On the Waves: Tobermory to Canna and the Sound of Harris


We awoke to another grey day but as we left Tobermory marina, this shag was sitting on a buoy and a heron was fishing in the distance.

Our boat passed Ardnamurchan Point and the lighthouse. We spent our honeymoon on the peninsula, but all our photographs got lost in the processing. Approaching Canna; Rum. Eigg and Muck were shrouded in the mist. There was a fleeting glimpse of a porpoise and several gannets diving. We arrived in the bay passing a rock with seals and entered the harbour of Canna. It is one of the Small Isles and is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday at low tide by a bridge.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Canna was settled before St Columba (or Colum Cille) is said to have visited the island during his exile in Scotland from AD 563-567 (though this is disputed by some). The original chapel was named after him as is the current one.

The first recorded Norse visitor was Guðmundr Arason, the Bishop-Elect of Holar whose ship en route from Iceland to Norway was blown off-course to the Hebrides on 14 July 1202 and sought shelter in a next to Sanday. There is evidence of what may have been a monastic site or hermitage, more recently known by the inhabitants as a nunnery. The Vikings ruled it for a time before it was transferred to Scottish Crown dependencies in 1266. In 1561 the leader of Clan Ranald, a branch of the Macdonalds, but the reformation and civil war led to it having various owners over the years. While owned by the MacNeills in 1851, the clearances were undertaken and the population census shows a drop in the population from 1841 to 1861. In 1881, the post-clearance population was recorded as 119 (62 of whom were on Sanday). In that year, MacNeil sold the island to Robert Thom, a Glasweigan shipbuilder. Thom carried out a programme of investment, including an oak pier, a footbridge to Sanday, and a Presbyterian Church (though the population remained mostly Roman Catholic). The large church is now a hostel and study centre on Sanday

and a the small Church of Scotland is now on Canna, completed in 1914. The shape of it’s tower has lead to it being called the ‘rocket church’.


In 1889, counties were formally created in Scotland, on shrieval boundaries, by a Local Government Act; Canna became part of the new county of Argyll. However, the Act established a boundary review, which decided, in 1891, to move Canna to the county of Inverness, where Eigg was already. In 1938, Thom’s family sold Canna to John Lorne Campbell, who organised the island as a farm and nature reserve. Campbell lived there until his death in 1996, but donated the island to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981. In the 1970s, local government reforms abolished counties and moved Canna into Highland Region.
There was only a short time to wander along the Shore Road as far as the bridge and no time to climb the hill for a wider view.




In the afternoon we had to be back on the boat to cross the Minch and anchor in the Sound of Harris. Leaving the harbour, we noticed graffiti on the cliffs. This used to be boat names but more recently has been added to by day trippers. Later, we passed the Duirinish Peninsula on Skye with the Neist Lighthouse.

The Minch was not too rough and we were soon in the shelter of the Sound of Harris where the water was calmer. There are several small islands there and rocks with cormorants and shags. A seal popped up several times while we were having our evening meal and another was posturing on a rock nearby. We had an early night as the next morning would be an early start.

On the Waves: Oban to Tobermory


We have visited several of the Hebridean islands over the years but the aim of this trip was to visit St Kilda, an archipelago that lies 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides and was once the most isolated community in the UK. After taking the train to Glasgow and then to Oban, we arrived in the afternoon to find our ship. The Halmar Bjǿrge, is a former Norwegian Rescue ship, adapted to carry twelve passengers and four crew and is operated by the Northern Light Cruising Company who offer a variety of trips around the Hebrides.

Just before we pulled away from the pontoon at 4pm, a speedboat passed us. Our skipper told us that it was heading for the British Virgin Islands, had won some record and was owned by someone from Google.

It began to drizzle as we left the harbour, passing Maiden Island and Dunollie Castle.

Further out, is the Lismore lighthouse.

Lady’s Rock, a skerry (or small rock/island) southwest of Lismore, has an interesting history.

It acquired its name because in 1527, Lachlan Maclean of Duart decided to murder his wife, Lady Catherine Campbell. He rowed her out to the rock one night at low tide and left her stranded on the rock to die. Looking out the next day from Duart Castle he could not see her so he sent a message of condolence to her brother, saying that he intended to bring his wife’s body to him for burial. Maclean arrived at Inveraray with an entourage of men and the coffin and discovered Lady Catherine waiting for him. at the head of the table. She had been rescued by a passing fishing boat. Maclean was later murdered in his bed in Edinburgh some time later by Lady Catherine’s brother.

Later the mist in the Sound of Mull was an abstract grey nothingness punctuated occasionally by a red or green buoy.

On arrival in Tobermory, our skipper informed us that oats had been omitted from the stores list, so he and a couple of crew members set off in the dinghy to find some so that we could have our porridge in the morning.

There was good spell of weather forecast followed by some storms a few days later so the skipper decided that we would head for St Kilda as quickly as possible. We did not have time to explore Tobermory that evening as in the morning we would be heading for Canna.

Cornbury: the resurrection


Last year’s Cornbury Festival was ‘The Fabulous Finale’ and supposedly the last. It had been making a loss over the previous few years but there were so many messages of support and demands that it continued that the decision was made to hold it again this year. As Glastonbury is having a fallow year in 2018 we decided to go with a couple of friends. We were at the gate before it opened so got a good camping pitch not too far from the car park. The tents were soon up and after a meal, we set off to explore. The Campfire Sessions on Thursday evening allows six bands to compete for a place on one of the main stages next year. We watched the last two (this is Pacific).

Some of the stewards had interesting head-gear.

We also watched a great sunset and listened to the music coming from the Ceilidh Liberation Front. They are from London and I am not sure how Celtic they actually are, but many people enjoyed their attempts to get everyone in a dark, crowded tent, dancing. On Friday the Riverside Stage had 15 talented newcomers from Richer Unsigned, a non-profit organisation founded in 2014 by Julian Richer from Richer Sounds. There were a few problems with the amps and one performer was told not to touch the mike or they would be electrocuted. The MC introduced Little Triggers, a band from Liverpool saying that as they had all been drinking beer and were wearing black trousers, they had to be a rock band.

After Tamar and The Two Tone all Skas, it was time to eat and return to the main stage in the evening for Stereo MCs and UB40.


On Saturday we started at the Riverside Stage and treated ourselves to some Nyetimber English Sparkling wine on the top floor of a converted bus after Pixie Lott.

We had a good view of the main stage where Amy Macdonald was performing and also the back of the Hairy Bikers first restaurant where they were leaving food out for staff meals.


The festival attendees are 99% white and fairly middle class. There is a good selection of activities for children and quieter camping areas so many families do attend. The performers are more diverse.
Balloons started to drift across the sky from a balloon meet somewhere nearby.

We enjoyed Mavis Staples at the Songbird Stage

and returned to the main stage for Alanis Morrisette.

Sunday’s music began with the Mighty John Street Ska Orchestra and we divided up to see Catherine McGrath, a UK country music singer or Mari Wilson and the New Wilsations.

In the afternoon we had to take the tents down and get the car packed ready to depart that evening as our friends had to be back at work on Monday. We had never seen Deacon Blue live before.

Ricky Ross, one of the vocalists noted that Donald Trump was visiting Scotland on the day they were performing in England. He said that Trump was not visiting anyone (he refused to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon) but went just to play golf. Ricky told Trump to ‘Fuck off’. Before their final song (Destiny), Ricky told us that the band were meeting former First Lady Michelle Obama next week and he dedicated the song to her and her husband. We enjoyed Caro Emerald before driving home as the sun was going down.

Re-discovering Biddulph Grange Garden


Despite it being only a few miles from home, it is over twenty years since I last visited Biddulph Grange. The last time was in the 1990s after it re-opened after restoration by the National Trust although many of the current features had not been created then. The house began as a rectory and was purchased by James Bateman around 1840. Along with his friend Edward Cooke, he began plant collecting and creating the garden. Bateman eventually moved on and in 1896 the house burnt down and so had to be re-built. It functioned as a children’s and then an orthopaedic hospital from 1923 until the 1980s. The gardens became very neglected until the National Trust took it over. The current building is a curious mix of brick and stone. Much of it consists of private apartments with a small portion containing the cafe and shop run by the National Trust.

The garden is divided into several different areas and it would take some time to explore them all. We looked at the Chinese Garden:

and wandered past the section devoted to Egypt and around various small paths and tunnels. I remembered the Stumpery from my last visit. This was constructed in 1856 and is said to be the first in the country. Parts of dead trees and other wood are used to grow plants on and around, a little like rocks in a rockery.

The Wellingtonia Avenue heads away from the house towards a gate which is opened once a year into the Country Park.

You can return via the Woodland Walk. It has several adventure playground items made from wood for children to enjoy.

Near the house there are several terraces and parterres and a dahlia walk. The geological gallery was the old Victorian entrance and houses a display of fossils and rocks collected by Batemen.

Most are reproduction with only one original. This grass planted in an urn on one of the terraces was very reminiscent of Donald Trump’s hair.

As the current hot dry weather continues we retreated to the cafe for a cold drink and some local ice-cream to cool off. Ducks were hovering in the pond outside hoping for some scraps.

There is an extremely well-stocked garden shop with a good range of plants, herbs and trees as well as tools, accessories and decorative items. When the rains return I might return here and select a few more plants for the garden as well as explore some of the areas we did not see on this visit.