On a trip around the Inner Hebrides a few years ago, my family and I planned a visit to Easdale, one of the Slate Islands. Whilst there, I stumbled across the Easdale Folk Museum, where I learned of the least known Slate Island, Belnahua. I then investigated the best way of visiting Belnahua.
Getting to Belnahua
Keeping this in the back of my mind for future reference, I organised a trip for myself and seven other members of my extended family. With Easdale being one of my wife’s favourite islands, we agreed to add this to our already hectic itinerary.
During my research of Easdale over the internet I came across the SEAFARI website. I carefully perused the available boat trips and quickly realised that they offered landing cruises on Belnahua.
I e-mailed SEAFARI to learn whether a trip would be taking place on the day we were going to Easdale. My luck was in! I also checked that my young son would be allowed on the crossing. SEAFARI were happy for my son to go, as long as were happy taking him.
On board the R.I.B
On the Wednesday when our trip was due, we drove down from our base near Loch Long and met at the Easdale ferry slip. Here, we were all given bright orange waterproof clothing and life-jackets and given a quick safety drill. We were all provided with maps to help with our exploration of the island.
We carefully boarded the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and made ourselves comfortable on the sturdy plastic seats in the centre of the boat. The RIB set off at a fast pace and delighted the children by completing ever tighter turns, kicking up spray that was carried away by the wind.
Landing on Belnahua
As the RIB was unable to land on Belnahua, we boarded a tiny flit boat and made our way to the shore. The beach is covered with thousands of broken slates, discarded from the nearby quarry. This made traversing the steep slopes challenging to all but the fleet of foot. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back for remembering to wear stout footwear, in this case walking boots.
Belnahua is located in the Firth of Lorn, east of the Garvellachs and about 1 mile north west of Luing. It is by far the smallest of the main Slate Islands but despite it’s tiny size, it supported a population of well over 100 workers at it’s peak in the late 19th century.
Buildings on Belnahua
There are no facilities on this island and there are only very rough footpaths. Although the buildings are overgrown and derelict now, you can easily imagine them as the hub of the island. For such a small island there was quite a large population. They must have lived a harsh existence as there was no piped water and very little space. The main shop had no roof and was in a sad state of repair, but it was still possible to see the old brick shelves, standing for nearly 100 years.
Eventually our group scrambled onto the higher ground and then we took a moment to survey our surroundings. Old buildings that had decayed over the last century had now let nature take its course. Our guide showed us where the remains of the shop were located and explained more about the history of Belnahua, whilst continuing our short guided tour. Once the tour had finished, we were free to wander around this fascinating island at our leisure.
It was amazing to think that such a small island could hold such a large population. As time to leave approached I took one last lingering look around the old island and imagined the struggle these islanders had to endure on a daily basis. There is a calmness and tranquillity on Belnahua that I have not experienced on other abandoned islands. I can definitely recommend a visit. There are some haunting poems about Belnahua in the excellent book about the Slate Islands by Mavis Gulliver. Click the foolowing link for a review od the book, entitled Slate Voices – Islands of Netherlorn.
- Please note – Seafari no longer offer scheduled tours to Belnahua, but will go there if you charter one of their boats.
There is more information and exhibits from Belnahua and the other Slate islands at the Folk Museum on the tiny island of Easdale. There is also a brilliant book on the subject called ‘The islands that roofed the world’. I have read the book and can highly recommend it. Click on the link below for details of the book: