Thursday, March 29, 2018

Inchkenneth Chapel

One of the possible destinations on our cruise in June is Inchkenneth. I have only been there once, (see Book 1, Chapter 12) and am looking forward to returning. The jewel of the island is the chapel built on the site of St Kenneth's 6th century monastery.

My one visit there was in 2003, and at the time the walled garden (which you can see in the distance in the next photo) was pretty much abandoned. The owner told me they had plans to restore it, so I am looking forward to seeing what they've done.

The next photo shows the altar, which during Boswell and Johnson's visit had an old Celtic hand-bell on it. Sadly the bell has gone missing. Some interesting drawings made of the chapel in 1877 can be found on this CANMORE page.

Set upright against the wall of the chapel is a collection of eight medieval tombstone slabs. And just outside the chapel is the grave of Donald Maclean of Brolas, who died in 1725. If you look close you can see the figure of his dog keeping Maclean's toes warm in the afterlife.

Set amongst the tombstones of the burial ground, which is still in use, is the Inchkenneth cross. Made from a single piece of gray-blue slate, this elegant ring-headed cross stands five feet tall and dates to the sixteenth century. Most of its decoration has worn off over the centuries, but still visible at the bottom of the shaft is a pair of shears. Below them, worn and hardly discernible, is something with bristles, possibly a brush or comb. The significance of the shears and comb may come from their ceremonial use in cutting the tonsure. 

This cross was the same one that Boswell knelt in front of two centuries ago, when visions of ghosts in the dark frightened him, and he had to resort to a rum-rub for an injured foot. In case of injury I had a can of beer in my pack, but if needed the remedy would be applied internally.

Shears and comb on the cross
For such a small island, Inchkenneth has a large history. From the time of saints Columba and Kenneth, to its ownership by the chiefs of the Macleans; its sale to Sir Harold Bolton, then the Mitfords, and finally the Barlows, who still own the island. You can read an interesting article on Inchkenneth that appeared in The Scotsman at this link. It is a delightful island to visit, and I'm looking forward to returning in June.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lewis/Harris Border

I have walked the Lewis/Harris border. Well, at least I think I've walked the Lewis/Harris border.

The border is artificial, to say the least. It's hard to see on the ground, and even harder to see on the Landranger OS map - because it's not shown there at all. But if you're keen on seeing it on a map, take a look at an 19th century OS map of the area (here is an example). These maps are not at all vague on where the border is; in fact they shout out exactly where it is. This is because the old maps are divided up into shires, and since Lewis is Ross, and Harris is Inverness, the maps that cover the border have vast white spaces for the territory in the opposing shire.

Most tourist only know the border by the signs on the A859 highway - the only road that crosses the border - as it passes through Bogha Glas on the shore of Loch Seaforth. From there the intrepid hiker can climb a foot-path that pretty much follows the border west into the hills. (A description of that walk is described in chapter 17 of book 2.)

Start of the path at Bogha Glas
Going from east to west, the border, starting from Loch Seaforth, follows the stream Amhuinn a Mhuil to the NW for a half-mile to a stone called Clach an Tarpan. From there it follows several straight-line series of highpoints to the west and south until it reaches the stream at the bottom of Glen Lamadale. It then follows a stream called Uillt na Airigh Mhoire two miles west to where it intersects with Loch Chleister. There it makes a dizzying 120 degree right turn to follow the stream Allt a Chlair Bhig. A mile down the stream it passes the amazing intact beehive cells of Allt a Chlair Bhig.

Clair Bhig Beehives - they are in Lewis - photo taken from Harris
From the beehive cells the border continues north along the Clair Bhig stream until it reaches Tota Choinnich (Kenneth's Hut). See book 2 (pages 171-173) for the story of an amazing incident that occurred here

Tota Choinnich
From Kenneth's Hut the border follows the Kinlochresort River for a mile to the sea at Kinlochresort.

Kinlochresort (the hill Beinisbal at upper right)
For that intrepid hiker who has followed the border all the way from Loch Seaforth, reaching Kinlochresort marks the end of ten hard miles of walking. Of course that hiker is now in the middle of the back of beyond - an amazing place to be!  If you make it this far be sure to carry on for another mile to climb Beinisbhal. From its summit you will have a stunning view over the west end of the Lewis/Harris border (highlighted in white in the next photo).

