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.
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.
Our destination today was Holy Island which lies off the eastern side of Arran. It was originally called ‘Inis Shroin’ which means ‘Island of the water spirit’. After Saint Molaise (566-640) who was born in Ireland and raised in Scotland, lived on the island as a hermit the name was changed to ‘Eilean Molaise’ or Molaise’s Island. It is now owned by the Samyé Ling Buddhist Community who belong to the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. They bought it from the previous private owner in 1992. There are several settlements on the island: the Centre for World Peace and Health, founded by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, is on the north of the island, near the pier. This is a residential centre for courses and retreats. They are trying to live lightly on the land with solar water heating, a reed-bed sewage treatment system and they are talking about developing wind-powered electricity. They also have an organic garden which produces some of their food. More people now live on the island, the population having risen from 13 in 2001 to 31 in 2011.The ferry goes from the old pier in Lamlash, the first at 10am. One of the guys is Jim, originally from Sheffield who tried to inject some humour into the proceedings. There was only ourselves and one other couple on the first boat for the 15-minute journey. Sometimes on of the community will greet visitors but a retreat was on so that did not happen and the tea room was closed. We did talk to the volunteer who was renovating the stupas.
On the southern end of the island lives a community of nuns who are undertaking three-year retreats and a retreat centre for women. Much of the island is a nature reserve so there is no footpath on the eastern coast. They are re-planting native trees including the rare Arran Rock Whitebeam, a Sorbus. We walked the footpath which runs along the west coast of the island. It starts on the lawn and passes a wood has been planted as a memorial to the Dunblane massacre.
The cave Molaise lived in is still there, a little wet when we visited. There are some Viking runes visible inside.
A nearby well is said to have healing properties. There is an advisory notice next to a sheep skull, stating that the water does not meet EU standards and should not be drunk.
It is thought that a monastery was established on the island in the 1200s or 1300s. Little trace of it now remains, nor of anyone else who lived there before the clearances and enclosures.
The island has flocks of Soay sheep which were grazing along the path
and Eriskay ponies and Sannex goats which we only saw in the distance.
The southern end of the path terminates at Pillar Rock Lighthouse, a Stevenson lighthouse erected in 1904.
We walked back to the pier, enjoying the views,
and spotting a shag and a seal.
Scotland’s first ‘No Take Zone’ was in Lamlash Bay in 2008. This prohibits the taking of sea fish and shellfish with the hope of re-generating the sea-bed. The northern end of the island has the highest concentration of birds nesting on the shore, so I hope this means it is working. As our ferry was not due to leave until 2pm, I had a walk around the north end where Common Gulls were nesting on the beach,
as were Oystercatchers and a lone swan. All too soon it was time to head back to the pier and take the boat back to Lamlash.
After driving across the country from Edinburgh, we had some time to kill in Ardrossan before we needed to check in for the ferry to Brodick so went to Castle Hill where the remains of Ardrossan Castle stand.
It is fenced off, so you cannot explore the ruined keep closely. It was constructed in the 13th century and owned by Clan Barclay. The castle was partially destroyed in the wars of independence, rebuilt in the 15th century and finally partly demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. There are also the remains (only a few inches of wall) of the old parish church surrounded by some graves on the hill. There was probably a church here before 1226. It was destroyed in a storm in 1691 and the new church rebuilt down in the town centre. There is a children’s playground. Families were starting to arrive as we had to leave to get to the port.
My 1960’s 25th edition of ‘The “Contour” Book of Scotland’ gives the price of taking a motor car on the Ardrossan and Brodick ferry as £3.05 to £6 with return fares from £5 to £9.35. The hour-long crossing now costs £47.90 return. On such a fine day I had to spend some time on the deck looking at the approaching island and catching only a brief glimpse of a harbour porpoise and some gannets diving.
We were only the second vehicle off the boat in Brodick and headed to the Co-op to stock up. At the ATM I spotted the first of several Buddhist monks I will probably see over the next few weeks. We hope to visit Holy Island on this trip where there is a Buddhist Community and I am staying for a night in the guest house at the Samye Ling monastery at Eskdalemuir on my walk in a few weeks’ time. The sun and warmth meant an ice-cream on the sea front was in order and I was watched closely by this gull.
Until it was time to settle into our cottage at the end of the road in Glen Rosa, we had a walk along part of the coastal path (The Fisherman’s Path) on the beach near the Cladach Centre. I found some sea glass and enjoyed the views of Goatfell and out to sea.
It is now officially winter and after several years of mild winters probably due to climate change, an approaching snow storm was forecast. The lack of snow probably had nothing to do with the fact that I had found a book on snowflake photography just after our last snow in 2010. I have not been able to try any macro photography of snow or ice since, not even on the Iceland trip. We had decided to stay in Birkenhead the night before our morning ferry as problems on any of the three motorways we use to get there could have delayed us. We did not anticipate any problems getting there in the afternoon. However, while we are all too aware of the problems satellite navigation systems can have in rural areas, this was unexpected in an urban setting. It kept trying to send us down the Queensway tunnel to Liverpool, not to the street in the next block we needed to get to. Once on the tunnel approach you cannot turn around. A very helpful member of staff at the toll booth (who has probably experienced this before), let us out and we reached our destination. The following morning the sailing was delayed and we eventually boarded in the midst of wind and sleet. That had already put paid to any shots of dawn over Liverpool and I had thought that I would be wandering around on the very cold and wet deck taking photographs. Fortunately there was a brief lull in the weather south of the Isle of Man and I was able to watch the sun going down before the next front approached.
We arrived in Belfast only an hour later than scheduled and were in the car ready to disembark when we were told to go back inside as a broken down truck was blocking the ramp. This took almost two hours to sort out. Fortunately we could go back into the lounge (it’s worth paying a bit more for Stena Plus on long daytime sailings) and I had a couple of brandies courtesy of Stena. James had to stay sober as he was driving. Someone told us that thinking it had run out of fuel, they brought some more diesel but found out that there was some air in the fuel system. This would have locked the brakes. Some engineers from Merseyside we were chatting to were amazed that in a port, there was no means of dragging the vehicle away that could be found quickly. At least once we could leave the roads were quiet, there was very little snow and we arrived about 11.30pm.