Monday, April 25, 2016

The Puff Inn

My first visit to St Kilda's Puff Inn was in the spring of 1999. We arrived late in the evening, went ashore in the twilight, and made our way to the pub. The joint was jumpin' - loud music playing, air thick with cigarette smoke, and most of the tables occupied by a mix of sailors, base workers, NTS folks, yotties, naturalists, seasoned skippers, and first-timers like me.

After paying the one-pound membership fee (which, I believe, went to the RNLI), I had a few beers before going out back to pitch my tent in the camping enclosure. I was also able to phone home with the help of an MOD operator using one of the two radio-telephone booths in the hallway. The pub was known for its cheap drinks. They were not allowed to make a profit, and so the booze was sold at cost - you could get a double Scotch for 50p (they did not sell singles).

My next visit to the Puff Inn was in 2004. Inflation had hit St Kilda, and the price of a large Scotch had risen to 94p. I did not know at the time, but it would be my last time in the pub, as they closed it to the public after the events of July, 2005. (See this page for the official statement on why the Puff-Inn is no longer open to visitors.) Oh how I wish I'd taken more photos inside the Puff Inn, as it was well decorated (including the ceiling). Unfortunately, the only photo I took is this one of the sign that hangs in the hallway leading to the rest rooms.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return to the Flannan Isles - I Hope!

I've made four attempts to get to the Flannans. Heavy seas foiled two of them, a boatman who got a better offer foiled another. But one attempt, way back in 2003, was a success. It was an amazing visit, as we had two hours ashore on a sunny day. Getting ashore depends on the sea-state, but I hope we can get there during our May 21st cruise. If you are interested there are four berths available (see this link). Here are some images from that visit in 2003. Hopefully I'll have more photos to share with you in six weeks.

Looking from the top of Eilean Mor to the westernmost Flannans
East Landing
West Landing
Trolley track down to the West Landing
Crane platform - West Landing

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Treasured Place - Sgorr nam Ban-naomha

On our May 21st cruise we hope to visit Canna. One of the best, but difficult, walks on the island is the seven-mile round trip hike to the Celtic Christian cashel of Sgorr nam Ban-naomha. The place name 'Sgorr' is used for a level shelf of land below a cliff and above the sea, and so Sgorr nam Ban-naomha means something like 'the cliff-girt terrace of the holy women'.


Sgorr nam Ban-naomha
Getting to Sgorr nam Ban-naomha requires descending the 300-foot cliffs via a narrow sheep track. It's been 14 years since I last walked down that path, but if it's still there, and looks safe, we'll try to do it.

The Sheep track down the cliff (marked with arrows)
The ruins are extensive, and include an oratory, altar, and what may have been a bathhouse or mill. See book 1 chapter 29, and this CANMORE page, for more on this fascinating site, which was also selected as one of Scotland's Treasured Places.

Two-chambered beehive ruin

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

MEM Donaldson Online

I just came across online versions of two of MEM Donaldson's books: Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands (1921), and The Isles of Flames. (1913). 'Wanderings' is one of the classic books on the Highlands and Islands, and copies can be hard to find. I found mine in Maclaren's Bookstore in Helensburgh about 20 years ago for 45 pounds. But you don't need to spend anything to read this fascinating book these days. You can find an on-line version here.


The Isles of Flames (1913) is an historical fiction novel about St Donnan of Eigg, and how he was martyred around 617 AD. It is worth reading, and you can find it hereI do find it odd that the archive.org website indicates that these works are not in copyright, for as far as I know copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author. MEM passed away in 1958, so I think we have another twelve years to go. But I don't think she'd mind that these two books now have universal distribution. Take a look, I think you will find them interesting.


Over the years, MEM's Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands has inspired me to visit several islands. One of them was little Eilean Munde, the burial island of Loch Leven (see book 1, chapter 23). This small island is covered in graves, and had been the traditional burial ground for the Stewarts of Ballachulish, the Camerons of Callart, and the MacDonalds of Glencoe. It was an amazing places to see, and it had not changed much since how MEM described it a hundred years ago (see pages 281-287 in Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands).

Eilean Munde - Loch Leven

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Pabbay Stone

On our May 21 cruise one of the destinations (if the weather cooperates) will be Pabbay of the Barra Isles. I've only been to Pabbay once, back in 2007, when Donald MacLeod took me there on his boat Boy James (see book 2, chapter 9).

My primary reason to go there was to see the Pictish Symbol Stone, with its crescent and V-rod, and lily symbol. There are only six known symbol stones found in the islands, and this one was discovered by Father Allan MacDonald in 1889.

The stone was a sad sight when I saw it in 2007; lying prone at the base of the burial mound, looking discarded, heavily eroded, and subject to more wear and tear by falling rain and the careless feet of visitors. Since 2007 it's been set upright for protection, and I look forward to seeing how they've done it. Below are a few photos from 2007 and, if you'd like to see the stone, consider joining our cruise on May 21. For more on the symbol stone of Pabbay see page 299 of this link.

The Pabbay Symbol Stone - lying prone at lower right of the burial mound (2007)
Pabbay Stone - the carvings are hardly visible (blame the elements - and the photographer)
Drawing of the Pabbay Stone by J. Romilly Allen from the 1890s