Posted by: christinelaennec | April 27, 2015

A walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on the Isle of Scalpay

This post is for Jill of Land of the Big Sky, who loves lighthouses and has dedicated a lot of her time to the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh.

Eilean Glas lighthouse is on the eastern side of the Isle of Scalpay, which itself is on the east side of the Isle of Harris:

Map showing how Scalpay is situated on the east coast of Harris, and where the lighthouse is.

Map showing how Scalpay is situated on the east coast of Harris, and where the lighthouse is.  Scalpay is about three miles long.  The drive from Tarbert to Scalpay village takes me just over 15 minutes in good weather, as it is quite tricky driving.

Eilean Glas was one of the first four lighthouses to be built in Scotland (Kinnaird Head in Fraserburgh was also one of these).  The name Eilean Glas means Grey Isle.  According to the plaques, the lamp was first lit on October 10th, 1789.  The first lighthouse keeper was Alexander Reid, who stayed for 35 years.  How amazing to think that he began his time in this isolated spot when the French Revolution was in full swing, was there during the Napoleonic wars, and into the extravagant period of the Regency.  I’m sure Eilean Glas lighthouse has saved many lives over the centuries.

The day I walked to the lighthouse, it was sunny with a cold wind, and hailshowers swiftly coming across from the south.  Watching the showers pass reminded me very much of Mairi Hedderwick’s illustrations of the Katie Morag stories.  If you know her work, you will be familiar with the sketches of slanting showers, with rainbows mixed in.  It was one of those days on the islands:

Passing rain/hail showers over the Minch.  Photo taken from near the start of the walk to the lighthouse, Outend, Isle of Scalpay.  12 April 2015.

Passing rain/hail showers over the Minch. Photo taken from near the start of the walk to the lighthouse, Outend, Isle of Scalpay. 12 April 2015.

And to the south, more showers approaching.

And to the south, more showers approaching.

The start of the walk is along the old peat road.  My friend Catriona told me of walking for an hour to get here, working in the peat banks, and walking the hour back home.  Like so many island women, her husband worked away during the summer season, so it was often the women who had to cut, stack and carry the peats home.  It is hard work.  She told me she carried a heavy creel of peats home from here while 8 months pregnant.  I think it wasn’t until the 1980s that people began being less dependent on peat for their heating.

The start of the walk:  the old peat road.

The start of the walk: the old peat road.

I was just enjoying being a tourist.

Continuing along....

Turning to look back, there are showers still coming behind me from the south.

But the showers avoid me!  The lighthouse just visible behind me.

But the showers avoid me! The lighthouse just visible behind me, with the Minch and the Isle of Skye beyond.  I was extremely grateful for my hat.

After about a mile, I could see the long stone dyke (wall) that you have to pass through on your way to the lighthouse.  From the end of the old peat road, a new gravelled path has recently been constructed.  It is very easy to walk on, though I somewhat miss the bouncy path over the peat beds.

The new path and the boundary wall, with the lighthouse beyond.

The new path and the boundary wall, with the lighthouse beyond.

I last did this walk about ten years ago with the family – I remember one of the Dafter’s welly boots split.  Before that I remember Our Son galloping around, and our friend T taking turns carrying a very young Dafter.  The children have grown up, but this place remains largely unchanged!

At one point, I could see the Shiants very clearly:

The Shiants, seen from the walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay.

The Shiants, seen from the walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay.

These islands lie in the Minch off the east coast of Lewis.  They were once inhabited year-round. Adam Nicolson, whose family owns them, has written a very good book about their history called Sea Room.

Once you’re through the boundary wall, the path reverts to its rougher old self, and you pass some very old walled gardens:

Inside the boundary wall, an old walled garden with daffodils.

Inside the boundary wall, an old walled garden with daffodils.  You can see Skye in the background.  The photo is a bit slanted because the wind was so strong I was having trouble keeping my balance.

Very unusual daffodils:  does the peaty soil make them so ruffled?

Very unusual daffodils: does the peaty soil make them so ruffled?

From here you can see the small bay where supplies were landed and winched up to the houses.  Before the lighthouse was automated in 1978, several lighthouse keepers and their families lived here.