In addition to the view that you'll find atop the hill, 600 feet above the sea, you will also find a cairn relating to the Lewis/Harris border. The cairn is mentioned in the following excerpt from DDC Pochin-Mould's book West Over Sea. To put this excerpt in context, she is describing how the border was determined in the 1850s while she is making a long walk to Kinlochresort in the 1940s.

  Near the sheep fank on the flank of Benisval there is, so they tell me, a stone commemorating the visit of Lord Campbell, Lord Chief Justice in the 1850s. When I splashed through the Kinloch Resort river, I crossed from Harris into Lewis, and it was Lord Campbell's boundary that I went over.
  There was a long dispute concerning the boundary line between Harris and Lewis in this part of the country. Along Loch Seaforth there was no dispute, but here, in the featureless moors, the problem was more difficult. It all began long ago, when a Macleod of Lewis married Kintail's daughter. After a year, he grew tired of her and sent her away, and took a Macleod of Harris' daughter to wife. For her dowry she brought a strip of land upon the borders of Harris in the Kinloch Resort district.  
  As time went by, this piece of land became a subject for dispute. People from Valtos in Lewis would go to make ready their shielings for the summer season and come back to find the Harris people had destroyed all their work. If the Harris men worked on what they claimed as theirs, the Valtos people destroyed it all again.
  Eventually, Seaforth took the case to the courts. Much interesting evidence of old methods of marking the boundary between the two districts was cited. One way was to bury charred peats on the march line. 
  The case dragged on. Seaforth sold the Lewis to Sir James Matheson, and it was he, after the case had reached the House of Lords, who got Lord Campbell to the actual ground. Up Benisval went the Lord Chief Justice and from the top determined the boundary line, taking the shortest route from the head of Loch Resort up the Kinloch Resort River and across to Aline on Loch Seaforth.

The cairn and commemoration stone Pochin-Mould did not find, but is described in her book, is still there to be found, standing next to the trig-pillar on the summit of Benisval (Beinisbhal). However most of the marble tablet is missing. What's left reads:

...of England
....This Cairn

I am guessing the full text on the marble tablet once read something like below. (If anyone knows what the exact text was, please let me know.):

"(To commemorate the visit of Lord Campbell, Lord Chief Justice)? of England
(Sir James Matheson Erected)? This Cairn"

The Lewis/Harris border walk is a classic Hebridean hike. With some planning you can do it in one day; starting at Loch Seaforth and walking out to the north via Morsgail, or to the south via Meavaig. Even better take a tent and sleeping bag; spend the night at Kinlochresort to let your sore legs recover before carrying on; and as you do, and as night falls, close your eyes, listen to the cookoos singing, the snipe drumming, the deer barking, and the sea lapping on the remote shore of a place as far from it all as you can get.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Beehive View

I have always wanted to sleep in one of the beehive cells that are to be found in the remoter parts of Lewis and Harris. They are such beautiful structures, structures that had survived for centuries; and sleeping in one would be like going back in time. Imagine waking to the view below, which is of Loch Bodabhat seen from inside the beehive of Bothan Aird, a mile southeast of Hamanavay.

So far conditions have precluded spending the night in one of these cells. The Bothan Aird cell looked so unstable that I did not feel safe staying inside for long. Another cell I visited would have been good for sleeping - except there was a dead sheep inside. Other cells have had floors of jagged stones fallen from the roof, or the inside was a miazma of mud mixed with loads of sheep poo. In one case the inside of a beautiful cell near Loch a' Sguir was flooded with a foot of accumulated rainwater (next photo). 

There are still quite a few cells I hope to visit. Perhaps one of them will not be too wet, too unstable, or too rocky: a Goldilocks Cell; one just right to lay out a sleeping bag and spend the night. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rona's An Teampull & Rev. Billy Graham

The recent death of the Rev. Billy Graham reminded me of something I was told many years ago. The subject of the discussion was the chapel at the south end of Rona (AKA South Rona). This beautiful little chapel, known as An Teampull, is one of the most enchanting ruins in all the Hebrides. 

In the chapel grounds is a small burial ground. Etched deep into the only readable tombstone is:


What was mentioned in passing about this burial ground is that there is some thought that the Graham family of Rona were ancestors of Rev. Billy Graham. If anyone knows if this is true I would appreciate to hear from you.