Thursday, May 13, 2021

2021 Virtual Cruise - Island #3 - Luing

From Seil we set a course through Cuan Sound to steam down the coast of Luing. It happens to be a Friday, and for fish Fridays I installed a deep fryer in the galley so we can have fish & chips. The chef complained that if the ship pitched and rolled he'd get splashed with hot oil. But since calm seas have been guaranteed on this cruise I told him to buck up and get with the program. He then pleaded we do fish pie instead, so I made him walk the plank. He now feeds the fishes (and not in the usual sense).

Halfway down Luing we enter the narrow Shuna Sound. Off to port is the island of Shuna, which has a reputation of not welcoming day-trippers, so we give it a pass and drop the anchor off the sleepy village of Toberonochy. I always think of it as sleepy because the first time I visited Toberonochy was on a Sunday afternoon in 1997. Not a soul was to be seen as I walked through the village. But I did see a few curtains being pulled aside, curious eyes peeking out to see who was violating the sabbath. If anyone had challenged me (none did, though I've heard of it happening) I'd have stoked the fire by asking directions to the nearest pub.

Luing is one of the Slate Isles, and next to the village is a flooded quarry pit. In the coming days we'll be visiting the other Slate Isles of Belnahua and Fladda. From Toberonochy a five minute walk takes us up to Kilchattan church, which has not been used for 300 years.

The floor of the old church is paved solid with a hundred worn tombstones, and lying in the adjacent cemetery is the famous grave of Alexander Campbell. Campbell died in 1829, and his self-carved tombstones stand near the road. There are three slabs to read, and I have to confess that when I first saw them in 1997 I stopped reading halfway through the second stone. On the first is his well known protestation:

I protest that none be buried after me in this grave which I have dug for myself . . . having adhered till death to the whole work of the second reformation in Scotland  . . .  and died in full assurance of the heavenly inheritance. 

Campbell's Grave (at centre against the wall)
I’m glad Campbell had full assurance of his heavenly inheritance, and it looked like no one has dug him up to take over his little plot. His essay continues on another slab standing against the cemetery wall, and then ran on to a third stone facing the road on the other side of the wall. These stones ranted against “…popish prelacy…popish Erastianism…popish monuments…” I won’t go on, you get the hatefull gist. They also condemned anyone who dared to meddle with his stones. Although humans may have not meddled with them, two centuries of Hebridean weather has worn out much of the carved text. And in the two-decades since my last visit rampant vegetation has grown around, into the stones, causing one to crack and fall to the side. The following photo shows how the grave looked in 1997 (left) and how it looks today.

Kilchattan Church has a much better attraction than Campbell's grave, for there are carvings of West Highland galleys on three of its walls. The carvings on the north and west walls are very faint. But on a stone in the south wall you can still make out the hulls of four galleys, including one where you can clearly make out timber planking, mast, and riggings.

These carving may date to the last week in the life of King Alexander II. In early July of 1249 AD, Alexander's fleet passed through the area seeking a meeting with Eoghan MacDhonnchaidh MhicDhugaill. This ‘Ewen’ was the son of the Lord of Argyll, and Alexander wanted him to renounce his allegiance to Haakon of Norway. Alexander died of fever on July 8, 1249, at Horseshoe Bay on the isle of Kerrera, fifteen miles to the north. These petroglyphs may have been made by residents of Luing at the time, or by crewman ashore from the passing fleet.

Our group's fearless guide then leads us to the end of the road at Blackmill Bay. Blackmill is a shadow of its former self. It was once a busy port, but all we find there today are the crumbling remains of its old pier and ticket office. (The ticket office is on the buildings at risk website, which means it’s doomed.) It would be interesting to see Blackmill Bay in its heyday, when livestock, slate, passengers, and goods passed through on the way to and from Oban and Glasgow.

Decades ago Blackmill Bay, and Cullipool to the north, were the place to seek out a fisherman to take you to Scarba or the Garvellachs. These days a day trip to those islands can be hard to find (aside from an expensive private day-charter). Just north of the old pier they've constructed a modern stone breakwater. Behind it a solitary boat bobbed on the swells. It's just a thought, but maybe the owner would take you to Scarba or the Garvellachs if you ask. Better yet, sign on to a cruise on Hjalmar Bjorge.

Our exploration of south Luing complete we return to the ship. Back aboard we gather in the saloon to eagerly await our fish & chips. Our cook had walked the plank earlier in the day, so I'd promoted Nigel, one of our frequent flyers, to be chef. Soon plates of steaming fish and chips are set before us, and we dig in. But the skipper screams when he discovers Nigel fried the fish with the skin on. Skin-on fish & chips!  Egads, what's next? Marmite sandwiches? As punishment Nigel will have to sleep in the engine room for a week. 

The next morning we weigh anchor and set off for our next destination: Eilean Righ, the King's Isle of Loch Craignish.


  1. Enjoying the cruise enormously, thanks Marc.

  2. Great writing as usual, Marc, any chance of a map of the route please? I hope you are recovering well after your operation.

    1. Thanks. A side effect of the surgery is that it left me with something called CRPS. It's painful and long term, but I am dealing with it. Doing this pseudo-cruise is taking my mind off it. Ask and ye shall receive - I updated the April 23rd post with a general map of where I plan to go.

    2. Thanks Skipper. This is going to be a great summer-long cruise, but this guest has examined the map and spotted an important omission! What about North Rona - an unfulfilled ambition for me! You may have a mutiny on your hands as we move north!

    3. North Rona is definitely on the agenda. It is one of the two small islands shown on the map north of Lewis.

  3. Hi Skipper, enjoying our cruise immensely but I think your memory is playing tricks with you ! My punishment was meant to be banishment to the engine room for a week after my fish & chips faux pas but having discretely reminded you of events on Seil, you kindly relented. For the record: our 'swift drink' in the Tigh an Truish degenerated somewhat when Clare joined us from our new house close by and, what can only be described as 'a bit of a session', was had by all. I seem to remember you borrowing the pub's guitar and serenading us with a medley of Prog Rock classics while stood on the pool table. Our meandering walk back to Puilladobhrain in the gloaming culminated in us getting lost (or 'temporarily unsure of my position' according to our Guide) - we only found the way back to the ship when Wolfgang spotted a herd of seaweed-munching sheep heading back to the shore for seconds! Glad to fill in the gaps - cheers, Nigel

    1. Hi Nigel, thanks for filling in the gaps. For some reason my memory of that night at Tigh an Truish is a little fuzzy. I remember wowing the crowd with a solo rendition of 21st Century Schizoid Man. After that it's all a blank.