Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cara - Then and Now

When I first started visiting the Hebrides I'd take along old photos of places I wanted to visit and then take a photo of how they currently look. For instance this photo of Inchkenneth house in the 1920s, and how I saw I in 2002.

Another example is this photo of the Macleod Gunnery on Berneray from the 1920s, and how I saw it in 1999.

Of course, all my 'THEN' photos were from other photographers. But in looking through my photos from a recent trip around the Southern Hebrides I realized that, as I've been visiting these isles for 30 years now, I have quite a few of my own 'THEN & NOW' photos; photos of sites I visited long ago, and how they've changed after several decades.

So here are my first two 'Now & Then' set of photos, where I've taken both the 'Now' and the 'Then'. They are from the island of Cara, and the first is of Cella Sanctissimae Trinitas, the Cell of the Holy Trinity; more commonly called the chapel of St Fionnlugh.

Cara Chapel - 2018 (top), 1992 (bottom)
As you can see, someone has been busy rebuilding the wall in the foreground (the south wall). That's probably a good thing, for as you can see in the older photo the whole structure was disintegrating.  

The second Cara "Now & Then" shows Cara House and the north side of the chapel. Over the past 26 years the house has not changed much. When I saw it in '92 they were in the process of cutting out openings in the front wall to add four additional windows. (In the 'THEN' photo`there is still no glass in the windows.)

Cara House - 2018 (top), 1992 (bottom)
In comparing my 'Now & Then' photos one thing really stands out. The vibrancy of the colors in the older photos far surpasses those in the 'Now' photos. Of course the 'Then' photos were taken with a film camera, and the 'Now' photos a digital camera. Even with the color adjustment capabilities of Photoshop I can rarely get as good colors from digital cameras.

I will be posting more of my own 'Now & Thens' as I come across them. I will leave you with another photo of Cara House from 1992; and you can see how it looked in 1966 (before they cut in the new windows) at this link.

Cara House under remodel in 1992

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge - Season 3, Episode 10

The Continuing Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge
Season 3 - Episode 10 of 10 - Mull to Oban
Exploring the Isles of the West Cruise    June 2-11, 2018

Sunday, June 10 – Island 16 - Mull 

The last full day of the cruise started with a slow motor below the high southern cliffs of the Ross of Mull. Around noon we came to a stop below Eas Criarichan - a waterfall that tumbles 600 feet to the sea, where we spotted an eagle’s eyrie on the cliff-face; the eagle soaring high above. From there we headed east below Gorrie's Leap and Carsaig Arches. Then the anchor was dropped in Loch Buie where we went ashore for the last walk of the cruise.

Carsaig Arches
Carsaig Arches
Our walk would be a long one, as Mark, Anna and Karen were going to take the ship around to Loch Spelve, where we would meet up with him in the afternoon. We'd be covering some five miles on the walk, but since the ship had to circle around the Laggan Peninsula, Mark had 20 sea-miles ahead of him to get to Loch Spelve.

Even though it was a Sunday, the tiny post office at Loch Buie was open. After a look inside we passed a monument to the coronation of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902.

Debbie at the Post Office

Wolfgang at the monument
On our way to Moy Castle we took a peek inside the beautiful little church of St Kilda, a church dedicated to a saint that never existed – although one of its stained glass windows does depict a Saint Kilda.

The St Kilda Window
The pastor here, in the 1920s, was Thomas Hannan, author of several classic island books such as Iona: And Some Satellites (1931), and The Beautiful Island of Mull (1926). Even though the church dates to 1876, the site had religious significance long before that. When they were digging down to lay the church foundations they discovered this cross stone (possibly 12th century).

From the church it was a short walk past Loch Buie House to reach Moy Castle.

Loch Buie House

Moy Castle
Moy was the home of the Maclaine chiefs of Mull from about 1400 to 1752. It is a shame you can not go inside, as the ruin is dangerous. But I was fortunate to have been given a tour in 2003. The highlight was seeing the pit-prison: a bottle-dungeon half filled with water.

