19 August 2020

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.

The island of Bernera lies off the south west of Lismore but is accessible at the low tide for a few hours.

We parked at Achinduin and walked through a gate into fields and down to the shore (about a mile), passing under the elevated Achinduin Castle and over a seaweed strewn wetland. Two hours before low water of a spring tide we were able to cross, negotiating a slippery carpet of seaweed and stones (knowing tides essential). We planned to walk the island’s raised beach so started up the east (Lismore) side. It was easy at first, but at times we were buried in brambles and nettles, and clung to anything available.

The island is grazed, although the sheep were off at this time, but their neat paths are invaluable for keeping places accessible. Cattle occasionally wander over when the tide is low but soon return.

The first beach has very flat stones and someone, a yachtee camper perhaps, has strung up a nylon washing line. Seems very domestic. And a colonising act. This is a sacred island or was to the early Christians. Perhaps they do not know of St Columba’s foretellings.

About two-thirds of the way along we were forced up to the higher ground, hoping to find the remains of the chapel where, in the sixth century, St Columba preached, and some say Moluag as well. We knew that the original legendary yew tree, under which up to a thousand came to hear them, was there, but a shadow of its former self. It was cut down, the story goes, by Campbell of Lochnell to provide a staircase for Lochnell Castle. He was punished and so were others involved, innocent Liosaich I presume, by repeated tragedies, yet the staircase survived more than one fire in his castle. It was thought the yew wood was used for joinery, maybe bow making. More importantly, Columba had made it sacred, foretelling tragedies befalling any who destroyed it. Columba was on Iona and his forays into Moluag’s bishopric were said to stop at Bernera. Others say he visited Moluag via Port-na-Mor-laoch from Kingairloch. His foretellings certainly travelled. Bernera is said to be the only place where yew trees occur in Lismore. And there are at least still two on Bernera, but we managed to miss both, but will return and seek them out!

The west raised beach quickly became too steep, but we saw its beauty from the top, and walked back along the cliff.

An important book

We left Bernera heading to Achinduin Castle built by the Clan MacDougall in the 13th century. The then clan leader may have been responsible for bringing the Bishopric of Argyll to Lismore, making the island the seat of Christianity long before Iona was on the ecclesiastic map. It is also known as the Bishops’ Palace as it is thought to have been a bishops’ residence at times. Dr Iain MacDonald of Glasgow University gave a very interesting talk about the importance the Medieval Church in Lismore at the heritage centre in 2013. His book  “Clerics and Clansmen” traces the later medieval bishops of Argyll and the importance of  Lismore as the centre of Christianity between the 12th and the 16th centuries.

Near the castle a Polish man, Jozef Kijowski, is memorialised. The lovely cairn is the work of Jim MacCormick of Baligarve, an excellent example of the stoneworking skills still carried on in Lismore. Josef was a frequent visitor and a lover of Lismore and his entitlement to this fine position comes from his having bought the castle and 38 acres of the surrounding land from the MacColl family and, when he died, returning it to the people of Lismore, entrusting its guardianship to the Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr.

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