A Western Isles adventure begins

Today was the first day of a new adventure in the Western Isles. With our son now at school, we called upon Bob’s mum to take the childcare wheel while Bob and I have a week away exploring even more of the lighthouses and islands in the area. This will be our sixth week-long break over here and I’ve grown very fond on the Western Isles since I first visited in 2014. Many a day has been spent on the water here and there is no place like it.

This morning we set off early and quickly realised how cold it was. The sky had obviously been beautifully clear overnight leading to layers of frost on the trees. Very unexpected for September.

A chilly start

The first lighthouse we spotted today was Loch Eriboll. This little flat-pack lighthouse may not be much to look at, but I think it’s quite special and I’ve enjoyed a couple of great walks out there. As it was still early the light was on and I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s flash was a lovely warm white light rather than the harsh LEDs so often used these days. I am always intrigued by Loch Eriboll lighthouse as it seems like such an unlikely location for a light, bit I suppose if you consider that the loch is the only large safe haven to the west of Scrabster for ships passing along the north coast then it makes a lot of sense. 

Loch Eriboll lighthouse

With a little time to spare before we needed to be in Ullapool for the ferry we swung into Rhue, just to get a view of the lighthouse there, which always looks good against the surrounding landscape.

Rhue lighthouse from land

We were grateful that the weather was calm and dry today as it meant our crossing on the ferry was much more enjoyable. We’d chosen to sit outside to avoid the extra risk that comes with being around people indoors these days. It was lovely to pass Rhue lighthouse again and then Cailleach Head lighthouse too and remember our walk out to that one last year in glorious weather. I’d been reliably informed that the Northern Lighthouse Board’s technicians had been out at the lighthouse just yesterday to fix a fence that had been damaged by livestock. What a varied job they must have!

Rhue lighthouse from the sea

After catching a glimpse of Tiumpan Head as we approached the Western Isles we were greeted, as always, by the small but perfectly formed Arnish Point lighthouse. It always reminds me that I am arriving at a place which I have so many wonderful memories of. Lots of laughs, friendships made and masses of fresh air.

Arnish Point lighthouse

As soon as we arrived we checked into our self-catering cottage. By this time I had already started to wonder whether or not it would be possible to see Tiumpan Head lighthouse flashing from the house and it didn’t take me long to discover that I had a problem with seeing it, if indeed I could, from the upstairs windows due to them being so high. Ever the resourceful one, Bob grabbed a chair for me to stand on and I discovered that, yes, peering out to the left you could make out the lighthouse tower in the distance. That was an added bonus I’d not expected, as were the freshly-baked scones the owner’s wife had made for us and the range of local goodies in the fridge too!

After Bob had popped up a hill (spotting the Flannans Islands in the distance from the top) we headed north in time to see the sun going down at Butt of Lewis. I’ve been to the Butt of Lewis a number of times, probably every time I’ve been to the Western Isles, but it’s always been a bit windy, wild and sometimes wet so we’ve never spent very long there. On previous trips the good weather days have been reserved for boat trips to exciting offshore islands and lighthouses. So in today’s calm conditions it was lovely to wander around a bit more and enjoy spending the extra time there. The parking area next to the lighthouse has clearly had some work done to it recently with new kerbs and some picnic benches. The setting sun always casts such wonderful colours over everything and it was no exception here. As with all lighthouses it is always best shown in pictures so here are a few.

Butt of Lewis lighthouse

The latest addition to the family, Joe the Drone, has also made the effort to join us and with there being barely any wind it wasn’t long before he was up and away capturing some fantastic images. I should thank Bob for his very important role in getting them. Here are a few of Joe’s pictures.

It was beginning to get cold as the sun was making its final descent below the horizon so I hopped into the car and waited for the light to come on. Sometimes the sun seems to set so quickly, but it all took a little longer at Butt of Lewis. I was a little disappointed to find that it’s just the back-up lights in operation at the moment as they don’t give the same effect, but it was still good to see it working.

The back-up light in action at Butt of Lewis

As we drove along the road away from the Butt of Lewis I kept my eyes on the horizon to the north east as we had been able to see the hills around Cape Wrath on the way out to the lighthouse. I thought I caught a glimpse of what could have been Cape Wrath lighthouse flashing. I mentioned it to Bob and he pulled over and confirmed that there definitely was a flashing light over that way. That was good to see.

