Baleveolan—Sailean

Baleveolan—Sailean

6 March 2021

Important reminder: All dogs must be on leads, and remember to keep clear of all livestock, especially sheep and sheep with lambs and … please leave all gates as you find them. Thank you.

NB This walk includes a shorter alternative, returning to the main road before the road to Sailean.

We started between the Heritage Centre and the shop, in a small lane beside Cameron cottage (once mysteriously known as Hoppy’s cottage), which leads into Baleveolan Farm and a gate ahead on the left. We turned sharp right and followed the wall down, through another gate and over a stream before turning left to follow the coast heading south. Across the Firth of Morven, the Glensanda Quarry was clear and the going was easy.

Although this whole area, with its common grazing, was once home to as many as 200 people, traces of only three possible houses remain, surrounded by large fields with stone dykes, presumably built from the remains of the housing. Those remaining dwellings belonged to the Stewarts before they built Hawthorn Cottage, which is next to Bachuil House. When Lily Stewart, who had been a teacher in Lismore school for some years, left the island and subsequently died in 2012, the house reverted to the Livingstone family, despite Lily’s family having built it.

A bit further on, a significant and very picturesque spot, Sloc an Eitheir (hollow of the boat) is thought to be one of only two of Lismore’s many illicit stills still recognisable. The steep path down to the secluded inlet in the firth of Morven has clearly been engineered and was quite navigable and could certainly have been an ideal spot from which to “export” whisky.[1]

We continued south through a red gate, and then a silver one, into Baleveolan croft where we saw rescue Highland cattle and an extensive area of tree planting.

After the last gate/barrier we were on the Sailean road. Here, if you want a shorter walk, you can turn left and head back, eventually joining the main road past the shop to the Heritage Centre.

We carried on down the road to Sailean, passing through a red gate and feasting on the lovely vistas as we headed south and west. On the right was one of the most photographed cottages on the island and nearby is the port and the limekilns which made Sailean so important in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is still a very special place, and today the port is used by the Black family of Baligrundle who deal in shellfish. Their boat was in the bay.

There are information boards pinpointing the various buildings: the manager’s office, workers’ cottages, and a shop and a cottage on the pier. Many island kilns were probably operating by the mid-19th century, when lime burning was a major industry offering welcome employment. While some were still going up to World War I, Sailean continued into the 1930s, when the industry became undermined by cheap imports by rail.

Quarrying limestone was arduous and dangerous, either hewing by hand or drilling for explosives. The museum has a set of quarrying tools from Sailean donated by James MacCormick, late of Killandrist.

We passed through a field normally used for the Lismore summer sports—on hold since lockdown—and enter a gate to The Sailean Project, an ambitious endeavour of Roger and Gilly Dixon-Spain, who are supplying the island with a variety of great food.

The route takes us past The Sailean Bothy (a holiday rental), a lime kiln, grazing Highland cattle and wonderful cliffs. It bypasses the house and leads to the Achinduin road where we turned left to get back to the main road.

On the corner, before we turned into the main road, is what was once the United Free Church and manse, which became the home and artists’ studio of the Odling family in 1972. In the 20th century, the Baligrundle church community, once quite viable, dwindled to just four families, including the Daisybank McCormicks and Achnacroish Blacks (the family of Donald Black, one of the founders of the Comann Eachdraidh). When the congregation lost its full-time minister a lay preacher ran summer services only. When these ended in 1970, the church and manse were sold.

There is no such thing as a dull walk on Lismore, whatever the weather. As Donald Black famously said: ‘Lismore is an island where each ruin, each knoll carries some tale, some secret tradition, unique to that spot’.


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[1] Walkover to Baleveolan, accessed 31-Mar-21 https://www.lismoregaelicheritagecentre.org/walkover-to-baleovolan/


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