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Circumnavigation of Islay

By Becky Williamson

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
NR3644 : Sgeir Fhada by Becky Williamson,
before viewing the secluded beach of Port an Eas (Port of the Waterfall) from the first time from the sea
NR3342 : Port an Eas from the sea, Islay by Becky Williamson.
Having only recently bagged the square NR3341, it was interesting to view the volcanic dyke from the seaward side.
NR3341 : Volcanic dyke at Port na Luinge, Islay by Becky Williamson.
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 -
NR3341 : Wild goats at Rubha na Mèise Bàine by Becky Williamson.

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.
NR3040 : Part of the wreck of the Inniskea on The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson

Beinn Mhr (Big Mountain) is one of Islay's seven marilyns and is particularly impressive when viewed from the sea.
NR2940 : Beinn Mhòr, Islay by Becky Williamson
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. Dn Athad was one of them. It is barely accessible from the land and makes a very impressive ancient fort.
NR2840 : Dùn Athad and Beinn Mhòr, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR2641 : Cliffs of the Mull of Oa viewed from the sea, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR2642 : Rocks near Rubha na Leacan Bànaig, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2743 : Eileanan Mòra, Islay by Becky Williamson

On the north side of the Oa I managed an undramatic photo of NR2745
NR2745 : Coastal scenery on The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2947 : Soldier's Rock from the sea, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2947 : Cave beneath Soldier's Rock, Islay by Becky Williamson and NR2947 : Natural arch and cave, Soldier's Rock, Islay by Becky Williamson
This is one of Islay's most beautiful gridsquares, having many features to photograph within it, including this not-so-spectacular-today waterfall.
NR2947 : Waterfall at Soldier's Rock, Islay by Becky Williamson
Looking back from inside the cave provided a rare opportunity to photograph the great Soldier's Rock from a different angle.
NR2947 : Soldier's Rock from inside the cave, Islay by Becky Williamson

With grassy swards running down to angular promontories and rocky islets just off shore, this coastline is truly breathtaking.
NR2742 : Small islets off the Oa, Islay by Paul Dexter and NR2643 : Rocky islets near Rubha Dubh, Islay by Paul Dexter

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
NR1651 : Port Wemyss from the sea, Islay by Becky Williamson
and Portnahaven
NR1652 : Portnahaven, Islay by Becky Williamson
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,
NR1651 : Caolas nan Gall, Islay by Paul Dexter
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.
NR1652 : Eilean Mhic Coinnich, Islay by Becky Williamson

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).NR1553 : Wave Generator (LIMPET), Islay by Becky Williamson
Also to view Frenchman's Rocks from a much closer perspective.
NR1553 : Frenchman's Rocks by Becky Williamson
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.
NR1656 : Lossit Point, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR1758 : Beinn Ghlas, caves and coastline, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR1863 : Eilean an Tannais-sgeir, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR1865 : Reidh a' Bhuirg, near Coul Point, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2069 : Dun Bheolain from the sea, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR2171 : Sanaig Rocks viewed from the sea by Becky Williamson and NR2171 : Sanaig Rocks viewed from the sea by Becky Williamson

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.
NR2876 : The northern side of Nave Island, Islay by Becky Williamson, NR2976 : Nave Island from the north, Islay by Becky Williamson and NR2976 : Nave Island from the north-east, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2975 : Port na h-Eaglaise, Nave Island by Becky Williamson

At last I was ashore and ran up to the old chapel/kiln.
NR2975 : Chapel, Nave Island, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2975 : Chapel, Nave Island, Islay by Becky Williamson
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.
NR2976 : Nave Island trigpoint, Islay by Becky Williamson
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
NR2875 : Shingle beach, Nave Island, Islay by Becky Williamson - satisfying.

