Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Slate Islands - Belnahua

On a bright morning with a light northerly breeze I set out on a paddle to visit two of the islands accessible from Ellanabeich, Insh and Belnahua.  Both are in the Firth of Lorn but are quite different places due to the rock type.

Paddling north from Easdale Sound the coast is formed of steep cliffs of volcanic rock complete with geos and caves.  Now exposed to a cold wind and in the shade of the cliffs it was quite chilly so I soon moved out and began the crossing to Insh.

Insh is a comon root name (mostly written as Inch) and just meaning island.  The island is a low ridge of rock and from a distance I could see no obvious landing places.  The hills beyond Insh are on the island of Mull; Beinn Buie (yellow hill) is on the right.

Arriving at the north end of Insh I spotted a strange dwelling, a cave which has been walled at the entrance and has windows, a water supply and a small outbuilding.  Apparently the owner of the island occupies this occasionally.  There was no easy landing nearby; indeed the only place I was able to land was on one of these tiny pebble beaches on the east side, just behind a tiny island.

It was still early in the day and the ebb was now running south down the Firth of Lorn so I decided to use the push from both wind and tide to paddle down to another of the "slate islands", Belnahua.

After a pleasant crossing I landed on the tiny island of Belnahua.  Uninhabited since the early 20th century, it was the site of much slate quarrying.   Worked but discarded slate lies everywhere. This row of cottages and some others on the other side of the island are in a row near the beach for good reason.

The centre of the island has been completely quarried out.  Now flooded, the depth of the workings can be seen through the very clear water.  Life for the small community here was always marginal; nearly all food and supplies had to come by boat from Cullipool on Luing through waters with strong tides and exposure to big swells; the island didn't even have a reliable water supply.  When the able bodied men left to take up military service in 1914 the end was imminent and the remaining residents left soon after.

As I was exploring, more paddlers arrived.  Two doubles; one inflatable and a vintage Klepper folding boat landed on the beach, each containing a father and son team.  We chatted in the sunshine, reflecting on what life must have been like here, especially during winter storms.


  1. Unreal! I see those buildings in so many scottish pictures and cant help how some think 2x4 and metal sheets on those roofs could make a cozy place to live!

    Beautiful shots! However I couldnt see the walled in cave with windows.That sounds awesome.

  2. I agree with Lee, it's really astonishing. The depth of history you can experience in the UK, and have a great paddle - all on the same day, is simply marvellous. Thanks Ian. Duncan.

  3. Hi Lee, Duncan & Joan,

    It must have been a tough life. Originally these houses would have been roofed in either heather or straw thatch, only getting slate roofs later and then only the small and inferor type of slate. The quarries were most active from the mid 1700's (during the Jacobte rebellion) to the late 1800's. More about Belnahua soon!

    Kind Regards

  4. Lee, the only image I managed of the cave/bothy wasn't any good - Imust go back and try again :o)


  5. Hi Ian, there is a story about a hermit that lived on Insh during the late 1970s/80s. Perhaps that was his cave/home?


  6. Hi David, that would probably figure, the cave entrance is party closed with stone and cement and features a door and windows. Difficult place to land though on rocks with just a spike to secure a boat.

    Kind Regards