Friday, December 22, 2017

Garbh Eilean - Three Ways Up

There are several islands in the Hebrides with the name 'Garbh Eilean'; a name usually translated as 'rough island', referring to unequal and varying terrain. The Garbh Eilean of the Shiants certainly qualifies in that regard; it is a lumpy island, with shear cliffs rising to 400 feet.

Garbh Eilean - North Side
Garbh Eilean - East Side
Garbh Eilean - South Side
It can also be a 'rough' island to climb. There are three routes; two difficult, and one relatively easy. The primary way up is one of the difficult ones. It starts at the isthmus between Eilean Taighe and Garbh Eilean. Then, after climbing a short section of natural stairway, it zig-zags up another 50 feet before traversing west to the base of a steep, narrow gully. The gully takes you to the top of a 'false summit', from where it is an easy walk to the true top. 

The route is marked in the next photo. Where it disappears on the left is where it climbs up a steep gully hidden from view. This is the route the shepherds use.

The other difficult way up is from Airidhean a' Bhaig (bay of the sheiling), on the northeast tip of the island. I have only gone up this route once. It is very steep at the end, and there is no way I'd ever consider descending this way. The route is shown in white in the next photo.

The third way up is the easiest route, but it requires being landed at Annait, on the west side of the island. (Annait is the possible site of an early monastic settlement). If the sea and wind cooperate it is easy to land on a natural pier of a (mostly) level reef - seen at the lower right in the next photo.

As you walk up the glen you come to an interesting ruin. Nestled in nettles, it was a substantial building in its day; and perhaps the chapel that gave the place its name.

At the foot of the glen lies a complex assortment of structures, including a couple of Iron Age and medieval roundhouses. Unfortunately many of their stones were robbed to build a large sheep fank. 

From Annait it is a gentle climb up the grassy glen to the top of the island. Along the way you have to watch your step. If not you might step on something fuzzy and cute.

Baby bonxie

Top of Garbh Eilean

Top of Garbh Eilean - Eilean Taigh in the distance
At the top of the glen you come to the north cliff. The walk along the cliff edge is amazing. The first time I made it I was surprised when a large sea-eagle took off from the nearby grass. It flew just six-feet over me before soaring out to sea.

From the east end of the island the views open up across to Eilean Mhuire, and below to the beautiful ruin at Airidhean a' Bhaig - see the September 16, 2014 post for more on this fascinating spot.

Airidhean a' Bhaig

Eilean Mhuire
It is only once you reach the top of Garbh Eilean that you realize how big the island really is. Time ashore is often limited, so you may not have be able to make the complete two-mile circuit of the cliff-tops. But be sure to stand atop the north cliff, where you will see something fantastic: thousands and thousands of puffins soaring below you, flying from their burrows to the sea and back. And if you're very lucky, perhaps an eagle will come calling.

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