Hebrides: Island 1 of 51 – Gigha

Gigha. Population: 163 (in 2015), Inner Hebrides, part of the “Islay group”

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Legend says that around 563 AD the Irish abbot & missionary, Columba, first set foot on Gigha (pronounced Gee-ah), then known as Eilean da Ghallagan.

It is said that Columba, or “Colm Cille (Dove of the Church)” immediately began work converting the local population to the relatively new religion of Christianity before moving on to a small island gifted to him by his kinsman, Conall mac Comgaill, King of Dalriada, just off the south-western coast of Mull, now known as Iona.

His mission must have been quite successful because when King Håkon IV of Norway arrived on the island in 1263 the island’s name was officially entered into historical record, in Norse, as Guðey, “God’s island” or “Good island”

Gigha lies just over 3 miles from the Scottish mainland across the Sound of Gigha, and I know that this sounds very close and inconsequential but, to a Glaswegian like me, who has to travel three hours just to get to the ferry port of Tayinloan, this, the first of the Hebrides on my 2017 tour of all the inhabited Hebridean islands, was quite a trip!

I set off from home early in the morning on my trip towards the Mull of Kintyre (who’s not singing a Paul McCartney song right now?) and managed to miss the last morning sailing from Tayinloan by just 10 minutes…

To be honest this wasn’t a major problem as it gave me time for a lovely lunch at “Big Jessie’s Tearoom” in Tayinloan – well worth a visit if you’re in the area!
(I’m suggesting you visit here despite their ridicule of my native Glesga diet – ” Glasgow salad: Pie, Beans & Chips” was the special of the day)

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🙂 I love that kind of humour!

Hunger subdued I walked on to the first ferry of the afternoon for the short 20 minute sailing to Gigha.

Its a lovely crossing, brief, but somehow long enough to make you feel like you’re going somewhere new.  I’m guessing that Columba must have felt differently as legend has it he moved on quickly from Gigha because he could still see Ireland from here on a clear day and so didn’t feel far enough away from his persecutors.

It’s amazing how being on a small boat can bring strangers together and in the space of just 20 minutes I – an introvert and uncomfortably shy person – found myself chatting to an Australian traveler – who was cycling around Scotland researching his family history – and two lovely English ladies who had decided to bring camper vans to tour the western isles for the summer – a place neither of them had ever been to before, and using vehicles neither had ever driven before! Brave!

The ferry scrapes up the jetty at Ardminish and the people and vehicles file off onto the island.  Gigha is one of those places where when you get off the boat and reach the main street, you pretty much have only two choices… go North or go South (there is obviously a third option but that involves getting back on the boat and heading back to the mainland)

The “go north” walkers are off on a trip to the “top” of the island where the views out over Islay and Jura are spectacular.

After a glimpse of the views towards Jura from the boat I’ve already decided I’ll be back to Gigha in late Autumn / Winter to “go North” and photograph the Paps of Jura with a dusting of snow as Gigha offers a stunning vantage point for the mountains.

“go South” walkers (which included me on this trip) seem to split into two groups shortly after leaving the ferry port at Ardminish…

About a mile south of the ferry, a junction is reached. A sign points right towards “Achamore Gardens” – Gigha’s main tourist attraction.

The more adventurous walkers ignore this sign and continue south to explore the rough southern coast of the island, where standing stones and iron age brochs bear witness to a civilization that was already ancient when Columba arrived.

Most, if not all, day-trippers turn right as indicated and visit the gardens of Achamore.

I, however, was on a mission to shoot some photography so I turned right, ignored the gardens, and continued on up the hill towards the ruined church of Kilchattan, then onwards towards the sandy beach of Cuddyport Bay.
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It’s a funny game landscape / travel photography.  I’d enjoyed beautiful weather all day but the second I got to within a mile of my chosen location, Cuddyport Bay, the clouds rolled in, the wind picked up and the rain began to pour.

Undeterred I continued on through farmland and out past a beautiful little cottage to the bay at Cuddyport.

Not satisfied with just poor weather, the gods had conspired to make sure the light was the worst possible for photography – AND – that the tide was in to cover the beautiful sandy beach when I arrived.  That said, it’s still a lovely spot.
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There is something about just sitting down on a deserted beach knowing that you and you alone are witnessing that scene right now.  Many people assume the attraction of being a photographer is getting to shoot great locations.  It’s not.  It’s getting to sit in those beautiful locations and just watch as the world does its thing.  Some of the best images I have are in my mind and were never photographed.

(“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…” yes, a Blade Runner quote! )

The rain subsided and for a short time, bees hummed, butterflies fluttered and lovely little purple flowers that seemed to grow from the bare rocks bobbed in the wind.  It might not have been ideal weather for a visit, but, I’ve got to say I can understand why the Viking’s were so reluctant to give up their control of Gigha.  It’s a lovely little island and one I’ll definitely revisit.

The return sailing to Tayinloan saw me reunited with the English ladies and the Australian cyclist and it was interesting to hear other people’s take on the island.  None of us had ever visited the island before and we all took something different from our first ever trip.

The English ladies had focused on the people.  They found them polite and kind and told me a story about how one elderly lady at the Gardens was struggling to walk back to the ferry and so a local walked home, grabbed his car keys and drove back to pick her up and take her and her friends back to the ferry port!

The Australian historian loved the place! He cycled around the island visiting old graveyards, one or two old houses and pretty much just immersed himself in the history of the island.

Me? I loved it. I was there to photograph the island and even though the conditions weren’t ideal, I still left with some nice shots and an “I’d like to revisit” feeling.  I’m absolutely positive that I’ll not have that feeling about all 51 Hebridean islands on this tour, so that’s a good start!

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I disembarked from the Calmac ferry at Tayinloan, walked to the car and packed the camera gear away before setting off to my hotel at Ardfern.  Tomorrow I have plans to visit Danna and Eilean da Mheinn.

One island down, 50 to go and I’m already loving this project!

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