Durness is an area situated on the farthest North West coast of Scotland. Made up of several small hamlets and many crofts, it takes it’s name from the largest of the ‘villages’, Durness, from the Norse ‘Dyrnes’ meaning ‘deer headland’. Part of Sutherland, the least populated area in Western Europe, it is surrounded by landscapes of indescribable, unspoiled beauty, amazing in their variety. On one side, coastline, ‘some of Europe’s most isolated and spectacular’, on the other, vast areas of mountains, lochs and moorlands, streams and lochans, breathtaking in their wild grandeur.
There are several walks of varying difficulty that one can take to see and experience the area. I first took the road from Mackay’s Bunkhouse (a.k.a. ‘The Lazy Crofter’s Hostel) to Balnakiel Bay, arriving at the ruins of an ancient church located at the entrance to the mile long beach. The existing ruins are from a church built in the 13th century, but before that, the Culdean Monks had their house of worship on this spot. The tiny graveyard is still in use.
The Road To Balnakiel
‘The church dates from1619, built on the site of an early medieval building. It was extended in1690 and remodelled in the 1720s.’ Opposite the church is Balnakiel House, built in 1744, former seat of Clan Mackay and home to the Chief’s eldest son, known as the Master of Reay, whose farm ‘was considered to be one of the most productive in the Highlands.’ It is a thriving sheep farm today. ( Courtesy ‘Durness Walking Network’)
Farmhouse at Balnakiel
House At Balnakiel Bay
Opposite the ruined church, at the end of the beach, is a house with a long history. Built in 1744 and now restored, part of the original walls are still intact. Back when Clan Mackay owned most of this area, the eldest son of the clan chief, known as the Master of Reay, had his residence here, from where he ran a thriving farm. According to Wikipedia, when Sutherland was part of the Bishopric of Caithness, the house was the summer home of the Bishop. Today, it is once again the nerve center of a thriving farm, with flocks of sheep grazing above the sand dunes. In this writer’s humble opinion,this is a more fitting use for this ancient place of such awesome beauty.
Keeping Company With Sheep
At one time in my walk, a flock of sheep mistook me for their shepherd, no doubt thinking I brought food. It took a while for them to finally realise it was not so. They left me then, and stoically went to look for pastures new.
Off To Pastures New
At the end of Balnakiel Bay, The track took me through a variety of sand dunes – one of Scotland’s largest sand dune systems with dunes up to 60 meters above sea level.
A few years ago, the body of a young Viking boy was discovered at Faraid Head. Erosion of the dunes exposed this long held secret.
Looking Towards Faraid Head (About 2 miles North)
Having reached the viewpoint I wanted, I was faced with the choice of walking along the cliff tops, following the coast back to the hostel in Durness. That being a rough route, I opted to return the way I had come. The round trip was about 8 miles pretty easy walking.
Two Lochs Walk
On my second walk, I headed East, away from the coast. I passed several crofts outlying the village, and after 10 minutes or so, found myself in a completely different world, surrounded by moors, mountains, rivers, lochs and lochans. Loch Caladail is reached soon after leaving the last croft in the community. Though not as scenically spectacular as the second on my hike,Loch Meadaidh, this one is favoured by fishermen. As a result of more alkaline water, Loch Caladail has more abundant and bigger fish, the large brown trout being particularly prized by anglers.
Heather Covered Moorland
It was early March when this was taken. The heather, brown then, will look very different later in the year. Three different varieties of heather, differing in colour, bloom at different times, giving an ever-changing look to the landscape.
Heather Covered Moor and Lochan
After two miles or so, I came to the awesomely beautiful Loch Meadaidh and shortly thereafter, the stepping stones over Smoo Burn. A ‘burn’ being the Scottish word for stream.
Smoo Burn (Stream)
The stepping stones lead to a track used by hill walkers and mountain climbers en route to wilder terrain a short distance further inland.
Once past this point, having walked in a rough semi circle, the building alongside the coast road comes into view. Another mile or less brings one onto that road a short distance west of Smoo Cave.
End In Sight
Heading Towards Smoo
Cairn By The Roadside.
Arriving back at the coast, on the side of the road where the trail ends, sighting this cairn let me know that I was heading in the correct direction of my next destination. A mile or so East, I came to the canyon at the bottom of which is Smoo Cave.
Smoo Cave Canyon
Smoo Cave is actually conjoined sea and fresh water caves. Formed by erosion of the limestone cliffs, it is accessible only by boat, though once inside, visitors have to get out of the small craft and walk for a bit. When I visited in early March, access was impossible since the boatman had not yet got his boat in the waterdue to adverse weather conditions. However, I was able to enter the small outer chamber via a wooden walkway. In June, I will return and, hopefully, be able to see all of this amazing, one of a kind phenomenom.
Approach To Smoo Cave
The walk from the road, across the cliff tops then down into the bottom of the canyon would be hazardous but for the wooden fence guiding visitors. The holes in the roof of the cave that make it unique by being naturally lit in places, are holes in the ground above. Unwary walkers could come to a nasty end without the rails to guide them. A staircase makes the descent easier.
Smoo Cave Entrance
The tide was out when I reached the entrance, but there was still much water inside.
A Peek Into Smoo Cave
Once back at street level, I delighted in the pristine beaches lining my way home. Looking back at the cliffs that house Smoo Cave was interesting.
A Few Of The Many Spectacular Beaches Near Smoo Cave
From here I headed back to the village of Durness and Mackay’s Bunkhouse, stopping to take photos of that hostel, the main street and the very large sign post.
Note: In this post I have added three movies that I created, with well- chosen background music to add to the magic.
Mallaig is a small fishing port in the Western Highlands of Scotland. It is the jumping off point for the Knoydart Peninsula, an unspoiled mountain wilderness only accessible by boat, as well as many of the islands abounding off the coast. The closest of these are Skye and the Small Isles – Muk, Eigg, Rum and Canna. The area is spectacularly beautiful and, on each visit, I am overwhelmed by the sheer wild majesty of it all.
Mallaig Harbour In August
In Joyful Journey, Part 3, I posted an account of my train journey across Rannoch Moor to Corrour, from where I walked to the hostel beside Loch Ossian. On my way from the train halt, I stopped to watch the train as it headed on North into the moorland wilderness. I promised myself I would go with it one day, as I did a month or so later. That train journey terminates at Mallaig, which is why I ended up there.
It was August when I first visited Mallaig. There are several boat trips available to visitors. One of my highlights was the seven hour tour of the Small Isles aboard the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, the ‘Loch Nevis’and a close encounter with a school of basking sharks off the Knoydart Peninsulawhile aboard the much smaller and faster ‘Venturer’. The ‘Venturer’ can be seen in the ‘Quayside’ picture above.
The short movie below is ‘must see’. Background music played byJulian Lloyd Webberon cello, combined with images of my incredible experiences of sailing the waters around Mallaig, are pure magic. An encounter with the basking sharks I will recount later in this post when I ‘talk’ about the Knoydart Peninsula.
Mallaig Harbour with music played by Julian Lloyd Webber
Our first stop on the tour of the Small Isles was at Muk, the smallest of this group of islands. It is privately owned and totally given over to livestock farming, cows mostly. Depending on the source of reference, the word ‘Muk’ (often spelled ‘Muck’) means cow or pig. I suspect pigs were once the livestock of choice, hence the confusion.
Cows And Cottages on Muk
From Muk, we proceeded to Eigg. The meaning of the name is lost in the mists of time and I found no reference to anyone hazarding a guess. Once privately owned by a succession of problematic owners, this island is now owned by the small community residing there.The Sgurr is an outcrop of rock whose distinctive shape makes this island instantly recognisable from a distance and saves it from being almost completely flat.
The Sgurr, Eigg
View from Eigg
Canna is the island furthest from the mainland. It has a simple charm all it’s own. For those who like nothing but gentle walks, this isle, along with Eigg and Muk are perfect, offering stunning views of the surrounding waters and, in Spring, a host of wildlife and wild flowers. Canna does have one unusual feature in the form of a hill, so full of iron that it affects compasses for miles around.
The photo below shows the distinctive and ancient St. Edward’s Chapel.
St Edward’s Chapel, Canna
Sun Setting On Canna
The Cuillins, Isle of Skye
Rum, Behind Sanday, Canna
Rum, the largest island of the group, measures 8 miles x 8miles, which fact accounts for its name, ‘Rum’, from the old Norse word for ‘wide’. Once known as ‘The Forbidden Isle’, Rum is by far the most varied, surprising and historically interesting. Sailing past it on the way to Canna, one sees nothing but barren mountains. It is difficult to imagine life, other than birds, surviving here.
