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.
Having to give upon my walk after only four days and 77 miles was frustrating to say the least but not the most serious curtailment to a journey that I have experienced. Almost eight years ago I was with a group trekking in the Markha Valley in Ladakh, India when we were stranded by the severe floods that the Western Himalayas experienced that summer. After several days, we were rescued by the Indian Air Force and got home safely. Not all trekkers were so fortunate: four died in the gorge we had walked down three days previously. Many of the locals had lost family members and had their homes and livelihoods destroyed.
I had cancelled most of my accommodation reservations but left the one in Penrith as James had been planning to meet me there on his way to Edinburgh. We had a fairly easy run but something I had noticed on the way down a few days earlier still mystifies me. Two years ago, ‘Pies’ was seen on many of the motorways bridges in Cheshire and Merseyside. This related to a Liverpool band who 30 years previously had once been stuck on a bridge on the M57 and written it on there. Their fans have continued to do this periodically since then. This week ‘CANED’ in white was written on several M6 and other bridges in Lancashire. I have not been able to find out what that is about yet.
We arrived in Penrith late morning and visited three of the bookshops in town: the first at Brunswick Yard which has antiques, rugs, Black Hand Wine and a café in addition to secondhand books. Down the hill and past the church is Beckside Books which sells secondhand and antiquarian books and has several comfortable sofas to relax on. St Andrew’s church café was a great spot for lunch. It is staffed by volunteers and has a good range on offer. The Hedgehog Bookshop sells new books. We came out of all three with some finds. Penrith has a large number of independent shops in addition to some familiar high street names. Just out of town near Junction 40 on Skirgill business park is Summerfield Books. The business park is situated on an estate and sheep were grazing outside.
The shop stocks new and secondhand books specialising in natural history, botany and forestry. Penrith has a ruined castle, some standing stones, the site of a Roman Camp and other antiquities. Had I been walking from Shap as planned, I would have passed a cairn. Part of the A66 east of the town was a Roman Road. My inflamed ankle meant that exploring these would have to wait for another visit. Our evening meal at a pub in Carleton was interesting. We arrived just after six and the proprietor asked us to order as quickly as possible. He explained that he hosted a local bingo club on Wednesday and Thursday evenings to try and boost takings and was expecting around 40 people very soon. While we were eating, they all arrived and after a drink, got down to business. At the end of the day, I had hobbled around for only 1.9 miles.
This morning we left and drove a few miles on the A686 before taking the B6413 to Brampton via the Eden Valley. The road passes through farmland and villages with walls and houses built with red sandstone. One village, Castle Carrock has had an interesting addition to its road sign. No-one appears to know who did it and made it look so professional but it appeared around the time of the annual Music on the Marr festival in 2011 and the following year was put on the festival T shirts.
After a coffee stop in Brampton we headed over to Longtown, Langholm and to Edinburgh via Eskdalemuir, passing the monastery I would have been spending a night as some of this was the route I should have been walking. Descending towards Yarrow we met this group of cattle beside the road.
And had a fleeting glimpse of a red squirrel that shot across the road. All too soon we were in Edinburgh six days before I should have been arriving.
Our last day on Arran began with a visit to Brodick Castle. The current red sandstone building dates from the 19th century with some 13th century remains. It is said that a fort stood on the site from the 5th century and the numerous conflicts and wars since then have led to damage, demolition and rebuilding. The castle was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1958 and sits amidst gardens and a country park which includes the mountain Goatfell. At the time of our visit the castle itself was under renovation and not due to re-open again until spring 2019. The gardens are open, so we contented ourselves with exploring them. At first it did not look as if this would be a very peaceful experience as the lawns were being mowed and a tree being cut down with chain saws. Fortunately, this did not last too long. Below the terrace that the castle sits on is a walled garden which was built in 1817.
George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward were plant hunters and some of the plants they brought back from their expeditions are in the gardens at Brodick: there is a Plant Hunters path through some of them. Some are rhododendrons. I had always been familiar with many of them in gardens and the escapees that are in the Scottish countryside and assumed that they were all large bushes. The first time I went to India in 2009 and saw rhododendron trees in the Western Ghats I was amazed. There is at least one such tree here, but it was not quite in flower yet. Other plants were flowering:
Towards the bottom of the garden, overlooking the road and the sea is the only remaining Bavarian summerhouse of several that used to be on the site. James remarked that it looked like something from ‘The Hobbit’. Inside the walls and ceiling were decorated with thousands of pine cones.
One recent construction is a large adventure play area which the person on reception told us was not just for children. There is also a red squirrel hide. They are not native to Arran but were introduced and as there are no grey squirrels on the island, they have done well. They do tend to feed in the early morning and in the evening, so it is less likely that they will be seen at this time of year during the opening hours. There are lots of birds and we spotted this swallow near a nest in a summer house.