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.
NR3777 : Mala Bholsa, Islay by Paul Dexter
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.
NR4079 : View of Islay's northern coast from the sea by Becky Williamson and NR4179 : One of the Bolsa caves, viewed from the sea by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4079 : Post Rocks, Islay by Paul Dexter

Rubh' a' Mhail lighthouse is another of my favourite places on Islay.
NR4279 : Rubh' a' Mhail lighthouse with the Paps of Jura by Becky Williamson
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.
NR4279 : Rubh' a' Mhail lighthouse, Islay by Becky Williamson
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
NR4273 : Bunnahabhain Distillery viewed from the sea, Islay by Paul Dexter
and Caol Ila
NR4270 : Caol Ila Distillery, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4369 : Port Askaig with the Jura ferry by Becky Williamson

Carraig Mhr is a tiny lighthouse situated just south of 'the Port' as it is known locally.
NR4368 : Lighthouse at Carraig Mhòr, Islay by Paul Dexter
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.
NR4362 : An Cladach bothy, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4659 : McArthur's Head lighthouse, Islay by Becky Williamson

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
NR4755 : Sgeir Phlocach and Rubh' a' Bhealaich Ghaoith, Islay by Becky Williamson
but NR4752 has even less land.
NR4752 : Stac na Faoilinn, Islay by Becky Williamson

Glas Uig is a much-visited site.
NR4751 : Glas Uig, Islay by Becky Williamson and NR4751 : Glas Uig, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4750 : Ardmore Trigpoint, Islay by Becky Williamson (Not taken on this trip.)

Bordering two gridsquares is Sgeir a' Ghaidhil.
NR4750 : Sgeir a' Ghaidhil, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4749 : Eilean a' Chuirn, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4649 : Common Seals on Sgeir nam Ban, Islay by Becky Williamson

This coastline is dotted with many islets, some of which are unnamed on the map,
NR4649 : Small islets on Islay's eastern coast by Becky Williamson
whilst Eilean Craobhach is one of the bigger islands; its name suggests it was once much more wooded.
NR4649 : Eilean Craobhach, Islay by Becky Williamson

Eilean nan Gamhna effectively hides the larger Eilean Bhride (Island of the Bride)
NR4548 : Eilean nan Gamhna and Eilean Bhrìde, Islay by Becky Williamson and NR4548 : Common Seals on Eilean nan Gamhna, Islay by Becky Williamson

A careful eye was constantly on the GPS at this stage and I was delighted to be gaining so many new gridsquares.
NR4547 : Ceann nan Sgeirean, Islay by Becky Williamson and NR4548 : Plod Sgeirean and Cnoc Rhaonastil by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4447 : Garbh Sgeir Beag, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4346 : Carraig an t-Sluic, Islay by Becky Williamson

Two more rocks that lie off this multi-islet stretch of coastline are Sgeir Sgleta and Corr Sgeir (Slate Rock and Extraordinary Rock).
NR4345 : Sgeir Sgleàta and Corr Sgeir, Islay by Becky Williamson

Others are not named.
NR4345 : Islets off the south-eastern coast of Islay by Becky Williamson and NR4345 : Rocky Islets off the south-eastern coast of Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR4245 : The MV Finlaggan approaches Islay by Becky Williamson

Iseanach Mr 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!
NR4245 : Iseanach Mòr, Islay by Becky Williamson

When Islay's three south-eastern distilleries come into view you know you are nearly home.
Ardbeg NR4146 : Ardbeg Distillery, Islay by Becky Williamson, Lagavulin NR4045 : Lagavulin Distillery and Dunyvaig Castle, Islay by Becky Williamson and Laphroaig NR3845 : Laphroaig Distillery, Islay by Becky Williamson.

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!
NR3944 : BT exchange near Laphroaig, Islay by Becky Williamson

Dunyvaig Castle is a much more attractive and accessible place to visit with an interesting history
NR4045 : Dunyvaig Castle, Islay by Becky Williamson. See LinkExternal 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
NR3944 : Texa's north coastline, Islay by Becky Williamson
whilst gaining a distant glimpse of the derelict chapel there.
NR3943 : Distant view of the ruined chapel on Texa, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR3644 : The Ard and harbour, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.
NR3645 : Approaching Port Ellen, Islay by Becky Williamson

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.

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Tue, 16 Sep 2014 at 09:16
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