Islay: Singing Sands and Kildalton Cross

Kilnaughton Bay

Our last day! We chose two shortish walks with lunch in Port Ellen in between. The first started at Kilnaughton Bay, just outside Port Ellen.  At the east end of the bay we explored this old building which looks like a ruined chapel but is actually the remains of a bathing hut where the ladies of Cairnmore House would once have changed. Underneath the sand, you can still see the tiled floor

From here, we crossed the bay and picked our way across rocks and walkways to the lighthouse at Carraig Fhada with its twin white towers.

The lighthouse was commissioned in 1832 by Walter Frederick Campbell as a memorial to his wife, Ellinor, and was taken over by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924.

Backtracking from the lighthouse, we took the path marked Singing Sands from which we had good views back over the bay. We’d been watching the cruise ship, Ocean Atlantic of Albatros Expeditions, and I looked it up later. It was on an 8 day voyage from Dublin to Aberdeen via Orkney and Shetland. Next departure is May 21st, 2020, should you be interested. I can’t see any prices – you have to request a quote: I suspect it might be well beyond what I would like to pay!

The Singing Sands were a bit of a disappointment. The beach, Traigh Bhan, was certainly beautiful, but we couldn’t make the sands sing however we trod on them, although we’d had success before on Ardnamurchan. (The “singing” is supposed to come from the sound the sand makes as you walk through it, and depends on the size of the grains).

From Traigh Bhan, we climbed the grassy hill behind it, with more views back over Kilnaughton Bay until we came to a series of three cemeteries. The oldest one was by far the most interesting – Kilnaughton Old Churchyard in which you can still see the ruins of the old chapel, including a slab with a carved knight clutching his sword.

As usual, I have far too many pictures of old gravestones. I think I just liked the angel and urn on the left below. The image next to it is one of those tragic tales which always give me pause. You have to really zoom to read it, so I’ll summarise. The stone was erected by Betsy Ferguson in memory of her husband, Donald Whyte, and their sons. Donald, 53, and son Daniel, 17, were drowned at Port Ellen lighthouse on 1st January 1916. Presumably they were working as the keepers. Two other sons were killed in action, Dugald (21) in December 1915 and Walter (20) in August 1916 – they are interred in Belgium and France respectively. So in less than a year, Betsy lost her husband and three sons. Another son, John, died in infancy and the longest surviving son, Robert, died in 1933 aged 28. Betsy herself died in 1935, aged 68, and the final name on the stone is her daughter, Jessie, who survived till 1950 when she was 52. How many tragedies can one family bear?

I was also looking for Sinclairs because of my Great-Grandfather, John Joss Sinclair, who came from Islay. There were quite a lot! The stones below interested me the most because, although for a family of Campbells, one of the wives listed was Christina Sinclair, and the name was passed down to (possibly) a grandchild. It’s a family name with John Joss Sinclair’s descendants too – my grandmother and mother were both given the name Christina and my middle name is Christine. Could this Christina (born c. 1832) be a relative, possibly an aunt, of John Joss who was born in 1866? Maybe someday I’ll put the work in to find out – at the moment I’m happy speculating!

After exploring the cemeteries, we drove into Port Ellen for lunch, then continued along the south coast, past all the distilleries, to Kildalton. Here, there is another ruined church containing several carved medieval grave slabs.

However, the most notable thing about Kildalton is the High Cross in the churchyard, one of the finest early Christian crosses in Scotland, dating from the second half of the 8th century. The cross stands 2.65 metres in height, with arms 1.32 metres across. The biblical carvings, although somewhat weathered, can still be identified and include David fighting a lion, the Virgin and Child, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and Cain murdering Abel.

As we left, we dropped some money in the collection box by the gate, and were amused both by the fact that most people seemed to leave their offerings exposed at the foot of the cross, and by the warning notice on the gate.

Outside the churchyard is another cross, this one medieval. The other picture below is John at Kildalton on our previous visit in 1989. I think I must be taking the photograph from the base of this cross. In 2019 there was another, more modern feature, by the track visible behind John, but I’ll leave that excitement till the end …

From here, we walked down a lovely woodland path to the small jetty at Port Mor. It was a lovely spot to sit and relax for a while – but not too long! We knew what treats awaited us …

Back at Kildalton, we made a beeline for Cake @ The Cross, delicious home-baking on an honesty box system. We had a cup of tea (£1 each) and a cake (£2 each) totalling £6. Now, we’d already emptied all our change into the collecting box at the church and the honesty box didn’t run to £4 change for our tenner. What to do? I bet you can guess the solution. Yes! Another two slices of cake brought the total neatly to £10 and we enjoyed them after our dinner that night.

