Wednesday, April 28, 2021

2021 Virtual Cruise - Island #1 - Kerrera

Kerrera is the only large Hebridean island just a five minute boat ride from a major town. And as such, is the island I have visited more times than any other. The nearby town is Oban of course, whose fleshpots have led many a sailor astray. I, of course, am immune to such temptations these days. Though I have to confess to several late night stumbles back to the pier in the days of my misspent, wayward youth. Back then you had to climb down slippy iron ladders to board ship. These days, with the new marina in place, the only obstacle is trying to get a booze-fogged brain to remember the passcode to the gate - or so I'm told. (Now, is it 12345 or 54321?)

But getting back to Kerrera. I first set foot on the island in 1993. In those days you turned a large signboard to show its white side to let the ferryman know you wanted to cross. (A hundred years ago there was a 'winding-siren', a sure fire way to waken a sleeping boatman over on Kerrera.)  But, since we have our own ship, we have no need to wake any sleeping boatman. We'll drop the anchor at the south end of the island off Port a' Chasiteil, the landing place for Gylen Castle. Once ashore we're greeted by the best view of Gylen Castle, looking up from below.

A climb up to the west leads to the top of the cliffs. From there you get a full view of the 50 foot high tower house. I have seen its Gaelic name, Caisteal nan Geimhlean, translated as 'Castle of Springs', but the word Geimhlean can mean enslavement, or imprisonment, so the name may translate to 'The Prison'.

Gylen is architecturally known for its oriel window. Inset in the window is a carving of a woman’s head; her long hair spreading down and out in both directions to become a cable moulding that runs along the bottom of the window. One braid of her hair winds around to the carving of a man in a skull-cap, who is pulling on this rope of hair (left side of photo). Her other braid winds around to the carving of what looks to be a man wearing a helmet or, as was reported by a visitor in 1800, a bagpipe player, who is also pulling on the rope of hair. It would be interesting to know the story behind this tug-of-war for the lady’s attention. Which course in life do you think she chose? Life with a musician, or life as a religious?

A stroll through the entrance doorway leads through a vaulted passageway to the small outer courtyard. When I first visited Gylen the courtyard was wide open, these days a metal railing keeps the clumsy from falling off the cliff.

The first floor hall with its projecting garderobe and large fireplace is accessible, but the circular stairway to the upper floors and the caphouse no longer exists.

Gylen was the scene of a bloody massacre in the year 1647. The castle was a stronghold of the Macdougals (royalists), and was besieged by a force of covananters. After running low on water the Macdougals surrendered. The covananters then proceeded to kill all the prisoners and burn the castle.   

Before leaving Kerrera we make the mile long hike, and 600 foot climb, to the top of the island. The view there encompasses Mull to the west, Oban to the north, and to the south many of the islands we will be visiting next.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Virtual Cruise 2021

April 24th was to have been the start of my fifth cruise as a guide on the ship Hjalmar Bjorge. But Covid cancelled it, as it did last year's cruise. Instead of moping around, I've decided to virtually commandeer Hjalmar Bjorge and, as Master and Commander, take her to all the Hebridean isles I've visited over the past thirty-plus years. Our cruise will take several months, and during those months I guarantee sunny skies, calm seas, whales, eagles and otters galore - and no midges when we go ashore. I can also guarantee that no matter how long the cruise is we will not run out of beer and fish pie will never dare to appear on the menu. (And any passenger who requests said dish will suffer 50 lashes on the poop deck and then be sent below to scrub the heads.)

The following map gives you a rough idea of our general route. Note that not all the smaller islands we will visit are shown.

So join us next time as we motor out of a sunny Oban and starboard the helm (turn left), and as we do we'll give a friendly wave to the Captain of the Macbrayne's Ferry. He'll be blowing his horn at us, under the delusion that he's King Neptune, and we need to yield the right of way - well, maybe we should . . .

Our first stop will be Kerrera, where we'll see the jewel in its crown, Gylen Castle, before making our way south to the Garvellachs, the Slate Isles, Jura, Scarba, Gigha, Cara, and more.