Circumnavigation of Islay
For how long have I wanted to entitle a blog 'Circumnavigation of Islay' or submit a photo for NR2976, one of the four gridsquares which cover Nave Island, Islay's most northerly offshore island. Thanks to Sandy's late mother, this trip was to cost me no more than an unexpected day's holiday and was to be one of the most memorable trips of my life (thus far!)
A party of 12 intrepid passengers set off from Port Ellen under the supervision of Gus Newman of Islay Sea-Adventures and his skipper Alex. We soon passed the chain of islets known an Sgeir Fada
before viewing the secluded beach of Port an Eas (Port of the Waterfall) from the first time from the sea
Having only recently bagged the square NR3341, it was interesting to view the volcanic dyke from the seaward side.
The sight of wild goats in the same square was a humbling reminder that, for all our ingenuity, humans still have trouble accessing parts of the world that other, nimbler, creatures take in their stride -
A little further round the coast Gus slowed down to point out part of the wreckage of the Inniskea, a Scottish steel steam ship that smashed into rocks in 1912. Not much is left now of the wreckage.
Beinn Mhòr (Big Mountain) is one of Islay's seven marilyns and is particularly impressive when viewed from the sea.
It is also significant in that it is adorned by one of Islay's 35 trigpoints (trigpoints being prominent in my mind on this day). Whilst it was interesting and exciting to view all of the island from a different angle today, there were some parts which I was particularly keen to see. Dùn Athad was one of them. It is barely accessible from the land and makes a very impressive ancient fort.
The American Monument, which marks the sinking in 1918 of two American ships - the Tuscania and the Otranto, is a popular destination for tourists, being only a short walk from the RSPB car park at Upper Killeyan. I had been several times, but viewing it from the sea certainly helped me appreciate the treacherous nature of this coastline.
A small rock barely visible above the water was all I could photograph for NR2642, although it meant the opportunity to photograph the beautifully colourful and striated rocks of the cliff-face in the next gridsquare.
I have viewed the shapely sea stacks at Lower Killeyan many times from the land and admired the shags which often make use of these rocks to stand and dry out their wings. This was the first time I'd seen them close up, though and they have beautiful quartzite veins running through them.
On the north side of the Oa I managed an undramatic photo of NR2745
before we approached Soldier's Rock, great bastion of the northern cliffs of The Oa peninsula, and another feature I had seen many times from the land.
What happened next was a wonderful surprise for everyone (except Gus!) We were going to explore the sea caves beside the spectacular sea stack! Wow! I was beside myself with excitement, as were all but one of the passengers, including our oldest member at 87! A fishing break for some, whilst the rest of us went into the cave.
This is one of Islay's most beautiful gridsquares, having many features to photograph within it, including this not-so-spectacular-today waterfall.
Looking back from inside the cave provided a rare opportunity to photograph the great Soldier's Rock from a different angle.
With grassy swards running down to angular promontories and rocky islets just off shore, this coastline is truly breathtaking.
It was only afterwards, when sharing photos and comparing our GPS routes, that I realised my boyfriend Paul had saved the day by grabbing some of the photo opportunities I'd missed - (despite careful marking of the map beforehand!)I was very grateful to him for some of these photos - when would I next get an opportunity like this?!
Once round The Oa, we cut across Loch Indaal to the south end of the Rinns peninsula where the sun shone so brilliantly you could be forgiven for thinking we were in tropical waters! The fishing villages of Port Wemyss
are less than half a mile apart, but villagers from both villages are very insistent on maintaining the distinction between the two! More so in days of yore, I believe.
Caolas nan Gall,
between Orsay and Eilean Mhic Coinnich has a potentially interesting history. 'Gall' translates as 'Foreigner'. I wonder whether immigrants used this secluded passage on their way across the Atlantic or the Irish Sea. Eilean MhicCoinnich or McKenzie's Island was the location for my first and only sighting of the rare raptor, the Gyr Falcon a few years ago. Although not a new square as Portnahaven village is also situated within it, it was a new photo opportunity, and one I wasn't going to miss.
After our trip I was mad at myself for not having noticed our entry into NR1552 and had to be content with a supplemental image of Sgeiran Dubh' (Black Rocks) from NR1652. How could I have missed that?! It was interesting to view, from the sea, the world's first commerical wave power device to be connected to the national grid - Islay (LIMPET).
Also to view Frenchman's Rocks from a much closer perspective.
I'd often viewed these from the Rinns when watching the passage of sea birds in the autumn. Apparently they are called 'Frenchman's Rocks' after a French vessel which was wrecked here.
Lossit Point just dips into NR1656, so I was especially glad to bag a 'First' for this gridsquare, before heading north and pausing for more fishing around this area.