Moy Castle pit - but no pendulum
Moy was a focal point of the 1947 movie I know where I'm Going (see this I know where I'm Going website). You can find more on the castle, along with pictures of its interior, at this link.

A quarter mile due north of Moy is the Lochbuie stone circle. But to get there we had to circle around the grounds of Loch Buie house, as they don't want tourists tramping through the estate. So instead of a pleasant quarter mile hike through green fields, we had to make a two-mile circuitous road walk to the circle.

Loch Buie Stone Circle
To me, this elegant, and almost complete stone circle, rivals any other in Scotland, including Callanish; both in its stunning setting and, especially, its lack of tourist crowds. Before we left the circle we posed for a group photo. (Missing from the photo is Wolfgang. No, I didn't lose him; he'd decided to stay back near the road where we'd be commencing our three-mile walk to Loch Spelve.)

As we'd been walking we noted a few “Beware Adders” signs and, sure enough, an adder was spotted. But it was not a danger, having been run over by a passing car.

Adder road kill - Vipera Flattus? 
After an hour's walk along the shore of Loch Uisge we reached the head of Loch Spelve, where Mark and Anna picked us from the beach. After our long walk it was good to relax on deck with a cold beer. Even better was looking forward to dinner and a quiet night at anchor in the calm waters of Loch Spelve.

Monday, June 11 – Back to Oban

Our quiet night ended when the engines roared to life at 7am. By 8:30 we were in Oban, and after a massive brunch said our goodbyes. This was my 12th voyage on Hjalmar Bjorge, and it was one of the best. We were fortunate in many ways: exceptional weather, good company, great food, and excellent care from Mark, Anna and Karen. In total we managed to set foot on the following 16 islands – a record for any trip I’ve been on before:

Eileach an Naoimh, Belnahua, Scarba, Eilean Mor, Gigha, Cara, Nave, Oronsay, Erraid, Eorsa, Inchkenneth, Gometra, Ulva, Lunga, Iona, Mull

I enjoyed sailing with all of you, and hope to see you again. I will definitely be seeing Nigel and Wolfgang as they've signed on to next year's North Rona cruise. (NB: As of July 25th there is still one spot left for a male sharing a cabin.) And Hazel, I'll see you on next year's Ireland trip (which sold out almost as soon as it was advertised). If anyone has suggestions for islands to include in a 2020 cruise please let me know. 2019 should be great, but I am looking forward to 2020 in oh so many ways...

On the Brownie's Chair
Front row: Debbie, Clare, Michael, Wolfgang
Second row: Liz, Nigel, Dave, Jane
Top Row: Mike, Hazel

(Photo credit: Brownie)

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge - Season 3, Episode 9

The Continuing Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge
Season 3 - Episode 9 - Lunga and Iona
Exploring the Isles of the West Cruise    June 2-11, 2018

Saturday, June 9 – Islands 14 & 15 - Lunga and Iona

Saturday saw us get an early start to Lunga - the idea being to beat the day-boats that bring hundreds of tourists to see the puffins. We were ashore by 10am, and had the island all to ourselves for a couple of hours. All visits to Lunga start with an amazing stroll along the cliff tops to see the puffins coming and going from their burrows. 

Just as amazing were the thousands of guillemots roosting at the base of Dun Cruit (Harp Rock).

I must say that the puffin population on Lunga seems to be a shadow of its former self. I have been there eight times over the last 30 years, ranging from early May to mid August, and the number of puffins I saw on June 9 was about 10% of the number I’d seen in the past. The next three photos are from a visit in 2008.

Aside from seeing the bright puffins and noisy guillemots on Harp Rock, there is a secret place on Lunga I always like to visit. Most visitors are not interested in seeing it, as it's dark, dank and cold. It is a tunnel-cave described by Fraser Darling in his book Island Years (1940), and by L.R.Higgins in his classic A Tangle of Islands (1971). The cave is 200 feet long, its entrance lies hidden at the bottom of a pit in the south plateau of Lunga, and its far end opens out onto the western cliffs of the island. Liz was interested in seeing it, and so the two of us left the puffins to go spelunking. 

