Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Kyles Stulaigh - and more

After visiting the Stone of Sorrow, I made my way 250 yards northeast to a souterrain known as Tigh nan Leacach (the house of flagstones). There are the ruins of three circular cells here, and at the base of one is a passage that extends 33 feet underground. But its entrance is so clogged that there is no way to crawl into it these days. (See this CANMORE page for more on Tigh nan Leacach.)

Entrance to Tigh nan Leacach
The plan from this point on for my two-day trek was to carry on another mile through Bealeach a' Chaolais (the pass of the the narrows), to reach an abandoned settlement on the coast, Kyles Stulaigh. Then I'd spend the night there before returning to Lochboisdale the way I'd come. I had picked this destination because Kyles Stulaigh was briefly touched by history 270 years ago.

It was not an easy mile through Bealeach a' Chaolais. There is no trail, and the steep descent to the coast was through thick bracken and heather. At one point I had to get through a gate in a deer fence; a gate securely tied with about a hundred feet of knotted rope, and jammed shut with pieces of timber. It would take a knife and a saw to open the gate, so I tossed my pack across the fence and climbed over.

The 'locked' gate
From the gate another stretch of heather- and bracken-bashing took me down to Kyles Stulaigh. Just offshore lay the island of Stulaigh.

Kyles Stulaigh - Stulaigh Isle in the distance
Kyles Stulaigh, an abandoned township with the ruins of about four blackhouses, was occupied as late as 1911 - see this CANMORE page for more on the township. This small, remote settlement, was touched by history for a day in 1746.

After the loss at Culloden in April of 1746, Prince Charles went into hiding, spending nearly 10 weeks, from April 20 through July 4, in the islands. Those 10 weeks were hectic. Ever on the run, he moved from place to place, his only respite a three-week stretch at Corradale, five miles north of Kyles Stulaigh. (See the March 14, 2014 post for the description of a visit to Corradale.)

The prince left Corradale on June 6, and headed north to Wiay island. But a week later he was heading back south past Corradale to spend the night of June 14 at Kyles Stulaigh. To get a feel for how hectic his travels were, below is an extract from The Itinerary of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Walter Biggar Blaikie (1897). You can find a PDF of the Itinerary here - pages 34 to 36 cover his time on South Uist.

MAY 15 – JUNE 5: At Coradale in a forester’s cottage. Here the Prince remained for twenty-two days in comparative comfort and safety; he was visited by his friends and enjoyed shootings at which he was very expert. Learning that troops had landed in the Long Island and were hemming him in, he was obliged to move.

JUNE 6: Sailed to Island Ouia (Ord. Sur. Wiay).

JUNE 7-9: Remained at Ouia where they heard the troops were following them.

JUNE 10-12: The Prince and O’Neil went to Rossinish by land, and remained three days, until they learned that the boats of the militia were patrolling the place. Donald Macleod and O’Sullivan, hearing of this came in a boat, brought them away and steered for Coradale.

JUNE 13. Forced by storm to put in at Uishness Point, they spent the night at Aikersideallach (Ord. Sur. Acarseid Fhalaich) in the cleft of a rock.

JUNE 14. The enemy being within two miles of them they sailed to Ciliestiella (Ord. Sur. Kyle Stuley).

Kyles Stulaigh lay in a beautiful, sheltered nook on the coast, and to the north I could see Corradale, and farther off the lighthouse at Uisinis (see the October 3, 2015 post). Kyles would be a great place to spend the night, but being sheltered from the wind meant the midges were thick. And if I stayed here I would have to return the way I'd came. The thought of climbing back up the rough hillside was not appealing, neither was spending the night in midge-land. So I looked at the map and made a quick decision to return to Lochboisdale by following the coast to the south.

When the prince left Kyles Stulaigh he sailed south along the coast I was now following. Going by boat he probably had an easier journey than I did, as the coast consists of a series of lumpy headlands covered with bracken and heather. Deer trails made the going easier. Without them it would have taken twice as long. 

Deer trails through the bracken
I had to go inland three times to get across the heads of narrow ravines cut deep by peaty streams. The prince sheltered at the outlet of one of these streams on his way to Lochboisdale, but I don't know which one.

A ravine to cross
A sheltered inlet on the coast
Aside from thick bracken and ravines, there was a man-made obstacle at one point. Yet another deer fence, this one with neither a gate nor a stile. So I had to toss the pack over and climb it.

Up and over
The coastline seemed endless, but the views east were amazing. At one point I came across a baby seal snoozing on a boulder.

The lumpy coastline
Baby on the rocks
It was starting to get dark when I finally came to where the coast turned west at the mouth of Lochboisdale. As I was setting up camp Lord of the Isles, the ferry from Mallaig, came steaming by.

Lord of the Isles arriving from Mallaig
Campsite at the mouth of Lochboisdale

During the day's hike I had managed to eat most of my food. So after pitching the tent all I had left to eat was a bag of crisps and a red-tinny of Export. But it was refreshing after a long day of hiking.

The night was windy, which kept the midges away, and I slept well. A little after 7am I was woken by the loud chugging of an engine; the culprit was the ferry on its way back to Mallaig.

Morning ferry to Mallaig
Breaking camp was quick, and I was soon on the homestretch to Lochboisdale. After rounding one last ridge the big marina came in sight, and a few minutes later I could see the Lochboisdale Hotel, where my wife was probably still comfortably sleeping. Soon after passing Cladh Choinnich, an old burial ground and chapel site, the bridge at Aurotote came into view.

Lochboisdale Marina
An hour later I was soaking in a hot tub, and in the afternoon we went for fish & chips at the Politician Pub down on Eriskay: a great way to end a two-day trek to see an historic, and rarely visited corner of the Hebrides.

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