Saturday, January 30, 2016

She was More Than Merely Good Looking

One of the best week-long island visits I've made was to Eigg. My wife and I took a cottage in Cleadale, which is an excellent base for making long walks around the island. One of those walks was to Sgorr Sgaileach, at the northern tip of the island, and then down the east coast to Kildonan. 

Sgorr Sgaileach
From Sgorr Sgaileach I headed south down the coast. It was beautiful, but tiring terrain to cross; a series of ups and downs across slanting slopes. 

The east coast
A mile down the coast I came to the ruins of two stone houses; a little settlement known as the midway-shieling of Struidh (NM 496 889). In his book The Cruise of the Betsey (1869), Hugh Miller describes a walk down this coastline. And it was at Struidh that he had an encounter: 

"An island girl of eighteen, more than merely good looking, though much embrowned by the sun had come to the door to see who the unwonted visitors might be."

Unlike today, it seems tans were not appreciated back then. After enjoying a bowl of mingled milk and cream, Miller ends his description of the encounter with: "We bade farewell to the lonely shieling and the hospitable island girl."

Unfortunately there was not a 'more than merely good looking' island lass there to greet me, only a few shaggy sheep. But the surroundings made up for the missing hospitality (almost). Six hundred feet above the cottages the thin waterfall of the Allt na h-Airde Mheadhonaich misted down from the cliff-top. The resulting stream then flowed through the settlement: Struidh's one-time residents had fresh water at their doorsteps.

The Allt na h-Airde Mheadhonaich waterfall
The stream flowing through Struidh
As I walked on down the coast the land started to narrow; the cliff closing in on the right, the sea on the left. Hoping that the path shown on the map, that led up to Kildonan, was still there, I carried on. If not I'd have to backtrack four miles.

The shelf starts to narrow
And narrows even more
Fortunately the path to the top was still there, and an easy climb led to a pass called Bealach Clith.

The path through Bealach Clith
At this point I'd walked six miles; and the way back to the cottage in Cleadale involved another five miles of road walking. I was hoping to hitch a ride. But Eigg is such a quiet place that not a single car passed by, and so I had a peaceful and scenic walk back to Cleadale.

If you are looking for an amazing place to spend a week, you'd be hard pressed to find somewhere better than Eigg. And you'd also be hard pressed to find a better place to stay than the cottage we took for a week (Top House).

Top House

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Going... Going... Almost Gone

There are only five berths left for the 10-night cruise on Hjalmar Bjorge for May 21 - 31. I will be going along as a guide, and if you're interested you can find details on the "2016 Cruise" tab above, or on this page of the Northern Light Charters website.

Hjalmar Bjorge at the Shiants
Hjalmar Bjorge
Hjalmar Bjorge at Scarp

Monday, January 18, 2016

Scenes from Star Wars

I went to the new Star Wars movie this week. I enjoyed the movie, especially the end. My jaw dropped in astonishment when I saw where they filmed the last scene. In it, Rey, the heroine of the tale, climbs an ancient stone stairway atop an island in a galaxy far, far away. In reality it was not quite so far away, for the scene was filmed on one of my favourite islands: Skellig Mhichael.

Stairway to the monastery - Skellig Mhicheal
A boat trip to Skellig is something you'll remember forever. As the boat approaches the island it is as if a giant pyramid is rising out of the sea.

Approaching Skellig
Once ashore it is a stiff climb to the monastic ruins on the North Peak, some 600 feet above the sea.

The Burial Ground
The Monastery Beehives
As amazing as the monastery is, the hermitage that once stood on the south peak is even more amazing. Chiseled out of the side of the south peak, nearly 700 feet above the sea, is a small ledge. And on it there once stood a solitary beehive cell, the monastery's place of retreat. I wanted to see it, so after exploring the monastery I descended back down to Christ's Saddle between the two peaks, and then followed a path that led to the South Peak.

Looking down to Christ's Saddle from the route to the South Peak - the steps in the photo lead to the North Peak
The going was easy at first, and there was an amazing view straight down the cliff-face to the lighthouse.

Then I came to a blind corner, where the route crossed a narrow ledge about 12 inches wide. The cliff-face on one side, a vertical drop of a few hundred feet on the other.

The blind corner - sea-pinks sprouting on the rock face
It was here I decided to turn around, the narrow path across the cliff was too scary. And so the hermitage of Skellig Mhichael, like the Gannet Isle of Sulaisgeir, will probably remain special island-places I'll never see.

