For more information on the Isle of Canna, I can recommend reading this book about the Small Isles.[easyazon_infoblock align=”center” cloak=”y” identifier=”1841581542″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”lovescottishi-21″]
For more information on the Isle of Canna, I can recommend reading this book about the Small Isles.[easyazon_infoblock align=”center” cloak=”y” identifier=”1841581542″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”lovescottishi-21″]
I have recently returned from 4 days spent visiting the Scottish Islands.
I had originally planned to visit the Orkney Islands again, but this has now had to be pushed back to May next year to accommodate a new arrival in the family.
For this trip, I had the pleasure of my friend Patrick, for company. Patrick had never previously visited Scotland (apart from a quick visit to climb Ben Nevis, as part of the 3 peaks challenge), so I decided to visit easily accessible islands as a gentle introduction to the delights of the Scottish islands. And maybe sample the odd beer or two.
DAY 1 – FRIDAY
After meeting at Helensburgh the night before, Friday morning commenced with a misty view of Loch Lomond and then a long, winding journey through to Tayvallich on the west coast. I had stayed near Tayvallich before and had always wanted to go back. We sat outside drinking our speciality coffee’s (still in ‘Town’ mode) and surveyed a gorgeous view of sailing boats on calm, glass-like water. From Tayvallich we gently sauntered to our scheduled tour of the Corryvreckan at 6pm.
On the way we took several opportunitys to take photographs on the islands of Seil and Easdale. Eventually we parked at Ellenbeich on Seil and got changed into our waterproof clothing, ready to tackle anything that mother nature could throw at us. Patrick had specifically asked to visit the whirlpool, as he had read about in an article about ‘things to see in Scotland before you die’. When booking the trip, I realised that the date co-incided with a ‘Whirlpool Special’, where the Whirlpool is at its most spectacular. So, I booked this and passed the good news onto Patrick.
After donning the orange Life Jackets we set sail on the fast R.I.B. The weather took a turn for the worse, as we slalomed out past the uninhabited island of Belnahua and close to Scarba. Once at the Corryvreckan, the boat was allowed to drift into the whirlpool and created what I can only describe as a ‘washing machine effect’, where the boat span around in a circular motion. Our expert guides then did this several more times as i tried to get a good view, while the spray kicked up to drench our faces, the only part not covered by the warm waterproofs. At the end of the trip, we sailed back to Ellenbeich, dried ourselves off and headed into Oban as day slowly filtered into night.
DAY 2 – SATURDAY
The day started with the customary low mist and a hint of drizzle. That was as good as it got! We parked on the Free Car Park (near Tesco) on the outskirts of Oban Town centre and headed down to the CalMac office on the Harbour front.
From here, we boarded the CalMac ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The crossing was calm (although I couldn’t see much through my blurry, water-stained glasses). Once at Craignure, we boarded the west Coast Motors coach and set off on our journey to Fionnphort, at the extreme south-west of Mull. Even in descending mist and driving rain, Mull is a magnificent island. The hills and lochs were foreboding, but occasionally a shaft of sunlight would break through and illumunate the sky like a scene from a biblical movie.
Once at Fionnphort, we climbed onto the white Staffa Tours boat and set sail for Staffa. After a short but rocky journey, we stopped next to the Pontoon and made our way onto the slipway. From here and with mild trepidation, we climbed up some vertical metal stairs and made it to the top of the island. From the top of the island, we were able to gaze out upon majestic views back to Mull, Ulva, Gometra, Iona and the Treshnish Isles.
After spending around half an hour marvelling at the views, we descended the staircase and folowed the black guide rope to make our way towards Fingal Cave. The guide rope takes you right into the mouth of the cave. On my last trip to Staffa, there was a violinist playing part of the Hebridean Overture at the back of Finglas cave. Surely a job can be created so that other tourists can hear this uplifting music that was created after Mendellsohn’s visit to Staffa? Unfortunately, there was no such luck this time. However, the cave was as imperious as ever. After taking the obligatory scenic photos, we then got back on the boat and headed to our next destination, the mystical island of Iona.