In fact the island teems with wildlife and has a small but robust community year round plus many tourists during the season. Of all the places I have visited, Rum is the most surprising. Finding that there was a hostel there, I arranged to stay for a couple of days. I did so with some trepidation. Having seen it from the water, and being long past the bloom of youth, I was unsure just how difficult a task I had undertaken. However, the above is just one of the many faces of Rum. Arriving there, I had, what may be, the greatest surprise of my life. Rum is an island of contrasts not formed by nature alone. Rumhas an intriguing story.
Loch Scresort, Kinloch, Rum.
The harbour, known as ‘Loch Scresort’, is dominated by a huge castle, as incongruous as it could possibly be. It is surrounded by pastoral, woodland, paddocks a stable yard, meandering woodland paths, a crenellated stone folly, and several ornamental stone bridges and gateways. This cultivated, gentle landscape only accounts for a tiny percentage of the island, covering a crescent shaped area three miles long and a mile wide at the centre. The rest is varied, beautiful and apart from a couple of roads built more than a hundred years ago, it is wild and totally unspoiled.A small community, some thirty strong, populate this area known as ‘Kinloch’,meaning ‘head of the loch’. Along with the castle, a small variety of dwellings, including a couple of whitewashed cottages, two similarly coated bothies, and a yurk or three, plus a tiny store adjoining the community hall make up ‘The Village’.
Kinloch Castle, Rum
In 1900, a wealthy industrialist called George Bullough took over the island with a view to making it his own personal playground. He had materials shipped in by the ton, including topsoil from Ayrshire for gardens and paddocks. His passion was racing cars so the good roads there now, he built to accommodate his hobby. As well as the castle and stables, he created miles of woodlands and all manner of luxuries to indulge his every whim. Only his wealthy friends were allowed to visit which is why it was known as ‘The Forbidden Isle’
These adorable, distinctive looking ponies are only found on Rum and have been here for as long as anyone knows – I like to think thousands of years. A few are still used as work horses until retired and then are returned to the wild herd some twelve miles from the Village. To get there requires crossing a mountain range and the hike is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart.
The Village, Rum
(with Stalker’s Bothy and Stable Bothy on right)
The castle and Village now belong to the residents who still maintain the wildlife protection begun in 1957 when the Conservation Society bought the island and turned it into a nature reserve, which status remains today. One of the legacies of George Bullough is the amazing variety of birds that now frequent the island, enjoying the huge variety of trees he had planted.
Water’s Edge, Kinloch, Rum
As remote as it is, the island has a telephone ‘landline. Cell/mobile phone reception is almost non-existent, as one would expect.
A mile and a half from the castle there is an otter hide. The walk there is memorable and not too challenging. The road to the hide gave me my first glimpse of island wildlife as well as a peek at the wilderness beyond Kinloch
Heron on Loch Scresort
Curlew on Loch Scresort
On The Way To The Otter Hide
Road to Otter Hide
I did not see any otters or the seals that also frequent the shore there. There was the rainbow, though.
View From The Otter Hide, Kinloch, Rum
Back to the village and the intriguing crossroads.
Crossroads at Kinloch
The road going left in the picture above leads to Kilmory Bay. There, in the rutting season, deer gather on the sandy beach. With mountains and ocean creating a suitably grand setting, the stags fight for the ladies, bellowing and clashing antlers. Sadly, I only made it two thirds of the way there, so was unable to capture those wonderful scenes on film. The hike from Kinloch to Kilmory is only 5 miles, but the way is mountainous and somewhat challenging. The weather suddenly turned foul and I was forced to turn back. Hopefully, on my next visit their I will make it to the finish.
Heading To The Wilderness
A short distance from the cultivated, pastoral and wooded Kinloch, the terrain reverts to pristine wildness – with the exception of the road itself, a legacy of Robert Bullough’s car racing days. I was overjoyed to leave the man-made cultivation behind and finally experience some of the true nature of Rum.
Along the Road To Kilmory
Hiking To Kilmory
I have been unable, as yet, to find the origin or purpose of the ‘monument’ pictured above.
The short movie above I made out of a desire to portray the sheer magic of this amazing isle. It only shows a tiny percentage of the whole, many more moods and faces I have yet to discover first hand. I chose ‘DarkIsland’ as the background music. I first heard this played on Indian Pipes by a native American street musician in Edinburgh, Scotland. The combination of music with images is pure magic.
I would be remiss if I did not share my close encounter with basking sharks while on a short visit to the Knoydart Peninsula. Only a short trip by fast boat from Mallaig, the peninsula is one of the last remaining unspoiled wildernesses in Europe. Rugged mountain terrain make it a suitable extended place to visit for only experienced climbers and those with excellent survival skills. I contented myself with a short walk around the edges.
Sailing to Knoydart With Rum In The Background
The ‘Venturer’ is a fast little boat and perfect for those wishing to take photographs.
Knoydart and Venturer
Ferry Dock At Knoydart
Our encounter with the basking sharks while returning to Mallaig made the trip so very worthwhile.
Close Encounter With Basking Sharks
For those who may wish to follow in my footsteps and spend a backpacking holiday in Mallaig or the surrounding areas, here is a little information on where you might stay.
Backpackers Lodge, Mallaig
This is a cosy little hostel above the restaurant and overlooking the harbour. There is also a new hostel at the Mission – also above a restaurant.
The Stable Bothy, Rum
This is the residence of the Ranger on Rum. Adjoining this building is the Stalker’s Bothy, limited space in which can be rented.
There is also the Kinloch Hostel on Rum, if it is open for business. Repairs may have been halted due to the dire weather this winter.
Bed and Breakfast can be hadat Ivy Cottage, Rum while a camp site and three or four pods are available.
I plan to return to Rum in April when, thanks to guide Gav of BrocholmeCroft, I hope to visit the truly wild and less traveled parts of the island. As well as photographing the awesome mountain scenery, I am looking forward to getting images of island wildlife. Gav offers a variety of services including guided tours in his land rover to far flung corners of Rum, with stops along the way to explore trails otherwise inaccessible or unknown to visitors. He and his wife plan to add holiday accommodation to their list of offerings. More about this enterprising young man and his family, relatively new additions to the island community, can be found by clicking the link below.
Canna and Muk have cottages to let while Eigg has the Glebe Hostel as well as a variety of other types of accommodation.
There are two bunkhouses on Knoydart
Finally, while sailing back from the cruise around the small isles, I was treated to a glorious sunset. The following is a simple, simply charming short movie of the sun setting over the islands with background music again played by Julian Lloyd Webber on cello. (Watch for the school of porpoises swimming right to left across the wake.)
Sunset Over Scotland’s Small Isles And The Isle of Skye with music by Julian LLoyd Webber
Loch Ossian is situated in a remote part of Perthshire, Scotland, at the North Eastern edge of Rannoch Moor.
July: New Day On Loch Ossian
Youth Hostel Dining Area
(Glencoe peaks in far right background)
In ‘Joyful Journey, Part 2, Glencoe and Rannoch Moor’, I documented my stay at The Kings House on Rannoch Moor at the latter’s Western edge. The moor stretches uninterrupted from there to Loch Ossian, north to Fort William and south East to Pitlochry and due south. The distant peaks in above photo, and several to follow, give some idea of the scale of things.
Rannoch Moor:Ringed by mountains, this vast, elevated basin is around 1300 ft. above sea level. Site of an ancient glacier, it is often bleak and forbidding but can, on occasion, briefly present a bright, inviting face, as it did during my July visit to Loch Ossian. This look is deceptive, however, as the moor is ever treacherous.
July: Rannoch Moor En Route To Loch Ossian
This unique piece of the planet is wild, desolate, unbelievably beautiful and awful in its solitude. Always it is awe-inspiring, always strange, always hazardous, always magical. It touches the soul.
It has often been observed that the Highland landscape of Scotland changes, in mood and appearance, more dramatically and more often than any other place on earth. Nowhere is this more true than on The Great Moor, as Rannoch is sometimes known. The photo below was taken from the train window, not far from Loch Ossian, in mid-May after a long arctic-like spell of weather.
May: Rannoch Moor From Train Window
On the North Eastern edge of Rannoch Moor is Loch Ossian, part of the remote Corrour Estate. I recently visited there, staying at the Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, run by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association.
To reach my destination required a journey on the Glasgow to Mallaig train. The journey itself is a thrilling adventure since the train crosses Rannoch Moor giving passengers viewing-rights of this vast wilderness, inaccessible, for the most part, by any other means. In places, the track is laid on piles of brush, in the absence of solid ground. The driver slows going over these stretches and the motion of the train feels like gently sailing. This is a ‘not to be missed’ experience.
And so to Loch Ossian.
View Of Loch Ossian From Hostel
Corrour Station And Restaurant
Alighting at Corrour railway halt, I crossed the tracks on the boards provided and decided to have a snack in the track-side restaurant before tackling the mile walk with all my gear in tow. Corrour is the highest and most remote mainline railway station and the Station House the highest and most remote restaurant in the U.K. The latter is also run by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. The interior of the restaurant is surprisingly civilised looking and the service is excellent. It felt bizarre to find this kind of sophistication so deep in the wilderness, yet having said that, it still had a ‘not of this world’ feel to it.
