Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt2,,Mingulay, Barra & Vatersay

26th May.  It was February and snowing when we booked a boat trip to Mingulay with Barra Fishing Charters and it was to happen today under sun and clear skies.  We got down to Castlebay early and met up with six companions for the adventure.  While we waited Black Guillemots were watched in the Bay and it seemed they may nest in Kisimul Castle which we intended to visit tomorrow.  With dingy attached to the back of the boat and life jackets on we were soon out of the harbour on a calm ocean.

Leaving Barra

Its far from a boring sea boat trip as we passed by the small and now uninhabited islands of Pabbay and Berneray and watched good numbers of birds adding Puffin and Great Skua (10+) to our list and seeing many more Black Guillemots.  Also seen were Fulmer, Gannet, Shag, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Kittiwake and other gulls, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot and Razorbill.  Before being dropped off at Mingulay we landed one member of our group, Craig from Motherwell, onto Barra Head the most southerly point of the Outer Hebrides.  This was good, as it meant we can say we visited the most southerly point and saw the lighthouse.  We met Craig later in the week on a ferry, as you tend to do in these parts and during conversation we learned that he had been visiting the islands for 30 years, I guess from his teenage years.  Like many other people we were to meet, this guy loved the islands and spoke about them with passion.  He was cycling northwards towards the Butt of Lewis.

The bay at Mingulay

As we approached Mingulay we spotted the colony of Grey Seals laid out on the sandy beach.  They clearly knew we were to land and they made for the water.  The landing was by dingy and not onto the beach but up and over some very slippery rocks.  It was too late to check to see if my insurance policy was up to date!  All seven of us survived and made off in our separate ways.  The population of Mingulay left the island for good in 1912 and a little of the village remains.  I always find the remains of such places both haunting and thought provoking, so I enjoyed the wander around here.  Sam and I ate lunch on the white sandy beach whilst watching the Oystercatchers and later taking some photographs of them.  Later we climbed to higher ground and watched the Grey Seals in the turquoise ocean below us whilst they kept note of us too, clearly used to occasional intrusions by humans.  A little further along was the Puffin colony which was very active with comings and goings.  There were some interesting plants on the island including Sundew species, Common Milkwort, Butterwort and Scarlet Pimpernel along with masses of Primrose, Marsh Marigold and of course Thrift.  We checked out the building remains again whilst listening to the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and finding WheatearSedge Warbler was also heard.  Our time on the island went amazingly quickly and had been one of the most relaxing aspects of our trip so far.  As we waited to board our boat a Thistle Group who were now to camp on the island unloaded their goods, including beer which we were told was non-alcoholic (we believe you!) Sam and I got talking to a mother and daughter from our boat.  We found we all had a love of books and the elder lady recommended a book called The Road to Mingulay which I noted.  By then it was time to return to the boat.  If getting on to the island was difficult it was nothing to getting back on, which involved negotiating a rock ledge, but we did it without accident.

Grey Seal

Oystercatcher cools feet, while we lunch

Village remains

Bay from above

I was thinking the trip very good, but I was not expecting what was to come.  Our return included a slow boat trip round the western side of Mingulay which has some of the tallest cliffs in Britain.  I’ll let the images speak for themselves, but in truth the sheer scale of these cliffs is difficult to show in a photograph.  It certainly brought on feelings of vertigo.  There were of course many birds to see on the return too.  Donald the boat owner didn’t have much time once we got back to Castlebay, so I was unable to thank him for what was a very special trip.

I'm told they do this for fun!!!

After a cup of tea at a local hotel overlooking the harbour Sam and I explored Barra again, but also Vatersay, an island joined by a causeway to Barra in 1991.  Vatersay is a beautiful area with magnificent beaches and surrounded by blue and turquoise ocean and inlets.  We found our first Great Northern Diver (immature) of the trip on a rock in one of the inlets.  We sat and watched it at length.  We also saw our first Raven of the trip today.  We also heard more Corncrakes  and other birds seen included Eider, Common Buzzard, Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Pied Wagtail, Wren Stonechat, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Hooded Crow, Linnet, Goldfinch, and Reed Bunting.