On the way back to the cottage this evening I spotted Tiumpan Head flashing with it’s modern bright white on/off light and I wondered if I would be able to see it from the window at the cottage after all. I am delighted to confirm that I can. 🙂

West Coast Adventure: day five

The final day of our West Coast Adventure with North Coast Seatours arrived on Monday. If we hadn’t have had such a fun-packed day lined up then it may have felt a little sad. There was no time to be sad though as some north west lighthouses awaited.

While the majority of our trip had taken us further and further north, our first lighthouse stop after setting off from Gairloch was the island of Eilean Trodday off of the northern tip of Skye. This was perhaps a bit of a detour, but an important one as it was on the “to do” list for a number of members of the group. Again we were greeted with sunshine and calm seas –  we really were so lucky with the weather. Briefly pausing to look at a sea stack off of the coast of Eilean Trodday we then made our way around the coast looking for a section that would not involve a climb up sheer cliffs. I’d not expected the cliffs to be so high on the island. Luckily there was a more accessible landing area and we all made it safely onto the island. Once again we were faced with the joys of vegetation and not knowing where to put your feet. Being so slow with my short legs, I was in a fortunate position to take pictures of the two group members who fell over, which amused me no end. Reaching the lighthouse was tough going at times, but we got there even though I complained a couple of times, asking “why does everyone else seem to find it so easy?”, referring to the difficult terrain. The Northern Lighthouse Board have certainly stocked up at Eilean Trodday. There are solar panels galore (14 to be precise) and even separate white cabinets outside the tower as there is no room for them inside. Maybe it’s an island they don’t want to have to visit too often! The views from the lighthouse, which I should say is a standard size flat-pack, are fantastic. It was a clear day and we could see the Western Isles and Shiant Islands to the north west. A lovely spot and the return journey wasn’t quite so bad with Bob leading me around the most difficult bits.

Eilean Trodday
Eilean Trodday lighthouse

Onwards we went, this time to the north east, passing Rubha Reidh lighthouse. I’d not been to Rubha Reidh since my original tour and I know that there are now some access issues, which makes it a bit more challenging. It’s always fascinating to see these lights from the sea. Straightforward access to almost all of the mainland lighthouses means that, unless you are on a ferry heading somewhere and happen to pass the lighthouse, you don’t really get to see them from that perspective. Rubha Reidh is a fairly low-lying lighthouse with no high cliffs. It looks beautiful though, even if the scenery lacks the drama of some west coast locations.

Rubha Reidh
Rubha Reidh lighthouse

You may have noticed that I mentioned in the last paragraph that almost all of the lighthouses on mainland UK are straightforward to reach. Well, this can certainly not be said for the next two lights on the trip. I’d been desperate to get to the very remote village of Scoraig for some time. This was, of course, mainly due to its lighthouses, but also because there is something very intriguing about a village that has no mains electricity and no connections to the rest of the country’s road network. The only ways of getting to Scoraig (unless you have a boat in the area like we did) is by walking along a 5-mile path or by trying to organise hopping on a local boat across Little Loch Broom from Badluachrach. There is a great quote from a local man Hugh Piggott on the We The Uncivilised website: ‘Scoraig is not an “intentional community” but a collection of individuals who feel connected by our common location with its peculiarities.’ When you visit the village it is clear that it is not a standard community. The houses aren’t all huddled together in one area, they stretch across quite a large area. There are bikes near the entrance to a lot of the properties and you can see the appeal of getting about on wheels rather than on foot.

From the jetty we set off towards the school to see the old lighthouse that formerly sat at the end of the Scoraig peninsula at Cailleach Head. In the same way that the community in Glenelg rescued the old Sandaig Island lighthouse, the community here campaigned to keep their lighthouse – and it still has its lens too! It’s amazing what they have done with it. It now features in bold black letters ‘The Lighthouse’ above the door and it houses a range of information about what life is like for those who live in Scoraig. The lighthouse is always open for visitors. It’s a very calm location for it and close to the tower is a low, C-shaped stone wall featuring lighthouse drawings from local children and a series of carved messages and quotes. One example read: “On and on the lights will flash and those lost ships will crash on the craggy rocks of Scoraig”. Such a lovely thing to do and with that sort of personal touch it says so much more about the community than most other redundant lighthouses ever could. A really interesting place, and somewhere I would certainly not mind visiting again in the future.

