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! 🙂

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