Belnahua Bound

When the chance came along to visit the abandoned island of Belnahua, on the west coast, my immediate response was an unambiguous YES as the exploring nerves in my body all went into overdrive. A friend is writing a book partly based on the island and she was chartering a boat to go over and do some research. Belnahua in Gaelic means “mouth of the cave” and is one of the Slate Islands. Slate was taken from the shores of these islands and slabs of the rock were used to cover buildings and as grave and hearthstones. There is surprisingly little online about the island but you can find out a little more about the islands here: https://slateislands.org.uk/belnahua/.

After speaking to Young Johnston about a possible boat trip, he was in. And Dave decided to come too. So along with Katie, who organised the boat, our merry band of adventurers were looking forward to stepping from 21st Century Mainland life to 19th Century island life.

We left early on Saturday morning and arrived in Ellenabeich, a gorgeous village about 20 miles south of Oban, from where our boat would depart.

From the village you can see the Slate Islands as they stretch south over the Firth of Lorne. We went higher to get a better look. If you look near the top left of the photo below, you can see two islands, one in front of the other. The one at the front, that looks a bit like a submarine, is Belnahua.

Getting our buoancy aids on.

Our boat arriving to take us out to sea.

The trip over only took about 10 minutes but in that short time we saw some stunning views of the surrounding islands as well as some porpoise. Young Johnston was on GoPro duty and took some cracking photos. In my head, the soundtrack to the trip was “The Island” by Skippinish.

Our tropical weather was probably showing us a side of the island that slate workers wouldn’t see in mid-Winter storms. The island still has the remains of some of the quarry workings as well as old machinery and some of the old housing.

Not only were the rocks on the island great for slate, but they were peppered with fools gold.

We’d come prepared to swim so before lunch we got our trunks on and tested out the water. The similarities to the Caribbean continued as the fairly warm water lapped our legs.

The water in the quarries was so clear and a pleasure to swim or even just float in.

After a last walk around some of the old buildings and another swim, this time in the sea, waiting for the boat to come back, we took our last selfie and headed back across the water into 21st century Ellenabeich. We booked into the Aire/Airidh, walked up the hills behind the village and ate fish and chips and ice cream, enjoying the sunset and talking about the day we had just enjoyed.

If you’ve never visited the island of Belnahua, or any of the Slate Islands, I’d absolutely suggest you should. Whether for the walking, history, swimming or to see a different part of the country, this won’t disappoint.

Seals of St Abbs

Just an ordinary, cold, sunny day with Neil on the Berwickshire Coastal Path from Dowlaw to St Abbs. With added seals! We got so close to them, the wee white ones are just pups, only a couple of weeks old.

Apparently they come here every winter for a couple of months of breeding. We saw them in three different bays along St Abbs Head. An absolute treat.

The views were pretty amazing, on a par with my last trip here a few months back.  There are a couple of old stone/bronze/iron forts where the rings of trenches and barriers are really clear.

The cliffs are truly spectacular.

Pettico Wick was lovely wee stone beach and harbour, where the seals set up camp to breed and the national trust ranger, a guy called Kieran, had set up camp to observe.  And we spent a lovely 10 minutes chatting about the seals behaviour and watching them through binoculars.

The rock formations in the background gave us a lot of pause for thought too.  Nature at its best in one small bay.

More seals were to be found in each of the next three bays.

Two sections of this coastal path completed, two to go at some point.

Carron Bothy

Last weekend, Neil, Gordon, James and I were supposed to be heading to Sandwood Bay.  But the weeks worth of torrential rain had put that plan on (pretty wet) ice.  We scoured the weather forecast for even a glimpse of sun, anywhere that the chance of rain was low-ish.  We settled for a trip to Argyll and Carron Bothy.

  

We arrived at the Auchindrain forest road end in sunshine and warmth, totally unexpected as other parts of the country were under yellow weather alerts. The forest road was great for walking, allowing us to travel fast, even with our heavy packs laden with waterproofs for the expected deluge.  The final 2km of path were wet underfoot.  And when I say wet, I mean tsunami wet, turned to small rivers by the weeks rain.

  

The bothy was clean and well maintained, despite James’ best efforts to blow it up with his exploding Jetboil.   We dropped our overnight gear, had lunch, found some deadwood for a fire and headed into the hills.  The views were superb and the breeze took away some of the heat from the sun.  The main phrase of the afternoon was “I can’t believe it’s not raining”.

  

The peaty brown burns did a great job of soothing the sore feet before teatime.

  

A peaceful nights sleep followed a peaceful evening of games and chat.  And the next day we headed back the way we came to the car, in the rain this time, but by then, it didn’t matter.

And the film…

Coasting Along

With Brexit and Ecksit dominating the headlines, Neil, Dave, Tony and I headed to St. Andrews for some escapism and a weekend adventure. On the Saturday Neil and I decided to walk some of the Fife Coastal Trail from Lower Largo to Anstruther. That was the escapism from Barnier and May. The adventure came in the form of the Elie Chain Walk, a tide level section that involves much rock hopping and dangling from metal chains over fear inducing heights and white, bubbly seas.

Dumbarnie Links was blowy but looked lovely in the warmth of the morning sun. Old WW2 barriers were dotted around the sand like chocolate squares. We walked past Ruddon’s Point and Shell Bay and reached Kincraig Hill, where the adventure really got going.

Caves and strange rock formations were admired and explored as the sea cliffs rose up above us. From here, we worked our way around the rocky peninsula using the chains and good balance.

It took us about 45 minutes to get from the start to the end of the chain walk where we reached the next beach.

As well as the basalt columns we saw buzzards, kestrels and even a peregrine falcon.

When we finally came out onto the beach, we found a top spot and lunched with sushi and rolls and fruit pastilles. Sitting, we quickly cooled after our scrambling so got moving again and passed St. Monan’s and Pittenweem and some old buildings on the way.

By this point we were getting close to our destination at Anstruther. Our prize was going to be some Anstruther chips so onward we strode past the rising tide.

The chips we ate while sat at the harbour were the tastiest I’ve ever had. Crunchy and dipped in brown sauce. Although we were so tired that I could have been eating a raw tattie and considered it a delicacy.

It is worth pointing out that if Theresa May scrambled her way over the Elie Chain Walk in the same way she has scrambled through the Brexit process, she would have gotten pretty wet. Anyway…

I’m keen on further adventures in Fife and its coastal trail. But a week away to Boat of Garten is coming up fast. Back to the mountains.

Our 7 Days of the West Highland Way – April 2014

This is the story of our West Highland Way trip. We walked the Way from Milngavie to Fort William in 7 days (Thank god we didn’t try for 5…). Those 7 days were some of the best days I’ve ever experienced with a mix of fun, adventure, banter, wildlife, gorgeous views and a great feeling of achievement. I’m genuinely sad it’s over (although my legs and I have been forced to disagree on this point). Thanks to all those who were involved, whether walker, supporter or feral animal.

1 long distance trail
10 mountain enthusiasts
96 miles walked
117 compeed used
141 litres of water consumed
1000’s of Scottish mountain views
Infinite memories…

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