HEBRIDES: ISLANDS 11, 12 & 13 OF 51: ISLES OF LISMORE & KERRERA, PLUS ERISKA: PART 2

Isle of Lismore: Population: 192 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Isle of Kerrera: Population: 34 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Eriska: Population: Unknown (2011), Inner Hebrides

I left Port Appin quite happy with my visit.  Lismore is a great place and if i’m honest I was a little annoyed with myself that in all the times I’ve been to that part of the world, I’d never visited before now.

I left the single track road and re-joined the main route south towards Oban, along the shores of Loch Creran and southwards over the Connel Bridge.  From Connel I continued on to Oban, through the town centre and out along the Gallanach road to the Kerrera ferry and my second island of the day.

I’d read this morning before I left that the owner of the Kerrera ferry had sold the route to Caledonian Macbrayne, and that the last time the ferry would operate as an independent service would be 30 June 2017.  I arrived around noon on 28th June and was surprised to see just how busy the car park was!  I had to wait for two sailings across the narrow Sound of Kerrera before I could board the 12 passenger ferry across to the island.

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While crossing I overheard a few American visitors asking the staff about the recent ownership news.  The staff sounded quite positive.  They will all continue to work the route, just with a new owner, and while the ferry will ultimately be replaced (Calmac are apparently having a new vessel built in the Shetlands right now), nothing much will change.  One visitor suggested that the prices will inevitably rise when a new owner takes over but the staff actually suggested that prices will drop, which given a return was extremely cheap to begin with, should surely encourage more people over in the future?

We arrived on Kerrera and I set off towards the south of the island.  I wanted to visit Gylen Castle which looked impressive in the photos I’d seen while researching the trip.
From the ferry port, it’s a fairly easy stroll south along the coast.  After a while we reach a little bay, “The little horse shoe” which has some nice views of the hills to the south of Kerrera, plus a large shipwreck on the shoreline.

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From the bay the route climbs slightly with some nice views south past a lighthouse towards the isle of Seil (my blog island 4 of 51) and the remains of an ancient fort to the left.  There was a group of visitors picnicking on the sheltered slopes which housed the fort so I wasn’t able to explore it further.
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(above: fellow walkers near Little Horseshoe Bay)

Continuing on, the path steepens past Upper Gylen and winds its way around the side of a small hill, before dropping once more towards the sea and Lower Gylen (which has a lovely Tea-shop and garden).  The Tea-shop has a clever piece of marketing at the highest point on the walk…
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Passing through a gate opposite the tea garden (which was full of walkers so I didn’t stop) the walk continues around the base of the small hill until suddenly the view opens up and you catch your first glimpse of Gylen Castle perched on a steep cliff above the sea.
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I climbed the steep path to the castle and paused for a while to catch my breath and admire the view across the southern tip of Kerrera westwards towards the Mull coast.
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While inside the castle I noticed a fellow walker standing very close to the steep cliffs, so hanging out a window on the 2nd floor (don’t tell my mum!), I managed to snap him.  This image gives some sense of scale of just how steep and high those cliffs are.  I’m not sure he realised just how close he was to the edge!
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Apparently the castle was built in 1582 and was once a stronghold of the clan MacDougall, but, following defeat in battle the castle was sacked and burned in 1642.

I stayed for a while and shot some time lapse video of the clouds scudding across the sky through the now roofless castle before setting off to retrace my steps back to the ferry.

There is actually a nice circular walk which continues around the western side of the island and I’d loved to have completed that walk but I didn’t have phone signal now and time was marching on and I still hadn’t heard from my customer with the potential problem so I thought it wise to retrace my steps, get back to the mainland then see if I’d missed any calls or received any emails.
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My timing was perfect as they were loading a trailer onto the ferry and this slowed them down a little giving me time to sprint the last 50m and catch the ferry before it headed back to the mainland.

A good friend of mine, who is sadly no longer with us, used to listen to me go on and on about my trips to Skye and how it was perfect for photography and would finish our conversations with “have you been to Kerrera yet?  You should go, it’s beautiful”
He loved the island and would visit it every chance he had.
Today was my first time on the island, and I’ve got to admit, it’s lovely and I’ll definitely be visiting again, not only to complete that circuit of the south, but, also to visit the north.
You were right mate, it’s beautiful.

I arrived back on the mainland and drove the mile or two to Oban, parked up and checked my emails and voicemail.  Still no news from my customer with the “urgent problem” so I decided to head for my third island of the day, Eriska.

I’m going to halt here and give everyone the chance to end your reading here.
What follows is nothing but an angry rant and no photographs!

Still reading?  Ok well, here goes…

I knew Eriska was privately owned.  I discovered that while doing the initial research for this project, but, I’d mistakenly thought that, like Danna (island 2 of 51) or even Eilean Donan (island 8 of 51), I’d still be able to cross onto the island somehow, grab a few pics and say I’d been, chalk it off the list, and move on.

The island lies in a lovely part of the country, due south of Port Appin and so south and east of Lismore.  I even grabbed a few photos of it while on Lismore earlier as I knew I’d be visiting one day soon.
It is reached (by some at least) by a bridge from the mainland which is in turn reached via a road I’d passed earlier to the north of Connel Bridge.

I followed this road towards the island when suddenly I was “greeted” by a cold grey wall with and a sign saying “Isle of Eriska.  Hotel, spa & island” and to the right another sign saying “PRIVATE PROPERTY. ACCESS for residents ONLY”. (their choice of capitals, not mine…)
I should probably point out that I couldn’t even SEE the island or the bridge from this point, I was still very much on the mainland.