The menu, rich in local game and whisky sauces and priced accordingly, was a little too exotic for both my purse and my palette. However, I did find a delicious wild mushroom and butternut squash soup that did not break my bank and suited my taste. I was so impressed, in fact, that I photographed this culinary delight.
Before leaving this account of my dining experience, I would be remiss if I did not introduce you to the Station House Restaurant’s resident four legged friend. Archie hangs out at the back door and adds to the charm of the place.
Soup and a pot of tea the richer, I headed east across Rannoch Moor on a pretty good private road towards Loch Ossian and the Youth Hostel. There follows a photographic account.
Railway Line Heading North To Fort William From Corrour
Covering an area of 50 sq. miles, (130sq kms), Rannoch Moor was the site of the last great glacier in the U.K. during the last ice age. Averaging 1,000ft above sea level, it is a basin surrounded by mountains. Its stratum is granite with a covering of peat bog punctuated by a variety of types of water bodies and streams. This ancient glacier site ‘is rising by around 3mm per year’, according to Wikipedia .
Wikipedia describes the moor as ‘a complex Blanket Bog’ , a.k.a. ‘Featherbed Bog’, made up of many different types of environment, e.g. ombrotophic, mineratrophic, mesotrophic, oligotrophic, dystrophic. These different catagories are based mainly on the water source, protein and oxygen levels of each area. In places, the peat is 20ft deep.
Rocks And Flora On Rannoch Moor near Loch Ossian
Boulders, many of them huge, litter Rannoch’s landscape. These, I believe, were dropped by the vast glacier. One of the striking changes in terrain at the edges of this ancient glacier site is the sudden absence of these giant rocks which often support a variety of flora unique to the area.
The day of my arrival was typical of a good summer day on Rannoch Moor – a stiff breeze and variable, ever changing rain clouds. The day following was to prove memorable in its uncharacteristic, cloud-free stillness. For that reason, I have used, almost exclusively, photos taken during that time.
First Sight Of Loch Ossian Youth Hostel
(from Station access road)
Even after a long, hot, dry spell of weather, The air on this great bog is fresh and odour free. Low levels of nutrients and much oxygen in sitting water is probably responsible.
(A wind turbine and solar panels provide all the power for the hostel.)
These photos are so uncharacteristic of the loch and surrounding moor, they are almost unbelievable. The blue, unclouded skies and totally still air seem out of place in an area reknowned for constant wind and rain. To see mirror-like water on the loch is rare. As a frequent visitor to Rannoch Moor, this stillness feels spooky – as if the whole place is holding its breath.
Loch Ossian is a narrow loch about 5km long. It drains into the River Ossian on its west side, flowing north into Loch Guilbaum and thence to the River Spean at Moy.
Beside The Still Water
Bog Cotton On Rannoch Moor
(Looking west towards Glencoe from Loch Ossian)
In Autumn during the rutting season, the moor is alive with deer. It is impossible to walk any distance without encountering several of these lovely creatures. The air rings with the clash of antlers and the bellow of the stags. The place feels busy. During the three unusually hot summer days of my visit, however, the moor appeared devoid of animal life. No curlews called, no hawks or eagles soared overhead, no deer ventured into the open.
Timeless Rannoch Moor
Only constant bombardment by a variety of large, biting insects reminded me that life abounds in this wilderness, while adding to my feeling of being in an alien place. And, in fact, humans almost never venture on to Rannoch Moor. A few of us skirt around the edges on the few walkways provided, or ride across in the train, but, mostly, the moor lies undisturbed by human footprints, carbon or otherwise.
Office And Toilets
There are only outside, dry compost toilets, so this location will not suit everyone. There is no phone reception, refrigerators, T.V. or food supplies other than army-type packaged food. However there is a well equipped kitchen where residents can cook food they bring in. Water is heated by a wood stove so hot water is in short supply, particularly in warm weather when it is non-existent. There are adequate wash rooms, however. Two small dorms – one each for males and females are airy and comfortable with decent sized bunk beds. Washing machines and dryers are not to be had.
Hostel Dining Room
The differences between the East and West ends of the loch are striking as the unique characteristics of Rannoch Moor give way to gentler, more pastoral, less boggy, and more hospitable terrain. The change is sudden and complete as evidenced in the photos following. Even at the extreme West end, however, only one bank retains the Rannoch flora and geology as the moor ends abruptly at the water’s edge.
Looking Towards the Top Of The Loch
(The white estate house can be seen on the top shore of the loch)
No More Moor
Evening At The East End Of Loch Ossian
As well as completely different kinds of vegetation on the bank, the water of the loch at this end is free of the rocky outcrops and islets so typical of the Rannoch moorland lochs and lochans.
As evening approached, I returned from my hike, hot and bug-bitten, but mightily satisfied. And so to bed.
The Office Is Now Closed
For those who would like more detailed information about Rannoch Moor or the Corrour Estate, the links following will serve you well. While the facts about these places are public knowledge, the sites below are interesting mines of detail and data, collected and presented beautifully. They add to the ‘bare-bones’ descriptions I have supplied. These were my sources for some of the information in the text. Observations, creative writing and photos are all my own.
Having left Loch Lomond behind, I turned my sights north to pick up parts of the West Highland Way. Unlike some devotees of that 96 mile hike, I am not averse to straying from the path to check out other natural wonders in the area. Nor, as stated in Part One, am I able to tackle the full length of The Way. Instead, I use means other than ‘Shanks’s Pony’ to get from A to B. On loch Lomond, I travelled mostly by boat with a little help from my local bus service. And so, on to Rannoch Moor.
Lochans on Rannoch Moor
No longer able to cruise on boats to my chosen destinations, I now rely on City Link buses to get me to the parts of the West Highland Way I want to explore. On leaving Balloch and travelling north, I passed through Crianlarach, Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy where the West Highland Way mostly shadows the route taken by the bus. Somewhere north of Glen Falloch, in a valley at the edge of the Trossachs, the trail takes its own path up the 1,500 ft. incline to Rannoch Moor. The photo above was taken from the bus window on the moor.
Rain Fast Approaching Buachaille Etive Mor
Rannoch Moor is a plateau, 1,200 ft above sea level. It covers 12,800 acres and is mostly peat and bog, with many beautiful streams and lochans (small lochs). It is wedge shaped and surrounded my mountains, the mountainous area to the north being Glencoe, with mountains around 2,000 ft. To the south east, the mountains are around 3,000 feet. It’s unspoiled, unique beauty is something I hope to document more fully very soon, adding some of the rich history woven into its past.
Rain Over Buachaille Etive Mor
Glencoe is an area of many mountains and glens. The most beautiful glen is thought to be Glen Etive. Pyramid shaped Buachaille Etive Mor (BigShepherd of Glen Etive) dominates the Glencoe area. Across Glen Etive from the Big Shepherd is Buachaille Etive Bheag(Little Shepherd Of TheGlen).
Rain over Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Bheag
For climbers and hikers in the area, the rapidly changing weather can be a hazard. On this occasion, I was caught in a fast moving storm.
A82 heading into Glencoe
Above is the bus stop near White Corries Ski Centre where I alighted. I stayed only a short while before catching the bus back on it’s way from FortWilliam. A week later I returned, staying for two nights at the Kings HouseHotel, on the West Highland Way, a mile or so from the bus stop.
The Black Corries and West Highland Way leading to The Kings House
The Kings House
Sunrise over Buachaille Etive Mor
Sunrise on Buachaille Etive Mor from a window in The Kings House
On day one of my stay, I braved the morning to check out my immediate surroundings.
Mist Over the Black Corries
Rannoch Moor Looking East
Detour to Beer Bottle Pool, River Etive
Before setting out for a hike north on the West Highland Way, I took the time to check out a beauty spot litttle known outside the local area. BeerBottle Pool in the River Etive, lies along the road leading to Glen Etive. It is hidden from the road. Its distinctive geological formations make it a must see.
Beer Bottle Pool, River Etive
Shades of Autumn
River Etive beyond Beer Bottle Pool
Beer Bottle Pool and Waterfall
Hike along the West Highland Way towards The Devil’s Staircase and Lochleven.
West Highland Way Using Old Military Road
West Highland Way, a few miles from The Devil’s Staircase
Walkers on West Highland Way
Long And Winding Road
The Three Sisters
With rain approaching and the wind picking up I retraced my steps to The Kings House. It turned out to be only a heavy shower so I was able to document some of the trek back.
Kings House and A82 from West Highland Way
This fine fellow was standing right in my path but, unfortunately, I had put my camera away to protect it from the rain. By the time I got it out, he had bounded off.
Stag Up Close
Waiting for the Mr.
