Point Ferry—Port Ramsay Loop

Point Ferry—Port Ramsay Loop

28 June 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.

Start at the Point to Port Appin ferry and, opposite the phone box, follow a sheep path beside Point House. In the season you can hire bikes at the ferry which you may like to combine with other walks, although not suitable for this one. And, while the phone box has no phone, it may be selling fresh baking from the Dutch Bakery on Lismore, and a book from Camelart: A Lismore Quest – A fun way to explore Lismore.

Because it starts at the ferry, this route can be busy. Be aware it is grazed by sheep, lambs and cattle, and during lambing great care is needed not to disturb the sheep and lambs who have nowhere to go on what is often a narrow shelf. In fact, it is not a recommended walk during lambing. You may also see Canada geese grazing or travelling noisily to and from various islands.

The walk is almost entirely on a raised beach; Lismore is surrounded by these former beaches which geological changes have lifted to varying degrees. The terrain is often uneven so care is needed, and it can be wet in places.

As you round the top of the island, Ben Nevis is visible (in good conditions) and the high cliffs are sculptural when not covered in vegetation. There are boulders flung about, as well as one significant but very old rock fall. At the beginning of the west side a stile is cosmetic, as the fence is down. The route now heads on the west towards Port Ramsay. The cliffs are always interesting. Look out for a deep cave which may be difficult to spot in deep vegetation and may also be flooded. Mysteriously, someone has built a wall of stones outside it.

Further on, a second stile is redundant as the fence is down. The grazing widens out round a shingle beach, Port Aineainn, and ahead a dramatic cliff has a cave-like indent where sheep shelter, as it is not damp. Then it’s a clamber up and under a barbed wire fence in a fallen down wall which leads to another stretch of wide grazing with an island, Eilean Droineach, opposite and views down to Laggan.

Ahead is the hole in the rock, a very typical limestone feature, which invites you to walk through onto another stretch of grazing.

When you reach the actual beach you can climb down and walk towards the Park limekilns and the road to Park. Archie MacGillivray’s cattle were happily grazing on the kilns and were only vaguely interested. It’s always a good idea to give them a wide berth, especially as there are calves and a bull. Lime burning was carried out at Park until the outbreak of the First World War. Of the two kilns, the northern one is older and thought to be of poorer quality.

Take the gate into Port Ramsay and pass the new house, which was earlier a pottery, and continue along in front of the terrace of cottages.

The 18th-century philanthropist John Knox wrote:

At the north-east end of Lismore, there is a small island, which defends a bay, sufficiently extensive for all the purposes of fisheries and coasting business. The benefits of a port and market, both to the natives of this island, and the shores upon the Linnhe Loch, must appear obvious to any person who has the map or chart before him.

Knox, J (1786) A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebridean Isles in 1786

This is Port Ramsay, the best anchorage on the island, with several islands lying off the mainland, the two largest being Eilean Droineach and Eilean Ramasa (Ramsay Island). Although this is often referred to as a fishing village, and indeed some fished, it was planned as a port to serve the newly-established lime kilns. Before the 19th century there was no settlement, although there were dwellings which can still be seen in front of the ‘new’ houses.

Some time before 1810, the founding families started to move to Port Ramsay where they were required to build houses at their own expense and very much to the specification of the owner, Sir John Campbell of Airds. Each household was allocated two to three acres of arable ground and the right to pasture one cow on the 65 acres of common grazing. Having slated roofs, they would have been superior to most homes on Lismore. However, once built, they were the property of each family for only 30 years. After that they paid rent to the absentee landlord. This Scottish ownership anomaly exists today!

It is not known how Sir John chose the founding families, although he did not bring in many settlers from the mainland. Birth records suggest that there was a community of at least 13 households by 1820. There is more information on this on the Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr website.

Near the top of the north end, I ran into Leah Goudie who was staying at Port Ramsay in the house which belonged to her grandparents, the late and much-missed Rena and Calum MacCorquodale, Calum himself a descendant of a founding family. According to the old parish record, the first child born in the new settlement of Port Ramsay was Cathrine, daughter of Dugald McCorquodale and Cathrine McLean, baptized in 1811.

The second house of the two on the other side of the road is the home of the Oystercroft, run by Mairi and Geoff Hawkes, and where generations of Mairi’s family have lived; her father, the late Johnny MacFadyen, started an oyster farm there over 30 years ago. To help support the local oyster industry and spread the love for oysters, Mairi launched Slàinte Sauces—cocktail-inspired drizzles—which are starting to make the sauce world sit up, and which is an astonishing achievement, especially as 10% of the profit from all Oystercroft merchandise will be going to purchasing native oysters to place around our shores. Wonderful news.

At the end of the cottages turn left past the phone box—the only one that still has a telephone—and join the road to Stronacraoibh where the verges are rich in seasonal wildflowers. On this walk the orchids were prolific. (The road to Laggan goes off to the right and there you can add other Lismore walks if you want something longer.)

Not long after a cattle grid you arrive at a T-junction with the island’s main road; a left turn will take you back to the ferry. (This is another chance to extend your walk, with plenty to choose from.) This is Stronacraoibh, where a section of prepared ground awaits a new-build delayed by COVID-19. A house and steadings stood here until recently and were occupied as late as the middle of the 20th century.

Not far along this main road there’s a cave up to your left, presently overgrown but clearly visible for much of the year. You are back on the raised beach; the cliffs, while sometimes bare, are mainly covered in vegetation, with huge boulders resting below them. One of these, near the turn in the road, was always said to be haunted and you passed at night at your own risk.

A path leads up to the fields at Park and the verges get more wooded as we approach Achuaran House with its gardener’s cottage, now boarded up and reroofed but at one stage in danger of death by fuchsia, despite being a well-built cottage. The ubiquitous fuchsia soon gets out of control. A discarded hedge clipping is soon a tree and another hedge. The west of Scotland and Ireland have offered the perfect place for this hardy Chilean import. Beyond the house and garden is a wood—all enclosed by a wall—which is mainly beech trees. Further on, the trees are often hazel, with self-seeded ash, some of which are succumbing to dieback, as they are all over the island. In season, the woods all along the raised beach are full of garlic and bluebells, and the shore, should you choose to explore it, with thrift.

As you approach a group of four houses the verges become very overgrown, mainly with blackthorn and head-high bracken which reduced grazing has allowed to thrive between here and the ferry. It was almost completely absent when I arrived 30 years ago. The second cottage on the left, Point Cottage, is new, but the previous one, Dollie’s Cottage, was a Lismore landmark. It was an honorary ferry waiting room (long before there was one) where the kettle was always on. It was a sad day when she and the cottage had to go. It belonged to the absentee Fells at Achuaran House, and they failed to put up the money to modernise it—a small sum, as there was a generous grant. Dollie Carmichael and her mother lived there for much of the last century, when theirs was the only house apart from a hut next door which is now Mo Dhachaidh.

The road to the ferry is lined with self-seeded ash trees and is grazed by sheep and lambs.

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