I felt this rather cold welcome was a little over the top but not wishing to break any rules, I decided to halt and check the hotel website to see if they had a free room for the night.  I’d stay over if it gave me access to the island and I could complete the planned project.  Alternatively, I’d book some lunch if they had a bar / restaurant I could visit…

Room’s were priced FROM £430 per person per night.  They had one room available that evening for a mere £570 per person.  Goodness knows what the most expensive suite is…

Now, I have nothing against rich people.  I’d kinda like to be one someday, but, I do have a good old fashioned west of Scotland chip on my shoulder about people of privilege using that privilege to exclude everyone else from an entire island.

Let them have their overly expensive hotel (where they can, apparently, “unwind in the Piano room or the Library with it’s art deco fireplace and wonderful selection of whiskies, cocktails and fine wines”) but don’t close off an entire island just so the scruffs can’t get upwind of you and ruin your special spa day!
Alternatively charge people to cross your precious bridge and breathe your “cleaner than mine” air, I don’t mind how access is granted, just don’t bar everyone but the elite few who are rich, and stupid, enough to spent THOUSANDS of pounds to walk on your hallowed ground!!

While writing this part of the blog, I decided to research who owns the island and discovered that Mr. Beppo Buchanan-Smith (no typos in that name) sold the island to a Hong Kong based family-owned business in February of this year.  Hopefully, the new owners will see sense and open it’s doors to us riff-raff in the future, but, until then I’ll be leaving Eriska as unlucky island No.13 on my list and it’s decadent financial apartheid shall be represented as a blank page when I come to produce the final book!

Rant over.

Next blog will be soon as I plan to re-visit Mull and also two, possibly three, of it’s smaller satellite islands in the next few days.
Hope you’re enjoying the blogs – apologies for the rant! 🙂

Oh, and in case you’re wondering.  The customer with the urgent problem?  Didn’t happen.  No calls, no emails and no apology.  I could have had my trip to Tiree afterall..

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Hebrides: Islands 11, 12 & 13 of 51: Isles of Lismore & Kerrera, plus Eriska: PART 1

Isle of Lismore: Population: 192 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Isle of Kerrera: Population: 34 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Eriska: Population: Unknown (2011), Inner Hebrides

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley

For the past week or so I’d been planning to visit Tiree before the end of June.  I was really looking forward to the trip as I’d never been and the weather was looking ideal for photography, but, as the above quote might suggest… things don’t always go to plan.

It’s ironic really as I was only chatting the day before the trip about how balancing my photography work with my day job in the lab can be tricky sometimes when at 5pm the night before the journey a lab customer contacted me with a potential problem which needed to be sorted on the day I’d be away.

As the Tiree trip involved a 3am rise, 4am start, a 7.15am ferry and almost certainly no internet connection until at least 9.30pm when I returned to the mainland, I decided to change plans and visit a few other islands instead.  Not a huge problem as I was soon to discover two out of three of these islands are lovely, but, it was the fact I’d be nearer the mainland – and therefore an internet connection – that allowed me to continue with the photography but still be “on call” for the lab problem when / if needed.

So… my alarm still went off at 3am, I was still sipping coffee at 3.10am but with the first ferry to Lismore not until 8am, I had a little time to kill before setting off, so I started writing this blog!

I set off at 5am and headed north, taking the route over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe. There were dark grey, almost black, clouds hanging low and smothering the summits of most of the mountains for the entire trip, but, as I neared the Kingshouse Hotel on the edge of the moor I noticed that a few small patches of light were beginning to break through onto the hills above Glen Etive so, never one to miss an excuse to drive down Glen Etive, I took a left turn and headed into the glen.

The light didn’t get as dramatic as I’d first hoped, but to be fair it was only 6.40am and I still had a while til the ferry so it was a “constructive” detour!  Plus I did get some photography done, although I can’t share that on my Hebrides blog!

From Glen Etive I continued through Glencoe and south through Appin and Duror until the turn for Port Appin, then it was just a short drive along a single track road (with nice views out over Castle Stalker) to the jetty at Port Appin and the ferry for Lismore.

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As forecast, the weather was improving the further west I drove and by the time I reached Port Appin, there were huge areas of clear blue sky and a nice breeze which kept the remaining clouds moving, perfect for photography as simply waiting for a few minutes completely changes the scene in front of you as patches of bright sunlight pick out details which were completely shaded seconds earlier.

Miraculously given my time spent in Glen Etive, I managed to arrive at Port Appin with 5 minutes to spare for the first ferry of the day.  I quickly changed to my walking boots, packed a few snacks and water into my camera bag and set off down the jetty for the trip across the narrow strait and onto Lismore, my 11th island of the project.

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The name Lismore is the anglicized version of the Gaelic “Lios Mor” – the Big Garden – and the name is a great description of the island.  Composed mainly of limestone and slate, the limestone in particular has given the island a fertile soil and a rich abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs.
Limestone is relatively rare in the west of Scotland and the Lismore lime was so prized that in the 19th century an entire industry grew up around it’s quarrying, transport and kiln burning.  Shell lime and hydrated lime were transported around the highlands and islands for almost a century until cheap imports by rail undercut the price and the industry failed.
This was a particularly hazardous venture given that shell lime will explode on contact with water, and the lime was being transported by boat!  There are several accounts of shipwrecks exploding when their cargo holds were breached by the sea.