Deer at Kings House
And so that part of my journey ended and will continue, on and off the West Highland Way to Fort William
The journey I’m sharing here began by accident and continues still. It wasn’t planned at first, but evolved. Torn between starting a blog with the emphasis on images or text, I decided to do both and began at Balloch, where the south end of Loch Lomond becomes the River Leven.
The rich and abundant history of the loch and its many islands gave me much grist for the writing mill, and the glorious scenery gradually made the imagery take over. Various pages I previously published are only a click away in the sidebar opposite.
I was exploring the East side of Loch Lomond, camera always at the ready, when I stumbled on the West Highland Way. (pun intended).
The West Highland Way is 96 miles long, stretching from Milgavie, near Glasgow, to Fort William. It uses old military roads, disused railway tracks, and drovers’ trails dating back hundreds of years. The scenery along the way is spectacular; the going a variety of difficulty levels, from easy to very challenging. Many people, like myself, hop on and off the track, sometimes travelling by bus or boat to reach the next stretch we want to ‘do’. It joins Loch Lomond at Balmaha and shadows the loch all the way to its Northern tip at Ardleash. I first joined it on my way to Balmaha pier. As it leaves the village, it is smooth, paved and without challenge.
North from Balmaha on The West Highland Way
Leaving Balmaha on the West Highland Way
Cottage along the Way
The cottage above sits at the junction of the West Highland Way and the road to Rowardennan. Steep gradients make the latter unsuitable for some vehicles.
Once past the pier, the West Highland Way changes suddenly and dramatically to a rocky trail.
Rocky Trail Northwards From Balmaha Pier
The photos posted document my progress from Balmaha, Loch Lomond to Glencoe. I have tried to give viewers/readers a picture of my travels. These stretches are some of the the easier parts of the West Highland Way
Bridge In Dappled Sunshine – Heading North From Balmaha Pier
Heather and Bluebell Leaves
Beauty by the Wayside
dog on it
Wildflowers By The Loch
Having explored the trail heading North from Balmaha, I retraced my steps along the West Highland Way to Balmaha Pier. From there I sailed to Luss, on the West side of the loch, and from there to Rowardennan.( Luss is quite well documented in some of my former posts, e.g ‘Finding Wee Peter’,‘Loch Lomond,Limericks and Life’, ‘Summer Splendour on Loch Lomond’. These are listed on the side bar of this post. Click to access.)
Cruise Loch Lomond is a tour boat operator based in Tarbet on the West side of Loch Lomond. For a variety of reasons, many climbers and hikers choose to hop on and off the West Highland Way, travelling by bus or boat when the going gets too tough or time is limited – or just for the fun of it. Tick all three in my case.
West Highland Way at Rowardennan
Lomond Warrier At Rowardennan Pier
Rowardennan Lodge: A Scottish Youth Hostel
Stream at Rowardennan South of Youth Hostel
Broom Along The Way
Woodlands South Of Rowardennan
Beach Along The Way
Shadows On The Way
Bluebell Woods By The Way
North of Rowardennan Lodge
Nearing Ben Lomond
Having explored the West Highland Way for a couple of miles south and four or so miles north of the Youth Hostel, I left the more ambitious to either climb BenLomond or walk the 8 miles to Inversnaid while I sailed there, courtesy of LochLomond Cruises. For a while, I caught sight of hikers on the Way as it winds around the loch.
Walkers on The Way
Whether hiking the trail or sailing to Inversnaid, the Loch Sloy hydro-electric plant is visible on the opposite shore of the loch. Nestled inland behind the mountains, Loch Sloy, once the gathering place of the McFarlane clan, is now a hydro-electric dam. Here we have a perfect example of perfectly green energy. A tunnel was bored the 2.5 miles through the mountain, exiting above Loch Lomond. When the level of Loch Sloy rises, the excess water runs through the tunnel and empties into Loch Lomond, passing through the generating station at ground level. The resulting power is used to top up the national grid.
Loch Sloy Power Staion on Loch Lomond
Sailing near Inversnaid
Passing travellers can find food or beverages in the hotel restaurant. The hostelry has a long history of serving wayfarers. It began, as most hotels along the West Highland Way did, as a rest stop for drovers. Later when the gentry and armies moved around, extensive stables were added and living conditions for the guests improved.
Cruising to Inversnaid in the shadow of the West Highland Way
As you will notice from the colours of the foliage, my first journey to Inversnaid was in the late Spring. At that time, I did not alight from the boat but continued on a short cruise as far north as the Cruise Loch Lomond boats go before returning to Tarbet, headquarters of the company. It was late Autumn when I returned to explore the woodland walk that is the West Highland Way.
West Highland Way at Inversnaid
Boats at Inversnaid
Pointing The Way
While, because of limited physical ability, I only hike on the easy parts of the West Highland Way and thus can only document those stretches that are very unchallenging, much of the West Highland Way is steep and/or arduous. The sheer length of it presents a challenge all by itself. As I got near Glencoe, I was better able to give a sense of what more able hikers could face
Rocky Trail at Inversnaid
Having walked a short distance north through the woods, I returned to the pier and headed south a little way. Once again, the trail meandered along the lochside.
Lochside trail south of Inversnaid
Before leaving Inversnaid on a Tour Loch Lomond boat bound for Tarbet, I took a few moments to check out Arklet Falls situated beside the pier and InversnaidHotel. There is a youth hostel close by, but, late in the season as it was, the place was closed.
Having started my journey at Balloch at the south end of Loch Lomond where it empties out into the River Leven, I had, in the late summer, wanted to reach the Northern tip of the loch at its beginning. It starts where the, surprisingly small, River Falloch flows into it at Ardlui. No excursion boats go further north than Inveruglas, at the Sloy Power Station on the West bank, and Inversnaid on the East. From the pier at Inveruglas, the 5 mile route to Loch sloy is signposted. Hikers should be prepared for some uphill walking, I suspect. To reach Ardlui by public transport I had to take the Glasgow to the Isle of Skye bus which I caught at a layby on the A82 near Balloch.
Bouy at Ardleash Dock
Sign at Ardleash Bouy
West Highland Way at Ardleash
Heading North at Ardleash
Visible from here, one can see the trail that branches off to the left up ahead. This leads to Arrochar.
Looking towards the Arrochar turn-off
A Welcome Help Over
Having reached my limit of endurance and time, I retraced my steps to the dock, hoisted the bouy and was duly transported back across the loch by the local ferry.
Leaving Loch Lomond
On And Off The Road To The Isles
Taking advantage of my newly discovered Glasgow to the Isle of Skye bus service, I realised that, just because I had run out of Loch Lomond, I could still hop on and off the West Highland Way all the way to its ending in Fort William.
The next part of the hike on the West Highland Way is long and arduous. Some of the time, the trail shadows the road (A83), through Glen Falloch then for an interminable seeming stretch through mountainous terrain. Finally, both bus passengers and hikers climb the 1,500 feet or so to the vast, wild expanse of Rannoch Moor. Abundant in Lochans sparkling among the peat and heather, the beauty is unique and beyond words. These next two photos were taken from the bus window.
Lochans on Rannoch Moor
Rainbow Over Rannoch Moor
To continue with Part Two, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, click on the following link to be provided shortly.
It is the only rotating boat lift in the world. It is the largest functional sculpture ever. It is astounding in its simplicity. It is excellence in design. It is ingenuity in engineering. It is the ultimate in green energy. It is gracefulness personified. ‘It has to be seen to be believed’. It is the Falkirk Wheel.’
A Lofty View
The video above is one of a series I made when on a trip on the Falkirk Wheel. Before posting the entire video record of the trip, I am giving some technical information with photos and a couple of videos to illustrate the text. It is impossible to imagine from words alone just how this amazing machinery works.
Everything about the design of the wheel is simple – from the supporting arms, reminiscent of the Celtic, double headed axe to the two streamlined tour boats. Operating on the Archimedes Principle, the technology of the equipment that drives the lift is awesome in its simplicity. In two words, the Falkirk Wheel is elegance personified.