Some of the information boards had an interesting approach to history. One described all the conflicts the castle had been involved in and went on to say that the 18th and 19th centuries were peaceful times. I do not think that the people who lost their homes and farms or were forced to emigrate to Canada or move to Glasgow during the enclosures and clearances that the Dukes of Hamilton initiated with would regard it as a peaceful time. There was a dispute in 2017 about a display in the Arran Heritage Museum which was reported in the National newspaper. A tour guide felt that describing this as ‘an agricultural revolution’ was not appropriate or accurate but the museum did not change the display. We did not manage a trip to the museum on this visit.
Back in the town, I visited Books and Cards which in addition to these, stocks other stationery supplies . It has books and maps on Arran and Scotland, fiction, non-fiction and a good children’s section. I picked up Thorbjörn Campbell’s Arran: a history, the Rucksack Reader for the coastal walk and another book on walking. I am always happy to support an independent bookshop. Our time on Arran is coming to an end and tomorrow we will be back on the boat to Ardrossan.
Our tour of the south of the island began by heading south out of Brodick. The first halt was at a viewpoint looking back towards the mountains.
From left to right they are: Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn, Beinn A’ Chliabhain, A Chir, Glenshant Hill, Cir Mhor, Casteal Abhail, Goat Fell, Mullach Buidhe, Meall Breac, Am Binnein. Whiting Bay has a long beach, views of the southern end of Holy Island and the Arran Art Gallery. Just at the south end of the beach is Glenashdale. Glenashdale Falls are reached via a track that runs through waterside deciduous woodland with bluebells and wild garlic which reminded me of the similar woods on the south face of the Ochil hills that I used to spend time in as a child. There are several properties towards the bottom of the path. The last of these looked as if it might be occupied by a hoarder given the amount of stuff piled up outside the building. This truck had obviously not moved for many years.
The higher slopes are coniferous forest and late in the day you might see red squirrels.
Having reached the waterfall,
there are options for the return. We chose to descend via the Giants Graves. The route is on a forest road until you reach the graves. They are two of more than 20 Neolithic chambered cairns on Arran. They were excavated in the 1960s and some of the stones have been removed. This often happened at cairns when stones were needed for building as it was easier than getting them from the quarries when they were operating.
The wealth of archeology in Arran reminds me that when our son was young, we had had several trips in succession to the Western Isles, Cornwall and West Cork, all of which have neolithic sites. The next trip was to Brittany where Carnac is a major site. This triggered a cry of ‘Not more old stones!’ from our son. On this trip we continued to follow the minor road along the coast to Kildonan which has a sandy beach with views to Pladda and the Ailsa Craig. There is a campsite and a hotel, both of which look appealing places to stay.
Returning to Lamlash via the Ross Road, (built in 1821-22) we passed another Buddhist retreat in the middle of the hills: the Samye Dechen Shing Retreat Centre. It occupies the former Glenscorrodale Farm, near the head of Glen Scorrodale. The farm was gifted to the Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery and Tibetan Centre in 1994 by the owner and converted to a retreat centre ten years later. Its name means “the blissful place”, and it offers men-only on long-term retreats of up to three years (women-only retreats are available at the centre on Holy Island). A closed retreat was underway when we passed by.
There are more ruined homes and farms in the southern part of Arran than the north. Leases for the farms after the first round of enclosures were not renewed and the homes were cleared to make room for sheep. Many of the people emigrated to eastern Canada. Another sad episode in the history of this island. On the second day we were back on the String Road, planned by Thomas Telford and completed by 1817. We passed through Shiskine where friends used to live and on to Blackwaterfoot which has a magnificent sandy beach stretching out to the cliffs at Drumadoon Point.
While James was stocking up at the butcher, I was swan watching. This one was having a siesta by the river:
while his mate was sitting on the nest on the other side of the bridge. After a beach walk, we continued up the coast to the forest where a circular walk goes through the spruce plantation, down to the coast to the King’s Cave. After a picnic at a table where an artist started setting to paint as we left, we started the three mile circuit. King’s Cave is one of several which penetrate the sandstone cliffs up to 100 feet. It is said by some to have hidden Robert Bruce when he visited Arran in 1307 during his campaign for the Scottish Throne (although this is disputed). The information board at the car park said that the current name was modern, as two hundred years ago it was known as ‘Fingal’s Cave’. There are carvings on the walls, but the gate was locked on our visit. The carvings suggest that is has been in use for at least two thousand years as it has early Christian symbols and may have been used by a hermit but also there are also earlier ones, the meaning of which is unknown.
The walk returns along the end of the forest with views over the surrounding area. There were gulls nesting and we watched a gannet diving. There are hut circles marked on the map but we could not see them through the trees and walls.
Arran is a great place for walking. The coast path is 60 miles long (only 11 more than the circumference of the island) and is one we might do. There are mountain walks, and short walks of all sorts, to suit everyone.