Evidence can still be found of this industrial past as lime kilns, quarries, and even old quarrymen’s cottages still exist around the island…

Once landed on Lismore, I set off on a circular route around the northern part of the island.   I had decided to follow a route described on the walkhighlands website (go follow that site if you don’t already – it’s a great source of walks all over Scotland), a short 3 mile hike around the northern tip of the island, down the west coast and back across to the eastern coast before a walk north back to the ferry port.  I have to say it was a great introduction to the island and one I’d definitely recommend to anyone thinking of visiting Lismore.

Almost immediately after leaving the ferry port, the views north across Loch Linnhe towards Ardnamurchan and Ben Nevis are spectacular.
With a typical limestone landscape, the lush deep green grass on the island contrasted nicely with the bare mountains further north and west.

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Of course with limestone, there are usually caves and it wasn’t very long before I stumbled across my first cave, lying maybe 20-30ft above the path, high above sea level, so presumably cut by fresh water.  It was too close to go unexplored…

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I scrambled up the steep slope narrowly avoiding a face first trip into “evidence” of recent sheep visits, but it was worth the short climb as the cave entrance made a great natural frame, so I waited around to see if anything interesting would happen outside and it wasn’t long before a boat passed by on its way across to Ardnamurchan so I grabbed a few shots of it’s journey past the island.

From the cave I continued on, around the northern coast of the island and down the western side, constantly looking back over my shoulder as the views north across the islands of Loch Linnhe are incredible and with the light constantly changing it was like a new view every time I looked!

insta_3W2A9379(Shuna Island, which lies to the north of Lismore)

insta_3W2A9414(above: the Ardnamurchan mountains from Lismore)

I had a short climb and then a wander down through farmland towards a path, which became a track, then almost a road as I entered the village of Port Ramsay.

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Port Ramsay is pretty much a row of former lime quarry workers cottages.  The cottages are coated in lime whitewash and very photogenic.  I met the first person on my trip here, a builder, from my hometown of Glasgow, who summed up the island in a few words… ” nice… but awfully quiet”.   That’s true, so I couldn’t fault his assessment!

From Port Ramsay I followed the road east across the spine of the island to the west coast.  It’s not very far, maybe 0.5 mile or so, but, so quiet and peaceful.  Swallows were darting in and out over the fields (yes, if you read my last blog, I did actually have to google “wee birds with big tails in Scotland” before I was sure they were swallows…)
With no traffic and the warm sun beating down it was impossible to resist the temptation to find a spot to sit and just enjoy nature doing it’s thing for a while.

After a break I continued to the junction at Stronacroibh before turning left and following the coast north again towards the ferry.

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I arrived at the ferry about 20 minutes before the next sailing so took some timelapse video and some photos around the port.

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The trip back was interesting, I had a conversation with the ferry man (who was from Glasgow) about a great spot for a future visit.  Turns out he’s also a photographer, and he told me of a great location to the south of the island which requires a long walk and an overnight wild camp, but apparently it’s a great location if visited in September or October (perfect angles for sunset), so I’ll definitely be back to Lismore!

Once back on the mainland, I packed the bag into the car and set off for Oban and the isle of Kerrera.  I had intended to include that trip on this blog but I have so much to say on both islands, plus Eriska, I’ve decided to split this blog into two parts.

I’ll try to post part 2 within the next 24 hours! 🙂

Hebrides: Islands 8, 9 & 10: Eilean Donan, Eilean Ban and Isle of Skye (1)

Eilean Donan: Population: 1 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Eilean Ban: Population: 2 (2011) now uninhabited, Inner Hebrides
Isle of Skye: Population: 10,008 (2011), Inner Hebrides

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This trip began with an early morning drive north from Glasgow along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, over the Great Moor of Rannoch, through Glencoe, Fort William, Glen Shiel and finally along the shores of Loch Duich to reach the first island of the trip, Eilean Donan.

A small tidal island sitting at the meeting point of three lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh), the name “Eilean Donan” is probably now more associated with the famous castle which dominates the island rather than the island itself.

INSTA_3W2A3548(above: the castle taken during a previous visit, 2016)

I’ve stopped to photograph the castle and island many times before but I have to confess that I’d never actually set foot on the island before now.  Access is via a bridge which is strictly controlled by a ticketing system from the visitor centre.

So, armed with tickets, we set out over the bridge and onto the island.

There is a “no photography” policy in the castle, so I’m afraid I can’t show you the interior, but, as I was here primarily to photograph the island this restriction didn’t really cause me any problems.

After a tour of the castle, I set off down to the shoreline to photograph the views out across the loch.

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The view back along Loch Duich is particularly nice (see above) and is probably worth the entrance fee on its own!  After spending some time exploring the shoreline and photographing the castle from every conceivable angle (it’s difficult to capture unique images of what must be one of the most photographed buildings in Scotland…) we headed back over the bridge towards the car park.
As we reached the car park I noticed a gap in the steady stream of tourists so I couldn’t resist the temptation to take one last shot of the castle and the island from the mainland.

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From Eilean Donan it’s a short drive towards the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and the location of my second island of the trip, Eilean Ban (White Island).

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Quite easy to miss if, like most people in a rush to get to Skye, you simply drive straight over the bridge, but, if you look closely at the Skye Bridge, you will note that it doesn’t span the Kyle Akin in a single bound, instead it crosses first to a small isle before the final arch over to Skye.