The Wheel From The Forth and Clyde Canal
The grass covered ‘hill’ mid-right is the Roman Antonine Wall
The sloping glass-roofed building to the left is the Visitors’ Centre
The Falkirk Wheel was opened in 2002 and is located in Central Scotland near the town of Falkirk. It connects two canals, the Union and the Forth and Clyde. Previously these were connected by a series of eleven locks. To negotiate all of them took many hours. When the canals fell into disuse in the 1930s, the area of the locks was filled in. The canals have been re-generated for leisure purposes and the wheel allows passage from one canal to the other in a few minutes. The Union Canal is 24 metres (79ft) higher than the Forth and Clyde. That’s about as high as an eight storey building. The boat lift doesn’t quite replace all the original locks due to the presence of the ancient Roman Antonine Wall. Unable to build atop this valuable relic, the engineers obtained permission from the National Trust to build a tunnel under and at the bottom of the wall. It is called the Rough Castle Fort Tunnel after the nearby Roman wall fort, Rough Castle Fort which is the best preserved of the few remaining Antonine Wall forts. ( Information, illustrations and links to my sources’ web sites can be found after the videos.)The new length of canal empties outside the tunnel into a basin. Into this, through another tunnel, flows the Union Canal boats having had to descend through only two locks to meet with its Southbound counterpart. To get to the same level as the Wheel, the Forth and Clyde boats have to rise up a step via one lock. (See photo above)
Forth And Clyde Canal
The only way to really appreciate the genius of the rotating lift is to take a boat trip on it. I did so a few months ago, recording the journey on video. There are many short videos which is a bit aggravating. Fewer, longer ones would have been better. One day, I’ll go back and re-do it but, for now, I’ll use what I have. There are several good internet sites that give, in great detail, the technical information of the design and workings of the wheel. These give the relevant facts much better than I ever could. All external links to my sources can be found in the grey sidebar to the left of the page.
Wheel Base And Entrance To Gondola
Following are technical details I found in Wikipedia, punctuated at relevant placeswith my videos demonstrating key parts of the text.
‘The wheel has an overall diameter of 35 metres (115 ft) and consists of two opposing arms which extend 15 metres beyond the central axle and take the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed axe. Two sets of these axe-shaped arms are attached about 35 metres (115 ft) apart to a 3.5 metre (11 ft) axle. Two diametrically opposed, water-filled caissons (gondolas), each with a capacity of 80,000 imperial gallons (360,0001;96,000US gal), are fitted between the ends of the arms.
These gondolas always weigh the same whether or not they are carrying their combined capacity of 600 tonnes (590 long tons;660 short tons) of floating canal barges as, according the Archimedes’ Principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so, when the boat enters, the amount of the water leaving the gondola weighs exactly the same as the boat. This keeps the wheel balanced and so, despite its enormous mass, it rotates through 180 degrees in five and a half minutes while using very little power. It takes just 22.5 kilowatts (30.2 hp) to power the electric motors which consume just 1.5 kilowatt-hours (5.4MJ) of energy in four minutes, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water.’
How the gondolas are kept level
‘The gondolas (caissons) need to rotate at the same speed as the wheel but in the opposite direction to keep them level and to ensure that the load of boats and water does not tip out when the wheel turns. Each end of the each gondola is supported on small wheels which run on the inside face to the eight-metre-diameter holes at the ends of the arms, allowing the gondolas to rotate.’ (see video following)
Archimedes’ Principle At Work
Gondola Lowered to Docking Pit
Boat Back To Basin
Tour Boat In Gondola
Following is a video record of my trip on the wheel. I found the experience surreal and quite mind blowing.
‘The divine, the illegal, the insane and the eccentric have all found havens in these islands.’ Fiona Price, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority. Communications Unit.
FraochEilean, Heather Island. This picturesque island is shown on a 1792 map as ‘Luss Prison’. As near as it is to Luss, it would be a convenient place to isolate offenders. Reportedly, nagging wives were also banished here. At only 150 metres long and 12 metres high, there couldn’t have been many wrongdoers.
Inchconnachan and Ben Lomond
Inchconnachan, Colquhoun’s Island, faces Inchtavannach across The Narrows. There are several stories and some strange facts associated with it. That there are still wallabys living happily on the island after being introduced there in the past, at a date unknown to the author, has been proved to be correct.
Unlike Inchtavannach, just a narrow strait away, Inchconnachan is not reknowned for church bells and saintly behaviour. Other than the wallabys, the main claim to fame comes from the 1930s, once very secret, presence and operation of illegal stills that supplied whisky to the Vale of Leven and Glasgow.
Another story tells of one, Admiral Sullivan, a retired tea merchant, who, in the 1920s, built an Indian style bungalow on Inchconnachan. It is still used by the present owners. He also brought electricity to the island. How he did this is unknown to the writer at this time. When his business collapsed, the Admiral took himself off to live out his days in a dungeon on Eilean a Bho, Island Of The Cow, at the north end of the loch. This island is more commonly known as ‘Island I Vow’, a corruption of the original Gaelic name. In the Gaelic alphabet, there is no ‘v’. The vee sound is written bh. The ‘a’ would be sounded ee or short i. It is natural to assume,then, that, ‘Eilean a Bho’, ‘Island Of The Cow’, would become ‘Island I Vow’. The name probably had something to do with the resident McFarlane clan members penchant for night raids of neighbouring cattle. The moon was known in that area as ‘McFarlane’s lantern’.
In the video following, as we sail along the west side of Inchconnachan, Admiral Sullivan’s bungalow can be clearly seen in a clearing near the shore. The present residents have a boat moored close by.
Admiral Sullivan’s Bungalow
Bucinch and Inchcruin
Bucinch, Island of Goats, (right) is unspoiled and covered in impenetrable trees and undergrowth. Taking the name into consideration, there must have been goats farmed or kept there at one time. I have, so far, been unable to find any record of this. In fact, unlike most of the other islands, Bucinch seems devoid of known history. Fishermen once had a small, stone shelter there, the foundations of which remain. A plaque recording the death of a young man is fixed to a rock but no information about him is available. Nearby, another memorial to four Clyde shipyard workers who drowned is the only clue that this small island was once a place of pleasant pastime.
Inchcruin, Round island (left) is mostly wooded and has two sandy bays at the south east end. Unlike Bucinch, quite a lot is known about it. Farmed until the mid 19th century, it has seen some colourful characters. One of the island’s owners kept an ex-US army truck which he used to get about, roads or no. Round island may not be the correct translation from Gaelic. According to a 19th century gazateer, in the 18th century, Inchcruin was used for ‘the confinement of insane people’, and may have got its name from a corruption of the Gaelic phrase ‘chan’eil e cruinn’ meaning ‘he is insane’.
Islands and their stories
September and October brought heavy rain almost every day. Towards the end of September, then again at the end of October, the downpours held off for a day. This allowed me to take a couple of trips on the Lomond Warrior which I boarded at Luss. Blustery winds and cloudy skies made for very different images than those captured earlier in the year. While the jewel-like shades of summer are more to most people’s taste, the loch has many moods and no two days have colours exactly alike.
There are about sixty islands in Loch Lomond but not all are always visible. Water levels dictate how many are exposed at any given time. Those that are constantly with us all have stories – varied and fascinating. In this section, I’ll post photos or videos of a few that I’ve encountered on my travels and am able to identify. I haven’t yet found a proper map naming them all, but my quest is to identify and record an image of all those that have a story.
I will document a little of my trip to from Luss to Balmaha and back, then post images captured along with accompanying information relating to a handful of islands. These I am able, with some certainty, to identify. Any viewers should feel free to leave a comment correcting me if I err
It was a blustery day, but the rapidly gathering clouds hung on to the rain until the end of the trip.
In The Warrior’s Wake
The next video was taken as we sailed through The Narrows, as is called the strip of water between Inchtavannach and Inchconnachan. I was facing the latter as we progressed. The narrow strait between these two islands is reputed to be the most beautiful part of Loch Lomond. Someone long ago wrote. ‘Whosoever does not know this beautiful strip of water has entirely lived in vain.’ Strangely, although this water is not more than 2.5 fathoms deep, it never freezes, even when much deeper areas do. When, in deeper parts, the ice has been thick enough to drive horses and and sleds about safely, this stretch has remained totally unfrozen. This was so even during the great freeze of 1740. Not only is the water shallow, it has no discernible current.
Narrows and Inchconnachan
Inchconnachan, Colquhoun’s Island, shown in the video, has many interesting stories, the most famous not a story, it seems, but an actual reality. Someone, I don’t know who, released some wallabys onto the island in times past. Again, I am not aware of the date. Some of the wallaby ancestors still frequent the island and, while many thought this just a legend rather like the Big Foot sightings, a tourist really did get a photograph of one with her son in the foreground.
Inchtavannach, Island of Monks, not seen in the video, but opposite Inchconnachan across The Narrows, was home, in the 6th century, to St Kessogg . He built a monastery and the ringing of the bell could be heard for miles around. His stay was brief, a decade or so, cut short when he was murdered at Bandry Bay, near Luss.
Inchlonaig, meaning Island Of Yew Trees, is named for the trees found there. It is believed that these were re-planted by King Robert The Bruce who used the yews for the bows of his archers. The Colquhouns owned and resided on the island where they farmed deer. In 1873, two Colquhoun family members, both gamekeepers were drowned while returning from a deer hunt. A ruined cottage and lime kilns, as well as Mesolithic remains, are to be found on Inchlonaig.