Inside the boundary wall, coming to the final stretch.

Coming to the final stretch:  Eilean Glas lighthouse.

To my left, the east coast of Lewis and beautiful rainbows in the passing showers.

Showers and rainbows with the Isle of Lewis behind.

Showers and rainbows with the Isle of Lewis behind.

I walked down past the small bay, and up towards the lighthouse buildings.

"The Bothy" looks as if it was just carved directly from the stone behind it.

“The Bothy” looks as if it was just carved directly from the stone behind it.

Having read the warning notice - that if I am struck by falling masonry, on my head be it, ha ha! - I walk through the gates and into the compound.

Having read the warning notice – that if I am struck by falling masonry, on my head be it, ha ha! – I walk through the gates and into the compound.

Lighthouse keepers' cottages.

Lighthouse keepers’ cottages.

The views were stunning.  To the north, the Shiants were visible but looked far smaller than when seen through the gap further back along the path.

Looking north up the Minch.

Looking north up the Minch.  The Isle of Lewis coastline on the left, and in the distance the Shiants.

With the showers dancing past, I could see all of the Isle of Skye, from the Trotternish peninsula to the cliffs of Dunvegan.  (See my map here.)

The Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye, on the other side of the Minch.

The Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye, on the other side of the Minch.

Amazingly, none of the showers came to where I was on my walk!  I watched the ferry coming across from Uig in Skye, to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

Looking south-east, the ferry coming across from the Isle of Skye to Tarbert.

Looking south-east, the ferry coming across from the Isle of Skye to Tarbert.

Looking south:  I was able to see the outline of Eaval in North Uist, and very faintly, the hills of South Uist as well.

Looking south: I was able to see the outline of Eaval in North Uist, and very faintly, the hills of South Uist as well.  The ferry is continuing on its way to Tarbert.

I was very fortunate to have such great visibility that I could see more than half-way down the chain of islands that is the Outer Hebrides.

I was also very glad the foghorn was not going to be sounding while I was there!  It had become quite amazingly still, with hardly any wind while I was at the lighthouse.  I sat in the sun and knitted.

A spot of knitting.  The red containers are the compressed air tanks to run the foghorn.

It was so unusually calm that I was able to indulge in a spot of knitting!  It was just fantastic to sit there and knit with the showers chasing each other across the Minch. The red containers are the compressed air tanks to run the foghorn.

I was hoping I might see dolphins, or a Minke whale, or even otters or seals, but I just saw the beautiful water.

The sun was wheeling around towards the west, and it was time to head back.  The wind was against me again I was, as always on this trip, hugely grateful for my knitted hat!  I stopped at the little beach in the bay below the lighthouse and found some iridescent limpet shells:

Pretty shells on the little beach below the lighthouse.

Pretty shells on the little beach below the lighthouse.

I came back through the perimeter wall, along the new path, along the old peat road, and just as I got into the car, the heavens opened.  The entire walk is about 5 kilometres or about 3 miles, so not a huge distance.  But I felt as if I’d been very far away, and had had a magical experience.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. You took us on such a beautiful walk, although I am familiar with Scalpay I have never took the walk to see the lighthouse. A wondorous sight.

  2. Thanks for that tour. From here it seems like a very bleak, desolate place and yet attractive in its isolation (both geographical and in time from modern life). I would have liked to walk it with you.

  3. I just love that you shared this!

  4. It truly does look like you had a magical experience. I loved see these photos; so clear and though I could be right there! The walled garden is so beautiful with the daffodils blooming. And, I loved seeing the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers cottages. It’s really a fascinating place you have shown us. I’m looking forward to the next segment of your trip. My best to you, Pat

  5. Thank you, really enjoyed reading this and your lovely pictures. I hope you gave me a wave when looking over to South Uist. xx

  6. Beautiful! What a spot for knitting 🙂

  7. Envy envy envy.

  8. Wow. Fantastic photos and words. Pinched a photo to paint. Kinnaird came into being first 1787. But what a fantastic place here. I will have to re read my books and see if anyone wrote about living there when it was manned. Thankyou so much, Christine.