This small isle is Eilean Ban.  Once owned by “Ring of Bright Water” author Gavin Maxwell and home to a now decommissioned lighthouse.  I stopped at the small gate on the bridge which gives access to the island, but, it was locked.  I later discovered that the island can now only be accessed as part of a daily tour from the nearby “Bright Water Centre” in Kyleakin on Skye.
Disappointing, but I grabbed a leaflet detailing the tours and contact information and may try again on my next visit to Skye.

Technically the island is now uninhabited, so doesn’t really fall into my plans for this project, but, as it was one of my original “to-do” list of 51 islands, I’ll try to revisit again soon.

From the bridge it was a brief drive over to Skye for what is likely to be one of many visits during this project.

I love visiting Skye.  It was the first Hebridean island I ever visited (way back before they’d even built the bridge!) and so I know the island well.  I’ve walked, cycled, driven, camped and even sailed around most of the island over the years.

On this occasion we decided to limit our excursions to the lower 3rd of the island. Luib on the banks of Loch Ainort was pretty much the furthest north we ventured on this brief visit.

After a quick stop at Luib, we set off south again back through Broadford and Breakish before turning off onto the small road to Kylerhea.

I usually describe the road to Kylerhea as the scariest drive on the isle of Skye – it’s a winding single track road which climbs to just over 915 feet as it clings to the side of Sgurr na Coinnich.   As the road nears the coast it loses some altitude but a steep drop of almost 400 feet to the river off to the right makes it feel much higher!  If your timing is off, you can sometimes meet a procession of cars climbing over from the summer ferry crossing at Glenelg on the mainland and this can give some interesting moments as cars crawl past each other at the narrow passing places with drivers trying to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the steep drop!

So, it’s usually with some relief that I eventually reach Kylerhea…

We parked at the Otter Haven car park above the village and made our way down to the viewpoint and wildlife hide.
Kyle Rhea is a narrow strait which separates Skye from the mainland.  It’s one of the best places in the UK to see a range of sea mammals, including dolphins, whales, otters, seals and porpoises.  It’s also a popular spot for bird-watchers as it’s home to Golden Eagles and White Tailed Sea Eagles (the UK’s largest bird of prey)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but my knowledge of wildlife is fairly limited.  Generic terms such as bird, or deer, are about as good as you’ll get from me when I’m out and about!
Thankfully there was an RSPB guide at the hide and he explained that below in the waters there were over 140 common seals, some grey seals further up the coast, a huge number and variety of birds, AND, most importantly for the assembled visitors – a White Tailed Sea Eagle in the trees below where we stood.

We didn’t have to wait very long before the eagle made a crossing to the mainland and we all started snapping away!  After a brief spell in a tree on the opposite shore it returned to the island and disappeared once more into the treetops.

After a short wait, and with an impressive level of knowledge normally only displayed by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and uttered the immortal line… “What’s that big brown thing?”
Yeh, you’ve guessed… it was a White Tailed Sea Eagle… the thing we were all supposed to be looking out for!  I should probably stick to my day job, eh?!

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After a while we decided to brave the return trip along the narrow road and on to our next destination.  Initially we were planning to visit some beaches on the Sleat peninsula but the weather was beautiful so we decided instead to travel to Elgol.

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The view across Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin mountains was stunning.  I’ve been to Elgol many times (last visit was just six months ago) but today was probably the best weather I’ve ever had at Elgol.

insta_3W2A3438(above: the same location, dawn, December 2016)

From Elgol, we returned to Broadford for some food, then on to Luib again.
We had a walk on the shore at Luib and watched the sun dip behind the hills.

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All in all, this was a lovely trip to Skye.  I have a few of the smaller isles to visit, plus at least 2/3rds of the island to re-visit and document, so I’ll be back to Skye in the very near future.

I should have another blog in the next few days as I hope to visit one, possibly two, more islands tomorrow.

Plans are in place – and tickets bought – for another 5 islands in the coming weeks and so i’m hopeful that I’ll reach the half-way point of 25 islands before the end of July.

Stay tuned!
I hope you’re enjoying this tour as much as I am!

 

Hebrides: Island 7 of 51: Isle of Mull (1)

Mull: Population 2990, Inner Hebrides

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Mull was always going to be an island requiring several visits.  The diversity of the landscape, the large number of locations to be photographed and the fact that there are another 5 smaller satellite islands to visit means that I had always planned to visit Mull several times during this project… which is fortunate as the weather was unbelievably dire this first trip!

I woke at 3am on a dark and drizzly Sunday morning and began packing for an overnight stay on the island.  Just one day earlier I’d managed to secure a last minute overnight stay in a lovely little cottage near Lochdon (Bramble Cottage) so this trip involved an overnight bag and the camera gear.

Another first:  I had company on this trip as Jonny decided to come along with a view to making a video, so after I’d picked him up we were off on our way north to the town of Oban.

We arrived in Oban earlier than expected, so early in fact there was a slim chance we might be allowed on to the sailing before the one we’d booked, so we headed straight for the ferry port.

We were checked into the “standby” lane and waited in the hope that we might be allowed to board but unfortunately the ferry was full so we had to wait until our pre-booked 11.10 am sailing.

After the earlier sailing departed we were moved over to lane 1 – 2nd place – and informed we had until 10.40 before we needed to be back at the car, so off we headed on a whistle stop tour of Oban, which to be fair, doesn’t take very long on a rainy Sunday morning!

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After a quick wander around the town, a visit to the bank and a coffee at the local Wetherspoons, it was time to return to the car and prepare for the sailing across to Craignure.

