Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lighthouse Cruise 2 - Monachs

I have tried to get ashore on Shillay of the Monachs a few times, but it is a tricky landing and the sea needs to be calm. The seas were not optimal, but the skilled seamanship of our skipper, Mark Henrys, allowed us to land for a brief visit. The old light tower, built by the Stevenson's in 1864, was shutdown in WWII but reactivated in 2008. 

Were were then set ashore on the west side of nearby Ceann Iar for a few hours. When I reached the east side of Ceann Iar the tide was on the rise, but it was low enough to allow me to cross over to Shivinish, the middle isle of the Monachs. If I had been there an hour earlier I could have walked to Ceann Ear, the east isle of the group. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lighthouse Cruise 1 - Barra Head

Just returned from a 10 day cruise around the Hebrides on Halmar Bjorge. This excellent ship is operated by Northern Light Charters, and this was my fourth cruise on her. This 70 foot ex-rescue ship can hold 12 passengers, but there were only eight aboard. The itinerary was to visit as many island lighthouses as possible. After sailing from Oban our first night was spent at anchor in Tobermory Bay. Then it was off to Barra Head, where we spent a few hours ashore.

It took two trips in the inflatable to get us ashore. The island in the distance is Mingulay.

The next photo shows the lighthouse and the children's graves in the oval granite enclosure (see Book 2, chapter 10).

Our next stop was the rock light on tiny Shillay of the Monach Islands.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St Patrick's Purgatory

We just visited an island I have wanted to see for 30 years: Station Island on Lough Derg - also known as St Patrick's Purgatory.

Access is normally granted only to those coming to perform a pilgrimage. But that was waived for the day. We are in the area for a family reunion, the Flood family, and my wife is descended from the Floods of Pettigoe. We were allowed a day visit to the island because the Floods were the boatman to Station Island for many years, ferrying pilgrims back and forth to the island in what was thought to be the largest rowing boat in the world - seating 150 people. But these days large motor boats like the St Columba (first photo) take pilgrims to the island.

The Basilica is beautiful (second photo), but for me the highlight was seeing the Penitential Beds, which lie below the tree in the second photo. To me they are the heart of the island, a cluster of six beehive cells (only their foundations remain). They are built on the side of a large mound topped by a bell tower (third photo). Buried under the mound is St Patrick's Purgatory, a cavern where tradition has it Christ showed St Patrick the entrance to hell. Pilgrims up into the 1700s would come to the island to spend the night in the cave.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The White Island

My wife and I visited the White Island of Lower Lough Erne this week. I tried to reach it 20 years ago, but the ferry from Castle Archdale was not running while we were there. But it was running this week, and for the paltry sum of 4 pounds each we were taken to the island.  

Mounted on the wall of the ruined church is a set of carved stones; the one on the far left a Shiela-na-gig (second photo). It was a great to finally see the stones up close, great that is, until one of the large fleet of rental cruisers motoring around the lough docked at the island and a swarm of German tourists stormed ashore. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Today my wife and I spent a few hours on Devinish Island in Lough Erne where it was great fun to climb to the top of the round tower. There are not many of them that you can climb, and the only others I've been up are the towers of Abernethy and Kildare. Yesterday we visited Boa Island to see the mysterious Janus figure (second photo).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I was fortunate to be on the Shiants on August 12. Fortunate both to be ashore on these fascinating isles, and to be there on the one day of the year when they come over to shear the sheep.  I was landed on the north side of Garbh Eilean, where I watched the puffins for an hour before ascending to the top of the island. From there it was a memorable walk along the eastern cliffs of the island, where I occasionally caught a glimpse of two Sea Eagles soaring high to the west. The climb up the north end was exciting, as was the descent down the south side via the "Eiger Pass".

This photo shows the sheep on Garbh Eilean just after they'd been driven down the Eiger Pass. They were then herded across the stone isthmus to Eilean Tigh to be sheared. (A sad side note: the fleeces were all left to rot, as it costs more to process them than they are worth.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Man of Scarp

I drove down to Husinish yesterday. It is at the end of the long and windy road heading west from Tarbert (Harris). I drove there to take a look at Scarp, and pay a visit to a man I met on Scarp a few years ago. The man is Brian Harper, and he is an amazing fellow. He has a house on Scarp, and is also renovating one in Husinish. The photos below show him motoring in on his RIB after taking two men, a dog, supplies, and a large propane tank over to Scarp. His RIB has built in wheels on the back so he can haul it up the jetty by himself. 

Brian nearly back from Scarp

Brian pulls the RIB onto Husinish Jetty

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Road to Tamanavay

I walked the Burma Road to Tamanavay on the 2nd. To drive it you need a key to open its gate, and a high clearance 4x4 vehicle to traverse the rocky track, neither of which I have. I've travelled this road on foot several times over the last 10 years, but this was the first time I'd walked it in and out on the same day. But it was well worth the effort, for this seemingly endless road from hell leads to a heavenly assortment of hiking opportunities. On this walk I was in search of some old shielings and beehive cells that dot the terrain above Loch Tamanavay. It was a full day, as the round trip totaled about 16 miles.

The photo shows a section of the track that zig-zags alongside Loch Raonasgail before ascending 700 feet to the narrow gap of Bealach Raonasgail.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Boots - Epilogue

On Thursday I arrived on Harris and drove to Renigidale. Once there I stopped in to see Kenny Mackay, a long time resident of the village. Kenny had kindly stored my wayward boots until I could collect them. They were a bit moldy, and the metal lace-hasps and eyelets have a fine green patina, which I guess I should not rub off if I ever want to sell them on Antiques Roadshow. Aside from that they are fine, and I have already gone on two hikes wearing them. I was hoping to get to Mealasta Island today, but the weather is awful and the trip has been cancelled. So how shall I spend a stormy day on Lewis?

The wayward boots are back - that's Eilean Iubhaird in the distance