I have visited Iona on many occasions and it never ceases to amaze me with it’s serenity and peacefulness. We walked towards the Abbey and looked around the many ecclesiastical buildings and the new Interpretive Centre in the north west corner of the Abbey grounds. Historic Scotland have done an excellent job with the Centre and it is well worth an exploration. From here, we decided to climb Dun I, the highest point on Iona. Once we had reached the summit, there were excellent views to the south of the island and the neighbouring islands. We spent a good few hours on Iona and then waited in the Cafe by the Ferry Slipway for the boat back to Mull and eventually the trip back to Oban. Once we arrived in Oban, we headed along the A828 and drove for about an hour to get to our Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Fort William. We then sampled some of the fine local Hostelries and iscussed our day. For those with a short amount of time, the Three Isles tour is well worth the effort and gives you a small snapshot of the Scottish islands.
DAY 3 – SUNDAY
Sunday morning started with an early morning dew and a slight chill in the air. We set off from Fort William at around 9.30am and headed for the long road to Skye. The A87 from Invergarry to the Skye Bridge is one of the most scenic and picturesque in the whole of Scotland. Every time we turned a corner, another awe-insiring view would unfold before us. After a pretty amazing drive, we crossed the Skye Bridge. Our accommodation was in Broadford, but after a short conversation, we decided to contunue on to Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye. The day had been mixed with heavy showers and flurries of brilliant sunlight. However, as we approached Portree, the bad weather lifted and bathed us in warm sun that stayed with us until we left Portree. This made me feel that there was something magical about Portree. The pretty coloured cottages and fantastic views made me wish that I could have styed longer. We had lunch and as our mood had improved considerably, we decided to push on tho visit the Museum of Island Life on the northern peninsula of Skye.
After a lovely drive of around 30 minutes, we finally reached the open air Museum. Only to find that it was closed. (Note to self – check Museum opening times before setting off on a 50 mile round journey). We took a few pictures and were joined by the ubiquitous Japanese tourists on a minibus tour. Instead of going back we decided to carry on and complete the circular route back to Portree.
Patrick wanted to see the Kilt Rock waterfall, so we made a quick detour to visit this natural delight. From here we headed south and took the circuitous route up to the Quirang. I only passed my driving test last year, so this was quite a challenge for me. We parked at a small car park and carefully walked towards the Quirang to try and get a better view. Even though the day had returned to the moodiness previously displayed, we were still able to get a great view of the Quirang. As many visitors have said, it does remind me of a fantasy landscape and left an indellible image on my mind. I hope to return again and walk further to get a true perspective of this stunning landscape.
We carried on to see views of the Old Man of Storr and then eventually we ended back where we had started , in Portree. the road from Uig to Portree has to be the most beautiful road I have ever driven (or travelled on). It truly was magnificent. After Portree, we headed south to our bed and breakfast at Broadford. On Monday, I said goodbye to Patrick and he headed home to the north east. The one consolation being that he would be able to drive on the road from Skye to Invergarry. I carried on and visited the islands of Handa, Inchmahome and Inchcailloch (which I will describe in a later blog post). Hopefully, this will just be the start of Patrick’s adventures in Scotland and he has already talked about visiting 12 Scottish Islands next year. Looks like another satisfied customer …
Visual theatre company, Vision Mechanics, brings its new production, Drift – Betty Mouat story, to Eigg in August. Featuring soundscape and sculptures on the beach, Drift is inspired by Shetland crofter, Betty Mouat and her lone voyage adrift at sea. below is a bit more information about Betty.
The true story of Shetlander, Betty Mouat
In January 1886 Miss Mouat, aged 61, was the only passenger on the coastal cutter Columbine which left Grutness, bound for Lerwick. She had with her a large bundle of knitting to sell. Shortly after setting sail the captain and two crew were lost overboard, leaving the Columbine crewless and drifting. Lifeboats were launched but Miss Mouat was presumed lost at sea. On the eighth day the Columbine grounded on Lepsoy in Norway; to everyone’s amazement Miss Mouat had survived. She returned to Shetland to live in her croft for another 30 years, a folk hero celebrated in her local community.
The production is on from 6-9 August 2015 and is open from 9am-9pm. It is located at Laig Beach, Isle of Eigg, PH42 4RL (Priority will be given to day trippers between 12-4pm) Admission is by donation, no pre-booking is required. Admits one person every 5 minutes. It takes approximately 40 minutes to go round. Not suitable for young children.
