Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mealasta Island

Two weeks ago I finally made it to Mealasta Island. Mealasta lies off the southwest corner of Lewis, three miles north of Scarp. I have sailed past Mealasta many times over the years, but the sea and wind conditions were never right for landing. Getting to the island was made possible by a chain of events that started with a walk I made two years ago to Fidigidh, a remote sheiling site on Lewis. Fidigidh has one of the most impressive beehive cells in the islands, and when I entered the cell I found a travelling book of poetry. (The story of finding the book can be found on the Bothy of Poems post from December of 2017).

In 2018, a year after finding the book, my wife and I met Sarah Wilson of Brenais (Uig), who had left the book in the beehive cell in 2016. Sarah also introduced us to Ian Buchanan, who lives in Breanis, and has a boat he regularly takes out into the waters near Mealasta Island. I mentioned my many failed attempts to get to the island, and Sarah and Ian extended an invitation to take me there the next time I was in the area. And so it was that on May 16 of this year, Ian ferried Sarah and myself over to elusive Mealasta Island.

Mealasta Island
Mealasta Island seen from Lewis
From the slipway at the end of the Uig road we motored across the half-mile wide Caolas an Eilean, which separate Mealasta from mainland Lewis. The best landing spot on Mealasta is at Craos, a small lagoon on the northwest corner of the island. The entrance to the lagoon is guarded by reefs, with a gap just wide enough to let in a shallow-draft boat.

The narrow entrance to the lagoon
We made landfall on the beautiful beach that lies at the head of the lagoon. Above the beach is Airighean a Chraos (Croas Shielings), where the only known dwellings on the island once stood.

I searched for the four ruins shown on the 1854 map. All I found were two vague rectangular outlines of stone, and the slight ruin of a shelter built against an outcropping of rock. I wonder if these had been the homes of the Mealasta people who were murdered for their cargo of timber at Bagh Ciarach on the east side of Lewis - a story usually referred to as the Pairc Murders. Although I am not sure if the victims were from the island, or from the Mealasta settlement opposite the island on Lewis. See the August 1, 2017 post for the story of the Pairc Murders.

The sparse remnants of a dwelling
From the old settlement site Sarah headed south to look for a spot to mount an otter trail cam, while I made a long wander around, and over the top, of the island. Here are a few photos from an enchanting day on an enchanting Island covered with primroses and sea campion.

Looking to Scarp from the northwest corner of Mealasta

Craos Beach (landing place) seen from above

Looking to Huisinis and Scarp (at far right) from the north summit
The skinny beach at Laimhraig an Seoraid (landing place of primroses)
Looking to Lewis and the hills of Harris from the south summit

The Uig hills seen from Traigh Mhor

Traigh Mhor

Craos Beach
Return to Lewis - the slipway at Road's End
It was a real privilege to spend six hours on Mealasta - an island I have wanted to see since I first laid eyes on it from afar in 2001 (see Book 2, Chapter 21).  Many thanks to Sarah and Ian for the opportunity.

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