Beinn Ghlas (Grey Mountain) brought back memories of a couple of years before when I'd slid down a slope to gain NR1758, a new square for me. Viewed from the sea, the 'mountain' is much more attractive and the grassy slopes much greener than on my last visit. It was also interesting to see the caves, not visible from the landward side.
Eilean an Tannas-sgeir is the only bit of land within NR1863 and it was particularly satisfying to gain a 'First' point for this square.
NR1865 is another gridsquare with only a tiny piece of land in it - Reidh a' Bhuirg (level ground of the fortress). The 'fortress' in question lies within NR1964.
Another fortress, Dun Bheolain, also juts out into the sea in NR2069. It is a place I have been to on many occasions, but never had I viewed it from this angle before.
This west, Atlantic coast of the island, is my favourite part of Islay's coastline. It is so rugged, wild and uninviting. It was wonderful to anticipate views of places I had walked to many times. Viewing them from a seaward perspective added to their fascination and majesty. Sanaig rocks looked incredibly impressive from this angle - five mighty buttresses.
No part of the trip excited me as much as the prospect of setting foot on Nave Island - my most coveted trigpoint destination. I had viewed this small patch of land longingly many, many times over my ten years on Islay and kept pinching myself during the boat trip to believe I was finally going to achieve my dream. As the island approached, my excitement levels increased.
I could hardly believe our luck as our vessel drew close to Port na h-Eaglaise - 'Port of the church'. The sun was shining brilliantly. The church is thought to have been founded by a disciple of St Columbus. Grey Seals were swimming close by and we cast them a few sprats for our entertainment.
At last I was ashore and ran up to the old chapel/kiln.
Any fears of having built up expectations too high were unfounded. This place has a beauty and magic of its own. Ungrazed, the land makes for tough walking, and Sloc na Maoile (Gully of the Rounded Hill), makes accessing the trigpoint even more difficult.
Rarely have I felt as exhilarated as I did on reaching the trigpoint - the culmination of a ten year quest - to visit every one of Islay's 35 trigpoints.
As one by one the other members of the boat trip came to join us, I stood atop the trigpoint and opened the bottle of bubbly to celebrate. Then I cut the much 'admired' celebratory cake (complete with a 'life-like' replica of the trigpoint!) and took a self-timer photograph. When was the last time fourteen people had stood here? I wondered. It was one very special moment of one incredibly special day.
All that was left to do now was barbecue our catch (delicious), paddle (refreshing) and gain my fourth and final gridsquare of this tiny island
Back on board we headed north for the last time. The 3 mile stretch of Traigh Baile Aonghais looked very distant and I recalled my walk along that beach to gain gridsquares on a similarly beautiful day last autumn. Further north the landmark of Mala Bholsa came into view.
This rounded hill of Bolsa is a familiar landmark and home to another trigpoint. One I have only visited once in fact, despite having walked this way many times. I think by the time you've trudged all those weary miles north, the last thing you feel like doing is prolonging the agony by climbing a gratuitous hill. Excuses, excuses, maybe another time!
It was interesting to view Bolsa's famous caves from the sea as we slowly passed them by. Did they all have a story to tell? They aren't all named on the map.
I looked out for the Post Rocks which lie between the north coast of Islay and Colonsay. Funnily enough I've viewed them better from the land than I did that day from the sea. I think height is an advantage.
Rubh' a' Mhail lighthouse is another of my favourite places on Islay.
There is a trigpoint near by. One I have visited I think twice. It's really not worth a visit, to be honest; the coastline and lighthouse make for much more interesting viewing.
Constructed between 1857 and 1859 by David and Thomas Stevenson, this beautiful and elegant white tower lies within the grounds of a private home and is another familiar landmark, viewable even from Port Askaig, about 6 miles south.
It felt like we were on the homeward leg now we'd turned the corner onto Islay's east coast. Maybe because, try as I might, I can't find the same affinity with this stretch of coastline. Perhaps it's because of its proximity to other land (Jura) and the narrow stretch of water between the two (the Sound of Islay) just doesn't have the same allure as the mighty Atlantic on the other side.
There was still plenty to see, however - the two distilleries of Bunnahabahin
and Caol Ila
before reaching the quiet and sheltered harbour of Port Askaig. It is here that the ferries are often diverted in inclement weather. The ever-present Jura ferry enhances the attractiveness of this small port.
Carraig Mhòr is a tiny lighthouse situated just south of 'the Port' as it is known locally.
It is difficult to walk the coastline south of here. I have done it only once, on my perambulation of Islay. The experience was such that I have not wanted to repeat it, although I know others have, with not quite as terrifying results. So what did I do wrong?
An Cladach (the stony beach) bothy is viewed from the sea many more times than it is from the land, although perhaps not everyone knows it. You have to be on deck on the ferry and notice the often glinting roof of this tiny primitive abode before raising your binoculars (if you have them) to confirm it surely can't be, but yes it is, a building on this remote stretch of coastline.