From the rim of the pit we slid down its steep bank into a sea of ferns. The cave mouth is hidden below the dark spot in the centre of next photo.

Into the pit
After wading through the ferns we came to the small mouth. It was now time to crawl for about ten feet across wet stones, then waddle for another 20 feet to a point where we could stand up.

After going 200 feet we reached the seaward end of the cave, where a short scramble up some boulders took us out onto the face of the western cliffs.

After retracing our steps through the cave, and climbing back up the wall of the pit, we returned to puffin city. As we did we noticed a boat full of people motoring towards the shore. The timing of our visit to Lunga had been perfect; what we were seeing was the first of the day-boats. They started landing folks just as we were making our way down to the shore, and I felt like a salmon swimming upstream as I passed about 50 day-trippers slowly making their way - some in flip flops - up the rocky beach.

Leaving Lunga behind, we sailed east to take a look (from the sea) into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. About halfway there we came upon a basking shark zig-zagging through the water.

The interior of Fingal's Cave is currently closed to visitors because the walkway into it has collapsed (see this article). So this was one of few times I'd seen the cave from the sea when it was not full of tourists.

From Staffa it was a short motor over to Iona, where the anchor was dropped in Port nam Mairtear, Martyrs' Bay, where 68 monk's were killed in the year 806. It is easy to know that it's Martyrs' Bay because of the well signed Martyrs' Bay Restaurant and Pub which sits above the bay.

Once ashore a visit to the nunnery was followed by a climb to the top of the island, the hill of Dun-I. (Pronounced Dune - ē, not, as some tourists call it, Done One.) Iona was as crowded as usual, and it seemed strange being among so many people after a week of deserted islands.

On the way to the hill we passed the abbey. In days of yore it was free to go inside, these days it'll cost you £7.50. 

In days of not-so-yore (like 4 years ago), it was easy to get in the grounds through an unlocked side gate to take a close look at St Martin's Cross and climb onto Tor Ab, where it is thought Columba had his cell. I was disheartened to see that even this side gate is now securely locked.

St Martin's Cross
A half-mile north of the abbey we reached the path that climbs to the top of Dun-I. Even though it is only about 300 feet high, it is well worth climbing for the views. But this time of year you will not find solitude here, as people are continually coming and going.

The busy summit of Dun-I
There being so many people on the top of the hill was posing a problem, as I’d been planning for several months to do something up here that required a bit of privacy. Nestled in my pack was some precious cargo, a small container I’d carried throughout our trip. It had been on 15 islands so far, but Iona would be the last one. 

The problem was solved when, from the summit, I noticed a little knoll that no one was on. As I watched for several minutes I could see that none of the tourists seemed to be going over there. And so I made my way to this little knoll west of the summit. It was the perfect spot for what I wanted to do; a spot that looked out over the abbey to the east, and the sea to the west. I crouched down, slowly opened the container, and gently sprinkled its contents over the grass. My mother had passed five months ago. She loved Iona, and now is forever part of it.

After our climb everyone spread out to wander on their own. Some visited the abbey, others the shops. A few made the hike over to the west side of the island to the beach of Camus Cùil an T-Saimh.

As I have found out the hard way, translating Gaelic place names is a mine-field for the amateur. The name of the bay on the current OS map is Camus Cùil an T-Saimh, which may mean 'bay of the ocean-nook.' Other maps name it Camus Cul an Taibh, possibly 'bay with its back to the sea.' Regardless of what its name means, it is a beautiful spot, a half-mile of white sands nestled between the Spouting Cave and the 2000 year-old fort of Dun Bhuirg.

After a visit to the Martyr's Bay Pub to hydrate we headed back to Hjalmar Bjorge. The anchor was raised, and we left the crowds behind to motor south past Erraid into Ardlanish Bay off the Ross of Mull. As the sun set that evening it began to sink in just how fast the week had passed, and that in two days we'd be back in Oban. We'd set foot on 15 islands, and there was still one to go. For in the morning, with eagles soaring high overhead, we'd motor below some of the most impressive cliffs in the Hebrides, see a 15th century castle, and trek to a 5000 year-old stone circle.