Thursday, 25 October 2018

The penny drops on Isle Maree

Following a stop for second breakfast I headed back among the islands of Loch Maree.  The improving weather had extended to the length of the loch and the flanks of Slioch (the spear) were now lit with morning sun.

My next planned stop would be on Isle Maree, perhaps the best known of the loch's islands, but by no means the largest.  The closest island to the north eastern shore, Isle Maree differs from all the other islands in being wooded mainly with deciduous, rather than pine trees including some very old stands of oak and holly.

Isle Maree has a long history of usage as a ritual site; it seems to have been used for the pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing a bull - which reportedly continued into the 17th century; the crags on the northern shore are named Creag an Tarbh (crag of the bull) which recalls this tradition.  In the 8th century a chapel and hermitage was established by St Maelrubha, centred around a well. 

A very ancient wall encloses a graveyard on the highest part of the island.  Some of the gravestones are very old and there are two grave slabs incised with crosses which date from the 8th century.  It's a peaceful, atmospheric place in which to spend a little time.

One more modern memorials is a broken cross stone with very fine carving which sits in a prominent spot - but seems a little out of place among the more modest graves.  Nearby, and not so easy to find is a relic of the pre-Christian tradition here.

An oak tree has been used for centuries as a "wishing tree" - where people travelled to the island specifically to hammer in a coin as an offering, in the hope of curing illness or fulfilling a wish.  The oak tree died hundreds of years ago due to copper poisoning from all the pennies driven in, but the tradition persists.

I found the tree difficult to find, because a nearby Horse Chestnut tree has come down in the gales which raged across Scotland in early October and landed on top of the wishing tree - I reported this to Scottish Natural Heritage who were hoping to get out and assess what could be done.  If trying to locate the tree, look to the south west of the graveyard.

I'm fortunate to enjoy good health, but two of my good friends are experiencing significant health issues, so on their behalf I tapped in two copper coins, with a wish for full recovery for them both.  Traditionally the island was associated with curing insanity - but I didn't have a third coin for myself!

The tradition warns against taking anything, even a pebble, from the island in case the insanity or illnesses are brought away as well, so I didn't keep to my own habit of taking a small pebble from the landing place.

Isle Maree is one of those very special places where the long spiritual traditions seems to add to an atmosphere of peace and tranquility - I left the island feeling noticably calmer.

Back on the water, the weather was developing; on the north eastern shore all was colour and bright sunshine.....

...while to the south west impressive shower clouds were building over the hills of the Flowerdale Forest.  It was turning into a wonderful day to be out on the water.


  1. Great chain of islands and closely guarded nowadays apparently. Something about rare breeding divers nesting if I mind correctly. Explored them in the 1980s. Magical place.

  2. That's right Bob, there are nesting divers in the spring and summer. Loch Maree has been on my list to paddle for a long time but I wanted to wait for a good autumnal day - no issues with the birds and the chance of great colour; it was worth the wait!