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 walk to the lighthouse along the limestone ridge is said to be one of the finest in Scotland. In strong March sunshine with great visibility, it certainly was. We have done it several times and more than one way.
We started at John Carmichael’s shed in Kilcheran, stopping to admire his cattle. John farms Kilcheran and Fiart. We then took the first turning at the head of Loch Fiart which eventually joins the road to the abandoned village of Achanard.
In the 1780s, there were at least eight families, over 50 people, living in Achanard; many of these were evicted in the first clearance. As conditions worsened, some moved to other parts of the island, while further clearances meant numbers dwindled so that, by 1861, the township was deserted. Not much more than 200 years ago this village would have been full of hard-working men, women and children producing oats for food and livestock feed, bere barley for whisky distilling, as well as grain to pay the rent. The story of Achanard is told fully on the Comann Eachdraidh website.
We continued climbing until we were on the ridge with the Bàrr Mòr to the north, Mull to the south, Morvern to the west and Benderloch to the east. Though known as a ridge walk, there is more than one limestone ridge Druim Mòr, Garbh Dhruim, and Druim nan Damh, the last being a deer ridge, although deer in Lismore are a relatively recent phenomenon, having initially swum from the mainland on visits until, in the last decade, they have decided to stay (like the Canada geese, and me, they like it.) Between the ridges, there is a pleasing amount of up- and down-walking.
The wall between Kilcheran and Fiart is beautiful and the only one to negotiate. We found a place where the stones had fallen and were able to cross doing no further damage. (I am reliably informed that this has since been repaired.) Those who owned and cleared the land probably had them built to contain the newly grazing Cheviot sheep, but they were built by Liosaich, whose skill at dyking is well known. This one runs down a considerable hill. It is important to take great care with walls and where possible to look for a gate. Not possible here.
Looking west, Bernera looked like a creature with a long snout resting on the calm, deep blue sea. The raised beach below is another great place to walk.
From the last ridge, the lighthouse is visible and, although this is a walk to the lighthouse, we will never reach it, as it sits on its own island: Eilean Musdile. It was built by Robert Stevenson in 1833. It’s always exciting to see the light for the first time and to watch it grow as you get nearer. The tide was out and it looked from a distance as though we may be able to cross but no, I was advised by my partner, who has been on it several times with the Northern Lighthouse Board, that the seaweed was possibly floating, and it would have been very slippery. And the tides are fast-running.
Beyond Eilean Musdile is Lady’s Rock, a square pyramid of white painted solid stone, where one of the chiefs of Clan Maclean, clearly an unpleasant one, is said to have stranded his wife, the daughter of the Earl of Argyll, leaving her to drown, as the rock is submerged at high tide. The story as told on Lismore is that she was rescued by the Campbells, who had their revenge. Of course.
Once down on the raised beach, we turned north to cross fields and rejoin the road back. It’s wet underfoot here and stout footwear is always advised. The raised beach cliff at this point was prominent and beautiful, and the remains of a dwelling were tucked into it.
We join the road used by cars, bikes and walkers near the Dalnarrow cottages where the Carmichael family used to stay during lambing but these days with better transport, John visits. Before the cottages, we see several abandoned farm implements, a common sight on the island, which is also an agricultural outdoor museum.
The road is possibly the easiest route back, but we often return on the eastern raised beach, it being full of interest and described in anther walk. This time it was the road, which is also interesting and—during lockdown—deserted, not that it’s ever busy.
Before we cross back into Kilcheran, we pass an extruded dyke visible on the right-hand cliff, and all the way up the hill opposite. The gate out of Fiart has gone, although its last wooden remains are lying still. There is also what could be a quarry through the gate, and surely Lismore always had and has need of them. Converting the limestone to roads, walls, or houses.
I have seldom seen Loch Fiart so calm and deep blue. The land around is so sheep-grazed and not framed by dwellings or trees, as other lochs are. This southern part of Lismore was never resettled after the clearances. It is quite different even from more northerly Kilcheran, and certainly Baligrundle, and Craignich. The look and the feel of the place are so different.
Just before the last gate, men had been working sheep in one of the new mobile fanks units opposite the caravan which is a bit more dilapidated at every visit. The turnoff to Millar’s Port and the river that fed the Mill are soon on our right and so is John’s shed.