We boarded the ferry and set off to find a nice vantage point for the crossing to Mull.  Unfortunately the weather was terrible – windy with that fine drizzly rain that manages to get into and under every possible kind of waterproof clothing known to man – but we braved the outdoors on the crossing anyway and snapped a few shots of Kerrera and Lismore, two more islands I’ll be visiting very soon!

Once docked at Craignure we decided to head for Fionnphort on the western coast in the hope that the weather might improve as we went further west; it didn’t.

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After a brief stop at Bunessan (above) to photograph the bay during a break in the rain, we continued on to Fionnphort.  We toyed with the idea of crossing to Iona, but, with the weather so bad, decided to explore the coastline a little instead.

OL_3W2A8594(Above: Fionnphort coastline with Iona in the distance)

We photographed and videoed the coast for a while, there really is something magical about just sitting listening to the waves crash against the shoreline, then, hungry and cold, we decided to take a break and grab some lunch at the “Keel Row” in Fionnphort.

Warmed, fed and “watered” (no actual water was harmed during the course of the lunch) – we decided to return east towards Craignure.

OL_3W2A8610(above: Loch Scridain from Pennyghael)

There are a few locations around Scotland that I’m convinced I’ll eventually get a great shot, but have never managed to so far… Every time I visit the light’s not right, or the weather’s less than perfect or, etc, etc…
These elusive locations include (but are not limited to) the Devil’s Pulpit, those annoyingly photogenic Rowan trees on Conic Hill, the view down Loch Garry, the falls at Glen Orchy, and a secluded beach in Argyll…

The view from Glen More down across the three lochs of Loch Sguabain, Loch an Eilein and Loch an Ellen is another one of those locations.  I’ve photographed the place many times, but, I’ve never left with a shot that I think captures the essence of the place…
Apparently a favourite of the white tailed sea eagle, this part of Mull is remote, wild and seriously photogenic, but, I’ve never yet managed to be there just as the light was perfect. Maybe next time?

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Moving on from Glen More, we decided to check in to the cottage before arranging the rest of the evening.  Possibly a mistake as the cottage was nice and cosy and the rain was torrential outside, so, eventually, we settled down to watch some Netflix instead!

To be fair, the weather never improved and the sunset was a non-event photographically, so with sunrise at just before 4am, we decided to call it a day and have an early night.

It was a wild and windy night and I was extremely glad we hadn’t decided to camp overnight when I was awakened just before 4am with the rain battering off the windows in my room.

Sunset came and went but I did manage to capture the moment of sunrise through my room window looking out towards Loch Don…

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After a coffee, we packed up, said our farewells to Bramble Cottage and jumped in the car to try our luck in the north of the island.

Tobermory is one of those places where it’s impossible to feel down about the weather. The brightly coloured buildings force you to feel like you’re on holiday and, by default, having fun.

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Ice creams, a chocolate store and gift shops, several excellent cafes and a whisky distillery make for some enjoyable hours of fun for all of the family!

(Also, I’d encourage a visit to the museum – which I found fascinating)

From Tobermory we decided to head south again towards Craignure, initially with a view to visiting Duart Castle, but, on the way north we’d noticed some shipwrecks on the shore in Salen, so we planned to stop off there first, if we could find a suitable parking place.

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After a while exploring the shipwrecks, we headed south to Craignure and a bite to eat at the wonderful Craignure Inn. (Steak pie AND clootie dumpling – perfection!)

Lunch over and with just over 2 hrs until our booked ferry back to the mainland, we decided to visit Duart Castle.
Typically as our allotted departure point approached, the weather improved, so much so that by the time we were leaving Duart, there was actually some sunlight hitting the landscape…

OL_3W2A8821(Above: looking out over the Eilean Musdile lighthouse, Lismore from Duart Castle)

We returned to Craignure and managed to arrive first in the queue. (I’m paranoid about missing my ferry connections…)
As I was sat in the car thinking over this blog, I’d pretty much decided to write the trip off as a “location scouting” visit, but, in retrospect I think that does a disservice to the trip.  Sure, the weather was less than ideal, in fact, it was terrible, but sometimes, bad weather makes for some nice photographs.  No one wants to see blue sky pics all the time.  It rains in Scotland, everyone knows that, it’s why the landscape is so dramatic, it’s why we have such spectacular colours and it’s why I love it, so why not photograph it?!

My next island is likely to be either Kerrera or Lismore, but, I’ll definitely be back to Mull again in the next few weeks, so stay tuned! 🙂

Hebrides: Islands 5 & 6 of 51: Isles of Easdale & Luing

Easdale: Population: 59 (2011), Inner Hebrides, “Slate islands group”
Luing: Population: 195 (2011), Inner Hebrides, “Slate islands group”

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I parked at the far end of the village of Ellenabeich beneath the walls of an old quarry in what has to be one of the contenders for the “UK carpark with the best view” awards!

Look at the view!

OL_3W2A8330From here it’s a short walk back, along the coast to the harbour for the ferry to Easdale.

I must confess that as I approached the slipway my confidence sank a little (perhaps not the best choice of metaphor just before getting on to a tiny ferry!) when I noticed a procession of people making their way from the opposite direction, complete with orange waterproof jackets, trousers, boots and lifejackets…

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but, I can’t swim and the prospect of having to wear all that just to get the ferry across to an island was kinda concerning and I was starting to  think of excuses that might suggest that perhaps I’d encountered another “off limits” island when, thankfully, they all boarded the Seafari boat for a trip out to the Corrywreckan whirlpool instead.
The Easdale ferry sat patiently off shore until the bright orange Seafari boat had departed before making it’s way to the jetty to collect two old ladies, a little old man and me.  (so, yeh, two old ladies and two old men… before someone else says it!)

