Hebridean Hop 22: returning home

Saturday 18th August 2018

After an early start, we were in the ferry queue at 7am ready to depart Castlebay at 0755. Once on board, we positioned ourselves near the restaurant ready to beat the rush for breakfast when it opened. That rush didn’t materialise, and wandering round the ship later we found out why. Many people had brought their pillows and duvets and were catching up on sleep! When we got to the top deck, we were amazed to have it to ourselves most of the time. The howling wind might also have had something to do with that …

More or less on time, at 1240, we approached our destination, Oban.

We didn’t linger, choosing to drive to a pub outside town for lunch, and then to make our way home to Glasgow. Our Hebridean Hop was over. Some thoughts:

  • We drove just over 1000 miles, a seemingly modest amount for three weeks, but once you’re on the islands there aren’t a lot of places to drive to! The roads are greatly improved since our previous visits, but most of them are still single track and consequently slow. Being impatient to get straight from A to B just doesn’t work.
  • Other infrastructure – museums and cafés – has also improved greatly, enhancing the tourist experience and, it is obvious, bringing greater prosperity to the islands. It’s probably selfish to feel that this diminishes the charm and makes the islands feel less remote. However, I’m glad to have caught them at this point before they become overrun, as seems to have happened to Skye.
  • We were lucky with the weather – and I mean that, despite having written about some terrible downpours. It could have done that every day, whereas most days were reasonably fine and some were sunny and warm. However, if you must have guaranteed sunshine, the Hebrides will not be for you!
  • We walked, on average, seven miles a day, much of that on beautiful, golden sands. This was enough for our collection of dodgy knees and feet!
  • It’s 25-30 years since we last visited any of these islands and we can’t understand why we left it so long. This year, current thinking is that we will visit some of the Inner Hebrides, but they don’t lend themselves so obviously to a “hop” and will involve more route planning.
  • Thinking of going to the Outer Hebrides? Yes, I think you should! Find all my posts with the tag Hebridean Hop for inspiration.
  • Finally, I’m linking this post to Cathy’s On returning home invitation. Check the link for details: Cathy’s current post is about leaving Japan after teaching there for a few months.

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!

Hebridean Hop 20: Craigston, Cleit and Eoligarry

Thursday 16th August 2018

St Brendan’s Church, Craigston

Having rejected the previous two days as too dreich to get the boat out to the castle, we then decided this day was too nice. We wanted to explore the island in the sun. Driving up the west coast, our first stop was at St Brendan’s Church where Father John MacMillan (1880-1951), about whom we had seen an exhibition in the heritage centre, was once priest. He spent most of his life ministering to the people of the islands, including two years in Canada when, after the First World War, many Hebridean families settled in Red Deer in Alberta. MacMillan volunteered to emigrate along with them in 1923, but left after a fight with the Canadian authorities which he felt were inflicting unnecessary hardship upon the immigrants. Father MacMillan wrote Gaelic songs, and was also immortalised in both a piping march and in his friend Compton Mackenzie’s book, Whisky Galore, in which the character of the priest, Father James Macalister, is based on himClick on the link above to read more about this remarkable man, including the Canadian story.

The church dates from 1857 and is almost as simple inside as out.
From the church it was a short walk back along the coast to find Father Macmillan’s grave in the cemetery. The scenery was stunning, and the neighbours friendly.

And here is the grave we were looking for. Twelve hundred mourners from all over the Hebrides attended the funeral, processing from Craigston to the cemetery behind six pipers. It must have been quite a day.

After a short drive further up the main road, we turned off at Cleit to explore another fine beach. On our way down, we passed this desirable holiday home.

We chatted to a trio of elderly tourists and watched a group of body-boarders for a while. It looked cold!

On the other side of the car park was a small geo (chasm) where the water rushing in and out fascinated me.

However, beautiful as these stops were, our main plan for the day was an 8.75 km walk round the Eoligarry peninsula, Barra’s most northerly point, so it was time to move on – stopping at the excellent airport café again for lunch.

The walk started at Eoligarry jetty, from which the passenger ferry to Eriskay used to run when we last visited. Now, there was nothing much there, but it was a convenient place to leave the car.

We soon came to the old church of Cille Bharra with a replica of the Kilbar Stone, a Viking grave which once stood here. I detect some unhappiness about its absence.

I was delighted to pick up a history of the church and to realise that it was written by Alan Macquarrie, a former colleague of mine.

Onwards again – that was the flat part of the walk. There were a couple of short climbs coming up, first to the remains of Dun Sgurabhal, an Iron Age fort, with views to beaches on all sides. The cows liked it up here too.

Coming down from the fort, we stumbled over lumpy grazing land before climbing again to Beinn Eolaigearraidh Mhor. Despite mhor meaning large, at 105m it wasn’t – but still had panoramic views to admire.

We descended to the west of the peninsula to Traigh Eais, crossing the dunes to the other side after 1.25km of beach walking. This took us back to the beach runway at Traigh Mhor. The day’s planes were long gone, so the airport was now closed with no chance of a further visit to the café.

This also meant we could disregard the warning signs and walk back to Eoligarry along the beach rather than the road. Traigh Mhor is also known as Cockle Strand – the cockle pickers were back on the beach too.

This was one of our loveliest days in terms of weather. It was also a culinary highlight. Who’d have thought that a tiny place like Castlebay would have an excellent Indian Restaurant? Café Kisimul holds a folk night on Thursdays and we had booked almost as soon as we arrived on the island.

We do look rather happy, don’t we? The food was excellent (as was the beer).

As I’ve mentioned before, on these small islands you tend to run into the same people several times. Also eating in the restaurant were the elderly tourists and the body-boarders we saw in Cleit in the morning, and the young man tuning up his fiddle above would serve us lunch in a different place the next day. That would be our final day on the island so, rain or shine, we had to get out to that castle at last!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – it’s almond blossom time this week.

Hebridean Hop 19: Tangasdale

Wednesday 15th August 2018

Should we go out to the castle today? Hmm, no – the weather was too dreich again. Instead, we headed out of Castlebay for a short walk. Starting at Loch Tangasdale, we first passed MacLeod’s Tower, built in 1430 by the son of Marion of the Heads. She was the widow of the chief of Clan MacNeil and had her two stepsons beheaded so that her own son would inherit.

Further on, in a small glen, are the ruins of an old settlement inhabited by another MacNeil, Roderick the Dove, in the 18th century. His name suggests he was much nicer than Marion!

As the path climbed, we could see down to Halaman Bay at the side of which perches the Isle of Barra Hotel – this is where we stayed during our 1990s trips to Barra.

The climb to Dun Ban, the 2000 year old remains of a fortified broch, was rugged but worth it.  I liked the way the stones had been taken over by nature.

On our return, we dropped down onto the beach at Halaman – probably a mistake! As the rain and the wind built up we got soaked through and the sand whipped into our faces. As we struggled to stay upright on two feet, hopping on one leg to don the waterproof trousers wasn’t an option. It was still beautiful though, and I don’t think you can tell from the pictures how bad the weather was. (As a bonus, I’ve included a picture of me on the same beach on a better day in 1992).

We have rarely been so pleased to reach the car. When we got back to the hotel, we just had time for a quick change of clothes before we caught last orders for lunch.

A relaxing afternoon with a book followed. Amazingly, the sun came out later and it was a lovely bright evening. We watched the ferry dock from our room and managed to bag a window seat at dinner. Not a bad day overall, despite the weather doing its worst – slàinte!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk.

Hebridean Hop 18: Vatersay

Tuesday 14th August 2018

Macroon’s Café scone

I last wrote about our Hebridean Hop at the beginning of November – how time flies! We had just arrived in Barra, our last port of call on the trip. Now the story continues …

Our first morning dawned very dreich – not the weather for getting the boat out to the castle as planned – so we visited Dualchas, the small heritage centre, instead. (No photography allowed.) Its main collection heavily features the history of the herring industry: more interesting than it sounds, particularly the story of the herring girls who followed the fish down the coast to Great Yarmouth as long ago as the 1880s. (There’s an interesting post about them on F Yeah History.) The special exhibition when we were there was on Father John MacMillan (1880-1951), another of the inspirational island priests we kept coming across on our travels. A few days later, we went searching for his grave: apparently 1200 people attended his funeral.

It wasn’t quite lunchtime, but we needed somewhere to go to plan our next move so headed for Macroon’s Café in the Post Office. Both parts of the business are run by an enterprising Yorkshire couple who relocated to Barra after redundancy simply because they liked Whisky Galore – Macroon is the name of the postmaster in the film. The scones, as you can see above, are awesome.

Our decision was to drive to Vatersay, a neighbouring island attached to Barra by a causeway, to take a walk there. After parking the car, we headed for Tràigh Siar (West Beach) passing the memorial to the Annie Jane on the way.

The Annie Jane ran aground here in 1853. With at least 450 emigrants bound for Canada (it’s impossible to say exactly how many because children’s names were not recorded), the ship hit rocks in a storm and broke into three parts. Only about 100 people survived, and the dead were buried in two mass graves in the dunes.

At the end of the beach, we turned uphill to the summit of Dun Vatersay. This was very wet and boggy, and the locals watched us struggling with some interest! From the top we could see both Tràigh Siar and Bàgh Bhatarsaigh (Vatersay bay) as well as Vatersay village.

We continued the boggy struggle, passing a standing stone (though some think it might be just an old gatepost) on our way to Bàgh a Deas (South Bay) which we shared with more locals.

The next point of interest was the ruined village of Eorisdale built by the Vatersay Raiders. At the beginning of the 20th century the island, which her tenants farmed as a single holding, was owned by Lady Gordon Cathcart. Pressure on land throughout the Western Isles led ten men to raid Vatersay, build huts and plant potatoes without permission. In 1908, some were imprisoned for refusing to leave, but the case caused an outcry across Scotland, and in 1909 the Government responded more positively by buying the island and dividing it up into 58 crofts. The village was built at this time and was inhabited as recently as the 1970s.

Finally, after more boggy walking, we descended to Vatersay Bay.

We’d been here before! The first photograph below shows me with our friends John and Pat in 1993. I remember then there were lots of abandoned cars in the dunes. We didn’t spot any this time, but they are probably still buried there – the next photograph of the fence at the top of the dunes on the way back to the car shows how quickly the sand can shift.

On the way back we stopped a couple of times – at the unusual war memorial and at a viewpoint over Castlebay.

Maybe we’d get out to the castle tomorrow?

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – she’s settled in Portugal now.

Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2018

In December I gave my talk! As part of a Suffrage afternoon at the Mitchell Library I spoke about Jessie Stephen, the Glasgow Suffragette I have been researching this year. It was well received I’m glad to report, in fact the Chair described it as a barnstorm. The pictures show me giving it laldy (ie speaking with great gusto).

The Hunterian

We visited the Hunterian a couple of times, Glasgow University’s museum and art gallery. The first time was an evening event in the museum for university staff and their guests, which we enjoyed. Prosecco and canapés, what’s not to love?

Our second visit was across the road in the art gallery. The Hunterian is named after William Hunter (1718-1783) who started it all off by leaving his collections to the University, his alma mater, and the gallery has currently been cleared of its usual contents for an exhibition marking the tercentenary of his birth (closes this weekend, so hurry along). Hunter was an anatomist and physician (he delivered most of the children of  Queen Charlotte and George III) but also a collector of books, paintings and other artefacts so the exhibition was not just medical. Here are two portraits of Hunter, for example, one by his friend Allan Ramsay, and the other commissioned from Sir Joshua Reynolds after Hunter’s death.

Other than the exhibits themselves, there were two things I really liked. First, the booklet which replaced labels meaning you didn’t have to peer at the wall to find out what you were looking at and, second, the fact that we arrived just at the right time to join a tour by volunteer guide Finlay, a medical student, who added a lot to the experience.

My friend Jessica of Diverting Journeys has reviewed this exhibition concentrating largely on the anatomy exhibits, so head over there if you want to know more. I’ll restrict myself to the anatomy section I found most disturbing, the display of drawings and models contributing to Hunter’s 1774 Anatomy of the human gravid uterus. I’ve seen some of the models before – they are usually displayed vertically in the museum, but lying them on their backs as if in childbirth made them much more poignant. Who were these women? When and how did they and their unborn children die? If they had known that three centuries later we would be looking at their most intimate parts how would they feel? Troubling questions to which we’ll never know the answer.

It will, of course, not surprise you to know that I was fascinated by Hunter’s book collection. Most were difficult to photograph because of the glass cases, but here are a few examples. There were actually three copies of Newton’s Principia Mathematica on display, but I liked the one below best because it was published by the Royal Society in 1687 while Samuel Pepys, one of my historical heroes, was President and thus has his name on it.

Even better, I note that Hunter looked after his books carefully and created both a catalogue and a list of books lent. A man after my own heart!

Carmunnock

Carmunnock describes itself as “the only village in Glasgow” and had two attractions for us one cold Sunday afternoon: a heritage trail round its historic centre and an excellent restaurant, Mitchell’s, where we could warm up after our short walk. The restaurant originated in 1755 as Boghead farmhouse and steadings, and became the Boghead Inn in the late 19th or early 20th century when it was also the centre for public transport in the village. Quite a lot of history to contemplate while enjoying delicious food!

Sighthill Cemetery

One of John’s historical heroes now. Over the last year or so, we’ve made three visits to Sighthill Cemetery looking for a particular grave, each time armed with slightly more information. This month we found it! William John Macquorn Rankine was Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University (where a building is named after him) from 1855 to his death in 1872, aged only 52. It’s not surprising we missed it the first twice as the gravestone has tumbled downhill and now stands on its head. 2020 is the bicentenary of Rankine’s birth, so hopefully something can be done about this before then.

I do like a wander around an old graveyard – here are some of the other things that caught my eye over our three visits. The Martyrs’ Monument commemorates two men, John Baird and Andrew Harding, who were executed after a radical uprising in 1820.

Eighteen other rebels were transported to Australia, including Benjamin Moir. His brother James, a tea merchant and Glasgow councillor, has a rather fine obelisk elsewhere in the cemetery. As mentioned on the inscription, on his death he left his books and £12,000 to the Mitchell Library where I gave my talk earlier in the month – in the Moir Room!

Some of the family gravestones are a sad testament to the scourge of infant mortality.

Some stones I just liked – particularly the tribute to the lady who worked for Henglers Circus for 45 years.

As we left on our most recent visit, the sun was setting. A graveyard at dusk? Not spooky at all!

The last bit

Al fresco art spotted this month includes this lovely house decorated with shells in Anstruther in Fife. And the gap site on Sauchiehall Street caused by a fire (not the Art School one – this one was earlier in the year) has been concealed by some adorable cats.

My Scottish word of the month is a Gaelic one. As I write, British politicians are still fighting like ferrets in a sack over what some of the Scottish media have started to refer to as the Brexit bùrach (boo-rach with a guttural Germanic ch sound). It means complete mess, enough said …

So I’ve almost got to the end of a post about December without mentioning Christmas and New Year! We had a lovely time at both with family and friends, as I hope you did too, and in between we visited Dunkeld for a few nights. That’s added to the list of posts I still have to write – my New Year’s Resolution is to get back to blogging regularly.

This is also the time that I look to see what have been the most popular posts written over the past year. I’m usually surprised – 2018’s top read by some way was A walk on Great Cumbrae in April, I’ve no idea why. I suspect WordPress gremlins!

Finally, my heartfelt thanks to you all for your friendship over the last year and a special mention for one who is absent. Rest in peace, Joy loves travel. You are missed.

Timesquare – Glasgow Cross

Tollbooth Steeple at Glasgow Cross

I haven’t got my blogging act together at the moment, so I’m just dropping in with another quick post for Becky’s timesquare challenge. I love the way the clock face matches the sky in this picture of the steeple at Glasgow Cross. This does not, unfortunately, reflect the weather today …

The Cross was the heart of the medieval city, the meeting place of five roads: High Street, Gallowgate, London Road, the Saltmarket and Trongate. Those roads are all still there, but Glasgow’s centre has moved west over the centuries and the only true remnant of the Cross’s former glory is the Tolbooth Steeple. Today, this sits alone on a traffic island, but when it was built in the 1620s it was part of a more extensive building. The Tolbooth had several uses, including as the seat of the Council until 1814 and, less pleasantly, as a place of public execution (hence Gallowgate). The rest of the Tolbooth was demolished in 1921.