Ellanderroch and Inchfad
Ellanderroch, the tiny island to the left of mile long Inchfad, is the Island of Oak, with some surprisingly large oaks growing there. Good fishing attracts many fishermen who use Ellanderroch for shelter in bad weather. For reasons unkown to the writer, a hollow oak was, at some time in the past, filled with concrete. A lightening strike burnt away the wood, leaving a pillar of concrete as a lasting memorial to someone’s foolishness.
Inchfad, The Long Island, is a mile long and only 70ft. at its highest point. A short canal near the north eastern tip was once used by distillery workers. While this area abounded in illegal stills, the one on Inchfad was lawful. Today, the canal is used by the island’s owners as a harbour.
An island story
In The Steps Of The Old Woman – Inchcailloch – A Journey Back In Time
View from the summit of Inchcailloch
It was late July when I visited Inchcailleach, the old name for this island, now known as Inchcailloch. The name is Gaelic for ‘Island Of The Old Woman’.
I sailed from Balmaha on the Lady Jean, one of many small boats owned and operated by the MacFarlane’s boatyard.
First, a couple of videos of my trip in the Lady Jean, a charming little wooden boat, one of several, that sails from MacFarlane’s boatyard.
On the Lady Jean
Reaching The Jetty
Immediately on landing, I felt the uncanny feeling of total peace that pervades this little paradise.
I divided my exploration into two consecutive afternoons. The first day, contenting myself with visiting the old churchyard. On the second, I climbed the island’s highest point, getting a photographic record along the way as I walked in the steps of the old woman.
The following information I got from the internet. The old woman in question was St. Kentigema (mother of St Filan) who, in 717A.D., came from Ireland with her brother and son, settled on the island and made a big enough impression on the populace of the mainland to have, in the 12th century, a church built in her memory. To this house of worship, for the next 500 years, the local mainlanders came each Sunday, rowing back and forth.
Inchcailloch from Balmaha
Here, the community graveyard was also situated. The foundations of the church are still intact as are many of the more recent grave stones. Most of the ancient ones are long covered and overgrown with grass, but two old, if not ancient ones, remain above ground.
The names most common in the graveyard are MacFarlane and MacGregor. The two oldest stones still reportedly visible and identifiable are Gregor MacGregor 1623 and Duncan MacFarlane 1783. However, I was unable to locate them, in part, because I did not have my reading glasses with me. Gregor MacGregor was clan chief and an uncle of Rob Roy MacGregor, who, some claim, is also buried here. Conflicting claims have him buried at his home town near Stirling.
In a corner of the churchyard is a covered storage area that houses remains of the original 12th century church building. Below is a photograph of a few of these amazing relics. In Scotland’s wet, inclement climate, it’s miraculous that they have survived in such perfect condition. The stones that were used to build the church proper would have been recycled when the farmhouse and other structures were erected shortly after the house of worship fell into disuse in the 17th century.
12th Century Remains
Below are a few photos I took on the return journey down to the Jetty where I boarded the ‘Margaret’, sister to the ‘Lady Jean’ for the return trip to Balmaha.
Conic Hill from Inchcailloch
Return Trip On The Margaret
Docking in Balmaha
For information about Loch Lomond And The Trossachs National Park, click on link below.
The first photos and videos I posted in ‘Loch Lomond, Limericks And Life’ were taken in November and December of last year. This posting sees the start of another winter; a very different winter. While last year was arctic cold for months with much snow in early November, it is now late December and we have just had our first snowfall.
Rosy Winter Evening
High winds and torrential rain have been the extremes since September. The wetlands video that follows is evidence of just how wet it has been. Back in the Spring, I walked on the ground that is now covered in water.
On returning from my island cruise on the Lomond Lass, I went in search of the statue of a boy situated offshore in the water of Loch Lomond. The bus driver, whom I meet on my trips to Luss, knew where it was and dropped me off, breaking my homeward journey. He showed me exactly where the statue stood, but did not know how to get near it. I walked back a little ways to the bay pictured above – Alduchlay – thinking I would find a path along the shore line. I did not, since access to the water ended at the spot pictured, giving way to private property.
Approach to Bandry Bay
After walking along the road, bordered by a stone wall and dense woodland sporting signs of ‘DANGER. DEEP WATER’, I came to a place where the wall had been breached and a path led straight to the target area, another little cove called Bandry Bay. At the far left of the photo above, you can just see the figure in the water.
Bandry Bay and ‘Wee Peter’
The following video has no sound track simply because there was no sound. The place was totally silent.
The Bandry and Inchtavannach
A closer look at the statue.
Without a boat or a good telescopic lens, I was unable to get close enough to the statue to get a good image. This one I borrowed, from Wikipedia, I think.
So, whom does this statue represent? No one called Peter, as far as is known. The ‘Wee Peter’ title was conferred in recent times for reasons unknown. Most people think it is a memorial to a boy who drowned here. In fact, no such sad story is the case. The statue was made by William Kerr for a house in London he had been commissioned to build. While he worked successfully in London during the 1870s and 80s, his childhood was spent in Luss. When the statue was found to be ‘surplus to requirements’, Kerr brought it to the place where he had spent many happy hours as a child. Few people, if any, expected it to remain standing for long and it became known as ‘Kerr’s Folly’. Erected in 1890, it stands firm today, 121 years later, proving it wasn’t in the least ill advised and is a testament to Kerr’s skill as a builder.
I looked around, imagining a young boy playing happily in the water and in the surrounding woods. As I stood there, lost in my imaginings, I heard the sound of a horses hooves, trotting, it sounded like. When a horse and cart came into view on the road above, it was a surreal moment.
In spite of the origins of the statue being a happy tale, there is a definite air of melancholy at Bandry, perhaps leading to the belief in the drowned child. One has to look much further back in history to find a possible reason for this. The island bordering The Bandry is Inchtavannach, sometimes referred to as ‘Monk’s Island’. Here, in the 6th century, St Kessog founded a monastery, the bell of which could be heard for great distances around the loch and became a feature of the times. The sainted Kessog was murdered at The Bandry in 520 A.D. by hired assasasins. The identity of the person who gave the order has never been found. Some think the Druids were the most likely culprits. I will provide a link to a wondrfully informative history of the life and times of St. Kessog.
For me,the following video has a forlorn feel. The fallen trees lack the charm such things usually have and instead, coupled with the mud in the water, they seemed to emanate an air of decrepitude. No doubt it was siesta time for the birds in the area, but the total lack of life sounds, added to this feeling of abandonment. Or perhaps I have an over-active imagination.
St. Kessog? The effigy found inside a cairn that was dismantled by soldiers building the nearby road, was thought to be a depiction of St. Kessog, but some historians think it was hidden much later during the Reformation. It is now housed in Luss Church.
An island cruise on the ‘Lomond Lass’
Yesterday, I sailed from Luss on the independently operated Lomond Lass. What this little boat lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in charm. After boarding by climbing over the rail and down a small, household stepladder, we set off to cruise round some of the islands on Loch Lomond. Unfortunately, most of my efforts as a photographer were dismal failures this time, but I’ll do it again on a day when the sun shines and get the parts I missed. I did, however, get enough to show that, while only a half hour trip, it is still a wonderful experience and something I wouldn’t have missed.
Sailing From Luss
Fraoch Eilean means ‘Heather Island’. I think of it as ‘Island of Birds’ since it seems to have developed into a bird sanctuary. However, when the heather is in bloom, it earns its name. It is also often referred to as Inchfrielechan which is possibly derived from Inch-FraochEilean, meaning island-heather island in two languages – Scots and Gaelic. Old maps show this island as ‘Luss Prison’ and at one time it was a place of banishment for nagging wives.
Barnie the barnowl sits atop the wheelhouse and does a great job of keeping seagulls away.
Cruising on the Lomond Lass
Conic Hill, Part of Highland Boundary Fault.
Today I went to Balmaha. I came away sated with the beauty of it. Balmaha is situated on the East bank of Loch Lomond in Stirlingshire (the County of Stirling). This ancient and incredibly beautiful little village is of great geological significance,nestling as it does beneath Conic Hill and the forested ridge that are part of the Highland Boundary Fault which separates the Lowlands from the Highlands. The fault continues with Inchcaillioch Island a short distance offshore. Steeped in history, this island has a wealth of interesting ruins. Unlike the rest of the area, and indeed most of Scotland, Inchcillioch is known for its peacefulness and lack of strife. There is, I hear, a spiritual quality to the place. In an earlier post I give some details of its long-past history.
The fault runs from Arran to Stonehaven but only in Balmaha is the dramatic change in terrain so apparent. The pier at the foot of the ridge, and a short distance from the village, marks the dividing line. The videos and photos following illustrate this phenomenon. Before I muse about my time there and my thoughts since, I will post some photos and a couple of videos. These were taken in the village centre and then on a hike to the point at the pier where Lowlands meet Highlands then north round the shore of the loch. The change in landscape is dramatic.
