Important reminder: All dogs must be on leads, and remember to keep clear of all livestock, especially sheep and sheep with lambs
We parked near the Crossroads and, as we approached the road to Achnacroish, two sea eagles were circling above. We see them more and more. From 1975 onwards, young ones from Norway were reintroduced to the island of Rum. They eventually flew over to Mull, and now more than 18 breeding pairs nest on that island. None nest on Lismore as yet.
We headed down towards the ferry, through Tirlaggan, passing barns on one side and a very white house on the other. Slowly the panorama opened, the sea framed by the hills of Argyll, some still with a little snow. Plenty of pied wagtails were bobbing about, or scuttling, as only they can scuttle at speed.
Beside a house and barn on the left, the Lambulance was parked, ready for lambing. Two horses chomped in the next field. We ran into Kirsty and Shona, two delightful younger Liosach sisters heavily involved in lambing and many other parts of island life. Up on the hill on the left were the remains of the World War II lookout.
Just before the school we met Hazel, busy checking the school’s water supply which is now two boreholes run by Scottish Water. Until recently it was part of the Achnacroish/Newfield water, a wartime supply designed for a few houses and the troops. (Water is the single biggest problem islanders will ever face, and we know precious little about it when we buy or rent our homes.)
This supply was set up in the late summer of 1940, when the Firth of Lorne was filled with ships—from Eilean Dubh (the Black Isle) to the lighthouse; it remained an anchorage for five years.
Donald Black’s book, Sgeul no Dhà às an Lios: A Tale or Two from Lismore, has a chapter entitled ‘Echoes of War in the Firth of Lorne and Lismore’. He describes his schoolboy experience of the ships arriving, the sudden bombing raid (there was just one), followed by the installation of anti-aircraft guns at Achnacroish, Baligrundle 1 and Baligrundle 4; and then watching them build housing for the gunners and establish this water supply at Newfield, still in use today, but now serving a greatly-expanded Achnacroish.
After the school and Lorn View, where council-built houses—now almost all privately owned—were also added to the water supply, we walked down towards the old Achnacroish pier and the newer slip, now in daily use by the MV Loch Striven car ferry from Oban. The original deep-water pier, alas deteriorating fast, was built in 1880 and modernised in the mid-twentieth century; a waiting room, a livestock ramp and a goods shed were added.
I well recall it being used when the building materials for the Heritage Centre were being landed, with some drama, in June 2006. It was a momentous day. The blog … except the Kyles and Western Isles has a detailed and interesting history of Lismore’s piers and the vessels that used them.
The service, as we know it today, started in the mid-1970s, when Lismore got one of the Island Class ferries. The story of the MV Eigg’s dedicated service is told on the Ships of CalMac website. All this is too interesting not to include but too long to retell. This is a walk after all!
We turned into Newfield Terrace, passing four private houses—also originally council houses—and crossed a cattle grid, a ruin on the right and the gushing water supply. The road to Newfield rises to the right, but we crossed the field diagonally, heading for the gate near the sea leading to the raised beach.
Ahead was a fish farm with nine cages. Walking was not difficult, but the ground was spongy, so needed care. The usual marine trash, mainly plastic bottles and polystyrene, lay about, but also a lot of buttercups, which Browning called ‘the little children’s dower’ when he wrote his homesick sonnet from Italy, ‘Home-Thoughts, From Abroad’. According to him buttercups were ‘Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!’
Occasionally I stood on what was obviously buried plastic, depressing in itself. We crossed another easy wall with the help of an erratic, and found a museum exhibit—a harrow—H says. Erratics are common on the island; they are glacier-transported rocks and stones that differ from the local bedrock (limestone). They can be any size, from pebbles to huge boulders weighing thousands of tons. The huger ones are usually granite, as they are slower to become stones.
The fish farm chain we saw in the summer is still lying, a splendid thing it is too. A large boat is busy at the cages. H tells me that it is possibly carrying and dispensing chemicals, and that this farm had a huge number of salmon deaths last year (2020)—around 40 per cent.
We walked across what seemed a perilous ledge above jaggy limestone, but it was perfectly doable, and a bit further on we climbed well clear of a very deep hole leading straight down. More vegetation will disguise this. Care needed.
As we descended to cross a fast-flowing stream and climbed back to the raised beach, crisscrossing paths were too narrow for sheep (and us). This is a popular otter run. At times H had to use his pruning saw to cut back blackthorn, which may make it impassable as the spring and summer arrive. You can pass, but may have to detour as required. We continued to follow the coast around, the going easy. Where the cliff fell away and the limestone was very black, a bit of clambering was necessary, but nature has provided pleasant steps. We saw patches of butterbur.
It wasn’t possible to hack a path through the blackthorn to the gate into Baligrundle 2, so we continued near the cliff and easily stepped over a fence. In the summer this was only just passable as the vegetation was high. In March it is passable with care (and a pruning saw).
The coastal path of Baligrundle 2 is 555 metres, said a sign on the cliff. Beyond the fish farm, the MV Loch Striven, which replaced the MV Eigg in 2013, was heading for Achnacroish. The going was easy, though often damp. A pipe-like exhibit in the outdoor museum was of minimal interest, unlike the enormous boulders (not erratics), a large cave, and the wild garlic.
We crossed into Baligrundle 3 through an attractive small gate. It was well grazed with high cliffs. A wall with a convenient gap had a wet approach, and nearby a large band of quartz emerged from the limestone. At the bottom of a cliff was an opening known as Granny Black’s hen house. It was roomy inside. The cliff was blackened in places, which it hadn’t been in the summer. A noisy flock of Canada geese keened on the water; it was unusual to see a flock in the busy breeding season.
The group of islands, familiarly known as the Creags, were on our left as we passed through a double gate into Baligrundle 4, the gated road on our right leading up to Baligrundle 4 croft. There were a few sheep, the first we had seen, before the dumper truck which has been here for some years and is a star exhibit in the museum. The gate ahead was buried in blackthorn, but we easily stepped over the fence nearer the sea. Ahead was a gate in the high lovely wall into Kilcheran where the cliffs were dramatic. A peacock butterfly appeared, and the sheep paths made the going easy.
Ahead were houses and a limekiln, but we turned right beside the mill race. Next to the gate to the main road, a ruin may have been a house or a store for the lime kiln. Here we turned right again, heading north past the remains of an old meal mill on the left and walking beside its full burn. On the other side of the burn was a fine-looking wall, and a lovely erratic was lodged on the bank. Soon we were beside Loch Kilcheran, looking through the rushes towards Craignich no 9, our croft.
After two modern cottages on the right, we met the Willis family working on their new shed. Always great to have a lockdown catch-up over a wall. Two pretty, much older cottages were across the road. We could see our bullocks as we walked between hazel trees on both sides of the main road. As we climbed the last steepish hill, the loch was flashing silver in the late afternoon sun.
After what was Baligrundle school, now a private house, and the UP Church and Manse, also a private house, we are back at the road to Achinduin and Tirlaggan West.