By paddle steamer to the hills

As well as my love for the hills, I love the sea, so when Neil suggested a day trip on an old boat I was keen on the idea.

This was not just any old boat, but the PS Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. It was built on the Clyde in 1947 to replace the previous Waverley that sunk off Dunkirk in 1940. The Waverley was originally built to sail only between Craigendoran & Arrochar in the Firth of Clyde. In 1974 running costs were too high – despite conversion from coal to oil in 1957 – and it was withdrawn from service. The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society bought it for just £1, and restored it to it’s former glory with brightly-painted funnels, timber decks, gleaming varnish and brass fitments.

We studied the itinerary and chose to go from Kyle of Lochalsh via Broadford on Skye and onto Raasay. I thought a hour and a half on the boat each way would be enough and would give us about 6 hours in which to explore Raasay.

The departure from Kyle was pretty spectacular as the boat headed out from the harbour and sailed for the Skye Bridge with the wonderful backdrop of the Red Cuillins beyond.

Leaving Kyle of Lochalsh

To the starboard (right) we passed Eilean Ban – The white Island – which was home to Gavin Maxwell when he left Sandaig, Glenelg when his house there was destroyed by fire. He lived in the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage and together with Scottish naturalist, John Lister-Kaye, he planned to open a Highland Wildlife Preserve on the island. However, Gavin died before that plan came to fruition. The island now has one of the supports for the concrete bridge, but is managed for the wildlife there by the Eilean Ban Trust.  Boat trips are possible from Kyleakin to the island and the cottage is open to visitors is a recreation of how it was in Gavin’s time.

Eilean Ban

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

Approaching Broadford

Approaching Broadford

There was a large crowd waiting to board at Broadford. With the warm sunshine and blue skies, the trip felt like it it must have done for those holidaymakers going ‘Doon the watter’ as Glaswegians used to say when they went down the Clyde to Rothesay.

Broadford pier

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

After leaving Broadford we had a wee look below decks down in the engine room where it is possible to stand right beside the pistons and gears that turn the two paddles.

PS Waverley engine room

The wake from the port paddle, passing Scalpay (the one beside Skye)

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

We passed the old pier at Suisnish on Raasay.

Suisnish, Raasay

This was built to export iron ore from a long disused mine on the island. Iron ore was mined in Raasay by William Baird and Co for a few years around the First World War. The line of the railway taking the ore from the mines to the pier and many old mine buildings are visible around Suisnish and Raasay Woods where we walked. Some of the construction work and mining operations were undertaken by German Prisoners of War (POWs).

The British Geological Survey has some historic photographs of the mine workings available online. http://geoscenic.bgs.ac.uk/asset-bank/action/browseItems?categoryId=1118&categoryTypeId=1

The usual CalMac ro-ro ferry was heading for Raasay while the Waverley was tying up at the island.

Cal-Mac ferry at Raasay

Waverley departs Raasay

PS Waverley

Our route on Raasay took us straight up the minor road from Inverarish with wonderful views of the Cuillins on Skye behind.

Raasay - Ascent of Dun Caan

On the edge of Raasay woods we passed some of the disused mine buildings.

Ascent of Dun Caan

The path to Dun Caan lead across the moor following the Inverarish Burn. It was much drier than I imagined it would be and a very pleasant easy walk.

Raasay - Ascent of Dun Caan

Raasay - Ascent of Dun Caan

Raasay - Ascent of Dun Caan

Descending from Loch na Mna to Loch na Meilich which is the public water supply for the island

Dun Caan, Raasay

From the summit the views in all directions were magnificent

Dun Caan, Raasay

Dun Caan, Raasay

Dun Caan, Raasay

Looking north to the flat, rocky land at Arnish beyond the end of ‘Calum’s Road’ and the Island of Rona.

Calum MacLeod lived in the north of the island where he worked as a crofter, postman and tender of the Rona lighthouse. After decades of unsuccessful campaigning by the inhabitants of the north end of Raasay for a road, and several failed grant applications, Calum decided to build the road himself. He believed that with a road, new generations of people would return to the north end of Raasay. He worked on the road for 20 years, using basic handtools and a wheelbarrow. Several years after its completion, the road was finally adopted and surfaced by the local council. By then Calum and his wife, Lexie, were the last inhabitants of Arnish.

Dun Caan, Raasay

Looking south along the ridge of Dun Caan to Skye beyond

Dun Caan, Raasay

We had initially planned to drop down to the clearance village of Hallaig and walk back by the coast, but due to the Waverley being a little late in arriving in Raasay in the morning we thought it best to return more or less the same way.

When we reached Raasay Woods again (now largely felled) we choose to follow the old mining path which runs along the line of the mine railway for part of the way.
Iron ore mine railway, Raasay

After all our hurrying back, we had to wait at the pier for a while as Waverley was about 45 minutes late in arriving. Apparently she has been delayed at Gairloch due to to tides.

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

Arriving back in Kyle of Lochalsh were were greeted by the Kyle Junior Pipe Band.

PS Waverley trip - Kyle to Raasay

Enjoy more photos here

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16 comments on “By paddle steamer to the hills

  1. What a grand day out, a trip on a piece of real history and a stroll on a wild and remote island – superb. The photos of the Waverley and Raasay are terrific

    • I admit the walk made the paddle steamer trip more enticing! And as it turned out with the weather cooperating wonderfully, the cruise across was wonderful.

    • Thanks go to Neil for the photos. He took loads when on the boat, while I was happy just to sit – or stand – and enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere.

  2. The boat trip and the walk both looked superb.
    I’m intrigued by the way the stream bed has eroded in one of the photos above – looks unusual.

    • That stream bed is amazing, isn’t it. I don’t know why it should have eroded in such a fashion. I know Dun Caan is a volcanic plug, and right beside the stream (the Inverarish Burn) are flat rocks which show glacial striations, but I can’t find any reference to the stream bed pattern.

  3. Oh how I wish I could have been there with you! Wonderful photos and a wee tear was nearly dampening the old cheek, Doon the Watter was one of the great childhood treats during my schooldays in Hurlford. Never to be forgotten and now that Waverley is back in action, I must go again. Please arrange for similar sun for me…
    PS my Orrin pics are now uploaded to flikr yours Aye…

  4. I had no idea the Waverley went up that far Sheila despite staying not far from its “doon the watter ” berth on the Clyde.Raasay is a fantastic Island.Looks like you stuck it lucky with the weather.This spring has been really dry on the west coast islands.

  5. What a great trip, Sheila. Please pass on to Neil that I enjoyed his pictures that made your narrative come to life immensely.

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