Great Northern Diver enjoying the sun

What we had not expected to see tonight was the remains of a RAF Catalina aircraft.  Having stopped to look at what appeared to be a  memorial we found these remains of the aircraft which crashed during World War 11 killing three of the 12 crew, all named on the memorial.  We found it both remarkable and moving that so much remains untouched and intact.  This later led to a long conversation with the hotel owner who told us the history.  Apparently, the aircraft had taken off from Oban with depth charges on both wings on night exercise, possibly testing radar equipment.  At a later enquiry the navigator stated that he had informed the pilot that the aircraft was flying too low.  Whether the navigators story was true or not would never be established as the pilot was dead.  We also learned that 20% of the menfolk of Barra, and presumably Vatersay, had been killed during the war.  Many were in merchant navy positions and it took many years for their sacrifice to be fully recognised which personally I put down to typical British elitism.  Because of the common use of similar name’s, the War Memorial now includes the name of the deceased’s mother and deceased’s nickname so that identification is clear.  We decided to visit the memorial in the morning.

Some of the remains of the Catalina aircraft

 Following dinner, we took a walk along the beach, listened to the waves creep up the shore and watched a wonderful sunset again.  I discussed the concept of the ‘green flash’ when the sun drops below the horizon at sea, but we didn’t see one!  Dolphins (species) had been in the bay tonight, but we had missed them, being too busy enjoying dinner.

27th May.  Before leaving the hotel for the last time, we were to catch a ferry to Eriksay today before driving to South Uist, I looked out at Mount Beinntangabal, watched the sun lit white sands of the bay, felt the cooling breeze through the open window and listened to singing Skylark, calling Oystercatchers and the gentle wash of the Atlantic waves.

Our boat trip to Kisimul Castle, seat of the Macneils, took only minutes.  We found that the lady in the shop was Donald the boatman’s wife, so we were able to pass our thanks to him for yesterday’s trip.  We also visited the modern war memorial before visiting Vatersay again, this time spending some time on one of the beautiful sandy bays where I scraped my calling card into the sand i.e. KILLYBIRDER BLOGSPOT.  We had a laugh when someone came along and photographed it.  I may be famous yet!
Corncrakes were heard again today and at some point, we found our one and only Black Throated Diver of the trip.  To cut a long story short, we eventually caught our ferry to Eriksay, on which we saw at least 10+ Great Northern Divers and then drove through Eriksay and across the causeway to South Uist, passing the sign warning of Otters Crossing.  By late afternoon we reached our very nice hotel at Lochcarnan.  Just before we reached the hotel we saw a Raven and as it took off I noticed it drop a feather.  I was determined to have it.  Sam set off to collect the feather but found the ground impassable because of boggy conditions.  From above I noticed a possible passable route to the feather and set off.  Sam reckons he has never seen me move so fast and well in difficult terrain.  Cheeky devil!  Anyhow, we have a very nice Raven primary feather with a story to go with it.

Castle in the sea

Beach at Vatersay

My calling card

A relaxing view on Barra before we head for the ferry

After dinner we discovered a beautiful area of Loch, heath and a little woodland at the foot of mountains which were seen in wonderful light.  A Cuckoo called from the patch of woodland and we eventually saw it atop of a tree, we had a great sighting of Peregrine Falcon flying low over the heath and we even had the company of Shetland
 Ponies and Emperor Moths.  This area was to become a favourite of mine.  There was a walk into the mountains which was a raptor viewing area which we decided was worth an adventure at some point.

Raven primary feather 15.75ins in length

There was another perfect sunset as we returned to the hotel, when an eagle flew up in front of us and was mobbed by a Short Eared Owl.  Initially we thought White Tailed Eagle, but in fact it was an immature Golden Eagle which perched not far from the road.  It was the only Golden Eagle we were to see during the trip, but a great sighting it was.  Before getting back to the hotel we had seen 3 Short Eared Owls.  So, it was to bed for pleasant dreams and thoughts of more exciting days to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment