Hebridean Hop 21: Kisimul Castle and Northbay

Friday 17th August 2018

Kisimul Castle from the jetty

Our last day dawned dull and wet, but we hadn’t been to Kisimul Castle yet so this had to be the time. There is a little jetty to wait on, above, and a boat comes from the castle to pick up passengers on the hour and half hour. Here it is!

Kisimul Castle probably dates from the 1400s, though the rocky islet it is built on might have been fortified for several centuries before that. The stronghold of Clan MacNeil, it was significantly restored in the 20th century and since 2000 has been on 1,000 year lease to Historic Scotland.

Compare and contrast – the pictures below are from our visit in 1992 with our friends Pat and John. The basket, presumably for a beacon, above Pat’s head suggests these were taken at the top of the tower (the same basket can be seen in the gallery above if you look hard enough). It’s not possible to climb the tower now, which I found disappointing.

The weather showed no signs of improving, so once back on dry land we collected the car from the hotel and set off for Northbay. If nothing else, we knew there was a good place for lunch there! We were lucky to get a short, dry stroll on the Woodland Walk (woodland, however small, is something of a rarity on the islands).

Once we arrived in Northbay itself though, the heavens opened. We could have done with those yellow and orange waterproofs below. Fortunately, we could shelter in St Barr’s Church for the worst of it.

For lunch we visited the Heathbank Hotel which we remembered as a seedy dive on our last visit, but which has come up in the world since then. Our waiter confirmed our memories, that it had been very much a fishermans’ pub. His granny probably told him – he turned out to be the young man who played the fiddle as we ate our curry in Castlebay the previous evening. He’s also a student at Glasgow University, though we haven’t spotted him around. These coincidences don’t happen so much in Glasgow!

After lunch, we stopped once more to walk ( across rather wet ground) to the abandoned village of Bolnabodach on the shores of Loch Ob. These collapsed blackhouses date from 1810-1840.

From here it was back to the hotel to pack and load up the car, keeping just an overnight bag behind. Our ferry in the morning was at 0755 and we had to be in the queue by 0710 at the latest. A good night’s sleep was required!


  1. It must have been so interesting to compare each place you visited with your earlier visit in the ‘90s. I am impressed that you still have photos, and that you were able to find them!



  2. I love this castle and wonder if it was surrounded by water when it was first built. It just shows how ingenious people were back then without all we have today. I wonder why they closed off the stairway?? It looks cold and damp but that didn’t stop you and so good to hear that. It is -18 today


  3. A shame the weather wasn’t too good for your last day but it looks like you made the best of things. I like the mosaic sign outside the church and the church itself looks nice inside. A pity you couldn’t go up the castle tower – I’d have been miffed too! 🙂


  4. The photographs were great – the weather not so much. I have never been to Barra but from what little I was told of the place, I kind of expected Kisimul Castle to be somewhat grander. Like the photographs of John – he takes a good photograph.


  5. Hi Anabel – reminds me of Cornish weather … which I’ve experienced often over the years my Ma was down there … soggy. One day I must get further north in Scotland … your blog will be in handy should the day arrive … I hope it does as your photos are delightful – cheers Hilary

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