Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Loch an Ath Ruaidh

In May of 2017 I camped for two nights by a beautiful loch in the remote interior of southwest Lewis. I had not planned to camp there. I'd wanted to make it all the way to the Aird Mhor, at the mouth of Loch Reasort. The hike had started at Kinlochrog. But due to the difficult terrain, after eight hours of hiking I'd only traversed ten miles. My legs were shot, and the pack seemed to get heavier with every step. It was getting late, and Aird Mhor was still another two hilly miles west. So I decided to call it a day and find a campsite. 


Circumstances create memories. The campsite I found was absolutely amazing. It was on the grassy shore of a little loch; a loch hidden in a cradle of hills; hills rich with deer, grouse, snipe, and the occasional eagle.  Oh, and one other thing - hills full of shielings and beehive cells.


The name of the loch is Loch an Ath Ruaidh, the loch of the red-stone ford. It is compact, only about four acres in size. Early hunter-gatherers appreciated this site; plenty of game, fresh water, and shelter provided by the surrounding hills. They liked it so much they built six beehive dwellings around the loch. The following photo, taken near a beehive on the north end of the loch, shows the locations of several of the cells.



Loch an Ath Ruaidh remains one of my favorite Hebridean campsites. I was fortunate in 2017, as it was sunny, with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges away. When I returned to the loch two years later, it was a cold, wet, and windy day. I decided to camp in a different location, as I did not want to ruin the memory of what had been a perfect island campsite. 

What follows are photos of Loch an Ath Ruaidh from 2017. My little blue tent shows up in all but the final photo. That one shows the only company I had during three sunny days in the Aird Mhor.





Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kerrera - The North End Ferry

When you are in Oban there's no better way to spend a day than a walk on the island of Kerrera. In Book 1 (chapter 22) I describe three walks on the island: the South Ring walk to Gylen Castle, the North Ring walk to the Hutcheson Monument, and the climb to Carn Breugach, the summit of the island: walks illustrated in this map from the book.


The walks in the book have one thing in common: they all start from the Kerrera island ferry that departs from Gallanach, south of Oban. While the walk to Gallanach is only two miles, due to the busy, narrow road, it can be an unpleasant walk. So unpleasant that, on several occasions, I forked out six pounds to take a taxi from Oban to the ferry.

The Gallanach to Kerrera Ferry
Another way to get to Kerrera is the Oban to Ardentrive Marina ferry. In the past it was only available to boaters berthed at the marina. But a few years ago it started to be available to day-trippers wanting to walk the north end of the island, or have a bite at the Waypoint Restaurant. If you are staying in Oban it is a convenient way to get to the island, and you can book a seat online. Last July I had a few hours to spare in Oban, so I decided to try out the ferry, and also make a walk on the island. Being mid-summer the conditions were not ideal - in other word the bracken was tall and thick - as were the midges. What follows are some photos from that day on Kerrera.

The Ardentrive Ferry approaching Oban's North Pier



On the approach to Kerrera

The Hutcheson Monument on the hill above the marina

Ardentrive Marina - WWII flying boat hanger at the right

The climb to the Hutcheson Monument

Looking back to the marina - late July meant thick bracken, and even thicker midges



The Mull ferry entering Oban Harbour


The most historic site on Kerrera is the 8th century Christian cashel at the extreme north tip of the island. In July is is completely covered in bracken, so nothing is visible.


The next photo shows the cashel in May, when the bracken is dead and dried up.


Just below the cashel is the beautiful beach of Port a' Bhearnaig.


As I made my way back to the Marina I saw the Calmac ferry heading back to Mull. At ten round-trips a day it must be the most lucrative route in the world. The next photo shows the ferry passing The Dog Stone, where it is said Fingal tied up Bran when he went hunting. (Though I would think Fingal would want his dog with him when hunting.) The photo after that shows the ferry approaching Dunollie Castle.



Always wanting to set foot on a new island, I wandered down to the tidal crossing to the islet of Rubha a' Cruidh (cattle point), from where they once swam cattle to the mainland. The tide was too high to cross over safely. And although there were stepping stones, they were slippy and spaced far apart. Even if I'd been able to cross over, a gate barred access to the track on the far side which leads to the grand mansion that was built on the islet several years ago.

Stepping stones to Rubha a' Cruidh

Looking across to Dunollie Castle from the tidal crossing
After a couple hours of walking I returned to the marina. I had a few minutes before the ferry left, so I took a look at the Waypoint Restaurant. Unfortunately I did not have time for a pint.


Along with a few other day-trippers, and several yotties, I boarded the boat for the return to Oban. The ferry service was excellent, and next time I hope to use it in combination with having a meal at the Waypoint Restaurant. Next time you are in Oban be sure to take this ferry for a short (or long) walk on Kerrera - it will be time well spent. 

Return to Oban

Friday, January 10, 2020

Aird Laimisiadair

I just saw the Call the Midwife episode that was filmed on Lewis.  The scenes filmed at the Gearranan blackhouse village reminded me of one of the best short walk on Lewis, one that most tourists never make: the clifftop walk around the Aird Laimishader headland. 

I described the one-way hike to Laimishader from Gearrannan in the June 26, 2015 post, which you can read here. That is the best way to see the area, but it does involve a two-mile road walk back to Gearrannan. The easiest way to see it is the out-and-back hike from Borghaston; a beautiful three-mile hike to the headland and back described in Chapter 18 of Book 2.

What follows are photos taken during several visits to Laimishader, and from a sail past it; photos that span a period of 22 years, from 1997 to 2019.

Route of the walk from Gearrannan
Route of walk from Borghaston described in Book 2, Chapter 18

The original headland beacon at Aird Laimishader in 1997

The headland beacon in 2015 (now an IKEA tower)



Inland from the headland is Loch na- h-Airde. Anyone familiar with the prologue of Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's The Haunted Isles knows of the stepping stones that cross the stream here.

Loch na h-Airde - stepping stones at lower right

Stepping Stones - 1997

Looking out to the isles of Loch Rog

Old settlement site at Laimisiadar

Laimisiadar - once a monastery
St Ciaran's Well at Laimisiadar
A last look back at the headland