Wednesday, 27 March 2013

An misty crossing from Rum to Eigg

 It was mid morning by the time we were preparing to get back on the water after our brief look at Kinloch Castle.  We also chatted briefly to Sandy, who with his wife Fliss runs a small craft shop.  Sandy is also a master furniture maker, designing and constructing beautiful pieces from wood sourced on the island.  When we mentioned the Eigg B & B we'd be staying in he was able to tell us that he'd made the beds we'd be sleeping in - another nice coincidence!

The morning was very misty and calm as we paddled out of Loch Scresort and turned south down the coast of Rum.  Our timing was good - the ebb tide would be running our way and would give some assistance, though we'd need to take account of it during our crossing to Eigg later.

Near the mouth of Loch Scresort are some of the remains of a settlement at Port-na-Caranean; Rum was subject to Clearances as many parts of the Highlands and Islands were.  The population of the island in 1795 was recorded as 443 people; in 1800 the island was leased to one Lachlan MacLean of Coll who wanted to use the land to graze sheep.  By 1826 the population had been reduced to 50 people by forced clearance and the majority of these were removed by 1828.  MacLean diverted a couple of families of MacLeans who were themselves being cleared from Skye to act as shepherds.  The ruins here are the remains of the houses they built on the shore.

Initially these just looked like another "rickle o' stanes", but a closer look showed us that the site had been chosen with care.  Two sills of rock reached out from the shore and the beach between had been cleared of stones to make a boat "noust".  It's probable that this work predated the MacLean shepherds by hundreds, if not thousands of years and shows that sites were frequently re-used.  Heavy seas have moved stones back into the noust, but the site is clearly visible still.

The price of mutton fell dramatically in 1839 and MacLean sold the island to the Marquis of Salisbury in 1850, who reduced sheep numbers and vastly increased the numbers of deer in order to convert the island to a shooting estate.  Port-na-Caranean was abandoned in the same year, some of the people moved to Kinloch and others left the island altogether.  The population has ebbed and flowed since then with the fortunes of the sporting estate.  There was dramatic change after World War I, and under SNH ownership together with the Isle of Rum Community Trust the current population is a little less than 40.  The future seems good for the island and its people though - we mostly found folk optimistic about opportunities and the way forward for the community.

The east coast of Rum south of Loch Scresort has only a couple of landing opportunities.  We planned to land at the first of these, a small beach at Bagh na-h Uamh (bay of the caves) to have lunch prior to making the crossing to Eigg.

The sand on this beach was a warm buff colour from the underlying Torridonian sandstones.  Whilst we ate lunch, the mist came down further and we could no longer see the outline of Eigg across the 8 kilometre wide Sound of Rum.  We carefully watched two vessels of the Koninklikje Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy) which were moving south down the Sound at slow speed - we didn't wish to get in their way!

As the ships passed us we set out on the crossing, using a combination of compass bearings, GPS waypoints and observation to keep ourselves on track.  The beaches we were aiming for are the only landing places on the west side of Eigg - we wanted to make sure we arrived at the right spot.

As we crossed the Sound of Rum, the coast of Eigg slowly emerged from the mist.  It was very atmospheric and very quiet on the water, the only sounds really were our paddle strokes and conversation.  Once again we reflected on how fortunate we were to be able to make this journey.

Behind us, the island of Rum disappeared into the mist.  We'd had two fantastic days paddling some of the coast and exploring a little of the island - and we know that we'll return soon.

Up to the north, the tip of Eigg was catching some sunlight through a hole on the banks of mist.

Whilst ahead of us the line of surf showed that we were right on track to land at the beautiful silver sands of Camas Sgiotaig.  We had arrived on Eigg!

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