It is in fact a small bothy owned and beautifully maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association, and well worth a visit. It brought back many memories of cosy nights spent there as we motored past today.
McArthur's Head is another Stevenson lighthouse, constructed in 1861. It is another landmark which is more often admired from the sea than by land, although it is certainly worth the difficult walk to view it from the land.
There was quite a gap now before I 'needed' another gridsquare. There was a whole bunch of squares which I'd either never attempted to access before or had tried and failed. The ground is difficult to cover on this section and I knew it would be much easier by sea. I therefore hoped we would set 'foot' on as many of the gridsquares as possible and looked anxiously at Paul's memory map GPS to see which line of travel we would take, trying to predict which squares I'd be successful in 'ticking off'.
Sgeir Phlocach and Rubh' a' Bhealaich Ghaoith - sturdy (?) Rock and Point/promontory of the windy bealach was the only feature to jut into NR4755
but NR4752 has even less land.
Glas Uig is a much-visited site.
Apparently German U-boats used to hide in this sheltered harbour during the Second World War whilst the crew went ashore to steal sheep.
Ardmore Point sticks well out into NR4750 and is the location of a trigpoint I have only visited once, but would like to revisit.
(Not taken on this trip.)
Bordering two gridsquares is Sgeir a' Ghaidhil.
I must have blinked whilst we motored through the next gridsquare and missed an opportunity to gain a geograph for NR4749. To make this even more maddening, this is a gridsquare I ventured into many years ago, before my Geograph days. I was taken on a boat trip round Eilean a' Chuirn and could kick myself that I no longer have any photos of this inaccessible island with its diminutive lighthouse.
We were now in Common Seals water. Generally speaking it is Grey Seals that frequent the Atlantic waters and Common Seals that are found on this eastern coastline of Islay. We were rewarded today by excellent views of these marine mammals as they basked on Sgeir nam Ban.
This coastline is dotted with many islets, some of which are unnamed on the map,
whilst Eilean Craobhach is one of the bigger islands; its name suggests it was once much more wooded.
Eilean nan Gamhna effectively hides the larger Eilean Bhride (Island of the Bride)
A careful eye was constantly on the GPS at this stage and I was delighted to be gaining so many new gridsquares.
I managed to miss Garbh Sgeir Mor (we had been on the boat for a long time and I was getting tired and cold!) Garbh Sgeir Bheag is mis-spelt on the Explorer Map (Grabh). I wonder if this is one of their deliberate 'mistakes' to discourage plagiarism.
Carraig an t-Sluic (Rock of the pit) is not named on the Explorer Map. I found its name by zooming in on Geograph's excellent zoomable map feature.
Two more rocks that lie off this multi-islet stretch of coastline are Sgeir Sgleàta and Corr Sgeir (Slate Rock and Extraordinary Rock).
Others are not named.
Our wonderful trip was drawing to a close and, as a reminder of this sad fact, we watched the MV Finlaggan sail towards Port Ellen as the time approached 2000 hours.
Iseanach Mòr was a baffling name for an island. I've decided to translate it as 'Big Island abounding in chickens' - until someone comes up with a better translation!
When Islay's three south-eastern distilleries come into view you know you are nearly home.
Ardbeg , Lagavulin and Laphroaig .
Having said that, spotting the telephone exchange near Laphroaig brought back memories of my first and only walk along that coastline - full of ticks, falls, walls, bracken and fear!
Dunyvaig Castle is a much more attractive and accessible place to visit with an interesting history
. See Link
The uninhabited island of Texa covers three gridsquares as I discovered on my WalkIslay trip there a few years ago when I managed to bag another much-coveted trigpoint. Today, however, we were only to pass through the northernmost of its squares
whilst gaining a distant glimpse of the derelict chapel there.
As we rounded the corner into Port Ellen, Gus pointed out a painted swan on the rocks at The Ard. "It's been there for many, many decades," he said.
As we approached the pier at Port Ellen, and our final destination for the day, I was feeling more content and exhilarated than I have done in a long time.
Later I did some calculations. I'd bagged one trigpoint, passed five lighthouses, gained 57 geographs (of which 3 were 'Firsts', 13 'Seconds, and 2 'Thirds'), 16 Tpoints and 22 Supplementals. More importantly I'd been in the company of 13 wonderful people and my thanks and gratitude are extended to Sandy Taylor for inviting us on this trip; Paul, for his technological expertise and equipment and patience at my persistent 'Are we in a new square yet?' questioning and Gus and Alex for this wonderful experienced and expertly-led trip - definitely a trip of a lifetime.
Islay Sea Adventures - Link
- Tue, 16 Sep 2014 at 09:16
- Grid Square
- Chosen Photo
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