The next morning, we packed up and drove to Port Askaig for the ferry. It was raining – hard – and we felt sorry for the people disembarking. We’d had a wonderful week and, apart from a few blips, had been so lucky with the weather. We’d love to go back to Islay, but our sadness at leaving was tempered by the though that in another 7 weeks (mid-July) we’d be off again, this time up the west coast of mainland Scotland. Coming soon – probably.

67 thoughts on “Islay: Singing Sands and Kildalton Cross

  1. Dr Sock October 25, 2019 / 17:02

    Very tragic tale of the Ferguson family’s losses. That eighth century High Cross was fascinating. I have an aunt on my mom’s side who does genealogy and she has traced branches of our family back many generations (mostly English and Irish); however, I’m more interested in family stories than in genealogy.

    Jude

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  2. wanderessence1025 October 10, 2019 / 14:22

    Your walks always seem as if you’re going back to some wild, windswept time; the land and its features seem so ancient. I love that bathing hut, and even if the Singing Sands didn’t sing, they were gorgeous. You are going to have to do research on your genealogy; it seems you might have relatives all over Scotland. And you did seem to be very lucky with the weather. 🙂

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 10, 2019 / 15:45

      We were lucky with the weather – although windswept is also an appropriate term. I find the family history very interesting, but it’s a wormhole I can’t risk disappearing down! People who start on it seem to find it all-consuming.

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      • wanderessence1025 October 13, 2019 / 14:02

        I’m sure searching family history can be an endless task. I haven’t wanted to tackle it myself, for the same reason. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jenny October 2, 2019 / 00:20

    There is no such thing as too many photos of old gravestones. Just saying. It’s one of the things I love about your posts – you always find lovely, old cemeteries. This is something I look for too when I’m travelling.
    And that cruise … there’s a fair chance that if you have to ask the price then you can’t afford it. But it sounds nice.

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  4. Erica/Erika September 29, 2019 / 17:06

    Your photos often bring me moments of zen, Anabel:) I find it interesting to visit lighthouses, possibly because they are in a beautiful setting. Interesting how they reveal history. Old gravestones are quite revealing, too. First time I have heard about singing sands. You truly made me laugh out loud on the rationale of the slices of cake story. An enjoyable and informative read, again.

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  5. restlessjo September 23, 2019 / 22:37

    Grateful for the cake but I’d have swapped it for sands that sang 🙂 :). Love that mossy knight clutching his sword.

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  6. BeckyB September 23, 2019 / 14:58

    what a fabulous walk . . and Jo would have been in her element with all that cake!!

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  7. notesoflifeuk September 22, 2019 / 19:45

    Wonderful photos. There’s just something about graveyards. I love family history and also have many photos of gravestones!

    I’ve never heard of Singing Sands before.

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  8. Liesbet @ Roaming About September 22, 2019 / 01:20

    What a wonderful stay, Anabel. I like those gravestones and, indeed, such a sad family story there. How do you figure this out? Do the graves contain that much information or did you look things up?

    That lighthouse at Carraig Fhada sure is special with its twin towers, I’ve never seen a “double” lighthouse like that!

    Maybe “The Singing Sands” don’t depend on the size of the grains, but on the size of one’s feet? 🙂

    Fun to find home-baked goods along the road/trail. We recently splurged on something similar in New Brunswick.

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 22, 2019 / 07:47

      All that info was on the gravestone. They just had to keep adding to it, very sad. I’ve not seen a lighthouse like that either, and as for the home baking it was a wonderful surprise discovery at the end of the day!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. RetirementallyChallenged.com September 18, 2019 / 00:23

    I love the bathing hut! And that lighthouse… I’ve never seen a square-shaped lighthouse… without a top beacon (at least that I could see)! Top off your day with tea and cakes from an honesty stand, and life is truly great!

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 18, 2019 / 07:45

      It’s an unusual little lighthouse with its two towers. The bathing hut must have been very substantial in its day, mostly I’ve seen wooden ones, and as for the cake, it was delicious! Perfect end to the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Jemima Pett September 17, 2019 / 22:24

    Oooh, west coast…. lovely. Although Islay’s been wonderful 🙂

    Like

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