A new mode of transport to Eilean a’Chait

In 2015 – almost exactly 6 years ago, in fact – we took a tour with Calum’s Seal Tours from Plockton for a closer look at Eilean a’Chait Lighthouse. Having done that trip it was one I thought I’d never manage to get a closer look at…

Fast forward to the week just gone when Bob said to me ‘Do you fancy going to Eilean a’Chait and landing?’ to which I obviously responded ‘Of course’. It was a few minutes later that he announced we’d be going by kayak. There have been a few occasions when Bob has made announcements like this and a wave of dread has swept over me. The first time it was skiing (which I didn’t enjoy so much), the second time was going up in a tiny helicopter to fly over Mew Island (which I thought was great fun in the end, Bob thought otherwise, especially when I took control of the steering!), and the last time was a skid control driving course, which was frightening. Nevertheless, each time I did them and accepted that I was being forced out of my comfort zone. This time I knew would be no different and I just had to get on with it.

We arrived in Plockton this morning ready to meet Willie from Sea to Skye and our fellow novice kayakers for an introduction to kayaking course. Bob had hired a double kayak for us and made Willie aware that our key priority was to get out to and landed on Eilean a’Chait.

One of many things I’ve learned from today is that kayaking takes preparation time. You don’t just turn up, jump into the kayak and go so there was plenty of time for me to stand around thinking ‘Can we just get this over with?’ After some really handy advice on how to get into the kayak, paddling techniques, and what to do if you capsize (terrifying!) we were ready to go and off we set.

Trying out the kayak

We spent a while in the harbour at Plockton just having a try before Bob and I were sent off with a couple of the guides to head straight for the lighthouse. It was actually really quite relaxing, apart from the occasions when Bob decided to paddle like there was no tomorrow and any attempt I made to paddle along was lost in the midst of his frantic oar-use.

After a while the lighthouse came into view as we neared the neighbouring island of Eilean-an-Duine, which is where the house for the former keepers’ family is located. The house can still be seen today and at low tide it is possible to wade between the two islands. This time we were aiming straight for the lighthouse though and we found a nice little seaweed pool to stop alongside the rocks and haul ourselves out of the kayak. It was a bit of a scramble to get up to the grass at the top of the island and there is actually very little grass there, but the barnacles on the rocks were great for grip even if they were a little rough on the skin.

Approaching Eilean a’chait Lighthouse

Eilean a’Chait Lighthouse, or Plockton Lighthouse as some call it, is looking a little worse for wear. It’s now privately owned and there is some evidence that work has been done here to renovate it, but maybe that the work has come to a bit of a standstill. I am told that it was open as a holiday let some years ago.

A closer view of the Eilean a’Chait lantern

The lighthouse actually had quite a short-lived period as an active aid to navigation. It was built around 1880, 10 years after the train connection between Dingwall and Stromeferry was introduced. From Stromeferry people could catch a steamer from the pier over to Skye and this light was deemed necessarily for the steamers to navigate the surrounding waters safely. There are varying accounts of when the light was deactivated, with one source citing 1904 and another the 1920s. Either way its discontinuation ties in with the further extension of the railway to Kyle of Lochalsh, which provided a much shorter ferry route to Skye.

Eilean a’Chait Lighthouse

The two of us explored the island for a while as our fellow kayakers glided across the calm sea surrounding it. It’s a really interesting island and was also great to see it from above with some Joe the Drone images, including one which clearly shows the shallow the sandbank between Eilean a’Chait and Eilean-an-Duine.

The sandbank leading from Eilean a’Chait to Eilean-an-Duine is visible here
Another angle from Joe the Drone

After a while I made my way back to the kayak while Bob quickly bagged the island high point. Once we were safely back in the kayak we set off to meet the others for lunch on a beach to the west. It was a good opportunity to have a chat with Willie, the other guides and others in the group. Willie explained that when he’d heard that a lighthouse bagger was coming along he thought I must be mad, but he actually admitted that having talked about lighthouses for a while he could understand the appeal.

Continuing further west it was getting quite choppy on the water and paddling was getting much harder. Turning back we were told to aim for the lighthouse, which was just fine with me. Bob and I returned to shore with Chris the guide while the others continued on for a bit longer. Frankly I was pretty tired by that point and felt the need to stretch my legs. It was an excellent adventure and I was nicely surprised that I felt very safe out in the kayak and that getting into and out of it during the day was actually not as challenging as I’d expected. Kayaking would certainly be something I’d be up for doing again – so well done to Willie and his team (and to Bob of course) for making it such an enjoyable day out.

