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”

location-map

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! 🙂

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