Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Broken Bridge of South Uist - Hairteabhagh

I've only made the walk to Hairteabhaigh once - a remote ghost village on the southeast corner of South Uist. The journey there is a six-mile loop starting from South Glendale; or a five-mile out-and-back from North Glendale along a route that crosses what's marked on the OS map as "Broken Bridge". I like loops, and the bridge sounded interesting, so I chose to get to Hairteabahg via the route from the south, and return along the north to see what the broken bridge business was all about.

I became interested in seeing Hairteabhaigh after reading about a walk there in Martin Margulies' Mhor and More (2011). I've had the pleasure of hiking with Martin when we ascended Eabhal last May (see the May 28th post).

I started the walk at the far end of the South Uist road, a mile past the Eriskay causeway. From there a hill path leads from South to North Glendale, which I followed to its highest point on the west shoulder of Marabhal. I left the path there and headed east to traverse the southern side of Loch Chearsanais and Loch Marulaigh.

It was hard going in places, soft-soggy bog and a few streams to cross. After a while I reached the path that comes in from North Glendale, and a short ways on I came to Hairteabhaigh. A half dozen house ruins dotted the landscape, centered on the bay of Hairteabhaigh and the small tidal island of Eilean Dubh.

Hairteabhaigh was created in the late 1700s by crofters forced out of the better land on the west side of the island. They farmed about 150 acres, and built several fish-traps in the bay near Eilean Dubh. Hairteabhaigh was abandoned in the 1800s, but was resettled for a while in the 20th century. No one lives there today, and the only sign of activity was the sheep wash you can see in the previous photo.

The tide was out, and I was hoping to cross over to the small island of Eilean Dubh. But the tide flats were a miasma of sandy mud, and did not look safe to cross.

Muddy tide-flats between Hairteabhaigh and Eilean Dubh
From Hairteabhaigh I considered carrying on anther mile east to Rubha na h-Ordaig (Big Toe Point), the southeast end of Uist. But I had promised my wife I'd meet her on the highway near the Eriskay causeway in two hours, so it was time to start back.

The path west was in good shape, and when I reached the Marulaig River I could see that the bridge was not just broken, it was missing - with only its cement-stone supports still standing. Fortunately the river was low, and it was easy to wade across.

The Broken Bridge
A couple of miles later I reached the junction with the North/South Glendale path at the west end of Loch Kearsinish. A left turn took me south, and 45 minutes later I reached the Eriskay Causeway, where my wife was patiently waiting for me in the car. Someday I hope to return to Hairteabhaigh and continue on to remote Rubha na h-Ordaig, the big-toe of South Uist. For more on Hairteabhagh see this CANMORE page.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Broken Bridge of North Uist - Lochmaddy

A wander around Lochmaddy is a regular experience on a Hebridean Cruise. In times past we could tie up to the Lochmaddy ferry pier for the night and then go for a walk. But these days they don't much tolerate boats tying up to ferry piers overnight, even when the ferry is not due. So a desirable alternate to Lochmaddy, four miles to the northwest, is Bagh a' Chaise (Cheese Bay). I've no idea why it's called that. Perhaps at low tide, on a hot day, it smells a bit cheesy. There are several 'odoriferous' place names in the islands - 'Stinking Goat Bay' on Great Cumbrae comes to mind.

But getting back to Lochmaddy, I've spent many hours over the years exploring the area around town on foot. But there was one walk I''d never had the time to do, and that is the Sponish Loop. It is a four-mile trek that takes you out to the Sponish Penninsula via a footbridge a half-mile north of town. From there you can visit a neolithic Camera Obscura (more later), before traversing the peninsula west to the highway, which you follow back to town. You can also do the walk the other way around (clockwise).

So last August, finding myself with a few hours to kill in Lochmaddy, I decided I would do the Sponish loop. Fortunately I decided to do the walk in the counterclockwise direction, for when I reached the footbridge it was roped off with signs saying it was broken and to use an alternate route.

The broken bridge

I would have been in a pickle if I'd done the walk in the other direction. I'd of had to backtrack all the way to town. I hope the bridge is fixed next time I'm there, as I would like to take a close-up look at Sponish House and see the nearby neolithic Camera Obscura. What the heck is a neolithic Camera Obscura you say? See this Walkhighlands page for a photo, and this CANMORE page for a description of Sponish House. 

Sponish House and the broken bridge

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Hollow Tower of Wee Cumbrae

Sitting high atop the island of Little Cumbrae, looking out over the Firth of Clyde, is an historic structure. Established in 1757, it was the second lighthouse in Scotland. (The first was on the Isle of May). The tower is a giant barbecue of sorts, for on an open grate at the top a giant coal fire was stoked every night for nearly 40 years, until a new light was established in 1793, a half kilometer away on the west shore of the island.

Even though it's on a relatively quiet island, one with only a few residents, a visit to the tower can be a crowded experience. The terrain to the north of it is home to a large gull colony. As you walk across the hillside the air is filled with raucous wheeling birds, and the ground can be an obstacle course of egg-laden nests.

See this CANMORE page for more on the old light tower. Chapter 2 of book 1 has a description of a visit to the island, and below are a few photos that did not make it into the book.

Looking across the gull colony to Millport on Great Cumbrae 
The Tower
Inside the hollow tower
Gulls soaring around the tower
The tower - Ailsa Craig in the distance (left)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Beehive of Eilean Fir Chrothair

This little beehive is found on the tiny island of Eilean Fir Chrothair. The cell is unusually small, and would have sheltered one person at most. Originally covered in turf, the cell collapsed about a 100 years ago. Since then someone has done a great job of restoring it. You can see a (not very good) photo of the cell prior to its restoration on page 182 of this article from the Scottish Antiquaries Society.

The nearby islands of Kealisay and Little Bernera had early Christian settlements; so perhaps the cell on Eilean Fir Chrothair was their place of retreat - someplace for a monk to get away from the hustle and bustle of Little Bernera.

Eilean Fir Chrothair is not easy to reach. It lies 500 feet off the shore of Little Bernera, so it is a bit far to swim to. A kayak or canoe might not work either, as it would be a difficult landing onto the rocks that surround the island. I got to the island in June of last year by chartering one of Seatrek's big RIBs - see the June 30, 2015 post. Here are a few photos of the beautiful little beehive of Eilean Fir Chrothair. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Baile Lingay - Isle of Pabbay

I love walking across island terrain where the ground is covered by short grass, and slopes gradually to an azure sea. Even better is if the sky is as blue as the sea. I had that very experience on Pabbay, an island in the Sound of Harris, when I passed through Baile Lingay while making my way down from the summit of the island.

Baile Lingay
Baile Lingay
Baile Lingay was one of four townships on Pabbay. It was a substantial settlement; with over 40 buildings and four corn drying kilns. Skins with holes pierced in them were placed over the round, stone lined well in the kiln (see next photo). At the bottom of the well a flue led to a lower part of the building. A fire would be lit at the end of the flue, and warm air rising through the skin would dry the grain. Pabbay had plenty of grain, and so whisky-making was a regular pastime.

Lingay was last occupied in the late 1830s and early 1840s by a family of Macleods. They were coopers (barrel-makers) from Harris, and one wonders how many barrels of Pabbay hooch they got past the gaugers. The Macleods were replaced by sheep in 1843.

Pabbay is a difficult island to reach. There are no regular boat trips, so I ended up chartering a small RIB from the Uist Outdoor Centre. Larger boats don't visit because the sea is shallow here, and it's difficult to anchor close. If the weather and sea cooperate, we hope to visit Pabbay during our 10-day cruise in May by anchoring a ways off, and making a long RIB run to the island. For more photos of Baile Lingay see this CANMORE page. And for more on the history of Pabbay see Bill Lawson's The Teampull on the Isle of Pabbay.