  9. So glad you got a good day for your walk. My grandfather was a lighthouse keeper so I’m a bit of a ‘lighthouse bragger’ Unfortunately, the day I dragged my husband there was wet and became wetter as we plodded on! My grandparents weren’t at this lighthouse but they were at Kinnaird Head, Arnish and Butt of Lewis.
    Thanks for the update on Sheila from Scalpay Linen. I hope to get a chance to visit her on my next trip to Harris soon.

  10. Such gorgeous photos! Thank you!

  11. Seems very soul satisfying…….. and I like the shoes☺️.

  12. Hotter shoes? I have some that look the same.

    Are you able to tell me if Tina of the Quiet Home has stopped blogging please? Or has she a new blog now? I miss her posts.
    Thank you
    (reply in these comments would be appreciated please – having problems with access to email)

  13. Magical indeed! My favourite photo is the one of the rainbow over the water.

  14. Thank you for all the comments!

    oldblack, you’ve reminded me that when I first went to the Outer Hebrides 20 years ago, I was taken aback at how bare and almost desolate it seemed. I had forgotten! I suppose I have learned to see a different beauty and fullness there, in the sea and the sky and also the great wealth of life at one’s feet on the moor, or on the beach. As you say, the escape from modern life pressures (at least for us holiday-makers), and the sense of going back in time, are very precious. I saw only two other parties of walkers that afternoon, and there was no-one else there while I was at the lighthouse, I had the place to myself. But I didn’t feel lonely or alone at all. Perhaps someday you can come to Scotland and we can go for a walk to an amazing place!

    Lilly’sMom, as I enjoyed the unusual daffodils I kept thinking, I wonder if it was a woman who first planted these? I imagine being a lighthouse keeper’s wife must have been particularly challenging.

    Mudarissa, that is fascinating. Have you told Jill?! Do please write a post about your grandparents and what you have heard about life at a lighthouse! I hope you can visit Sheila soon. She does beautiful work.

    Pam and Wendy, these are actually my 22-year-old hiking boots. I use them a few weeks a year and don’t know what I will do if they ever wear out!

    Pam, Tina wound up her blog recently and hasn’t started another. If you are on Ravelry, her username is Woolberry.

    Sakthi, it was so much more magical in real life. Perhaps if I were a better photographer I could have captured that, but I will remember the feeling!

  15. […] A walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on the Isle of Scalpay | Writing from … […]

  16. For the second year in a row I am using a Mairi Hedderwick daily diary to record what happens everyday. I LOVE her artwork. I hope I can emulate it someday. So, yes, your photos fit right in with that. Imagine being a lighthouse keeper so long ago. imagine all the beauty they saw and no camera to record it, just a moment in time to enjoy. So glad you made it back before the downpour!

  17. I enjoyed the walk on this beautiful island, via your post, and also that handsome place you stayed with views in all directions. Hello from California.

  18. Oh. Oh my! There’s nothing quite like a good lighthouse, is there?

  19. Julie, I had meant to reply earlier – yes indeed I thought of my friends in the Uists!

    Heather, I hadn’t thought about life without cameras – such an excellent point. I think people must have had such a different experience of life, nature and the life of the spirit before modern technology. And what a brilliant idea, using a MH diary as a journal! I really love her work.

    Hello Terra, and welcome! Glad you are enjoying my Harris posts. (Click on ‘Isle of Harris’ tag for more from other years, if you’re interested.)

    Relyn, yes, and probably especially if you are on a ship in a raging storm!

  20. What a lovely walk! I thoroughly enjoyed it!
    I have some of those same daffodils growing in my garden. I think they are called Double Daffodils. Very pretty and different.
    I like the colourful yarn you’re using. 🙂
    Enjoy your weekend!♥

  21. I was very invigorated by viewing this post…thanks to all your efforts,
    Christine 🙂 Having just been to the coast I can appreciate your reports of the stiff breezes and how glad you were for your hat! I especially appreciated seeing the delicate limpet shell…sea creatures are so mysterious and amazingly vigorous to thrive in such a rhythmic, rarely calm, often thrashing, environment. The sea has a wonderful, terrible beauty to me, and watching it from the shore is my most favorite place on earth. xx


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: