We had a 90-minute journey to the river and our boat; the first 20km on asphalt and the remainder on a dirt track. The usual departure point was out of action because the river was too low. Instead of a 1km walk to the pier, there was a longer 4X4 drive with payments to each person whose land we had crossed. Once our luggage had arrived by tractor and trailer, we set off; zigzagging through the low water. Nearby we passed a group of people with someone dressed all in white on the riverbank. We were told that this was a spirit cleaning ceremony which occurs every October. Someone who is identified as being possessed by a is cleansed in the river in a ceremony to appease the spirits. I asked how someone is identified as being possessed and was told that they may say unusual things and appear as if they are ‘in a trance’. I did wonder whether some of these people may actually have a psychosis or other mental disorder and I don’t know how this is understood in traditional communities.
Savannah gave way to forest and then we were in deeper water as rocky strata appeared. There were some small communities on the riverbank with a few wooden and straw huts and canoes moored nearby. Eventually we arrived at the sandbank near the Cascade Anosinampela. Some of us walked up to the waterfall for a cool-off and then returned to await tent erection. Our guide was advised that camping on the other bank would be better, so we moved over there and got the tents up just before sunset.
The following morning, we returned to the other bank because Red-Fronted Lemurs had been spotted in the trees.
Underway, we passed into a limestone gorge.
A little further on we stopped at a small village on the riverbank: Begidro. It was market day and school holidays so was quite busy.
The farmers here grow tobacco as well as the usual crops so somewhat surprisingly there is a large state-run tobacco warehouse.
Most people live in huts with a corrugated iron roof with a few being able to afford bricks or even concrete. We spotted to Liverpool FC shirts on the streets
and a fairly recent Mo Salah one. We visited the local state-run school which caters for ages 6-15. Apparently, NGOs only support private schools.
Back on the water we stopped for lunch near the first baobabs we had seen. There are seven species in Madagascar. Six are endemic and the other is the African baobab found on the African continent.
We eventually entered Tsirbihina Gorge, more baobabs and our destination for the night on the sandbank. We watched the sun go down over the water.
A campfire had been planned with musical entertainment being provided by some of the locals. We had singers, drummers and dancers followed by a guy with a ukelele.
The following morning, we woke early thanks to the cockerel. He belonged to one of the crew and was carried with us on the boat. We were told that he was a prize fighter and that cock fighting is not only legal but very popular in Madagascar. After saying goodbye to the boat crew, we discovered that our 4X4s were marooned on the other side of the river awaiting a ferry. Tuk Tuks were hired to take us into Belo Tsiribihina for lunch at the Mad Zebu Restaurant. This is popular with tourists. While our meal was being prepared, we walked around town passing the Kings Palace (surrounded by wood) but photography was not allowed. After lunch we met up with the cars and had to wait for the convoy to form. Since there had been robberies from vehicles on the road, police convoys are the only permitted means of getting up towards our destination. We continued through savannah with baobabs, forded a small river and then a dried up one. Eventually all the vehicles in the convoy had caught up and we could cross the Manambolo River by ferry and find our hotel in Bekopa.
On another sunny day we set off from Rosemarkie up the Fairy Glen to join the road to Cromarty. It is a village sited between the Sutors, the two headlands one mile apart at the entrance to the bay. We parked by the shore where dozens of kayakers were arriving and getting ready to enter the water. The Stevenson lighthouse built in 1846 is now a Field Station for Aberdeen University marine biologists.
A small ferry runs across to Nigg on the other side during the summer months.
A monument on the shoreline is a memorial to all those who emigrated to North America after the clearances. It lists the names of the ships. Most of the buildings in Cromarty are 18th or 19th century. 13 sites have connections to slave plantations, mostly in Guyana and many of the merchants are buried in the cemetery here. Slavery is something Scotland has been late to acknowledge. There is no Museum of Slavery in Scotland while several English cities have one. In 2018 the University of Glasgow announced it was paying £20 million in reparation for donations derived from slavery merchants. George Ross, a businessman, bought Cromarty in 1772 investing in a harbour, hemp works, brewery, nail works, a lace-making school, stable and a hog yard for pigs. The hemp was imported from St Petersburg and the factory produced bags and sacks for West Indian goods. He built the Gaelic chapel in 1784 for the influx of Gaelic speakers into the town. Cromarty was one of the towns that made so much money from the slave trade that it petitioned against abolition. Perhaps the most famous son of Cromarty was Hugh Miller, a self-taught geologist, naturalist, writer and florist born in 1802. The house he was born in and the one he lived in are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland but were closed at the time we visited.
He died in Edinburgh in 1856. There is a trail around the important places in the town, including his statue. The oldest building in the town still standing is Townslands Barn built in 1690 for Bernard Mckenzie. In the early 19th century it was converted to a threshing barn and latterly for agricultural storage. It is Grade A listed and was acquired by the community in 2018 who hope to be able to raise funds and restore it for some future use.
We had coffee at the Emporium which in addition to having a small café, sells new and used books, gifts and postcards.
Afterwards we continued along the north shore of the Black Isle, passing through Jemimaville and then stopping at the RSPB Udale Bay Reserve. Many migrating birds stop here to feed. We saw Canada and Pink-footed Geese and other birds in the distance. In the logbook someone in earlier in the day had seen an osprey feeding.
After crossing the Cromarty Firth, we stopped at Tain for supplies and as we were too early to check in to the campsite, had a look at the first item on the Pictish Trail. The Edderton Cross-Slab is a stone dating from the 9th century with a Celtic Cross and three horsemen: it is not certain who they are. Other fragments of stone are inside the old church which is only open at certain times. The Pictish Trail runs from Edderton to Altnaharra and visits 13 sites.
After checking in we needed a walk. The site sits between the A9 near the Dornoch Firth Bridge, the train line (and former station now a house) and just beside it runs a minor road down to Meikle Ferry Point. Cattle were grazing in the fields around the bay and looked at us curiously wondering who we were.
The passenger ferry ceased to run when the bridge opened in 1991. Prior to this vehicles had to drive to Bonar Bridge to cross the Firth. There are now houses at the tip of the point but the old piers on the south and north shore are still visible.
We have to be off the site by 10am tomorrow to continue our journey north.
We left Adelaide southbound down the Fleurieu Peninsula. The Mount Lofty Range runs down the centre with vineyards along the roadside. We passed McLaren Vale and then took a detour to Sellick Beach where we grabbed a coffee from the store that sold everything.
The beach was quite busy with people walking, driving and cycling as the tide was out. A little further down the coast is the Nan Hai Pu Tuo Buddhist Temple with a large statue. There was a major building project underway, I don’t know whether they are extending the temple or building retreat accommodation.
Before we reached Cape Jervis to catch the ferry, we stopped at the Hobart Memorial Lookout.
Part of the 1200km Heysen Trail runs from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor (70km). To do this section you need to be self-reliant and only camp at approved sites. I noticed from the map that there is a Balquhidder River and campsite so someone from Perthshire has been round here. The ferry journey across Backstairs Passage to Kangaroo Island only takes 45 minutes, so we were soon on our way to our accommodation in Emu Bay.
We passed a sign to Brownlow, so I could have been almost home. Our cabin had distant views of Emu Bay so the first thing we did the next morning was to go for a walk on the 5km of white sand. Some of the area above the high tide mark was fenced off to protect the nesting plovers.
The next part of our exploration of Kangaroo Island, the third largest island in Australia, was to take the South Coast Road. There was a cycling event on and most were travelling in the opposite direction to us. We stopped for a coffee at the junction for Seal Bay and two cyclists were in the café. They told us that they were all members of ‘Cycling South Australia’ and were on the last of seven days on the island. Just as we were leaving I noticed Kylie the local koala who lives in the trees around the café. I saw another in the trees by the road going down to the bay.
Down at Seal Bay Conservation Area is a Australian Sea Lion colony of around 100 animals. About 40 were on the beach when we visited.
We also spotted an Echidna on the slopes above the bay, but it was in the bush and I did not get a good shot. I saw one on the road near Port Campbell 14 years ago but do not have that picture with me. On our way to Flinders Chase National Park we passed Little Sahara where you can go sand boarding on the dunes. At the National Park we first drove down to Cape du Couedic, where there is a lighthouse
and a coastal walk to Admirals Arch which has stalactites hanging from the roof and where there is a fur seal colony.
Back on the road there is a turnoff to Remarkable Rocks: granite rocks that have been shaped by the weather and sit 75m above the ocean. The orange colour comes from lichens growing on them.
The National Park has several trails, campgrounds, more remote lighthouses and some other accommodation. It covers most of the western end of the island and the roads are unsealed. We would have liked to explore more but completed our circuit of the island so that we could get organised for our departure the next day. We covered 174 miles today. Our trip total is now 9,871.
The ferry to Fraser Island leaves from River Heads at the mouth of the Mary River.
We had wanted to visit the island but the sandy roads require 4WD with high clearance and deflated tyres. This meant we would have had to hire one but we also fancied a break from driving. I booked a day tour: there are several, but we chose one with a maximum of 16 people in a converted vehicle which can cope with the terrain. We were picked up from our motel and were soon on the way, spotting a brief glimpse of a humpback whale in the bay. The ferry crossing is 50-55 minutes and then you have arrived on the largest sand island in the world. It has had several names. The first was K’gari, the nearest translation is ‘paradise’. This was given by the indigenous Butchulla people. Captain Cook named it “Great Sandy Peninsula’, not realising it was an island. This was later discovered by Matthew Flinders to be the case. Fraser Island became the name after a shipwreck left behind the wife of Captain Fraser who remained with the Butchulla people for a year before being rescued. Unfortunately her account of her time with them was dramatised, not accurate and may have contributed to their forced removal from the island later on.
We were driven on a sandy track across the centre of the island. It reminded me of being driven across similar terrain in the back of a Landrover with the nurses, on our way to a clinic in northern Kwazulu in South Africa on my medical student elective. Sandtool Sandblow was our first stop at the overlook.
We were then driven part of the way up 75 mile beach which runs along the east coast, spotting our first dingo. Those on the island are pure bred as dogs and cats are not allowed. We also passed what is called ‘coffee rock’ because of the colour but is actually remnants of the nutrient layer in the sand which allows trees to grow. On the beach, this exposed layer suggests that the island once extended further east.
The beach is a highway with speed limit signs and the need to avoid aeroplanes landing. There are two police officers on the island and they will test for alcohol and drugs should the need arise.
We stopped briefly at Eli Creek: a freshwater stream that runs into the ocean.
Further on there were a couple of worm collectors on the sand. The worms are collected and sold at profit to bait shops for fishermen. A good income can be had and licences to dig worms are hard to come by. One only comes available if someone who has one, dies.
A little further on is the Maheno shipwreck which is gradually sinking into the sand. The ship was built in Scotland, used as a hospital ship during the First World War. Afterwards she returned to commercial service and at the end was sold to shipbreakers in Japan but was separated from the towing ship in a cyclone and had to be abandoned.
Before we turned round to head south we stopped at The Pinnacles, coloured sand cliffs sacred to Butchulla women.
Our lunch stop was a the Happy Valley Hotel before heading back up with beach with several humpback whales in the distance. We left the beach at Eurong before stopping at Central Station where logging was transported by railway until the advent of lorries. The community has now disappeared and logging stopped in 1991. Instead there is a rainforest walk. King Ferns grow in the freshwater but we were told that the ones in Daintree National Park are larger. The last stop was Lake Mckenzie, a rainfall lake at the top of the dunes. It was too cold for me to swim in but a few brave souls did.
There are places to stay for longer in the resort. Alternatively you can, even if you have no qualifications, stay at the manned lighthouse in the north of the island. It is a weather station so readings must be made and sent off twice a day and you need to take all you need for 30 days as there are no supplies. You can earn $30 per day if that appeals. All too soon it was time for us to leave and the sun was setting as we sailed back to Hervey Bay.
After our night in the harbour at Lochmaddy the wind had gained in strength and our skipper decided that we need to cross the Minch before it got worse. The decision was made to head for Rum. We had a brief glimpse of a minke whale as we crossed to the Small Isles, sailing past Canna and the Point of Sleat and were followed into the harbour by a French sailing boat.
We moored in the harbour as the storm was approaching fast and dinner was served.
The boat’s flag was considerably more tattered than on the outward journey.
The following morning there was not time to explore Rum as we had to make for a sheltered loch on the Sound of Mull near Isle Oronsay. Leaving Rum, we passed a promontory called ‘Welshman’s Rock’ and I have not been able to discover how it got its name. We passed between Eigg and Muck and then round Ardnamurchan point where I managed to replace my lost photographs of the lighthouse.
We were soon in the loch and watched the sun go down.
The next morning it was a short trip over to Tobermory harbour.
Wandering along the street we noticed that since our last trip many years ago, most of the shops were aimed at tourists. A local told us that for many items they now needed to go to Oban as some essentials were not stocked locally. After a coffee, we decided to walk the 2km path to the lighthouse which goes along the shore. On our return to town, it was sunny enough to enjoy an ice-cream.
After lunch on the boat we left for Lochaline, a sea loch closer to Oban where our journey of the water would end. Ahead looked calm but behind us the clouds were building.
In the morning it was a short trip past the Lismore lighthouse once more to Oban to catch our train.
Our boat left the Sound of Harris at 5am. I had awoken when the engines started up but fell asleep again until breakfast time. The weather was improving and blue sky appearing among the clouds. Just before the St Kilda archipelago came into view, we were overtaken by some small, fast daytrip boats. The first island to come into view was Boreray with Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.
On arrival at Hirta, a cruise ship came into view.
I had not expected this and had to remind myself that St Kilda has been a tourist venue since the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, these ships also brought smallpox and cholera and in 1913, influenza. Emigration also contributed to population loss. In 1851, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia and a suburb of Melbourne is called St Kilda. After the First World War many young men did not want to return. Zealous church ministers who expected high levels of church attendance left less time to run the island and harvest food. The demand for goods which the population had previous given to their factor in lieu of rent such as feathers for mattresses and tweed made from Soay sheep wool had declined. Midwifery skills were rejected and tetanus infantum lead to infant mortality rates up 80% because putting fulmar oil on the umbilicus was a local practice. This may have been stored in gannet or sheep stomachs and is thought to be the origin of the bacterium. In 1877 a midwife was brought to the island and maternal and infant mortality levels reduced.
Packed lunches collected, we were taken in the dinghy to the village pier where a red carpet was laid out. This was not for us but for the cruise passengers.
The street consists of the 1860s cottages with the old blackhouses in between and a small cemetery behind.
Cleits are everywhere and were used to store peat, food and clothing. Some on the hillside are now used by the sheep as shelter.
The current shop is also the Post Office and mail is collected by helicopter twice a week. The helicopter also transports workers to and from the military base which is being renovated at present to turn the buildings into some more in keeping with the others on the island.
We walked up to the gap which overlooks the cliffs below, past the storehouse and gun emplacement but the tops of the hills were still in the cloud.
After descending we had our lunch on the seat outside the small museum where this Lesser Black-backed Gull was observing us hoping for some food.
I also chatted to one of the cruise ship passengers who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. At least she was used to grey days and fog. After lunch I returned to the cliff edge near the gun where fulmars were nesting, and some puffins were visible.
On our return to the boat we saw a basking shark in the bay and after our evening meal enjoyed the sun going down.
On our second morning we walked up the road which was built in the 1950s when the military arrived.
The base has a pub but it only opens from 7pm as a previous earlier opening time had led to behaviour problems and drunkenness.
It was sunny and warm at first and we walked as far as the scree.
Back at the street, I briefly saw some St Kilda Wrens before it began to rain.
Our skipper told us that we had to leave the island at 3pm due to an approaching storm which was predicted to have up to 50mph winds. It was too windy to get to Soay so we passed around the stacs and Boreray where northern gannets nest. St Kilda vies with the Bass Rock as to which has the largest gannetry in the world.
before heading to Lochmaddy on North Uist to shelter for the night.
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.