View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Boreraig and Suisnish

Boreraig and Suisnish were once communities in their own right, and my visit there was related to my interest in the history of Western Scotland. Both townships were cleared in the 19th century, and the villagers forced to abandoned home and hearth. Lock, stock and barrel, they had to load up and march east. The landowner did not give a damn what happened to the people. His land was now void of people, and he could do as he liked. The evictees meanwhile were trekking across rough country to Heast and on to Drumfearn. Their first night was spent on the bank of the Eishort River, in cold and wretched conditions.

My visit to Boreraig and Suisnish, in pretty awful weather conditions, was pitched in low mood on account of their history. The sad ruins stand as a memorial to those that were cast off in desultory fashion. Read David Craig's On the Crofters' Trail for the heart wrenching stories behind the Highland Clearances.

From the archives: Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 October 2004

Saturday 2 October 2004

Come downstairs to be met by the sight of a distracted warden who is taking all the hot water taps apart. Apparently, a new boiler was installed only recently, but it isn't working properly. Book into hostel for the weekend, then go on the bus to Broadford at 10.20. Fifteen minutes later, I'm dropped off outside the Post Office there.Walk over to the Post Office van marked Elgol, and jump on. I ask to bedropped off at Kilchrist, 4 miles southwest of Broadford. It's a bit of a tight squeeze on board, but that isn't going to be for a long time at any rate. Dropped off a few hundred yards beyond the church, near the reed covered Kilchrist Loch. Find the track that is supposed to lead to Suisnish on the coast, south of here. This is a derilict village, cleared of its inhabitants in the 19th century, together with its neighbour Boreraig. My efforts to reach Suisnish along this path are thwarted by some appalling weather. A shower kicks off, leaving me to dash for relative shelter amidst the ruins of Kilchrist village. There is a strong westerly wind, blowing the showers over the nearby Beinn na Cailleach. Once that has passed, I continue on my way, but I lose track of the path. Find myself scrabbling on the banks of the Allt na Inbhire, trying to cross. Well, I give that up as a bad job after half an hour, and make my way cross-country to the Marble Line walkway. This used to be a railway carrying marble from the quarry up the hillside to the pier at Broadford. It closed suddenly at 1912. This path is well maintained and signposted. After a gate, it worsens slightly to a rough hillpath. Crossing the fence at Loch Lonachan is troublesome because of standing water. This continues to be a nuisance, not helped by frequent heavy showers. The valley opens out, and I duly arrive into what I thought was Suisnish. How wrong can you be. After checking my bearings against various landmarks and their relative position, I have to concede that I am 2 miles out and actually in the enclosure of Boreraig. Wander through the sad remains of that village (pictured above, courtesy Flickr-user Deano-T) and try to eat something in the pouring rain. Carry on as far as the Boreraig River, then turn back.Get a massive scare outside the village, when I'm taking a break at 12.52. As I look northeast, I see a fierce blob of light. About 2 seconds later, a deafening crash follows. I'm in the middle of a thunderstorm and there is NO shelter. I wait for the storm to move away, crouching down, then go on my way north.

Once I rejoin the Marble Line path (pictured, courtesy Flickr-user Robinvanmourik, I feel like a train, going at 4 mph. Pass above some of the houses near Kilchrist, then the branch which leads to Coire Chatachan, below Beinn na Cailleach. The path finally ends under the high voltage power line,where I have to divert to the road. Do some shopping at the Broadford Co-op, then join the 6pm bus back to Kyleakin. The YH is still plagued by pipe trouble. Have a nice chat with other hostellers. One couple offer me a lift over to Broadford tomorrow, Sunday. This gives me the chance to do the walk to Boreraig and Suisnish properly. Weather prospects also appear to be better.

Sunday 3 October
After breakfast I was taken to Broadford, so that at 10 a.m., I was already heading down the Marble Line path again. Fairly bright day, and the path had had a chance to dry out. The crossing of the stile presented no big problems, and at midday I was back at Boreraig. Had a bit to eat, then resumed the trek at 12.20. The only thing was that by now, a big wall of grey had moved in from the west. After passing through Boreraig, the path became a narrow and precarious affair through rock and stone. Had to encourage sheep to move out of my way.It meanwhile started to rain with gusto, which made the path all the more hazardous. Due south of Carn Dearg, the path went up a crazily steep incline. With a little bit of handiwork, I arrived on the clifftop above Suisnish at 1.25. The view, for as much as there was, switched round to one of Strathaird and Loch Slapin. I found out yesterday that my boots were knackered. They are letting in water by the bucketfull, and I'm beginning to feel chilly. The passage through Suisnish (pictured, courtesy Flickr user blackpuddinonabike) is absolutely sodden. The path leads above the present-dayfarm buildings, then veers north. I slowly progress towards the road-end at Camas Malag. At 2.15, I encounter an elderly couple who want to go to Suisnish and ask me how far it is. Fifty minutes. I was a bit concerned because of their unsuitable footwear. Did not comment on that to their faces though. Arrived at Camas Malag at 2.30, and sat down on a hill just north of the road end. The rain had relented and was now showery. After half an hour, I carried on to the main road at Kilbride. This leads past a marble quarry, with the showers still going on. From that point, I had to walk along the B8083 Elgol - Broadford road. Not much of a bother because of light traffic. It just got alittle hairy along Loch Kilchrist, as I didn't have a lot of leeway, and the road runs along the loch shore. At Kilchrist, I cut through the wilderness to the Marble Line Path. I did not fancy a 3 mile roadwalk. It's a bit of a chore, and have to jump barbed wire, but I gain the path. Sit under a bridge to avoid a shower, then head north down the now-familiar curves of the Marble Line. At Broadford, I discover a dead sheep at the point where the path goes back to the road. From the village, I nip back to Kyleakin by Citylink bus.

Sunday 4 October

Quite a nice day, if a little on the cool side. The sun is out, although cloud was always present. The mercury struggled to get into double figures, but as there is very little wind, this is not very noticeable. Went out for a stroll around the Newton Basin, to check out this overturned boat which I noticed during yesterday's gale. Just as I came back, efforts began to right it. Which succeeded, 2 hours later. Whether it is still in working order after more than 24 hours of immersion into the briney waters of Stornoway Harbour is quite another matter.

Newton Basin, with the houses of Seaview Terrace in the background

The ferry did a run to Ullapool early this morning, to catch up with the backlog of traffic, caused by yesterday's cancellation of all crossings. It was unusual to see the Isle of Lewis coming into port at 1.30pm on a Sunday, but a welcome sight nonetheless. Yesterday's empty shelves caused by said cessation of services was later alleviated, when the lorries carrying our supplies diverted to Tarbert in Harris, where the ferry from Skye was still running.

MV Isle of Lewis entering port on Sunday afternoon

The rescue services across the Highlands and Islands have been busy this weekend, and not just keeping the yacht Elinca safe in Loch Tealasbhaigh in western Lewis. On Friday, a diver failed to return from a dive off Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the Scottish mainland, 100 miles south of Stornoway. Bad weather yesterday hampered the search, which was stood down yesterday afternoon. It was resumed today.