Monday 15 October 2012--As Hebridean islands go, Tiree is flat, fertile, sunny, and windy. It's also lousy with beaches, and is something of a
windsurfer's mecca, at least for this part of the world. In fact, the Tiree Wave Classic is going on this
week. The beach for each day's events is chosen that morning, dependent on wind and surf conditions. I pass by the Lodge (which seems to be surf central)
and note a few riders on Gott Bay as I head northeast.
Not far from the tip of the island, there is a tiny fishing harbor at Millton. (That spelling according to the Ordnance Survey map--local signage has it Milton.) Park the car and ascend the hill just to the west; the map shows a broch at the summit. It's unexcavated, and in fact a stone wall passes right through it. The summit is a mere 38 meters, but that's enough for nice views toward Coll in one direction, and over Gott Bay and Scarinish in the other.
I drive out to the end of the road and take a walk around the headland, coming eventually to a narrow beach in a virtual crevice in the rocky shore, labeled Port Bàn on the OS map. There's a cottage at the top, a lovely secluded spot with its own private beach. I'm thinking the windsurfers don't use this one much. As I walk up along the edge of the sand, I'm almost on top of a seal, hiding in a crack, before I see it. I don't know if it's sick or injured or just hiding out from the in-laws, but it plainly wants to be left alone, so I do.
It doesn't take long to drive down to Balephuil Bay, at the other end of the island. The beach there is one used for the competition, and a couple dozen cars are parked on the links, including a mobile crêperie--a crêppie, if you will--but it looks like mostly paddleboarders out on the water. I walk the length of the beach, pausing over the pebbly areas, looking for pretty stones...that seems to be my obsession this year. At the far end, I ascend the slope of Beinn Ceann A' Mhara. The Ordnance Survey map shows the location of the remains of St Patrick's Chapel, but I can't find it. No matter, it's a nice walk, and the view north across Tiree makes it more than worthwhile.
Descend to the beach and return to the car. Back near Balemartine, at a site called Soroby, an ancient cross stands in a burial ground where a parish church stood until sometime in the 19th century. There was a 6th-century monastery here, possibly built by Baithéne mac Brénaind, a disciple of Columba (and his successor at Iona). Nothing of that remains. The cross is intricately carved, but has the distorted geometry of a quick freehand sketch. Whether it dates from the monastery, or from the later period (14th-17th century) when this was the burial ground of the MacLean chiefs of Tiree, I can't determine. Its naive style and highly eroded state suggest great antiquity.
Down at the end of a spur road, at Hynish, there is a complex of buildings originally intended to support the construction of the lighthouse on Skerryvore, a reef twelve miles southwest. The light, Scotland's tallest, was built by Alan Stevenson (R L Stevenson's uncle) between 1838 and 1844. There is now at Hynish, among other things, a museum dedicated to this extraordinary feat of engineering, but I have not allowed time for it. My loss... next time, maybe.
The dining room at the lodge is taken up with a surfer's function of some sort, so I have my dinner in the lounge. Later, at the B&B, I suffer a minor disaster while trying to load photos into the laptop. The memory card comes up "unformatted"--unreadable. I may have lost all of today's photos. Fortunately, I have a spare card, so do not need to reformat the faulty one right away, which would erase everything. Good thing I've been copying them daily.