A much less stressful crossing I thought!

Unlike the majority of west coast ferries, the Easdale link isn’t run by Caledonian MacBrayne, it’s operated by Argyll & Bute Council.  A great service, which seems to be run on an “on-demand” basis.  I asked the ferryman what time the return sailings were and his reply was “if we’re on that side, just come on; if we’re over at here press the button in the waiting room and we’ll come get you…”

Fair enough!

To be fair, it’s no more than 5 minutes from one side to the other, but, that still must involve a lot of toing and froing over the average day.  In fact, when I (eventually) returned to Seil, there was a local from Easdale waiting by the harbour and he was very apologetic. Seems he’d missed the previous crossing by a couple of minutes and said he’d happily wait until there were more passengers, but, the ferryman was having none of it and as soon as we’d disembarked (all three of us…) they took the fellow over on his own.
Impressive service!

Easdale is a great little island and I’d thoroughly recommend a visit if you get the opportunity.  As I’d hinted at in my previous blog, I’d set myself some pretty low expectations for a group of islands know for slate quarrying and the destruction of an entire island, but, I honestly loved my time on Easdale and will definitely be back.

Firstly, it is tiny.  One website I’d consulted when researching the trip suggested that it’s possible to walk an entire circuit of the island in less than an hour.  It is.  I did it.  Twice!

Stepping off the ferry its a brief walk up the jetty to the Community Hall, Puffer Restaurant and Bar and the Folk Museum.  The houses, much like the white miner’s cottages over on Ellenabeich, seem to have been made just to please passing photographers, they’re so photogenic, but they also seem sturdy and solid, constructed (unsurprisingly) from slate and mortar.

OL_3W2A8334(above: The ferry waiting room, Easdale)

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I followed a path around the head of the harbour and headed for the northern coast.  Just before reaching the coast a path heads off to the left and out towards the western coast and some fine views over to Mull.

The view from here towards Mull was beautiful…

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Shortly after turning north-west there is a spectacular point where a narrow path stretches out over what looks like two former quarries – one of which has been flooded by the sea and the other seems slightly more landlocked, but still full of water.  The clear waters hint at the steep drop and depth of the water here…

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Continuing on, across the narrow path that runs between the two quarries, I quickly reached the western coast of the island.  I stopped here for a while to take some photographs and shoot some video as the views westwards towards the isle of Mull are very impressive.  (I even managed a 360 degree selfie which has now been posted on my Facebook page!)

Now, I’m going to say something that at first glance probably sounds stupid.  I had no idea that the “slate isles” had so much slate!!  The islands are pretty much made out of the stuff! It’s everywhere.  I was expecting a mainly soil island with the occasional quarry or slate outcrop but nope, it’s almost all slate…

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The sound of walking on the island is amazing,  you’d certainly never be able to sneak up on anyone on Easdale that’s for sure!

I continued on around the island, and completed the entire circuit from ferry back to the ferry again.  The walk was so nice and the views so good that I decided to do it all again, so I turned around and walked back again in the opposite direction!

Eventually I reached the ferry port again, just as the ferry was dropping off a couple of locals with their shopping, so I joined another couple and headed back over to Seil.

The journey back was quite interesting.  The ferryman had noticed my camera gear so we got talking about photography.  Apparently there is a very successful photographer, Colin McPherson, who stays on the island and runs residential photography courses there.   I’ll definitely be having a look at those as it would be nice to spend a few days on the island – and learn how to take decent photos! 😛

The couple I shared the trip back with were lovely.  They must have been listening to my conversation with the ferryman and as we got off the ferry at Seil they stopped to ask my name.  When I told them, the lady wrote it down.  They must have noticed my quizzical look as she looked up from her writing and said “just so when you become famous I’ll remember that I met you when you were starting out!”
How nice! 🙂

From Ellenabeich I drove back to Balvicar then on to Cuan and the ferry to Luing.

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I feel that I owe the 195 good people of Luing an apology here.   I’d enjoyed Easdale so much that I kinda lost track of time so by the time I got back to Seil and drove around to Cuan, it was already after 4pm.
As I boarded the ferry my first question to the ticket lady was “when’s the last ferry back over?” – 6pm she said.

So, with only around 1 to 1.5hrs on the island, and no car, I was severely limited to what I could see and shoot.
When researching the island, I’d pretty much decided that I’d do a circular walk which took in some slate quarries (no surprise there) and the village of Cullipool over on the west coast of the island, but, that was a walk of around 3hrs, much longer if – like me – you’re stopping every 10 minutes to set up a tripod and take some photos, so I had to quickly resort to plan B – which rather foolishly I’d failed to come up with before I went!

So, I was making it up as I went along now and to make matters worse, I realised when I arrived on the island that the car queue for the return trip was a lot longer than I’d anticipated from the other side.
I started to become concerned that getting back off the island might be an issue.

OL_3W2A8486Undeterred, I set off up the hill from the jetty and almost immediately the above view opened up. This is looking back over towards Seil, with the isle of Mull in the distance and my previous location Easdale (the white buildings on the horizon) just in view.

As I was taking photos, and some video footage, a few more cars passed-by on their way to the ferry so I decided to return to the jetty so that I could keep a close eye on how transport off the island was going.

