the early 1990s, on my first visit to the Butt of Lewis, it was not the lighthouse I came to see, it was Luchruban. From the lighthouse my wife and I followed the cliff tops south to a narrow cleft that would allow someone to descend to the shore. Just beyond it stood Luchruban.

Unfortunantely I was wearing street shoes. I did not know that Luchruban was a sea-stack, and to get on to it requires scaling a nearly shear rock face, with a few ledges and cracks that might make it doable. So I had to be satisfied with viewing it from the adjacent cliff top.

In the years subsequent to that visit my memory faded as to how steep the sides of Luchruban actually were, and I convinced myself that, with the right footwear, I should be able to climb it. And so, several years after my first visit I returned, sporting a good pair of hiking boots. But when I stood, once again, at the ravine that descended to the base of Luchruban, reality returned. The only route to the summit, that I could see, would involve some skilled rock climbing, and I gave up the attempt. I now think the only way to the top, for someone who is not a skilled rock climber, would involve bringing a ladder. Hmmmm... now there's an idea. Maybe I'll try that next time. See this CANMORE page for more on the Island of the Pigmies.

The top of Luchruban

No comments:

Post a Comment