Sunday the 14th June, another beautiful day. First thing a run down to Fladda on the RIB to see the neighbours, all well there and back to Base. The weather was stunning so instead of putting in another working day we decided to take a few hours out and explore Eilean Tighe. I had not been down and landed there for many years so it was a nice easy decision to make. We fueled up the Voe boat, checked the anchor ( I never use it) and off we went. We took the dinghy, dropped the anchor in the ford (Caolas) between Raasay and Eilean Tighe , the tide was in and we rowed ashore, first stop Julia’s house.
There was a bit of movement on the water with seabirds about, the Sea Eagle was flying around and took off from the North side where he has a perch on the cliff . I have since heard from Julia herself about a special rock in that general area which is magnetic . So I asked my Geologist friend (Duncan MacSwann Article) Dick Selley about it and here is his thorough answer.
“Yes, all over Rona you will see occasional bands of black crystalline rock. These are intrusions of magma termed basalt if finely crystalline or dolerite if coarsely crystalline. Some are coeval with the metamorphism of the Lewisian gneiss. The NW-SE aligned vertical black intrusions however are related to the Tertiary (circa 60 million yeas ago) volcanic centre of the Cuillins. These black rocks are rich in iron and are thus magnetic. This is why in the old days before GPS geologists and climbers would never rely on compass bearings around the black Cuillins or indeed many other parts of Skye & Raasay.”
Emeritus Professor of Petroleum Geology & Senior Research Fellow
Department of Earth Science & Engineering,
Royal School of Mines
Imperial College, London
Which was one of the reasons for me to take a long planned visit to the East Side of Skye last Sunday.
It was a very hot day, too hot for climbing the highest point but that was the intention. The grass was alive with bugs, butterflies but no midgies it was too hot. I expected to see deer up top but despite big wallows and lots of tracks there was nothing hanging about, no doubt they were on Raasay looking for water, there did not seem to be much of it for them on Eilean Tighe.
I’m always fascinated by Julia’s house. Our good friend Julia MacKenzie who at 97 years of age lives in Inverness, she has been an inspiration to us here as long as I have lived on Rona and on regular telephone calls I enjoy hearing stories about the times that herself and her family lived here. Her book “Whirlygig Beatles and Tackety Boots” is out of print but I will blog about it soon, for me an important wee book with much on her times there.
The first time I saw this house I wondered at the skill in building these houses at that time. The stonework is fascinating how the natural shapes come together, of course a lot of these houses would have had a covering, looking at this one I can see shell sand mortar in some corners and crannies, I must check with Julia on that.
The perfectly curved outer corners are at complete odds with the perfectly square inner walls. Such a pity that these houses are all falling apart. But time will do that for sure with no one living there anymore. Check the remains of what looks like a plaster still clinging to odd corners. Washed off after years of rain.
In her book Julia talks about how her maternal Grandfather originally lived there, after her Grandmother died her Mother and Father went to live there with their family.
They then spent nine years there before moving two miles onto Raasay to the croft (Farm) at Kyle Rona.
As in Rona, many of the fireplace stones are huge, this one no exception, there is one almost identical at the old schoolhouse on Rona at Doire na Guaile (Doire na Guaileadhin). I wonder what it weighs and how they got it there.
When speaking with Julia I usually have many questions, she always says it is in her book!!! But some things are not and when you see everything overgrown you have to use your imagination to wonder how it all worked. The abandoned homes must have been a very different picture with all the activity. I wonder what the picture would have looked like in the early 1900’s?
The view from the top of the highest hill was stunning that day, looking right down the Sound of Raasay to the entrance to Portree harbour, so close but not that accessible due to the weather and although we have enjoyed many good days this year, we have in the past struggled to get over especially in the winter. Reading some of the Rona history lately I was intrigued reading about the ‘Dewer Report, 1912’ where a Mr Graham from Rona was asked about mail. He said that they had a mail delivery three times a week but only once a week (maybe) in Winter. 2020 we enjoy a weekly delivery!!!!
Looking out to the North of Skye and over the Minch to Harris it was fascinating to not see one boat. The Range boat had just passed, there must have been a trial on. But once that passed and the trail of smoke from its funnel disappeared round the Crowlins there was nothing. On one of the best Sundays so far this year, very strange and unusual but it should be no surprise with Covid 19 at its peak around then.
Looking over to the mouth of Big Harbour I could clearly see the arrow painted on the left hand side of the entrance. Often we see yachts/boats sailing past then 20 minutes later they come in, but they never admit to missing it.
Looking down to the end of Raasay the perspective is good to see and I wonder at Julia and her sister taking off for School at Torran. I seem to remember that Julia and her Sister would walk there, one 7 the other 4 years old, again it is in the Book!!
My final view was of Rona itself, not a lot to it but a wonderful place to live.
On the way down I stopped to spy over to Garbh Eilean, the stags winter there and I could clearly see them lying at the very top with their Velvet Antlers taking in the view and getting away from the flies. It is very green in the middle of this ‘Wee’ Island and there is a spring that provides running water. I often wonder if the Vikings were here and used it as a look out, had it been used before for some purpose. There are no ruins on Garbh Eilean but this very green patch in the centre would tell a tale if it was surveyed I guess.
Over many years gulls nested here then very slowly they started to diminish eventually disappearing, was it the lack of food at a critical time, I have a photo of many young gulls waiting at the shore for food. It did not register at the time but the following year I paid a little more attention and I guessed they were waiting for sand eels or small fish passing. There were so many of them that I think the Mink would have had to be very busy to wipe them out but I did shoot a mink there by chance one day.
I’m not much up on “flora’, Stephen Bungard at Raasay has a blog and if you are interested it is worth a browse, I often see a Rowan outside or near houses, a lot of them on Rona and now Eilean Tighe have had their day and are now rotten, falling down. With sheep and deer fat chance of regenerating a new one but they are there, generally not round houses now. I am told they were there to ward of witches and when I was working in Forestry we would avoid felling one, bad luck we were told!!
A single Wild Rose was by the ruined boat shed? at Caolas, I noticed this morning the Wild Rose bushes here were laden with flowers which means a bumper year for rosehips, which we will turn into syrup then with a few ingredients into ‘The Rona Cocktail’.
Finally just before leaving Eilean Tighe on a memorable visit I came across this Juniper bush/shrub. Is it a tree or a bush? On Raasay like Rona they are bushes, the sheep and deer I guess see to that although the ground is poor so perhaps that has something to do with it. But on a previous visit to Kyle Rona many years back I picked many juniper berries as we don’t seem to have many on Rona. There was an abundance of them on Raasay but not in my experience so plentiful on Rona.
Much to wonder about and much to contemplate. Next calm and sunny Sunday we hope to visit Kyle Rona, there is much to see on our doorstep.
There is a thought to re-print Julia’s book if you are interested in getting a copy let me know.