Sunday, November 25, 2018

Isles to Be - Mealasta

This is the first in a series of posts on the Elusive Ones; islands that have resisted all my advances; islands I hope to set foot on someday. The first is Mealasta, off the coast of Uig (Lewis).

Over the years I've sailed past Mealasta a dozen times. Three of those times we wanted to get ashore, but on all those occasions the swell was too large to safely land.

Mealasta seen from Scarp
Traigh Mhor an Eilean - Mealasta
Mealasta has a fantastic beach of golden sand on its east side  - Traigh Mhor an Eilean (previous photo). To the north of it lie the remains of a few structures: Airighean a Chraois; a name that implies it was a summer shieling.

I am not sure if, other than the shielings, the island was ever inhabited. (Haswell-Smith, in his Scottish Islands book says it was, but that there are no records.) There are indeed references to people from Mealasta, but those mentions may be referring to the township of Mealasta, opposite the island on Lewis. That Mealasta had a population of 11 in 1766.

The most well known story about the people of Mealasta is the incident of the Pairc Murders, when the crew of a boat from Mealasta were killed for their cargo of lumber. (See the August 1, 2017 post for more on this).  In his book Waypoints: Seascapes and Stories of Scotland's West Coast, Ian Fisher includes a version of the story that says that the doomed crew was from the island, not the mainland.

You can get to within a mile of Mealasta island by driving to the end of the Uig road, where there is a small jetty. Last time I was there the azure sea was calm and the wind light; ideal for a voyage to the island. At the foot of the jetty a boat sat invitingly on a trailer.  If only it was mine...

Scarp seen from near the old Mealasta township - Mealasta island to the right
I hope to set foot on Mealasta someday (without stealing a boat). But, for now, it remains one of the Isles to Be.

Scarp (left) and Mealasta seen from Lewis

Monday, November 19, 2018

History of Rona

I am looking forward to setting foot on Rona again this coming July (see this link). So I was delighted to be told of a new website dedicated to the history of Rona. Here is what its author, Jonathan Machin, told me about his vision for the website:

Rona represents one of the few true wildernesses left in the UK, granted protection by its isolation – more than 40 miles from the nearest inhabited land – and made wild by the harsh Atlantic Ocean. The very existence of such a place seems to defy the every-day mundanity of my own city life. Yet despite its remoteness, the island of Rona is layered thick with history, its unique location and circumstances providing the perfect backdrop to the human stories that fill it. History of Rona seeks to give a glimpse of what it was like to live on Rona, and illustrate just some of epic stories that come out of this most remote island.

If Rona is of interest, whether you are an armchair traveler, or planning to visit the island, be sure to take a look at Jonathan's website History of Rona.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Kerrera - The North End

My last visit to Kerrera was in June of 2018. I discovered then that the ferry I'd taken many times in the past, Gylen Lady, had been replaced by MV Carvoria (an old Norse name for Kerrera). The ferry, now managed by Calmac, is still run by Duncan McEachan  (see this link).

Gylen Lady in 2017

MV Carvoria

MV Carvoria
Most people who take this ferry walk the Gylen loop: a six-mile hike that visits Barnambuc and Gylen Castle. Another great walk is to head north up the west coast to visit the Hutcheson Monument, and the monastic cashel at Cladh a' Bhearnaig. See chapter 22 of Book 1 for a description of Cladh a' Bhearnaig, and the history of the monument.

North tip of Kerrera - The cashel of Cladh a' Bhearnaig at centre
The north tip of Kerrera is very close to Oban, and from the vantage point of the Hutcheson Monument you can watch the ferries rumble by on their way to and from Mull and the Western Isles.

The high ground near the monument is also a great place to enjoy a packed lunch. Chances are you will have the place to yourself.

A north-end Kerrera monument that disappeared several years ago was a statue of Sampson that stood guard over the waters at Ardentrive. If anyone knows his whereabouts please let me know.

Sampson of Ardentrive - where did he go?
Next time you are in Oban, and looking for something to do (and escape the summer crowds), there's no better day-out than a long wander around Kerrera.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Leif Erikson in Uig

When I arrived in Uig (Lewis) last August, the first thing my wife and I did was visit the museum run by Commun Eachdraigh Uig, the Uig Historical Society. As we were walking in we passed a bust of a viking on a plinth. At first I thought it was a large version of one of the Lewis Chessmen, as statues of them appear in Uig every now and then.

As it happened, the night before we arrived on Lewis the bust was presented to the people of Uig by the Leif Ericson International Foundation. The statue commemorates Lief's probable visit to the Western Isles a thousand years ago. It is the final, in a series of statues they've commissioned over the past 20 years. As it turns out, the foundation is based only a few miles away from where I live in Seattle. I'd never heard of them, but I was very familiar with the large statue of Lief Erikson in Seattle that dates to 1962, and overlooks a large marina at the north end of town. There is a large population with Norse heritage in Seattle. Tens of thousands came here in the late 18th and early 20th century, because the environment reminded them of home, and there were lots of opportunities for work in fishing and logging. 

The Lewis chessmen are dated to the 1100s, but they could be off by 100 years. If so, maybe one of Leif's crewman lost the chess set found in the sands of Uig in 1831. Could Leif had been the model for the Berserker, or the Warder?