While at the jetty I took some time-lapse videos of the ferry crossing the Cuan Sound as the current here is so strong the ferry takes a very unusual path… it seems to head straight for the island, but, with the current being so strong it arcs up or down away from a straight line until, around half way across what is actually quite a narrow waterway, the ferry swings around at an almost 45 degree angle up (or down) stream – depending on which way they’re going – and corrects for the quite significant drift it’s experienced on the first half of the trip before resuming its journey towards the jetty.  Its quite a spectacle and I can only assume that training on that particular ferry route is slightly more complicated than most!

I caught the boat back to Seil around 5.30, jumped in the car and returned back to Atlantic Bridge and over to the mainland once more.  I was staying the night at a hotel in Ardfern (again – I like it there!) and so I had a 30 minute drive back to my room.

As I was writing this blog I decided to check a few of my facts for the future island visits and I think that some of the islands I’d been planning on visiting may now be uninhabited so, I’ll need to double check and re-calculate…  as it stands, this trip took me to islands 5 & 6 of 51, but I suspect I may have to revise my total down to reflect the new information.  I’ll update you on any changes in my next blog! 🙂

Hebrides: Island 4 of 51: Isle of Seil

Seil: Population 551 (2011), Inner Hebrides, one of the “Slate islands”

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It was a sunny May morning when I packed the camera gear – together with an overnight bag (just in case) – and set off towards the town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland.  Two and a half hours later I was cruising through a very sunny and exceptionally busy seaside town, attempting to avoid the steady stream of visitors who seemed far more interested in crossing for an ice cream than road safety!

I love Oban.  My first ever commission after I’d finally braved the world of self-employment was here; I’ve had holidays based here, and others which departed from the ferry port here; I’ve had some great nights out and even saw in New Year once (can’t beat a west coast Hogmanay!)
So as I drove past the familiar sights of the sea front it felt more like a holiday than an effort to do some serious “work” on the new project.

I managed to avoid the temptation to stop for fish & chips and continued south back out of town.  Approximately 8 miles from Oban a sign points right where a narrow road hugs the shore of Loch Feochan.  The sign reads “Atlantic Bridge, Isle of Seil, 5 miles”

Turning here I set off along a narrow single track road that climbs steeply past a small cottage before turning south and continuing past Loch Seil.  A mile or so beyond the southern tip of the loch the road forks, taking the right fork the route continues for another mile until a thin blue band of sea comes into view, not very far away.  After passing a long low lying white farmhouse and a short stretch of single track road, suddenly right in front of you, sits Clachan Bridge.

OL_3W2A2969Completed in 1793, Clachan Bridge spans the 22m wide Clachan Sound in a single arch.
As Clachan Sound links at both ends with the Atlantic Ocean it is often said that this is a “Bridge over the Atlantic”

It’s quite an experience driving over the bridge for the first time as it’s remarkably steep (12m above the sea bed) and the fact that it’s single track and a blind summit means there’s a little bit of finger crossing that no one’s coming the other way as you climb to the top and tip down the other side onto the island.
The collection of grooves and scratches on the road at the summit of the bridge are testament to others who have underestimated the sudden drop and found themselves grinding the underside of their cars into the asphalt.

Once safely on the island I parked in the car park and walked back to snap the view north along the narrow Clachan Sound towards the islands of Kerrera and Mull – more islands for me to visit in the near future…

OL_3W2A2980(the view north from the bridge along the Clachan Sound – taken during a previous visit – March 2017)

Apparently every now and then whales have been stranded in the narrows here.   Entering from the open sea the animals find they have no room to turn and as the shallow waters of the Sound restrict their ability to maneuver they beach.
According to wikipedia a 24m (79ft) long whale met this fate right here in 1835, and in 1837 a pod of 192 pilot whales did the same.

After a little exploration of the coast and some more photography I decided to head south to see some more of the island.

Seil is one of the “Slate Islands” a group of islands where the underlying geology is of Dalradian Slate.  Slate has been mined here since at least 1630 and only stopped on an industrial scale at the turn of the 20th century.

The other isles in the group are Easdale, Luing, Lunga, Shuna, Torsa and Belnahua.
Of these only the first two are permanently occupied and so I’ll only be visiting those on this tour.

Interestingly there was once another Slate Isle, Eilean-a-beithich (island of the birches) but extensive quarrying on that island to a depth of nearly 250ft below sea level left nothing but the outer rim to show where the island had once stood.  A storm early in the morning of 22 November 1881, combined with an unusually high tide swept most of the outer rim away and today there is little left to see of Eilean-a-beithich – although the town which sprang up to house the men who quarried the island stills bears it’s name – Ellenabeich.

Wiping an entire island off the map just for some roof slate… ?! Insane.

I drove south from the bridge through the village of Clachan Seil and on to Balvicar.  At Balvicar the road splits.  To the right the road heads to Ellenabeich, the ferry port for Easdale.  Straight ahead leads to Cuan and the ferry to Luing.

I intended to visit both islands today anyway, and since Easdale is by far the smaller of the islands, I decided to head to Ellenabeich first, assuming Easdale wouldn’t take very long…

The drive out to Ellenabeich is lovely, especially once the road reaches the sea.  The view out over the small islands to your left is beautiful and with plenty of parking places you can pull over to enjoy the view or picnic by the sea.

