Just a five minute ferry ride across from near Oban is the island of Kerrera. Delightful coast and moorland walking, fantastic views across to the Argyll mainland and out towards several Hebridean islands. Our walk took place on one of the hottest days I have ever known in Scotland. A perfect day for a walk.
We chose to do the southern circuit of the island, from the ferry landing, so that we might see Gylen Castle and the views towards Jura. The walk around the island is on a good track, with reasonable gradients. There are many reminders that Kerrera was once part of the kingdom of Norway. It is not difficult to imagine Viking longships slipping into the quiet coves of this island.
One of the first places you come to, walking southwards, is Horseshoe Bay, where in 1249 Alexander II of Scotland began his campaign to reclaim the Hebrides from Norwegian control. His campaign never got off the ground. He was taken ill and died in a field nearby; called Dail Righ, the king’s field to this day. In 1263, a fleet of one hundred and twenty longships, under the command of Norway’s King Haakon I, moored here on the way to defeat at the Battle of Largs. Kerrera is so unspoiled it feels like it all happened yesterday.
At the next inlet, Little Horseshoe Bay is a row of
delightful cottages, once the homes of quarry workers, before becoming the centre of the local lobster industry.
A mile further on is Gylen Castle, standing gaunt and mysterious on its clifftop above the swirling waters of the Atlantic. Okay – I admit they weren’t swirling when we got there. In fact the Atlantic was still and blue. But the atmosphere of this old ruin sinks into your imagination. Gylen Castle is a place haunted by bloody deeds. It could have come straight out of a story by Scott, or Neil Munro, or John Buchan. It cries out to be in a novel. In 1647, it was besieged by Leslie’s covenanters, who forced the garrison of clan MacDougall to surrender, slaughtering all the defenders, except one youth, as they came out. The castle was put to the torch, and has been abandoned ever since. We sat for a while on the stony beach nearby. All was perfect peace. It felt like the edge of the world. Souls can grow calm in places like that.
Nearby we found refreshment at a tea garden before continuing our journey. They have a bunkhouse as well, if you are tempted to spend some time on this jewel in the Firth Of Lorne.
The western side of the island became wilder as we made our way northwards, the track narrower, but with superb views towards Mull and Morvern. At Bar-nam-Boc-Bay are the remains of what was once a port, a crossing point to Mull, a place where thousands of cattle a year were brought from the islands by drovers. You can almost hear the cry of the men and the lowing of the cattle amidst its ruins.
Here we began to cross the island, back to the ferry, taking in the highest grounds of the walk. This high stretch is called Am Maolan – the Wild Place – and wild it is, seeming far higher and more remote than its contours would suggest. A long descent brought us back to Kerrera’s Victorian schoolhouse, and to the four o’clock ferry, which we caught with just half a minute to spare. If you haven’t been to Kerrera, then I can recommend it. The memories are priceless. A day out of the madness that we call modern life.
Text and pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2019