Glaswegians like to think of themselves as gallus which has a connection:

gallus (ga·luss). Dialect, chiefly Scot ~adj.
1. self-confident, daring, cheeky.
2. stylish, impressive (esp. Glasgow “He’s pure gallus, by the way”).
3. Orig. derogatory, meaning wild; a rascal; deserving to be hanged (from the gallows).

I’m sure most of us would prefer the middle definition!

Timesquare – the Blackstone chair

The Blackstone Chair (detail)

Becky at The Life of B has a new square picture challenge for December – #timesquare. Follow the link for guidance if you have a timely contribution. As for me, I don’t have time to take part every day (well, it’s already on Day 7) but I’ll pop in when I have a minute to spare.

Last night, we attended an evening event for Glasgow University staff in the Hunterian Museum. On the way out, I spotted the Blackstone Chair. (Forgive the fuzzy photos – the light was poor and I’d had prosecco.) Can you believe that until the mid-19th century, all examinations took place orally on this chair? Your time was up when the sand ran through. Click on the gallery below for a full explanation.

Glasgow Gallivanting: November 2018

We didn’t intend to visit GlasGLOW, a Halloween event that ran in the Botanic Gardens for almost two weeks, but after passing by one night and seeing what we could from the road, we changed our minds. About the only tickets left were for 9 o’clock on a Monday night so, after dinner, we wrapped up warmly and strolled through the lights for an hour or so.

Kintyre and Dundee

We had two weekends away in November! Firstly, a couple of nights near Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula, then three nights in Dundee, mainly to visit the new V&A Museum. Country life and city life: couldn’t have been more different. More on both to come in due course.

Blogger shout-outs

I met another blogger in real life, which I think brings my total to seven – I’ll be losing count soon. Jessica of Diverting Journeys and her partner, Marcus, visited Glasgow for a long weekend and we met up on the Sunday afternoon. We visited the viewing platform at the Lighthouse which, unusually, contained a piano and a mural reading: We should have it all. We certainly should!

Then we went in search of Billy Connolly murals before repairing to the Scotia, one of Glasgow’s oldest pubs. It was great to meet them!

There’s been much discussion lately amongst bloggers about comments, and how difficult it can be to make them sometimes. I’d been having terrible trouble – even clicking Like was problematic.  I don’t think WordPress is blameless but, because weird things happened with Blogger too, my chief suspect was a recent update to Apple’s Safari browser. I had no idea how to fix it though, and I’m therefore hugely grateful to Jemima Pett for publishing When Privacy stops you Blogging – Safari and Comments. I’ve made one simple change in my settings and everything is now (almost) hunky-dory. Whoopee! Thanks, Jemima.

A musical month

We found time for three gigs this month. Two big ones: King Crimson, because John likes them, and Seasick Steve because we both do. He was great! The support band, Prinz Grizzley and his Beargaroos, was awesome too.

But my favourite was maybe the small pub gig where my friend Lesley was part of both support (the Carlton Three) and main act (the Carlton Jug Band). Previously, I’d only heard her sing her own music in her own band, Kittlin, which is very Scottish, so I was surprised when this turned out to be another dose of Americana. I’m not complaining – and we got to eat pizza at the same time so it was a great night.

The last bit

I’ve been to two women’s history events this month, but Glasgow’s biggest women’s history event of the year (ha, ha) is still to come. Me! Gulp! On Tuesday 4th December there’s an afternoon of Suffrage talks at the Mitchell – and I’m one of the speakers. This explains the lack of posts recently – any writing time I’ve managed to find has been dedicated to my talk which is still, by the way, five minutes too long. I’m working on it – wish me luck!

Maybe after Tuesday I’ll get back to regular blogging, and finish off my Hebridean Hop. December should be a quiet month – shouldn’t it?