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Glenastle to Kintra, Islay

By Becky Williamson

This is a favourite walk of mine on Islay. I had completed it once before and, when friends agreed to accompany me, meaning we had more than one car available, I readily jumped at the chance of completing the walk again.

We drove to Kintra and left one car there before driving to the head of Glen Astle and commencing our walk to the accompanying tune of the Grasshopper Warbler. NR3143 : Track down Glen Astle, Islay by Becky Williamson This part of the walk is easy, being along a track which runs to the twin lochs of Glenastle and Lower Glenastle. A ruined building has been semi-converted into what looks like a storage shed, perhaps for fishing equipment as this is a popular fishing location on the island.
NR3044 : Glenastle Loch, Islay by Becky Williamson NR3044 : Glenastle, Islay by Becky Williamson

Next to this semi-converted building are the remains of a substantial farmstead known as Glenastle. NR3044 : Ruins at Glenastle, Islay by Becky Williamson

We sat at An Tairbeart for a coffee break. NR2945 : Lower Glenastle Loch, Islay by Becky Williamson The Gaelic name indicates a narrow strip of land between two bodies of water, in this case two lochs. In days gone by boat-users of various kinds would carry their boat across 'An Tairbeart' rather than sail round several miles. There are many 'Tarberts' in Scotland, which can be confusing in the 21st century, but generations ago when there was less geographical mobility, people would probably only be familiar with one 'An Tairbeart'.

We passed an old water mill, further evidence of the life once lived here. NR2845 : Watermill, Glenastle, Islay by Becky Williamson

In the early 1800s, the Oa was home to about 1500 people. I suppose the clearances were one of the reasons for the rapid decline in the population. There are many ruined villages on the Oa, a poignant reminder of our past and of a much simpler, but tougher way of life.

With the help of a satmap, we were able to locate a hut circle, evidence of a much earlier period. There was little left now and we all commented on how we would have walked right past this archaeological feature without the aid of the satmap.
NR2845 : Part of the Hut Circle in Glen Astle, Islay by Becky Williamson NR2845 : Hut Circle in Glen Astle, Islay by Becky Williamson

A stone hut circle is a roughly round setting of upright stones, coursed slabs, or stone rubble which represents the foundations, and in some cases the walls, of a building which originally had a wooden and/or turf superstructure and roof.

From the hut circle we looked back to Lower Glenastle, another ruined village.
NR2845 : Lower Glenastle, Islay by Becky Williamson

It is not far from here to the coast and the recently burnt heather facilitated progress, although we were constantly stopping to check the satmap (which uses A LOT of batteries), or look at a bird or butterfly. The view when you reach the end of the glen is breathtaking.
NR2845 : Astle Bay, Islay by Becky Williamson

Whilst eating lunch a Golden Eagle flew near us, soaring effortlessly over the cave-strewn bay. NR2845 : Caves on the north side of Astle Bay, Islay by Becky Williamson We had rarely seen one as close and it soon joined its mate and we watched them both riding the thermals for some time. It was truly magnificent.

Once again the satmap aided our location of the earthwork marked at NR 286 465. NR2846 : Earthwork near Bun an Easa, The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson

'Earthwork' is a general term to describe artificial changes in land level. Earthworks are often known colloquially as 'lumps and bumps'. Earthworks can themselves be archaeological features or they can show features beneath the surface.

From here we looked north-north-east towards a fantastic natural arch and blowhole, accessible probably only by sea. NR2847 : Natural Arch on the Oa peninsula, Islay by Becky Williamson It is necessary to cross a fence to continue from here and the barbed wire meant we had to cross very near the edge. Afterwards we looked back to see just how close to the edge we'd been! NR2846 : The end of the fence, the Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson

We edged our way just close enough to view the tiny beach a long way down NR2847 : Tiny beach at foot of precipitous cliffs on the Oa peninsula, Islay by Becky Williamson and then contgented ourselves with taking photographs of the coastline from a safer distance. NR2847 : Coastline on the Oa peninsula, Islay by Becky Williamson

We paused once more for a refreshment break not far from a disused shieling, a small house used by farmers in the summer when their stock was grazing in nearby fields. Then we continued to Soldier's Rock with its fascinating assortment of natural arches, rock formations and caves. Care must be taken here as the coastline is very indented at this point and the cliffs are precipitous. It is a beautiful area, however, and looked beautiful with the Thrift adorning the cliffs and tiny Milkwort like jewels in the moorland.

NR2947 : Natural Arch near Soldier's Rock, Islay by Becky Williamson NR2947 : Waterfall near Soldier's Rock, Islay by Becky Williamson NR2947 : Soldier's Rock and Caves, The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson

We turned inland from the Soldier's Rock and past the remains of an old chapel NR2947 : Old Chapel, The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson on the south side of the Sruthan Poll nan Gamhna. This area is covered in ruined villages and individual houses, such as Grasdale NR2947 : Grasdale, The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson and Tockmal NR3047 : The Ruined Village of Tockmal, Islay by Becky Williamson and several unnamed ruins, such as this one east of Grasdale NR3047 : Ruins east of Grasdale, Islay by Becky Williamson.

The disused lime kiln marks the beginning of the track down to Kintra, although it is very faint until Frachdale is reached. NR3047 : Disused Lime Kiln, The Oa, Islay by Becky Williamson NR3146 : The ruined village of Frachdale, Islay by Becky Williamson. From here it is easy going down to Kintra, which is just as well as the rain had started by then. We were glad of our non-walking friends who met us at Kintra with thermos flasks, scones and sausage rolls. Just what we needed after a long, but brilliant day out!


When
Sun, 8 May 2011 at 14:11
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