Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Shiant Isles

The Shiants is that funny group of islands just southeast of Lewis, 8 miles south of Lemreway, 17 east of Harris and 12 miles north of Skye. The owner of the archipelago, Adam Nicholson, has written an excellent book on the isles, and also keeps a very nice website - I have little to add to either of them. It is just one of those places, not unlike St Kilda (still awaiting my footfall) where each island hopper really should have been.

My visit was part of the Islands Book Trust program last June. After Adam Nicholson's talk, which I missed because of the unsurpassed bustimetable for South Lochs, four boats were going to ferry the 110 people (give or take a few) from Lemreway to the Shiants. This started at 11.30 a.m.. Unfortunately, two boats could not be there, due to mechanical problems. So we were left with a 12 man RIB and the Eishken estate boat. Needless to say, it took a while for everybody to be ferried across. A return trip took about 40 minutes. By the time my turn came along, it was 4pm, rain had started and the fog had come down. On the way across, the fog was as dense as peasoup. Something tells me, judging by some pretty large bowwaves that rippled the otherwise glassy sea that we were crossing the path of the QM2, which was heading south as well. Half an hour after leaving Lemreway, the strange shapes of the Shiants loomed up out of the mist. Our group of 11 were put ashore on the narrow isthmus between Eilean Tighe and Eilean Garbh. You can't miss Eilean Garbh: it rises a stupendous 500 feet out of the sea, at an angle of 45 degrees. Earlier arrivals had actually climbed to the summit of the island. I had to contend with scrambling off the little beach onto Eilean Tighe, and making my way to the wee cottage. This was doubling as a hostel for a party of Czech archeologists, commissioned to carry out a dig on the island. The cottage is notorious for its rats, and for having the worst expiry-dates in the Western Isles. Coffee with a best before date of 2001? Hmpf. I made my way to the extreme south of Eilean Tighe, through the fog. Slight problem: the island is surrounded by cliffs, which plummet 250 to 400 feet straight down into the sea, and I was a little disconcerted to find myself at the top of them. On return from the far south, the fog was lifting and the views cleared. The Galtenach, a string of rocky islets to the west of Eilean Garbh, loomed up under the blanket of cloud. When I got back to the cottage, the outlines of the lochs in the Eishken area were visible under the cloud, as was Scalpay (off Harris). It was such a shame that I only had about 2 hours there. But, I still managed to shoot this little collection of pics. For those of you who may never have the chance to go there.

Arrival at the Shiants
Eilean Garbh (to the right)
Eilean Garbh from Eilean Tighe
The Cottage and the Galtenach in the background
Cottage and Eilean Garbh
Cliffs on the southern end of Eilean Tighe
The southern end of Eilean Tighe
A larger view of Eilean Garbh
Eilean Mhuire overlooking the embarkation point
The embarkation, overlooked by Eilean Garbh (left)
Eilean Garbh, from the north


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