Isay Isay Isay - Abandoned Village

Isay Isay Isay

 

Isay Isay Isay - Top of the island

Isay Isay Isay – Top of the island

I recently visited the Isle of Skye for a weeks holiday. I have been to Skye on several other occasions, but generally have been passing through on the way to the Outer Hebrides, or on a brief tour on the way up to the Summer Isles or Ullapool. This was the first time I had spent a week on the island.

Having visited Skye before, I had been to all the major islands surrounding it such as the Small Isles (Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rum) as well as Raasay. I had arranged to go to Raasay again, so I was looking to visit another island, preferably one I had not visited before. I had two options. A visit to Rona or a visit to the uninhabited island of Isay. I couldn’t find any tour operators who were visiting Rona, so that option was ruled out pretty quickly.

I got in touch with Aillen and Gordon from Divers Eye Boat Trips at Stein in the north of Skye. They offered to take me out to Isay and leave me there for about 3 hours. This sounded great!

I set off early in the morning, as I was staying in the south of Skye at Isleornsay. The boat set off around 10am from Stein, in the north west corner of Skye. I approached the Harbour on a winding, single track road and descended into the village of Stein.  On the right hand side of the road is the Divers Eye Booking Office and Car Park, so I parked here and made my way down to the Harbour front. Gordon was already there preparing the boat and was chatting to another couple. They were going out on the boat for a wildlife watching tour and we were soon joined by another four people who had booked onto the wildlife tour.

Isay Isay Isay - Divers Eye Boat

Isay Isay Isay – Divers Eye Boat

The boat set off and as soon as it did, the heavens opened. Fortunately it was only a quick shower and throughout my trip there was intermittent rain, but nothing too severe. We made our way around Loch Bay and towards the small island of Sgeir nam Biast, where there was a small colony of seals, lying lazily on the shore.

From here, we made our way over to Isay and I alighted with a little help from the landing stage. I waved back to the other passengers, who were off to spot as much wildlife as possible before picking me up on their return journey.

Isay Isay Isay - by the shore

Isay Isay Isay – by the shore

As I stood on the island for the first time, I sat on a handy large stone postioned nearby and took stock. I didn’t know that much about the island, but I knew that there was an abandoned village close to the shore.  I could just about see it in the distance, so I carefully made my way there via a faint path close to the shoreline.

I scrambled down a hill to get my first good look at the village. The remains of the abandoned houses could be clearly seen from the bottom of the hill. I counted the ruins of about 20 houses and set out to investigate them further.

Isay Isay Isay - Abandoned Village

Isay Isay Isay – Abandoned Village

I am surprised that the island isn’t more widely known as the houses are reminiscent of ‘The Street’ on St Kilda. As well as the houses, there are also the remains of a General Store and further afield is the imposing Isay House. The island has been uninhabited since around 1860, after it was cleared as part of the Highland Clearances. Around 100 people lived on Isay at its peak in the mid nineteenth century.

Once I had taken some photos and had a good look around the occasionally eerie houses, I carried onto Isay House. The house is roofless and is missing half a wall at one end, but it is still a fair size. There is a grand staircase leading up to the first floor that is still in suprisingly good order. In the 16th century the House was inhabited by the Macleods of Lewis. The dastardly Roderick Macleod killed two families by calmly asking them to step outside while he gave them some good news. All so that his grandson could inherit the Isle of Raasay and land around Gairloch.

Isay Isay Isay - Isay House

Isay Isay Isay – Isay House

From Isay House, I then made my way to the islands high point and marvelled as the whole island came into view. In the distance, there were some rudimentary dry stone walls that looked like they could have been built as large animal pens, or possibly a boundary of some sorts.

My time on the island was almost at an end, so I made my way down to the slipway to await the returning ferry, which luckily arrived on time. The other passengers animatedly told me about some of their encounters with the local wildlife, including seals and myriad species of birds. The rain had now ceased altogether and we calmy sailed back into the Harbour at Stein. Truly, a day to remember.

Isay Isay Isay - abandoned houses with Isay House in the distance

Isay Isay Isay – abandoned houses with Isay House in the distance

Inchmahome Priory

Home from home – a visit to the tiny island of Inchmahome

Getting there

 

After staying near Inverness on my week long tour of Scotlands smaller islands, I decided to visit the tiny island of Inchmahome on my way down to my next B&B, near Loch Lomond.  The island is situated about 6km east of Aberfoyle, just off the A81 and was a perfect stopping off point.  Inchmahome is an island I had never visited before, although I had come close on several occasions. I was especially interested in visiting Inchmahome Priory, as i had visited other Priories and Monasteries on other scottish islands.

