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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