OL_3W2A8476I was very impressed with the village of Ellenabeich, it’s a lovely little place and well worth the journey even if you have no intention of crossing over to Easdale.
In addition to the Easdale Ferry, the village is home to a Heritage Centre, Art Gallery,  Restaurant / Bar and the Seafari Adventures boat tours (who run trips out to the Corryvreckan Whirlpool and wildlife trips to see seals, dolphins and whales, or out to Iona and Staffa puffin watching)

My trip to Easdale will be the subject of a separate blog, so I’ll just say that I had a great time on the island and it’s another place I plan to revisit in the future.

OL_3W2A8331(above: Ellenabeich harbour with former slate quarry behind & Easdale Ferry – white boat – and Seafari boat – orange)

Back at the car following my Easdale adventure I set off again for the short drive back to Balvicar then onwards to Cuan and the ferry to Luing.
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Cuan feels much more like a working ferry port.  There isn’t an awful lot more going on in the village other than the regular sailings across the fast flowing Cuan Sound to the isle of Luing.

As with Easdale, I’ll leave the details of my trip to Luing for another blog.  I feel that I probably need to visit the island once more to do it justice.   My trip to Easdale took longer than expected (for reasons you’ll discover in the next blog post) and so I didn’t have much time on Luing.  Also, seeing that the ferry could only take 3 cars at a time and there was at least 15 cars already waiting on the island to get back over to Seil I thought that perhaps I’d be tempting fate a little to take the car over.   Consequently I was only able to explore the area immediately around the ferry jetty.

Back on Seil, it was time to head north and back over the Bridge over the Atlantic then on towards my hotel for the night.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day exploring the Slate islands.  If I’m honest, when I was planning the whole project I had expected this to be one of the least photogenic parts of the trip.  Who wants to see lots of cold, grey slate, disused quarries and industrial landscapes, right?  I was wrong.  Seil is a lovely little island, Ellenabeich is a great village and the isles of Luing & Easdale.. well, I’ll tell you about them in my next blog 🙂

So… 4 islands done, just another 47 to go! 🙂

Hebrides: Islands 2 & 3 of 51 – Danna & Eilean da Mheinn

Danna: Population 1 (in 2011), Inner Hebrides, Islay group
Eilean da Mheinn: Population 1 (in 2011), Inner Hebrides, Islay group

location-map

I’ve included these two islands in one blog as they have much in common and are relatively close to each other, so it was possible to visit and photograph them both in the same morning.

The day began with a drive from my hotel through the wonderful Kilmartin Glen then turning off the main road at the B8025 past some impressive standing stones and on towards Crinan on the west coast.  Shortly after the road crosses the Crinan canal, I took the single track road towards Tayvallich.  I’d never visited Tayvallich before and I regret now that I didn’t stop to take some photographs.  It’s a lovely little village and the little bay and picturesque cottages would have made for a lovely set of images.  Perhaps a location for another time?

From Tayvallich the already narrow road narrows further as it winds it’s way south towards the tip of the peninsula alongside the waters of Linne Mhuirrich. Eventually a narrow road heads off to the left signposted “Danna”

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From this junction the road swings around the head of the loch then passes a farmhouse and finally an old boarded up cottage with spectacular views out over Loch na Cille towards the islands of Islay and Jura. (two islands I’m very much looking forward to visiting on this tour).

Danna is a tidal island; it is separated from the main peninsula at high tide, but it’s possible to walk across to the island at low tide, albeit through some distinctly marshy looking ground.
The construction of a causeway means it’s now also possible to drive over to the island, but, as it’s privately owned, the trip comes to an abrupt stop almost as soon as you arrive on the island.

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It was low tide when I visited and if it hadn’t been for the causeway and the rather marshy area to the left of the above image I probably wouldn’t have realised I’d crossed over onto the island! (The above image is taken looking over the causeway back to the mainland.  Loch Sween is in the background)

From the causeway it’s possible to see the main house on the island, which looks like it enjoys a beautiful viewpoint looking west out over the loch and beyond.  I can imagine that the sunsets must be spectacular from that house!

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I retraced my route back to the junction, but, before heading north again I decided to take a small detour south to Keills Chapel, a medieval chapel which sits opposite Danna above the shores of Loch na Cille.  The chapel contains many fine examples of medieval carved stone slabs and a particularly impressive carved Celtic Cross which is believed to date back as far as the 8th century.

The cross, which once stood just above the chapel on the exposed hill, has been moved inside the chapel to protect it from the elements, but, a modern replica stands where the original once did.

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After exploring the chapel I headed back to the car and the drive north along the single track road back through Tayvallich and onwards to the main road to Crinan.
Turning left here it was a short drive to Crinan and the second island of the day…

Eilean da Mheinn (“island of two mines”) is a small inhabited isle in the old harbour of Crinan.  I must confess, I’ve visited Crinan many times in the past but today was the first time I’d even realised there was an Old Harbour!

Described as an inhabited island, less than 100m from the shore with no anchorage, ferry connection or public access, this was my first disappointment of the trip.
To stand on the shore and gaze out towards the island which, at low tide seemed close enough to touch was frustrating.

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The island is in a nice part of the world, and whoever owns it is very lucky!
If anyone knows the owner and can arrange access for me so that I could complete this project I’d be extremely grateful 🙂

With the day-job calling (literally) I had just enough time to visit the Isle of Seil near Oban to location scout ahead of my next batch of islands, the “Slate Islands” of Seil, Luing and Easdale.

So, to summarize, 3 islands visited (technically 4 if you include my brief visit to Seil), only another 48 islands to go!!

I hope you’re enjoying the blogs as much as I’m enjoying writing them! 🙂