The South Peak
If the hermitage of Skellig interests you, be sure to read The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael (see this link for an on-line version of the book). I look forward to seeing Star Wars VIII, as I've read there are more scenes filmed on Skellig.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Scenes from Scarba

I really want to return to Scarba. There are two mysterious places that intrigue. One of them, the three-holes of Gleann na h-Airigh (shieling glen, NG 7087 0432), can be see in this GoogleEarth image.

The three holes
There's been some speculation as to what the three holes are (or were). And if you are interested, you can find a very long thread on the subject (with many tangents) on Andrew Gough's Arcadia Zone. The CANMORE page on the site says that they may be retting ponds, where flax straw was soaked to allow the fibers to be separated. Whatever they were, it would be interesting to see them up close. Unfortunately I was not aware of the holes when I visited Scarba, and I missed seeing them by about a quarter mile. 

The second place I'd like to see is Lurach Bay, due west of Cruach Scarba (NM 680 045). Lurach may mean lovely, and the bay is one of the few, if not the only, safe place to land on the west side of Scarba. It is here that Patrick Gillies, in his Netherlorn and it's Neighborhood (1909), says there are a cluster of six beehive cells, possibly a small monastery. Gillies suggests the site may be another contender for the location of Hinba (along with Colonsay, Jura, and the Garvellachs). See this CANMORE page for more on the beehive cells of Lurach Bay.

A visit to Scarba is described in chapter 6 of book 1. Below are a few photos that did not make it into the book, including a shot of the submarine hide atop Cruach Scarba.

Wartime submarine hide atop Cruach Scarba - I wonder if they ever spotted any subs

Tombstones at Kilmory Chapel
Scarba bothy at the foot of Glen Mhaoil
Landing craft at Scarba's only jetty - Bagh a Bhan-Rubha
Looking across the Gulf of Corryvreckan to Jura
Automatic cattle feeder - Kilmory Lodge in the distance
Kilmory Cave
The view through a misty sky from the summit of Scarba

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Temple-Tomb of Rum

I've only had the pleasure of visiting Harris on Rum twice. The first time was in 1997, when my wife and I made the 12-mile round trip walk from Kinloch Castle. The second time was on a circumnavigation of the south half of Rum made in 2000 (see chapter 28 of book 1).

The weather in 2000 was atrocious, gray skies and a constant drizzle, which made for dreary photos. But the first visit, in '97, was on a hot spring day. So hot that when my wife and I reached Harris we put two cans of beer in the nearby Glen Duian River to get cold. The goal of the walk was to see the most bizarre grave sites in the Hebrides, the Bullough's Temple-tomb. Here are a few photos from that amazing day afoot on Rum.

Harris Lodge and the Bullough's Temple-Tomb at Harris
Looking to the western sea from Harris
The meager remnant of the Bullough's original hillside cave-tomb can be seen to the left of the temple
John Bullough's memorial
A beer cools in the Glen Duian River (at bottom)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Inchkenneth House

I have only been to Inchkenneth once (see book 1, chapter 12 for the story of that visit.) One thing I was not able to see while I was on the island was the interior of Inchkenneth House. It was built a hundred years ago, and in the 1930s was owned by Harold Boulton, know for writing the lyrics to The Skye Boat Song. As you can see in the first photo, which was taken in the 20s, the house was originally three-storeys high. Boulton had another floor added in the 30s, which drastically changed the look of the building.

Inchkenneth House in the 1920s - from Thomas Hannan's Iona and Some Satellites (1928) 
Inchkenneth House - 2003

Harold Boulton died in 1935, and the island was bought by the Mitfords. They held on to it for about 30 years; selling in the 1960s to Dr Andrew Barlow. It was Dr. Barlow that I wrote to in 2003 asking if I could visit the island. He responded with a gracious letter giving me the contact details of the caretaker who could take me to the island.

The highlight of visiting the island was to see the chapel ruin. But I was disappointed not to get a look inside the house. On our way to the island the caretaker said it might be possible to go inside, but he changed his mind at some point while I was off exploring the island. (Either he thought I had spent too much time wandering around or, more likely, I looked like a suspicious character).

I hope to return to Inchkenneth someday to see inside the house. If you're interested you can get a few glimpses of its interior in a video made in 2010 about the Mitford's experiences on the island called If these Walls Could Speak.