Looking Towards Inchcaillioch
These first two videos were taken at the little park in the centre of the village. The views show, on the left, MacFarlane’s Boatyard and, in the centre, Inchcaillioch Island. Macfarlane’s operate a Royal Mail sevice on which members of the public can take a variety of cruises to the many islands in Loch Lomond. They also have a ferry service to the beautiful and history-rich Inchcaillioch.
After spending a short while with the ducks, I set out along the road to the headland where the Lowlands meet the Highlands. There is a headland there and a jetty where one can catch a waterbus run by Sweenie’s Tours. They offer transport to Balloch or Luss. Alternatively, one can take one of the cruise boats of Cruise Loch Lomond and sail, via Inchcaillioch, through The Narrows, the most beautiful part of Loch Lomond with Luss as the final destination.
The road to the pier.
The variety of scenery in the short distance from the village centre to the jetty is amazing. After the pastoral feel of the little park, the road along the loch was wilder, with the densely wooded ridge that is part of the Highland Boundary Fault on the right and trees on the left making a leafy avenue.
Soon the road climbs above water level forming a steep, tree covered bank on the left with peek-a- boo views of the water,at that time, sparkling in the afternoon sun.
In the background of the photo below, beyond the observation point, the wooded ridge that is the Highland Boundary Fault slopes down to the water. The video below shows the pier and, opposite, Inchcaillioch Island. The boat seen heading there is the Lomond Warrior, one of several sister ships that Cruise Loch Lomond operates. Towards the end of the video, you can see the difference in terrain – Highland rugged mountains to the right of Inchcaillioch and gentler rolling hills of the Lowlands to the left. This sudden change is evident as soon as one heads north from the pier.
Standing On The Fault
Bridge Along The Trail
For anyone who wishes more information about the geological fault,go to the sidebar, top left of the page, and, under HighlandBoundary Fault, click on Loch Lomond and Stirling – The Highland Line. This gives you a site with a wealth of information without being beyond the grasp of non-geology students.
Luss Highland Gathering
After a June with only one glorious day amid dark skies and pouring rain, the 2nd July was a welcome change with warm temperatures and a day free of the wet stuff. Not having been to the Gathering before, I was unprepared for how like a school sports day it was – sort of a cross between inter-schools sports competition and a village fair. The setting was spectacular and I did get my Highland fix by staying with the solo piping contest. Young , budding pipers were being judged by old, seasoned experts. I felt for the nervous contestants. I’m posting some of my favourite images and three short, shorter and very short videos.
Getting it Right This young lady was one of the many piping contestants scattered around the perimeter of the action while they found a spot to practise. I love the little smile as she tunes her pipes.
Sad Song. I wish this next very short video was longer but my attention was elsewhere for most of this piece – just caught it at the end. Note the demeanor of the spectator to the left. The music seems to be having a profound effect on him.
Piping Test 2
A few moments alone
One can feel the concentration of this budding piper as he has one last practise before going before the judges.
Competing with a helicopter.
In the following video the poor piping contestant has a low flying helicopter accompanying him for the last part of his rendition. He maintains very well for a while before appearing to get a bit rattled – or so it seems. The judges in the tent watch impassively.
Whirly Bird and Pipes
Loch Lomond in June
Summer begins – June
Yesterday, June 3rd, the cold, wet, windy weather of the past many weeks gave way to a glorious, warm, clear, still day. Today, we’re back to ‘normal’ with dark skies and the temperature 10 degrees C cooler than yesterday. Fearing the summer wouldn’t last, I took myself off for another trip to Luss. This time, I took a boat, the Lomond Princess, to Balmaha, stopping at the nearby island of Inchcaillioch. During our cruise through the most beautiful part of the loch, The Narrows, I was so carried away by the awesomeness, that I forgot to periodicaly stop and restart my camera video. Consequently, I ended up with too big a file that is of no use. If we ever get another day like yesterday, I’ll go back and do it right. The shorter videos I did get are pretty lovely nevertheless. The sound you hear is the boat’s engines.
Inchcaillioch to Balmaha
The Island of Inchcaillioch (Gaelic for ‘island of the old woman’)
The old woman in question lived on the island in 717A.D. She was an Irish Christian missionary, later known as St. Kentigma. Much later, around the 13th century, a church was built on the island in her memory. Worshipers from the mainland rowed accross the half mile stretch of water from Balmaha each Sunday for the next 500 years.
NOTE: The information I previously gave about this island once being used as a prison and again as a place of banishment for nagging wives, in fact is true, not of Inchcaillioch, but of Fraoch Island, near Luss.
The photos above show Loch Lomond at its very best, when it not only looks good but
is easily accessible.
Having completed the round trip from Luss to Balmaha and back, I ate a
picnic lunch on the beach then walked its length until stopped by a boundery
fence. There, in a secluded corner, I found a family of swans – parents and
five tiny cignets. Last week when I was on the beach, it was noisy with the
sound of seagulls, but this time, perhaps because of a greater number of
people, there were none around. The swan family and I were in a space of total stillness. With the sun blanking out my camera screen, my aim was off now and then. The following still makes for a charming record of the moment.
Swans at Luss
Lomond Princess: For anyone wondering what kind of craft I was sailing in, here it
is. I got this picture from the website of the company that runs this and
several other tour boats on Loch Lomond and beyond. This one was built in 1973
by H. McLean, Renfrew, with engines by Perkins Marine Diesels, Peterborough.
For those who are speak boat language, the specs say – Propulsion: Diesel M6cy
95bhp 9.5kn. Tonnage: 39grt 37nrt. Length: 54ft. Breadth: 16.1ft.
Loch Lomond at Luss
This morning, I took the twenty-five minute bus ride up the loch to the village of Luss. Foul weather this month has stopped me taken many pictures, so clouds aside, I took advantage of a couple of rain-free hours to finish my pictorial record of the month of May. Storm clouds dominated, but the wind also gave it a rest.
Their has been a village on that site for at least a thousand years. It used to be called ‘Clachan Dhor’, Gaelic for ‘Dark Village’. Some say the present name came from the Gaelic word for a flower, but it more likely came from the French ‘Fleur de Luce’. The story goes that a Frenchwoman , following her wishes, had her body brought to Clachan Dhor for buriel. Fleur de Luce was her flower of choice for the interment. The flowers reproduced and later bloomed atop her grave. It was believed they had healing properties that cured sickness in the village.
At the edge of the village, the shallow River Luss flows out of the loch. In the video below is the sound of a bird’s song. I wish I knew what kind of bird it is. If anyone viewing the video can tell me, I’d be obliged if that person could leave me the answer in the comment section at the end of the post.
The Edge of the Loch
Having explored the end of the River Leven, I returned to its source, Loch Lomond. I wanted to capture images of Spring’s new growth. The best place to do this was on the banks and in the woods bordering the loch. I’m posting some of my favourites.
One day, when it’s not windy, I’ll go back and make a video of this babbling brook. I just love the sound of it. This little stream winds its way through the woods, ending in a cascade that empties into the loch. Scroll down, and you’ll find the video I made of the waterfall in March. Shortly, I’ll make a separate page for Spring On Loch Lomond as I have done for Winter.
When I look at this image, it evokes conflicting emotions. Sometimes, there’s the joy that always comes when seeing the sprouting of Spring’s new growth, particularly after this past, long, arctic winter; admiration and wonder at the tenacity of the daffodils and an altogether ”peaceful, easy feeling”. At other times, there’s a feeling of melancholy. Having examined this, I think the aloneness and otherness of the flowers perhaps strikes a chord. I do believe there is a story lurking somewhere.
Woodland covers much of the banks of Loch Lomond, well named ”The Bonnie Banks” and immortalised in a universally recognised song. The incessant winds of March and April have kept the water choppy.
A few feet away, a path follows the progress of the stream through the woods. With no one else in sight, I was undisturbed and free from distractions. I was conscious of a vague feeling of deja vu. It wasn’t until I was home and checking out the many photos I’d uploaded into my computer, that I realised from where the feeling came. It was another stream, another path, another Spring, another time, many years ago. I’ve started a new page to record that story. It may be called ”Fairy Gates”. I’ll post it as soon as it’s finished.
Spring – more musings
It’s March now and, once again, snowy. Yesterday, however was different – hail showers and gale force winds. I took myself off to the loch to try to get some pictures of a different mood than the ones already posted. While the images in the videos were fine, the wind was so strong it sounds like REALLY loud static as it rushed past the little microphone on my camera. During a short lull I did manage to get one or two with only the sound of waves and water. Here they are. At the start of the first one, you may hear some wind for just a short time before the lovely sound of breaking waves takes over.
March really did live up to its reputation when I took this series of images. The hail clouds were being driven at such a pace across the sky that the colour of the water was changing rapidly, often by the moment. My little camera was having difficulty keeping up with the rate of colour change. You can see a marked example of this in the ‘Waterfall’ video following.