“a beach trip like no other” ***** Irene Brown, Edinburgh Guide.com
“offers a rare opportunity to merge into the landscape for a while”**** Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman
Drift, Betty Mouat story is a co-production with Nordland Visual Theatre, Norway. For more information please visit www.visionmechanics.org
There are many excellent Scottish Island Museums. Whenever I visit the islands, I always head for the nearest Museum to find out about the history of the island. Here are just a small selection of my favourites:
Easdale Folk Museum – located on the tiny island of Easdale, one of the Slate islands, near Oban on the west coast of Scotland. This is my favourite Museum, although it is probably the smallest Museum I have visited. It may be small in stature, but it more than makes up for it with the artefacts on display and the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. There are some excellent relics from slate quarrying and some fascinating stories and information detailing this dangerous occupation. This Museum is especially good if you bring the kids as there is a Treasure Hunt for them to complete. My kids loved it!
Fetlar Interpretive Centre – again quite a small Museum, the Interpretive Centre is in the village of Houbie on the beautiful Shetland island of Fetlar. The Museum includes a Steatite Bowl found during a Time Team dig in 2002. It is the largest single object ever excavated by the Time Team, and probably the largest bowl of its kind in the country. Also, there is video footage from nearby Brough Lodge. I sat and watched these videos for quite a while as I had just visited Brough Lodge, before visiting the Museum. There is also interesting information on Sir William Watson Cheyne who lived at nearby Leogarth House.
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum – this is possibly the largest Museum I have visited. The Visitors Centre tells the story of Scapa Flow and Lyness (mainly through the First and Second World Wars). There are excellent exhibits (such as mines and torpedoes as well as informative information boards) and a short film outlining the major role of Scapa Flow in both World Wars. I found the Museum to be fascinating and incredibly it was FREE! It´s a definite ´must see`on any visit to Orkney and Hoy in particular.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village – located on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Village was occupied until the early 1970s when the last few elderly residents moved to new accommodation. It is interesting to see how the people here once lived and also to watch traditional activities such as weaving Harris Tweed. It is also possible to stay in the Village. There is a wide range of accommodation, ranging from 2 star group accommodation sleeping 16, to 4 star family cottages.
Museum of Island Life – this Museum is very close to the northern-most coast of the Isle of Skye. It is located a few miles from the village of Uig, which is the main port on Skye for the Outer Hebrides. The Museum is in a very exposed position overlooking the Minch and was opened way back in 1965. This Museum gives you an amazing insight into life on Skye and across the highlands in the 19th century. The Museum has seven thatched cottages, of which four are furnished and equipped as they would have been originally.
Gaelic Heritage Centre – on the Isle of Lismore. Slightly different to the other Museums I have visited. This ecologically friendly building was opened in 2007 and houses a Museum charting island life throughout the ages. There is also a special Genealogy section, where you can trace any relatives from Lismore. Although the Museum is quite small, there are some very interesting photo’s and documents that chart Lismore throughout the ages. Next to the Heritage Centre is a fully restored 19th century ‘Cottars’ Cottage. There is also a fantastic cafe with fantastic views.
These Museums are my personal favourites, but there are many other Museums that I have visited over the years that deserve a mention.
Shetland – Tangwick Haa on mainland Shetland, Heritage Centre on Bressay, Unst Boat Haven and Unst Heritage Centre, Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre
Orkney – Orkney Museum and Skaill House on mainland Orkney, The Heritage Centre on Shapinsay, Holland House on Papa Westray and the Heritage Centre on Rousay
Outer Hebrides – Blackhouse Museum and Calanais Visitors Centre both on the Isle of Lewis
Inner Hebrides – Museum of Islay Life on Islay, Mull Museum on Mull, Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum on Tiree and The Boat House on Ulva
Skye and around – Dairy Shed Heritage Centre on Canna, Visitor Centre on Rum, Community Centre on Muck, Dunvegan Castle and the Aros Experience on Skye
Of course, there are many more Museums that I have yet to visit and some big one’s at that. I still need to visit the New Shetland Museum and Archive and also I turned up an hour early for the Kildonan Museum on South Uist, so I still need to visit there as well. Also, for some reason, I haven’t visited any Museums on Arran, Bute or Cumbrae, so I aim to remedy that in the near future.
I always try to visit any Museums or Heritage Centre’s when I visit the islands. They give a fascinating insight into the past (and sometimes the present) on the island. I shall definitely keep on visiting as many Scottish Island Museum’s as I can, which gives me another reason to visit the beautiful islands of Scotland. Not that I need another reason …
Having previously visited Eigg, Rum and Muck, I was really looking forward to visiting Canna, the furthest away and possibly least accessible of the Small Isles. It is only possible to visit Canna for a day trip on a Saturday. This gives you a substantial 8 hours on the island and is the next best thing to actually staying on the island.
