Monday, June 26, 2017

Mealasta, Pabay Mor, Little Bernera

Episode 5 in the Continuing Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge
Hebridean Cruise - May 20 to 29, 2017

After our longer than expected walk to the Ardveg we motored out of the shelter of Hamanavay Bay to head north. As we passed the lonely island of Mealista, which faces the full brunt of the open Atlantic, Mark throttled back the engines to take a look at the beach landing. I have tried several times over the years to get ashore on Mealasta, but it is so exposed that a heavy swell always seems to be bashing the landing spot. 

Mealasta Island seen from Scarp
With the engines idled back we took a good look at the inviting golden sands. But it was not to be, that rolling swell, so often seen in the past, was still bashing.

Mealasta Island Beach
So we carried on north to sweep around Gallan Head, once the site of an RAF communications center. The base was abandoned in 2010, and the property acquired by the Gallan Head Community in 2014. Once around Gallan Head we entered the waters of West Loch Rog, where the anchor was dropped into the turquoise waters off Traigh an Teampull (Chapel Beach) on the west side of Pabay Mor: an island name that means something like the big island of the priest. Although it was a bit cloudy, there were still several hours of daylight left, and in short order we were ashore on the white sands of Chapel Beach. 

Pabay Mor Landing - Photo: Liz Hamilton
Appropriately, sitting in the little glen above the beach, are the remnants of a small chapel dedicated to St Peter. There's little left, as it was used for target practice by the British navy around the year 1506.

St Peter's
A gentle walk up the glen from the chapel took us past a large loch dotted with lily-pads and encircled by a moat of mud. Can you guess the loch's name?  Yep...  you guessed it, Loch an Teampull (Chapel Loch). Here we did our good deed of the day by rescuing a sheep half sunk into the mud, unable to rescue itself. Grasping its horns, one of us on each side, we huffed and we puffed and we pulled it out of the muck. But did we get a thanks? Nope. It just scrambled away as fast as it could, wagging its muddy behind at us. I wanted to start singing Born Free.

Born free - one very lucky sheep
In the south side of the glen we came to Briominish Village, the only settlement on the island, and until 1800 home to the Pabay branch of the Macleods. (See the November 30, 2016 post for more on Pabay and the Macleods.) The people of Valtos, on the adjacent shore of Lewis, still graze their sheep here, and the owner of the island has fixed up some of the old houses.

Inspecting the ruins of Pabay Village

Old Pabay houses updated (a bit)
No visit to Pabay is complete without climbing to the airy summit of Beinn Mhor, all 226 feet of it. Now that may not sound like much, but it's high enough for a grand view over all the islands of West Loch Rog, and across to the mile-long white sands of Riof Beach on Lewis.

Atop Pabay

Hjalmar Bjorge afloat off Pabay Mor
With our exploration of Pabay complete, the hook was lifted and Mark motored a mile south to drop the still-wet hook off the sparkling white sands of Riof Beach. A delicious three course meal prepared by Chef Mark was followed by calm night at anchor.

In the morning Mark gave us the forecast. It was not looking good for the Flannans; winds were still a problem, and the sea outside the shelter of the loch was still jumpy and lumpy. With any significant swell the Flannans are a no-go. So the plan was to head around the top of Great Bernera to nestle into Kyles Little Bernera, a sheltered anchorage between Great and Little Bernera. Then we'd spend a few hours ashore on Little Bernera before heading to Carloway for the night. It would be on the following day we'd decide whether to try for the Flannans.

I love Little Bernera; aside from the beauty of the island, it's historic in both Celtic Christianity and Hebridean literature. Its chapel of St Donnan was once an active outpost of early Celtic monks, and since those days the cemetery on the site has became a cherished place to be buried. The island's fame in Hebridean literature comes from William Black's use of it in his 1873 novel Princess of Thule. See the September 2, 2013 post for more on St Donnan's and The Princess of Thule.

St Donnan's
After paying our respects to St Donnan's we followed the shoreline north across the sandy machair. I took everyone this way to see the fantastic white sands of Traigh Mhor (the great beach). Just offshore from the beach we could just make out a solitary beehive cell on a tiny island called Eilean Fir Chrothair, and next to it another small island, Cealasay (church island). Both Cealasay and Little Bernera had monastic establishments, and it may be that the cell on Eilean Fir Chrothair was used as a place of retreat when a monk wanted to get far from the madding crowds of Little Bernera. See the June 30, 2015 post for more about the cell on Eilean Fir Chrothair.

Traigh Mhor
Beehive Cell - Eilean Fir Chrothair
After our jaunt on Little Bernera we boarded the inflatable, then Mark and Anna took us up to storm the beach at Bosta on Great Bernera; yet another white sand beach. Compared to the deserted islands we'd been on, Bosta beach was a bit crowded. But that did not deter us from joining all the holiday-makers as we landed next to the tide bell. Neither did it deter several of our party from taking a refreshing swim. The tide bell is an interesting structure, which you can read more about here.

Tide Bell and swimmers
Those of us not brave enough to swim headed up the beach to take a look at the restored Iron Age Round House. An unexpected bonus here was that a local guide gave us a great tour and explanation of what it was like to live in the house fifteen hundred years ago.

Bosta Round House
A pleasant, 10 minute walk, took us back to a jetty opposite Little Bernera, where we boarded Hjalmar Bjorge to make the short crossing to anchor in Carloway Bay for the night. At that point there was a bit of tension, in my mind, anyway. The following day would be make it, or break it. Would the Flannans be possible, or not?  If not we'd be starting the long journey back to Oban in the morning.

Hjalmar Bjorge in Kyles Little Bernera - Photo by Liz Hamilton

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