This picture shows Eilean a’Chait in the foreground with the other islands we kayaked around today beyond

By the time we were back in the car and heading off I was pretty worn out, but there was still work to be done. We’d decided to use the afternoon to catch the turntable ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea and then see if we could touch the little Kylerhea Lighthouse. We were looking forward to a cup of tea in the old Sandaig Islands Lighthouse, now positioned just at the top of the ferry slipway, but sadly the flasks were no longer there and it looks like a tea room has opened nearby instead.

The old Sandaig Islands Lighthouse – with it’s light on!

While we waited for the ferry Joe the Drone took another spin.

The Glenelg turntable ferry slipway and the old Sandaig Islands Lighthouse

Once in Kylerhea we headed for the car park for the bird/nature hide, which is a good (or probably the only) starting point for walking to the lighthouse. Last time we visited part of the path down to the shore had been washed away so we weren’t able to get so close. This time though we followed the little track down to the pebbly beach. It was only an hour after high tide so I couldn’t touch the lighthouse, but it was nice to see it much closer than before anyway.

Kyle Rhea Lighthouse
If I’d been willing to wait another hour I might have been able to touch Kyle Rhea Lighthouse

It was also another outing for Joe too.

Some very relaxed seals were quite happy on a rock near Kyle Rhea Lighthouse
A bird’s eye view of Kyle Rhea Lighthouse
Kyle Rhea Lighthouse seen from the south

It would have been rude not to have given Joe the chance to clap eyes on the beauty that is Ornsay lighthouse when we are staying so close to it, so we made one final stop on the way back.

It’s not possible to photograph Ornsay Lighthouse from a bad angle. I think the shape of the island is like a crocodile!
Ornsay Lighthouse with the wonderful mountainous backdrop

It’s been a thoroughly exhausting day, but also great fun. Don’t tell Bob, but I’m quite glad he organised the trip. 🙂

West Coast Adventure: day three

I have got a little behind with these posts due to having too much fun on the West Coast Adventure. On Saturday, day three of the adventure, we had another lighthouse and island-filled time. Setting off from Kilchoan it was only a short journey to our first stop, Ardmore Point on the north coast of Mull. The sun was already shining bright and the sea was fairly calm, which made landing on the rocks below the lighthouse straightforward. The lighthouse sits a little way up from the sea so we needed to find an appropriate route up, which was a bit of a struggle for me – although Bob was leading the way so I really just needed to follow him. John joined us too and it was only after we’d spent a while clambering up onto the rough grass that we spotted the skipper hopping across the rocks and taking what looked like a much more direct route. I didn’t enjoy the walk to the lighthouse, but as usual the lighthouse managed to cheer me up. Although the tower itself is a standard flat-pack (with multitudes of solar panels), it differs from most others in that it is accompanied by an extra little building.

Ardmore Point
Ardmore Point lighthouse

Returning to the ‘mothership’ we set off again. We’d planned to head out to the Cairns of Coll, but a storm was forecast for the afternoon so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile. As it turned out the storm never reached us (or passed over the night before), so we decided to attempt it. Waving to Ardnamurchan on the way, we began the journey out to the north end of Coll. On our trip last year, we had been to the Cairns of Coll, but had not been able to land on the lighthouse island, Suil Ghorm, from the RIB we had been on due to the shallowness of the water. As we arrived at the island group it became fairly clear that we would be unsuccessful again. A couple of members of the group attempted a landing on a neighbouring island, which didn’t go particularly well so the decision was taken to abandon any attempt to land. Skipper Derek from North Coast Seatours did sail as far around the lighthouse as he was able to though so we could get some good pictures. It was nice to see it again even if it wasn’t as closely as we’d hoped.