The ferry departed from Mallaig at 7.30 am. The first port of call was the isle of Rum. Once the passengers had alighted (and been picked up), we headed for Canna. Interestingly, it was the first time I had really seen the west coast of Rum and there was a lovely sandy beach at Kilmory and nearby was the ship wreck of a French Trawler, the FV Jack Abry II, abandoned in 2011.
As Canna came into view, I got that tingle of excitement that I always get when I visit an island for the first time. I stepped off the ferry and started walking towards the Rocket Church or Saint Columba’s Presbyterian Church as it is more formally known. On the way, there was a ‘Welcome to Canna’ sign and beneath this there was a leaflet/map available to buy for a £1. It was well worth the investment. The map is an excellent resource and gives clear routes for the sign-posted walks and other points of interest on the island.
The first place that I visited was the Rocket Church, so called you will be astounded to hear, because it looks like a rocket. The side door was open, so I sauntered in expecting to see the inside of a tiny island church. Instead there was a rather informative display on the island that I read for about 15 minutes. I took some photo’s and then made my way back onto the track outside.
I perused the map again and decided that I would like to visit St Edwards Church (now a Gaelic Study Centre) on the neighbouring island of Sanday linked to Canna by a bridge. I did this first, as I knew this would be the longest route that I would be walking. I made my way along the main single track road to the bridge. I passed Cafe Canna (for more information on Cafe Canna read my article – Cafe Canna). Past Cafe Canna was Canna House and the Post Office. Further on was St Columba’s Chapel and also the Dairy Shed Heritage Centre, where there was another interpretive display on island life with specific focus on the Dairy.
Another 10 minute walk saw me walking over the road bridge to the Isle of Sanday. I studied the map again and decided to visit the beach, which was a couple of minutes walk from the Sanday side of the bridge. I made my way to the beach and sat down on the grassy hill above. What a glorious scene! I treated myself to a snack from my trusty rucksack and sat there for about 20 minutes admiring the picturesque scenery. There was nothing to disturb me and with the warm sun shining down, I felt like I was in my own private paradise. I could quite happily have stayed there all day, but there was a lot more of the island to see.
I made my way back to the main track on Sanday and onwards towards St Edwards Church. As the tide was in, the track disappeared in places, so I had to carefully traverse the rocks and grassy slopes at the side of the track, whilst continuing on towards the Church. It was a long walk but eventually, I was able to reach the Church, which is now a Gaelic Study Centre. Unfortunately, the Church was closed, so I took some more pictures of the church and also of the Harbour on Canna and then made my way back to the bridge.
I had my lunch in the Cafe (cheese and tomato toastie – very nice) and then made my way to Coroghon Castle and Coroghon beach. The route was easily walked in about 10 minutes. Coroghan Castle is a medieval prison tower believed to have been built as a prison to confine his wife, by a jealous husband.
From Coroghan Castle, I made my way back past the Cafe and shop and onto the next walk, which included a visit to John Lorne Campbell’s grave, an early Christian Cross and the Punishment Stone, where ‘wrong-doers’ had their thumbs inserted and twisted. Nice!
The track to John Lorne Campbell’s grave is through a small, dark wooded area and then the path continues through the wood to the splendid early Christian Cross. From there, it is a bit of a tramp over high ground to the raised Punishment Stone, located on a mound nearby. Then a path continues past the graveyard and back onto the main road.
All this walking had made me very thirsty, so I made my way back to the cafe and treated myself to a cup of coffee, whilst I waited for the ferry to arrive. Before setting off, I had a quick look in the all-purpose shop/waiting room and had a cursory browse through the various Canna-related items for sale. In the shop, you can also make yourself a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate and put the money in an Honesty Box on the counter.
Eventually it was time to go and I made my way to the ferry. As the ferry slowly pulled away, I reflected on my time on Canna. I had really enjoyed the day and I felt that there was more than enough to do on the island for 8 hours. The quiet solitude of this lovely island had really grown on me. I will definitely be back and next time I may bring my bike, as Canna is ideal for cycling. And as my poor feet will testify, it is great for walking too.
One thing I learned before I had even set foot on the isle of Muck, was to book the ferry in advance. I had assumed that there would be enough space for me on the Arisaig Marine Ferry and therefore had decided not to book it until the day before I wanted to visit. Big mistake. When I rang up the kind lady on the phone explained that there was a big party going to Muck and the boat was full. Time to panic!
I was determined to find a way to get there, so I left my name with the lady in case there was a cancellation. I led on my bed in the B & B and thought “there must be a way”. And there was …
I eagerly scanned the CalMac timetable and realised that there was a sailing to Muck in the morning, but there was no return sailing that day. I checked the timetable and the ferry arrived at around 10.00. I then remembered the conversation with the lady from Arisaig Marine and she said that the party was staying on Muck and that the Ferry would be able to bring me back, but they were unable to take me. I looked at their timetable and in conjunction with the Cal Mac Ferry realised that this would give me five and a half hours on Muck. Perfect!!!
It was a cool, but clear day as I boarded the CalMac Ferry at Mallaig and set off for Muck. The Ferry reached Muck at 10.05 and I alighted at Port Mor, the only settlement of any size on the island.
I walked up the slight incline heading towards the majority of houses and buildings. My first impression was of an island almost Scandinavian in nature, as there were a lot of colourful, painted wooden buildings. I stopped to take pictures and noticed the quaint Tea Room, with a plentiful supply of wooden picnic benches outside. I snook in through the low doorway and headed towards the counter. I ordered a coffee and a slice of homemade Chocolate Cake. Bliss. Adjacent to the counter was a small selection of crafts and books, so I had a quick rummage around whilst I awaited my coffee and cake.
After my brunch, I set off for Gallanach at the other side of Muck. The islands only road is about one and a half miles long and it finishes at Gallanach. On the way there, I stopped awhile to watch one of the local farmers rounding up sheep with his Sheepdog. I then came to a left turn in the road where I noticed a strange site near the shore. In a field, in an isolated position overlooking a sheltered Bay, was a Mongolian Yurt tent. I had heard that this was available to rent as accommodation for anyone thinking of staying overnight (or longer) on the island. It really is in a stunning location. I slowly moved on, but made a mental note to think about booking the tent in the future.
Just before the beach was Gallanach Lodge. The Lodge is a new and beautifully located purpose built accommodation with excellent views over to Rum, Canna and even Skye. The view approaching Gallanach Bay was nearly as spectacular as the view when you get there. It really is a magnificent beach, one of the best I have seen on all the islands I have visited. I stayed here for about 40 minutes, eating the packed lunch I had prepared before setting off. I sat there quietly, with just a man walking his dog on the beach for company. I really did not want to move as I was enjoying the view so much, but thought I had better start making my way back to Port Mor.
Once I had arrived back at Port Mor, I walked up to the Community Hall. Upstairs was an interesting exhibition of assorted island artefacts and heritage information about Muck. There was also a games room and an indoor sports hall. Handy, I thought, if I had brought my kids and it had rained.
I also had a look in ‘the Green Shed’. The name pretty much gives it away. You’ll be amazed to know it is a Shed. And it’s green! Within the Green Shed is a treasure trove of arts and crafts dedicated to and made on the isle of Muck. There was no owner or cashier in there. Just an Honesty Box. Everything was priced up accordingly and payments were made using the to put your money and then withdraw the right change if needed. The last time I encountered an Honesty Box was at a Bed and Breakfast on mainland Shetland. They had a Bar and the owner casually told me to ‘get any drinks that you want and just stick your money in the box before you go’. Coming from a culture where you normally have to nail down Charity Boxes, that was quite a moment!
Before booking the trip to Muck, I had trawled the Walk Highlands website looking for a suitable walk to complete whilst I was on Muck. I decided to complete the walk to Caisteal an Duin Bhain, which was believed to be a medieval fort. Unfortunately for me, I had printed the route in black and white and the pictures were very grainy. This meant that I got hopelessly lost and ended up back where I started from about an hour later. I did have the privilege of some fantastic views over to Eigg from the higher ground, but that was it. No Fort for me. I learned later from one of the islanders, that I had gone completely the wrong way and he offered to show me the correct route. But, regrettably, time was running out.
Once I was back in Port Mor, I returned to the Tea Room for a couple of bottles of water, as I had run out trying to find the Fort and had regained my initial thirst. As the time came to walk down to the Pier and meet the Arisaig Marine Ferry, I felt a swathe of sadness wash over me. I had really loved my time on Muck and I will definitely be back. It is a perfect island for walkers and cyclist as it is relatively flat. Also, the islanders are incredibly friendly and helpful. There were a few families visiting the island and almost all of them had brought their bikes (and kids bikes). So, all in all, I would definitely recommend a visit to the isle of Muck. But make sure you book it in advance, as I nearly missed out on a truly remarkable day.