Category Archives: Hebrides tour

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! 🙂

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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

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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! 🙂

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!