Monday, May 8, 2017

To the Isles of the West

I will be offline for a while, somewhere in the Hebrides.

    Maybe Mingulay,
    Or possibly Pabbay,
    Might be the Monachs,
    Or stunning Scarp.

    Perhaps Pabay Mor,
    Or the far-flung Flannans,
    If lucky, Little Bernera,
    Or bedazzling Boreray.
    Could be savouring the Shiants,
    Or enjoying Eigg,
    Rambling on Rum,
    Or meandering round Muck.

If the wind and sea behave, maybe all the above - along with a surprise island or two.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cladh Choinnich - South Uist

Sometimes, while reading old books on the Scottish islands, you'll come across a short, and somewhat obscure mention of an historic site; a short mention that only serves to whet your appetite for more. But in many cases that appetite goes unrequited, because you can not find any more information. One such short mention is this from DDC Pochin Mould's West Over Sea:

Above Lochboisdale, to the northward, rises Beinn Ruigh Choinnich, the mountain of Kenneth's shieling; at its foot lies Cladh Choinnich, Kenneth's Field, the site of an old chapel.

Cladh usually means burial ground, and there is a Cladh Choinnich on the west end of Tiree associated with St Kenneth. Knowing some of the fascinating history of Kenneth, a contemporary of St Columba, I was very interested in seeing the site of another chapel and burial ground that may be associated with him. But my search for any more information only turned up a frustratingly brief CANMORE reference that says nothing remains of the chapel and burial ground. But, what if they missed something?  And so I put a visit to South Uist's Cladh Choinnich on my list of things to do.

I visited Cladh Choinnich last year as part of a two-day hike around Beinn Ruigh Choinnich (see the August 24, 2016 post). But the site can be seen by doing a three-mile out and back from the road west of Lochboisdale.

The walk starts at the first bend in the minor road that heads north from the B865, a half mile west of Lochboisdale. From there you will see a path that heads north next to the house at NF 7861 2023. The narrow path can be swampy, so the going is slow. After 15 minutes of walking you'll come to an old bridge at Aurotote that crosses the outflow of Loch a' Bharp.

Bridge at Aurotote
After crossing the bridge turn right and head east along the shore of the outflow. In a half mile you'll reach a large sheepfank that looks to have originally been a substantial farm.

After another 10 minutes of walking you will come to a cluster or jumbled stone ruins, almost completely covered with vegetation. You have reached Cladh Choinnich. 

Looking to Lochboisdale from Cladh Choinnich
There are several low, circular foundations, that may have been beehive type dwellings. In a heavily brackened area I found a low, rectangular arrangement of stones that could have been a chapel, or a burial ground enclosure. Or, for that matter, an ancient livestock pen. But something important was here at one time, something that is remembered in oral history, if not in written history.

Ruins at Cladh Chonnich

Cladh Choinnich

Enclosure?  Cladh Choinnich
For a sacred, but mostly forgotten place like Cladh Choinnich, with so little remaining, you need some imagination to picture it as it was 15 centuries ago. Which makes it all the more interesting. Adding to the delight of walking in to a place like this is that it is so far off the tourist trail that, chances are, you'll have it all to yourself. When I made my two-day hike around this corner of Uist I only encountered one other person, a shepherd out gathering his flock.

Since you've come as far as Cladh Choinnich, you might as well carry on a ways and climb Beinn Ruigh Choinnich. The summit is only a half-mile away (and 900 feet up). The view over South Uist and the Sea of the Hebrides is well worth the climb. But you might want to avoid doing it the first Sunday of August, as that's when the annual Beinn Ruigh Choinnich race is held. The 2016 race was cancelled, because on the first Sunday of August a terrible storm blew through the islands. The same storm that caused an oil rig to go aground off the west side of Lewis.

The record for the run from Lochboisdale to the summit of Beinn Ruigh Choinnich and back is 30 minutes. See the Ben Kenneth Hill Race website for more information.