Scoraig2
The old Cailleach Head lighthouse, now in Scoraig village

Time was not on our side with Scoraig as we still had one more lighthouse to see: the flat-pack light that had replaced the tower in the village. This wasn’t going to be the easiest to visit, but I was hopeful that it would be worth it. Initially I thought we would need to head all the way back down through the village and then up again onto the headland. Fortunately, Bob had thought it through and decided that the best approach to take would be to continue gaining more height by heading north east and then cutting across once we were at the highest point on the path or before we started going too far to the east. This worked well and, due to the lack of rain in the area in recent weeks, the ground was very dry, meaning there was little in the way of tough vegetation. The views as we gained height really opened up and were pretty spectacular, especially towards the south east with the hill straight ahead, Loch Broom to the left and Little Loch Broom to the right. Blue skies always help with that sort of view too. It wasn’t a quick walk by any stretch of the imagination and in order to save time we had arranged for the skipper, Derek, to pick us up from the rocks to the east of the lighthouse two hours after we arrived at the jetty. Bob, John and I made fairly good time on our walk to the end of the headland, meeting up with a couple of the other group members on the way to the lighthouse. The headland felt like it went on forever until eventually the lighthouse appeared. I was delighted when the other four formed an arch made up of three walking poles and one rucksack for me to walk through. The reason for this was that Cailleach Head marked my final lighthouse in the Northern Scotland region. It was a fantastic place to celebrate. A really lovely, isolated place alongside friends, what could be better? With only 20 minutes to spare before the boat was due to pick us up we followed a clearer path down to the rocks. There was a little more swell by this point, but we all made it into the tender and then back to the boat safely.

Cailleach Head
The modern lighthouse at Cailleach Head

Basking in the wonderful feeling that comes with visiting a unique place we had one more point of interest before we arrived at Kylesku, our final destination. Passing Stoer Head was wonderful. While Rubha Reidh from the sea lacks drama, Stoer Head certainly doesn’t. Having visited it by land and remembering the uphill section that takes you the last little distance to the lighthouse, I’d never considered what the shape of the coastline would be there. It is only when you see it from the north that you realise the lighthouse sits on a raised section of rock that is surrounded by relatively lower land. It’s a stunning angle on the lighthouse and I’m so glad I’ve been able to see it from the sea in order to appreciate it fully. Once beyond the lighthouse the land rises up again as you head further north where The Old Man of Stoer is on display. The Old Man is impressive, there is no denying that. While some members of the group were talking about climbing it sometime – and one already has – I was more than happy to just enjoy the view, safe in the knowledge that I will never even attempt to do such a thing.

Stoer Head
Stoer Head lighthouse

As we arrived in Kylesku I expected to feel sad, but instead I was elated. We’d had the most wonderful week. With the exception of the Cairns of Coll everything had gone perfectly. The group had really bonded, everyone felt that they had achieved something and I felt so lucky to have been on the trip. We made a lot of memories over those five days (as well as Rathlin for four of us) and I was certain that everyone would leave Kylesku the following day feeling like they’d made new friends and been part of a unique experience. I mentioned above that we all felt that we had achieved something. Well, the boat was full of “baggers” or, as the skipper so eloquently put it, “collectors of all things”. Here are some statistics that give an idea of what we achieved. We travelled 349.7Nm taking in 37 lighthouses (for me this was 18 new and 19 revisits), 36 Mervlets (islands on a list devised by our good friend Mervyn), 18 Significant Islands of Britain (SIBs), 16 TuMPs (hills with 30 metres of prominence), 1HuMP (hills with 100 metres of prominence), 3 Ordnance Survey trig points, 1 Ordnance Survey bolt, 55 bird species and 4 marine mammal species. All in all very impressive.

Not wanting the trip to be over, the following we day we stopped off at Rhue for a wander down to Rubha Cadail lighthouse. Yet again it’s a tower in an awe-inspiring location and for one final time the sun was shining down on us. It was a perfect day for reflections and I was glad to see a couple of little pools of water close to the lighthouse to get some nice pictures of these reflections. A really great end to a trip that will never be forgotten.

Rubha Cadail
Rubha Cadail lighthouse

These adventures sure do make you glad to be a lighthouse bagger 🙂