Photos and videos taken in Balloch, November/December, 2010
At twenty-six miles long, or thereabouts, Loch Lomond is the largest loch in Scotland. In the weeks and months ahead I will share more photos and videos of the Scottish landscape in the area in which I live. Balloch is situated at the south end of the loch where it narrows and becomes the River Leven. I will bring you pictures and videos of its journey through Alexandria and Renton to Dumbarton. However, this is not a travelogue. I will only include sufficient historical and statistical information to give a sense of time and place. There will be variety of offerings. I have stories to tell plus limericks and scribblings that will bring laughter to those with a well-developed sense of the ridiculous.
The sunlit mountain in the background of the video above is Ben Lomond
Ice covered Loch Lomond Only the shallowest water froze. This body of water has an average depth of 37 metres (121 ft) and, at it deepest, is 190 meters (620 ft). It has the largest surface area of any loch/lake in the United Kingdom – 27 square miles. Loch Ness boasts the highest volume of water putting Loch Lomond in second place.
Opposite is one of a series of photos and videos I took in November and December. We had weeks of arctic weather when parts of the loch were frozen, as in this scene. Loch Lomond has many moods with faces to match. In between creatively writing, I’ll post the best images. Being a beginner at blogging, I’m afraid the content may not be too interesting as I concentrate on the mechanics of how to make it all work. Bear with me if you can. Things will become a lot more riveting when I get the hang of it. I must figure out how I can activate the menu strip off the left hand side of my post page and how I can make separate pages of my blog and not one continuous scroll. I have these and many more questions that will seem child’s play to the rest of you out there. If anyone can give me a pointer or two, I would appreciate it.
Trees in Christie Park, Alexandria, Scotland
This is another of the pictures I took in December. Alexandria is about two miles from Loch Lomond and Balloch. I live midway between the two.
It strikes me as I post these recent photos that they are already history. What, a short while ago was SO in the moment, the arctic weather, the new camera, Christmas approaching, is all past, a memory. Since photos capture a moment, they’re history a minute later, just some more ancient than others. Of such stuff are stories born.
The Snow House continues below. The passage in blue type was previously posted.
THE SNOW HOUSE author, lochsplus (contd. from earlier posting. Episode 2)
This year has seen a particularly cold winter in Scotland. Weeks of snow and arctic temperatures reminded me of other long, harsh winters from my childhood. One such was 1946. I was seven years old and that was the year I found out firsthand about crime and punishment.
I presently live a few yards from the River Leven, about a mile from Loch Lomond. Back then, my home was an orphanage about fifty miles from here. It was cold, with snow on the ground, when I arrived there in January of 1943. Early on, I realised that the whole of my existence would henceforth be a battle against the innate sinfulness that we unfortunate children brought with us when we exited the womb. SIN would be ever- present in our lives. Staying clear of eternal damnation was an uphill struggle. The list of wickedness possible was endless. Thinking of anything other than repentance and retribution was, well, sinful. Warning cries of ‘I am a God of wrath; I will repay!’ and, ‘Thou God see-est me!’, and ‘Lying lips are an ABOMINATION unto the Lord!’, were heard loud and often. And it was cold.
The list of punishable offences was long and varied. Most of these were to be expected – all the ‘Thou shalt nots’ in the Commandments along with no lying; putting ones foot over the edge of the linoleum when waiting in line; speaking when silence was ordered; rolling down ones ‘Hairy Marys’ (black, scratchy, woolen stockings) and umpteen more. One sin I always thought was highly unreasonable. We were reminded of it by the Head of the House, a.k.a., ‘Mother’, once a week on the evening before rubbish bin (garbage can) emptying day. This was in the days of metal bins. The Bin Man was never given the courtesy of ‘Mr.’ before his name. He was just ‘Farley’. The reason for this was that Farley was a sinner of the first order. He was going to suffer eternal damnation and burn forever in the fires of Hell. There would be no redemption for this fellow and, if we were each not VERY careful on bin day, we would be right down there in the flames with him. Unless, since ”The wages of sin is death” according to the Good Book, we got our comeuppance sooner than expected. According to ‘The Word of God’, otherwise known as ‘The Bible’, ”He that winketh with the eye, thinketh evil in the heart.” Farley was a winker, a smiler and a winker. Whenever he met one of us children on his travels around bin-emptying land, forbidden to speak to we innocents, he would smile and WINK. The problem was, and this is where the unfairness came in, it wasn’t just the WINKER who was on track for eternal damnation. Any unsuspecting WINKEES were Hell bound also. For this reason, a sharp lookout was kept for Farley. The sight of him at the end of the road would send us all fearfully hiding as far from the bins as possible lest we became the subjects of the bin man’s drooping eyelid. For three years I had successfully escaped Farley’s evil winky eye being cast upon me. Then, on this snowy day in 1946, it happened. I BECAME A WINKEE.
Looking back, I realise that we never ever built snowmen. We didn’t talk about snowmen and I, for one, didn’t even think about snowmen. Snowmen were a non-subject. It’s not surprising really, given that, made of snow or not, they were MEN. Perhaps an older girl had made, or Mother was afraid an older girl might make, an anatomically correct snowman by fashioning and adhering an appendage. This would surely turn every last one of us twenty some girls into raging, sex mad, man-hungry monsters, fair riddled with sin. So no snowmen. This winter of 1946 gave us so much snow we were able to build something much more fitting. We built a snow house, an igloo. Since The Gravel, our play area, was being whipped by a bitter North East wind, we chose our site on the sheltered side of the house. Unfortunately for me, as it turned out, this spot was overlooked by the side bay of Mother’s sitting room window.
Half a dozen or so of us younger girls worked diligently on the igloo. It was almost completed, to the delight of we budding architects. I can’t remember what exactly I was doing as I gave it some finishing touches. Suffice to say, I was totally focused on my creative endeavour. So much so, that I did not notice all the other girls had gone. Suddenly, I was awakened from my dream state by the sound of bins rattling. (to be continued)
Now for something quite different – A Lomond Limerick (so called only because I was near Loch Lomond when writing it.
The wild ducks (mallards) shown came to visit the garden I was working in last year. I was planting the first of the summer flowers when the two males and a female appeared very close to me. One male took off and left the pair. I had help to name them ‘Marmaduck’ and ‘Mamalaid’ I had not yet a digital camera and took these with a little disposable one, hence the less than stellar quality.
A Nod To The Bard
Farmer Jack went off on his tractor
To meet his good friend, a house factor
But instead of his buddy
With smiling face ruddy
He found a Shakespearean actor.
”Oh la! Who art thou?” quoth the peasant.
”I’m a farmer” said Jack, most unpleasant,
”And you? Are those tights?
We are not the bright lights
But a place where we hunt duck and pheasant”.
The actor said, ”Just call me Lee.
Before thee I bendeth my knee.
Please spare me thy wrath
For I’m someone who hath
Quaffed a few drinks and barely can see.
Thy friend, when he saw me took fright
And took off running into the night.
He too had supped ale
And was squiffy and pale
‘Twas a pitiful, pitiful sight.
I fear he was bingeing like me
The liquor you see was all free
The knave was too weak
To remain here and speak
So he bid me, instead, meet with thee.”
”Oh, get up, fool”, the farmer did say
Forsooth, fol-de-rol, lack-a-day
Prithee please do not howl
We will go shoot some fowl
Thee and me we will have a nice day.”
Armed with guns and some bullets of brass
They wandered off into the grass
Then took aim and fired
But the actor was tired
Oh, I’d love to, but let’s just say, ”pass”.
Though well soused and all over the place
They came forth from the reeds with a brace
Lee, a ruddy great cow
Farmer Jack an old sow
Of the pheasant and ducks not a trace.
They roasted the game on a fire
Then sang Hey-Nonny-No to a lyre
By the dancing fire-lights
Farmer Jack donned some tights
And to Stratford’s great bard did aspire.
”Fare thee well” and some tears he did squeeze.
”May you prosper and never get fleas”
He talked just like a toff
‘Til his wig did fall off
And his tights dribbled down round his knees.
The actor then squealed, ”Oh, no way
Wilt thou ever make this caper pay.
Thou might suffer and sob
But do keep the day job
And leave ME to do Shakespeare, I pray”.
With a sigh and a wave of his hand
Farmer Jack took off back to the land
But he still wore the tights
When real cold were the nights
And a skinful had left him quite canned.
One such evening when trying to dredge
Up some Shakespeare he fell of a ledge.
He was rescued of course
By a knackered old horse
And thereafter our Jack took The Pledge.
The moral is painfully clear.
Stay away from all spirits and beer.
Don’t go hunting in tights
And forego the delights
Hitherto, heretofore of Shakespeare.
For more limericks and complete story, The Snow House, click under the ‘Pages’ list on sidebar, top left.