Cairns of Coll
Cairns of Coll lighthouse

The Small Isles were our next destination. I was looking forward to this as it included a stop at Eilean Chathastail, home to Eigg lighthouse. I’d been here with Bob and a group of island baggers back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It’s the type of lighthouse I am very fond of and the opportunity to revisit was one I jumped at the chance of. It was also one that John had been wanting to visit too as he’d previously only seen it from the sea. With the storm nowhere to be seen and  the sea calm, there was no problem at all with landing on the north west of the island. This was a little different to last time when we landed on the east coast of the island, closer to the lighthouse. This did mean we’d need to walk a bit further and I was glad that Bob had offered the use of his GPS device as it kept us on track for getting to the lighthouse. As it is set down a little from the highest ground on the island it is difficult to see from the north of the island until you are almost at it. The walk wasn’t too bad and we were rewarded with some fantastic views when we got to the lighthouse. We could see across to the pencil-looking Ardnamurchan lighthouse, this time to the south west, standing tall. I was reminded again of how calm the place feels and I enjoyed the visit as much, if not more, than the first one.

Eigg.JPG
Eigg lighthouse

After lunch at the cafe on Eigg, we continued our journey north. We were soon approaching Skye and we sailed close to the flat-pack lighthouse at the Point of Sleat. It’s quite a walk to the lighthouse, but an interesting one as explained in my post from 2016. Certainly much easier to visit/see from the sea!

Point of Sleat2
Point of Sleat lighthouse

 

I’d been looking forward to our next stop and I felt a little bit like a child in the back of a car as we sailed up the east coast of Skye. I had to stop myself a few times from asking “Are we nearly there yet?” On my original tour I’d seen Ornsay lighthouse from the village of Isleornsay when the tide had been in. On the second visit, Bob and I had walked out to it at low tide, and a last visit a few weeks ago was again just a quick stop looking across the water to the island of Ornsay and it’s tiny neighbour Eilean Sionnach, the island with the lighthouse. I wrote a fair amount about the beauty of the lighthouse in a recent post so I won’t go into too much detail in that respect this time. However, I was intrigued to see whether the lighthouse would lose any of its beauty for other angles. With the mountains as the backdrop from the general viewing area, I was concerned that it was just that view that made it so stunning. I am happy to confirm that there was no need for concern. I’m not sure what it is about the lighthouse, but it is amazing whichever side you see it from. Of course, with conditions being so calm, we had to land on the island for another opportunity to see it close up. While the sky at Ornsay lighthouse always seems to have been blue when I have visited, it was bluer than ever this time with a few clouds for added effect. I could have happily stayed there for hours and if the cottages ever come up for sale, well… I think the picture below says it all really.

Ornsay2
Ornsay lighthouse

I’ve got a bit carried away and not yet mentioned the Ornsay Beacon Lighthouse, which we actually visit in the small tender before landing at the big lighthouse. Although, from a distance, it doesn’t look like there is much to this one, when you see it close up it’s far more substantial. It is a solid round stone tower topped with one level of the flat-pack arrangement. Of particular note though is that, everywhere else, the flat-pack has a square footprint, but this one has rounded edges. It’s a good structure and really nice to get a chance to see it at close range. This is why I enjoy getting closer to this type as it is difficult to appreciate them from a distance when they all look pretty much the same. You also don’t get a true feel for the location unless you are on the island they sit on or very close to it. This one was great to see.

Ornsay Beacon
Ornsay Beacon lighthouse

Once the island baggers had bashed their way to the high points of a number of islands as we moved further north, we arrived at the Sandaig Islands. The Sandaig lighthouse is on Eilean Mor which, unlike most of the other islands within the group, is not accessible from the mainland at low tide. As the group were all looking to achieve different things on these islands, only a few of us were dropped off on Eilean Mor. With Bob joining us a little later, John took on the role of lead navigator, establishing whether attempting to walk along the rocks or across the island was the better route. Opting for the more foliage-filled option it wasn’t too long before John spotted a series of wooden posts sticking out of the ground that seemed to lead in the direction of the lighthouse. The path that these posts followed was quite good in places and a little rougher in others, but we were definitely glad to have found it. As we approached the lighthouse John joked that Bob was likely to just turn up around the corner at any moment and then, as if by magic, he appeared strolling across the rocks. I’ve taken to referring to Bob fondly as ‘Goat Legs’ on these trips due to his ability to make any walk across any terrain like like a stroll in the park. This is another brilliant island and so it was a pleasure to visit the flat-pack structure. I must admit though that it would have been nice to have seen the old lighthouse (now located at Glenelg pier – see my earlier post for more information on that one) in place, but still a great place to visit. Once we’d finished at the lighthouse we followed the posts across the island and to a little sheltered rocky bay. The three of us sat, chatting in the sunshine surrounded by beautiful views, while we waited to be collected.

Sandaig
Sandaig Island lighthouse

That was the end of our lighthouse adventures for the day. Glenelg was where we based ourselves that night. What a wonderful day we all had. While a large percentage of the UK was experiencing the wrath of Storm Hannah, we had avoided it entirely. What a lucky bunch we were 🙂

A cup of tea in Glenelg!

If you were based on the north coast and travelling home from Fort William which way would you go? Probably the A82 and then the A9 I would imagine. We’ve done that route many times and there’s nothing wrong with it at all, it’s quite beautiful in places, although it can get quite busy in the summer months. There may be other slightly more convoluted routes available, but one you’d possibly not choose to take would be via Skye.

Anyone who knows Bob will know that he rarely takes the path of least resistance, and today was a perfect example of that. But it was all fine because the reason for going that way was to pay a visit to the old Sandaig lighthouse, which is now located near the Glenelg-Kylerhea ferry. The lighthouse is really quite easy to access, you can either drive right up to it or take the ferry across from Kylerhea to see it. I had done neither and had just seen it from the other side of the water at Kylerhea a couple of times.

Setting off from Fort William, the first leg of the trip involved getting across to Mallaig for the ferry to Armadale. I booked it on the way there to avoid getting all of the way there to find it was fully booked. The joy of technology! We managed to get on an earlier ferry and in just over half an hour we were on Skye.

I think Skye is a wonderful place, but it is vast. While many might think that it’s just an island it can’t take that long to visit everything, I have found that no matter how many times I’ve been, there is still something left to see ‘next time’. It really is a massive island. Today though, we were just spending a short time on it, but fortunately that short time involved passing by the village of Isleornsay. Anyone who has spent any length of time visiting Scottish lighthouses will know the lighthouse on (and this is where it gets complicated) the islet of Eilean Sionnach, a tidal island off of the island of Ornsay which itself is a tidal island off of Isleornsay. Now, whoever decided to put a lighthouse in that particular location – I’m going for David and/or Thomas Stevenson – must have known that they were about to create what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful views in Scotland. Some might say they wouldn’t have thought of that, but I think they must have done. Or even if they hadn’t they would have stood back at the end and said to each other “Well that was definitely worth the effort”!

Ornsay
Ornsay lighthouse

Continuing back up the main road we spotted the Ornsay East Rock light, which I hope to get a closer view of later this month – a very exciting trip coming up so look out for reports of that in a few weeks’ time!

A while later we arrived at the ferry at Kylerhea. From here it is possible to see the Kylerhea light to the north and the object of my attention today, the old Sandaig light, just across the water. The Glenelg ferry, a turntable ferry, is fascinating to watch, such a clever invention and not one I’d seen in action before. The ferry only started running for the season yesterday so that was lucky!

Glenelg ferry
The turntable Glenelg-Kylerhea ferry

As we approached Glenelg on the ferry I got particularly excited as the lighthouse doors were open. I’d heard that it was possible to go inside and I’d had my fingers crossed that it was still the case, which it certainly is.

Glenelg
The old Sandaig lighthouse, now at Glenelg ferry

Now for the history bit and how the lighthouse came to be in it’s new home. The cast iron tower, designed by David A Stevenson, was constructed on one of the islands off of Sandaig around 5 miles to the south west of Glenelg in 1909. As is often the way, as technology progresses organisations are always looking at ways to reduce costs and replacing these structures was one of the ways the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) did this. The tower was replaced in 2004 and this is where the local community stepped in and said they wanted to keep the lighthouse and move it to is current location. The NLB were very helpful, firstly giving some money towards the project along with a number of other funders, and then supporting the relocation itself. After the light had been dismantled it was taken by the NLB to it’s Oban depot to be renovated before being delivered to Glenelg.

Inside Glenelg
Inside the lighthouse

The lighthouse now contains the details of this process as well as information about the local area, including the turntable ferry. Various items are for sale there too, but of equal importance is the fact that you can get a cup of tea or coffee! It all works on an honesty box system. What a great place and a wonderful community effort.

Above Glenelg
The old Sandaig lighthouse with the turntable ferry in action

It is another picturesque location and the place has a good feel about it. Unfortunately not quite accessible enough to stop by for a cup of tea in passing regularly, but definitely somewhere I’d like to return to. Needless to say, I was very glad of our detour today 🙂