 

Inchmahome - Waiting Room

Inchmahome – Waiting Room

 

Inchmahome is situated within the only Lake in Scotland, Lake Monteith. It is quite unusual to find a Lake in Scotland because most bodies of water are called Lochs. Until the 19th century it was known as the “Loch of Menteith”. No explanation is known as to why the Loch became a Lake, although there are many theories, such as a mis-translation by a Dutch Cartographer or because there were a lot of English tourists visiting in the 19th century.

It was late afternoon, by the time I reached the turn off for Inchmahome. I parked in the spacious car park at the Port of Monteith and walked through a very small interpretive display housed in a cosy wooden building. After reading the useful information, I walked out onto the wooden jetty, hailed the boatman by turning round a sign on the pier and waited for the vintage mahogany ferry to take me over in style.  Luckily, there was only me and one other passenger there, as the small ferry only has a capacity for 12 passengers.

 

Inchmahome - Waiting for the ferry

Inchmahome – Waiting for the ferry

 

I only had to wait about 20 minutes for the ferry to arrive and then I was speedily crossing the placid lake and about 10 minutes later, I was stepping ashore.  As I headed up from the jetty, I noticed a Historic Scotland shop. I had a quick look inside and bought myself a guide to the island. I thought this would be useful, to give me some background information about the the Priory and the island as a whole.

 

Inchmahome Priory

 

The first thing that I saw after leaving the shop were the remains of the Priory.  The Priory is a ruined Augustine Priory founded in 1238 by Walter Comyn, who was the Earl of Menteith.  The Priory, which functioned for over 300 years, has had many distinguished royal visitors including Robert the Bruce, who came here three times in the early 14th century and Mary Queen of Scots, who stayed here in 1547, seeking refuge.  Although the Priory is now a ruin, enough remains to give a good impression of what the main parts of the building would have been like. The recently re-roofed Chapter House contains some of the grave slabs and effigies, which were originally situated within the Priory.  For more information on Inchmahome Priory visit the Historic Environment Scotland page about the History of the Priory.

 

Inchmahome Priory

Inchmahome Priory

 

Once I had seen all of the different parts of the Priory and read about their history in the Guide, I decided to follow the trail and walk around the island. I was hoping to see the Spanish chestnuts and boxwood bower supposedly planted by Mary Queen of Scots, but unfortunately I was not able to find them (I am sure they are there somewhere).  The island is perfect for a short walk or a waterside picnic and is a haven for wildlife. In springtime the island becomes colourful as a result of the daffodils and rhododendrons growing there.  With a bit of luck, you may be able to spot Ospreys, which nest in nearby Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.

 

Inchmahome - Path around the island

Inchmahome – Path around the island

 

After my leisurely walk, I made my way back to the Tourist Shop and was tempted by the ubiquitous Highland Shortbread, but luckily I was momentarily able to restrain myself and settled for a calorie-free bottle of water. I then headed down to the Jetty, drank my water and waited for the ferry to arrive.  Eventually the small ferry arrived and I was transported back to the Port of Monteith in style.

Inchmahome is a very peaceful and well maintained island, but it is tiny. You really don’t need to spend more than a couple of hours there.  However, it is a great island to visit for a morning or an afternoon and is easily accessible. I would recommend that you buy the Guide from the Historic Scotland shop, to give you a better understanding of the Priory and the island and to make the most of your time there.

 

Inchmahome - Entrance to waiting room
Inchmahome - Entrance to waiting room
Inchmahome - Waiting room
Inchmahome - Waiting room
Inchmahome - Waiting for the ferry
Inchmahome - Waiting for the ferry
Inchmahome Priory
Inchmahome Priory
Inchmahome Priory - Ruins
Inchmahome Priory - Ruins
Inchmahome Priory - Looking through entrance
Inchmahome Priory - Looking through entrance
Inchmahome Priory -Chapter House
Inchmahome Priory -Chapter House
Inchmahome Priory - East Cloister Range
Inchmahome Priory - East Cloister Range
Inchmahome - path around the island
Inchmahome - path around the island
Inchcailloch - Welcome sign

On a mission – a trip to Inchcailloch

Visiting Inchcailloch is a straight forward affair. There is an on demand ferry from Balmaha on the east side of Loch Lomond.  It is one of the few islands within Loch Lomond that it is accessible to the public and attracts around 20,000 visitors a year.  It is also one of the most interesting.

It is believed that around 1,300 years ago Saint Kentigerna, daughter of an Irish King and mother of Saint Fillan, settled here and set up a nunnery.  She died here in 734AD and is remembered in the name of the island – Inchcailloch. It means, “island of the old or cowled women”.  Five hundred years later a church was built here and dedicated to the memory of Saint Kentigema. It was in constant use until 1770. Long after the church fell into ruin local people continued to use the cemetery.

I got to Balmaha not long after 9am on a still, dry morning and parked in front of the Tourist Information Centre. I then quickly walked down to the jetty which is located through Balmaha Boatyard. I bought a ticket and waited patiently for the ferry.  The ferry is an on demand service and it is a good idea to give the ferryman an idea of when you will return from Inchcailloch with most people spending between 1 and 2 hours on the island.

 

Inchcailloch - Small ferry from Balmaha

Inchcailloch – Small ferry from Balmaha

Eventually the ferry arrived and as I stepped onto the island, a father and son stepped off with all their camping equipment. I could see the delight on the young man’s face and wondered about the quality time they had spent together. As a father, I could think of nothing better!

From the North Pier, there is a steep incline towards the path up to the centre of the island. Two paths converged and I decided to take the lower path towards the islands cemetery.  The island has been used for burials by the MacGregor clan for centuries and within the cemetery is the grave of the Clan Chief of the MacGregors.

 

Inchcailloch - MacGregor Burail Ground

Inchcailloch – MacGregor Burail Ground

From here, I then walked down towards the shore and passed by the remains of an old farmhouse (which took me a while to find as there is not much of it left).  About half an hour later I came out at a clearing that turned out to be Port Bawn campsite.  This is at the extreme south end of the island.  This is a splendid spot to camp and had useful facilities such as compost toilets and picnic tables.  It has great views out over Loch Lomond.

 

Inchcailloch - Port Bawn

Inchcailloch – Port Bawn

 

From Port Bawn, I took the central path back towards the north of the island. I was hoping to spot some of the islands elusive wildlife including Fallow deer and Wild Geese.  Unfortunately, my noisy walking boots and rustling clothing probably scared them away.  I then took the path to the right called that led to the summit of the island.  This is quite a steep path, so care needs to be taken when ascending it.  Once at the summit there were fantiastic views of the island and the other surrounding islands around Loch Lomond.

 

Inchcailloch - Summit

Inchcailloch – Summit

 

I then made my way back to the North Pier and quietly awaited the arrival of the Ferry.  Inchcailloch is a great island for a day (or even half day) visit.  It is well worth seeking out on the quieter eastern shores of Loch Lomond.  Who knows, on my next visit there, maybe I will take my son on a camping trip.  I am sure he’s love it.

 

 

Information Centre - Isle of Handa

A bird in the Handa – a day trip to the Isle of Handa

On my recent tour around the west coast, I had kept a day aside for a trip to the Isle of Handa, the Summer Isles and Isle Martin.  After spending some time in the lovely village of Broadford on the Isle of Skye, I first headed north to Ullapool.  I went on a 20 mile detour to get there (still not sure how I got lost), but eventually I reached Ullapool.  I was there to hopefully book a trip to Isle Martin and the Summer Isles and then carry on north to visit the Isle of Handa.

I arrived in Ullapool at around 1.00pm and booked into my B & B in the heart of town.  I then walked down to the Harbour to work out which boat trips were running and what would be the best time to travel.  To my dismay, the Isle Martin trips had not been running for a week and would not be running again, as it was close to the end of the season.  Not to worry I thought, it gives me an excuse to come back again next year.  I walked over to the Summer Isles booth and booked to go on a landing tour, that was taking place the following day.  The nice lady in the booth said that so far, I was the only customer and if this was still the case tomorrow, the trip would unfortunately have to be cancelled.

 

Ullapool Museum

Ullapool Museum

 

Slightly worried, I set off for some lunch at the local Fish and Chip shop.  I then headed off to the Ullapool Museum, which is set inside a beautifully refurbished Thomas Telford designed Church.  I highly recommend a visit if you are staying for any length of time in Ullapool. I did spot another Thomas Telford designed Church at Stoer, on the way to my next accommodation.  This was just a shell, but was still a warming sight.  For more information on Thomas Telford Designed churches, please see the article – Thomas Telford Churches on Scottish IslandsOnce I had completed the delights of the Museum, I headed back to my B & B and hoped that my luck would be in tomorrow.

Alas, it was not to be!  I headed down to the Harbour at the alloted time to be met by the lady from the previous day.  She said that there would be no cruises running as no other passengers had booked.  I explained that unfortunately, I would be leaving later in the day, so would not be able to book any subsequent tours.  Feeling a little deflated, I headed north towards my accommodation at Drumbeg.  As I had more time to spare, I decided to do a loop and headed for Lochinver, where I had a lovely lunch at a local cafe.  I then continued north to Drumbeg and stayed in a quiet B & B overlooking The Minch.

 

Ferry Waiting Room at Tarbert

Ferry Waiting Room at Tarbert

 

ISLE OF HANDA

The following day, I carried on to the tiny hamlet of Tarbert, where the Ferry (a small R.I.B) to the Isle of Handa is located.  Tarbet is signposted from the A894 about 3 miles north of Scourie and 3 miles south of Laxford Bridge.  I arrived at around 9.00am, but the ferry did not run until 10.00am, so I had an hour walking around the shore and taking in the atmosphere.  At 10 o’clock, I boarded the R.I.B and made the short crossing to Handa. The island is managed by Scottish Wildlife and is free to visit.  However, there is a small charge for the Ferry from Tarbert.  As the boat approached the island, I could see a couple of people getting a wooden ramp ready to help me alight from the boat.  Once this was completed, the two people introduced themselves as volunteers and took me up to the Information centre to give me a short talk about the island.   Handa is one of the largest seabird colonies in North West Europe and comes alive each summer when nearly 200,000 seabirds gather here to breed.

After the interesting talk, I set off towards the cliffs.  My first stop was at the remains of a tiny village last inhabited in 1847.  Following the potato famine all 64 residents were re-located to Nova Scotia.  There is an excellent interprative display in the Information centre that explains about the re-location in more detail.  the village is a haunting place and is now very overgrown.  From here I continued walking on the wooden path up the cliffs.  The path cuts through breeding grounds for Great Skuas (or Bonxies) who occasionally circled overhead, but luckily they did not dive bomb me as I was half expecting.

 

Wooden walkway - Isle of Handa

Wooden walkway – Isle of Handa

 

I followed the trail up to the cliffs and Puffin Bay.  Unfortunately, Puffins are usually seen between May and July, so when I arrived, there were none there!  Opposite Puffin Bay is the Great Stack.  This is a huge tower of Torridonian sandstone set apart from Handa.  It is said that more people have walked on the moon than have reached the summit of the Great Stack.  Time was getting on, as I had to catch the last ferry back, due the reduced sailing times towards the end of the season.  I made my way back to the Information centre and walked down to the beautiful bay at Port an Eilein.  The wind had dropped and I sat calmy on the beach idling the time away waiting for the boat to arrive.

The Isle of Handa is a very picturesque island and is ideal for a day trip. The volunteers had a wealth of information and actually live on the island during the tourist season.  On my next visit, I hope to return for longer and walk around the east coast to see a collapsed sea cave called Poll Ghlup and also Boulder Bay where there are occasional sightings of the elusive otter and other wildlife such as seals, whales and dolphins.

 

Bay at Port an Eilein - Isle of Handa

Bay at Port an Eilein – Isle of Handa

Scottish Islands 'To Do' List - Rockall

Scottish Islands ‘To Do’ List

Scottish Islands ‘To Do’ List

 

There are many islands still to see on my ‘To Do’ list. Chief among these are the remote islands that are not accessible by the Cal Mac ferry or other publicly run ferries.

For example, some of the islands I would like to visit are Taransay and the Shiant isles (day trips from Harris) and Mingulay (day trip from Barra).

 

Scottish Islands 'To Do' List - Mingulay Bay

Scottish Islands ‘To Do’ List Mingulay Bay

 

I think that the islands that often ‘stay with you’ are the islands that are the remotest such as St Kilda. Therefore, I have always wanted to visit North Rona, especially after reading F Fraser Darling’s ‘Island Years’ about his time on North Rona.

Other intriguing islands to visit include the Monach Islands and the Flannan Isles. The Flannan Isles are famous for the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers in December 1900. It is thought they were swept away by a freak wave, there are more romantic theories, but it has never been proven what happened and has become a story that has captured many peoples imagination.

 

Scottish Islands 'To Do' List - Flannan Isles

Scottish Islands ‘To Do’ List – Flannan Isles

 

Perhaps the most isolated and therefore maybe the most extreme island to visit would be Rockall. This would probably be the ultimate island to visit. Andy Strangeway, who has visited more Scottish islands than anyone, has made a couple of recent attempts to land on Rockall, but has failed due to various reasons. Maybe, on this occasion, just the sight of Rockall would be enough!

That’s just a few of the more well known ‘remote’ islands. It should take me a while to visit all those, but the good thing about visiting Scottish islands, is that there is an inexhaustible supply of islands to visit. But the best thing is, I get to have a fantastic time doing it!