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Stage 1. Vatersay to Ardhmor

 

Distance Time Elevation in meters

Km
Elapsed
Hrs-Mins
Moving
Hrs-Mins
Gain Loss Min Max
24     620 620    

   

   

 


Courtesy of Alpine Exploratory

 

 

Base map courtesy of www.explore-western-isles.com

 

 

 

 

Vatersay

Vatersay lies to the south of Barra, facing Castlebay across the Sound of Vatersay. Overall it is approximately three miles by three, but so deeply indented by the sea from the east and west that only a narrow strip of machair, or sandy grassland and dunes, prevents it becoming two separate islands. 

Vatersay has been the most southerly inhabited island in the Western Isles since 1912, when Mingulay was abandoned. Man has lived here for thousands of years, but Vatersay only really began to feature on the map as a result of land reform. By 1906 the island had been owned for many years by Lady Gordon Cathcart, who had visited it just once during the period. Her tenants farmed the whole island as a single holding.
 
Pressure on land throughout the Western Isles led one man to sail to the island and invoke an ancient right by erecting a thatched dwelling and lighting a fire within a single day. He was followed by others, who together became known as the Vatersay Raiders. Some were rewarded with imprisonment, but in 1909 the Government responded more positively by buying the island and divided it up into 58 crofts. During the 1900s the island became known mostly for rearing beef, and for lobster fishing. Cattle were transported to market by ferry from Castlebay, but they first had to swim the 250m Sound of Vatersay to Barra. In 1986 a prize bull called Bernie drowned while making the crossing, and long-standing calls for a fixed link to Barra increased.
 
Construction began on a 250m causeway in 1989, and it officially came into use in July 1991. The causeway cost £3.7m and consumed nearly a quarter of a million tonnes of rock, most of it quarried from the Barra hillside immediately to the north. The effect has been to transform access to and from Vatersay and bring stability to the population to ensure that Vatersay will never go the way of Mingulay and other abandoned outlying islands in the Western Isles.

(Courtesy of www.undiscveredscotland.co.uk)

 

 

 

 

 

The Annie Jane Monument

The full rigged ship Annie Jane (1294 gross tons) was built in Quebec and launched in May 1853. Her owner was Tomas Holderness of Liverpool. The new ship had completed her maiden voyage from Canada to Liverpool and set off on her return voyage to Montreal, Quebec on 23rd August 1853 with around 400 passengers, most of them emigrants heading for a new life in America, and cargo including railroad iron and barrels of beef and pork. A good number of the passengers were Scottish carpenters and other artisans who were under contract to work at a public building project in Canada. There also were about a dozen men, women and children cabin passengers. The ship was commanded by Captain William Mason and had a crew of 45 men.

Captain Mason steered a northerly route that took the Annie Jane through the North Channel intending to sail along the west coast of Scotland before turning west and heading across the Atlantic. However when north west of Rathlin they encountered a severe storm which left the ship damaged and unmanageable. After a petition from the passengers the captain reluctantly agreed to turn back and after an uncomfortable voyage down the west coast of Ireland the ship arrived back at Liverpool on 31st August. After repairs, and with most of the passengers back on board (some passengers chose not to return to the ship fearing the seaworthiness of the vessel) the ship left Liverpool again on Thursday 8th September. By this time the actual number of people aboard was unclear. The official record stated that there were 385 emigrants, 8 cabin passengers and a crew of 41 men aboard but eye witness accounts later stated that there were between 400 and 500 people on board the ship as she set sail.

Initially the voyage went well but, on 12th September, the weather deteriorated and, at around 11:30 pm, in a strong south west gale, the foremast head snapped and the ship was disabled once again. For two days they drifted at the mercy of the wind and seas. The bow and bowsprit had been damaged as the foremast came down and the decks were continually awash as waves crashed over the ship. Eventually the weather abated but the ship was in real distress and unable to set sail effectively to navigate in the open ocean. On Thursday 15th September the passengers again petitioned the captain to turn back. The captain initially refused but, with the weather turning again and his ship unmanageable, he finally decided to head for Londonderry for repairs. By this time they were well into the Atlantic some 200 miles west of St Kilda as the storm continued to pound the ship. Further damage to masts and yards left the ship more or less to he mercy of the weather but, remarkably, on 28th September, St Kilda was sighted off the port bow and soon after, the welcome sight of the Hebridean mainland came into view. By 6:30 pm the light at Barra Head was spotted and hopes were high that they could reach safety. However, just as they thought they were safe, the weather turned again and a strong gale sprung up driving the disabled ship towards the shore.

The captain planned to run his ship ashore to escape the reef of rocks that formed at the south entrance to the bay. However, without adequate sail, and with the gale blowing from the wrong direction, the brig was unmanageable. The vessel was carried by the storm onto the reef where it went aground bows first, broke apart, and was soon destroyed by huge swell driving into the bay

During those critical final minutes, before the Annie Jane hit the reef, the ship’s crew and many of the male passengers were standing on the poopdeck, clinging to the ropes and rigging as it became clear that the vessel was being blown to its destruction. After the ship hit the rocks with a great crunch, many of the wives and some of the children left their berths below deck to join the men on the deck. They gathered around the lifeboat davits preparing to try to escape the wreck and reach the island, which could be seen in the distance. At that point a massive wave swept the ship and struck with such force that it carried away nearly everyone standing on that deck and ripped the lifeboats from their davits. It was estimated that at least 100 people were swept into the sea to drown by that single wave. The few survivors left on the deck were secured by ropes or clinging to some of the attached fixtures of the ship.

Meanwhile the passengers still below deck, who learned of the calamity that had just occurred, were afraid to leave the wreck for fear the same fate awaited them. As they trembled in fear in the darkness below, the ship was taking such a terrible beating from the onslaught of the waves, the cargo of railway iron soon beat a hole through the wooden hull, weakening the wreck. A second monstrous wave struck the stranded ship collapsing the central portion of the deck, including what was left of the main and mizenmasts, crushing men, women and children huddled below. The few survivors by this time were taking refuge on the poop deck, which was raised high over the main deck. Seven other men secured themselves on the topgallant forecastle. These people miraculously survived because the ship was quickly broken apart, with the poop deck and forecastle swept away intact, acting like rafts, and were swept to the close to the shore. Both groups staggered ashore at about 4 p.m. in the afternoon, some 15 hours after the ship went on the rocks.

When the final count was made, there were 101 survivors. These included the captain, 28 members of the crew, 12 women and one child. Residents of the island gave the survivors shelter. Barrels of beef and pork that washed ashore from the wreck were used to help provide meals. The bodies from the wreck continued to wash ashore for days afterward. The islands of Barra and Vatersay are predominately rock bound, with few trees, so it was impossible for the people to make coffins and provide proper burials. Large pits were dug along the shore and the bodies were simply placed in them for mass burial. Only the first mate, a man named Bell, and a French Canadian priest, who were among the victims, were given coffins. These were roughly made from pieces of wood from the wreck.

A memorial was erected some years after the wrecking to commemorate  the tragedy. Its sits atop the dunes overlooking West Bay, Vatersay where the survivors, the victims, and the remains of the Annie Jane eventually came ashore. 

 

 

(Courtesy of www.scottishshipwrecks.com)

 

 
 

 

 

  Catalina Crash Site

 

This wreck site is possibly unique amongst aircraft wreck sites in Scotland (certainly in the sites I have visited) in lying at sea level on the island of Vatersay in the Western Isles, and in being right next to a public road. Some large pieces of wreckage remain, including large sections of the fuselage structure and wings.

Undoubtedly the remote location of this site at the very southern tip of the Western Isles accessible only by ferry or flight from the UK mainland has contributed to the lack of interference with the wreckage parts, despite being so near to a road, and so well-publicised (it features in a lot of the tourist publications for the islands of Barra & Vatersay).

The Catalina crashed into the 172m high hill of Heiseabhal Beag on Vatersay, and all of the wreckage has subsequently ended up lying at the bottom of the hill on its eastern flank, between the public road that runs through Vatersay and the shoreline of Vatersay Bay. Remarkably 6 crew survived the crash. There is also a memorial to the victims of the crash at the site.

(Courtesy of www.edwardboyle.com)

Courtesy of Wills Marshall www.atlasobscura.com

Courtesy of Euan Nelson www.atlasobscura.com

 

 
 

 

 

 

Cille Bharra Church
www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=4980

 

A fascinating site with a rich history, Cille Bharra stands near the northern end of the Eoligarry peninsula, north of Barra airport. Within the stone walls enclosing the site stand three chapels, two now ruinous, dedicated to St Barr, the 7th-century Irish monk who gave his name to the Island of Barra. The chapels probably date to the 12th century and later, but may occupy the site of much earlier buildings.The main chapel, now a roofless ruin, is made from lime-mortared walls split by several round-headed openings. Strangely, several of these arched doors and windows are altered to create pointed openings on the inner face of the wall. By the old main door lies a holy water stoup, and the altar base that once held a statue of St Barr is now overgrown at the east end. To the north stands a 15th-century chapel erected by the MacNeills.

Barr, or Finnbarr, is traditionally said to have been from Cork, in Ireland, though another version of the story suggests that he was a native of Caithness.

The main church is not the roofed building you see on entering the churchyard enclosure, but the roofless ruin directly ahead of you. This building is flanked by two chapels, the north and south chapels. The south chapel is little more than a tumble of stones and a small section of upright walling. The north chapel, by contrast, has been restored and now houses several medieval grave slabs found in the graveyard, as well as a replica of the Kilbar Stone, or Clach Chille Bharra, a Christian-Nordic rune stone.

Replica of the Kilbar Stone

Within the restored north chapel stands a replica of a wonderfully carved stone cross combining both Christian and Norse symbols. As one of the few examples of artefacts where both Nordic runes and Christian symbols are found together, the Kilbar Stone is of national importance. The original cross is housed in the Scottish Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, despite intermittent efforts to have it returned to its home on Barra.

The replica, a precise cast of the original, is to your immediate right as you enter the north chapel. The front face of the stone as you see it is carved with a cross bordered by a scroll, with a plaited pattern for ornamentation.

The reverse of the stone is inscribed vertically with runes which loosely translate as 'This cross has been raised in memory of Thorgeth, daughter of Steinar'. The stone dates to the late 10th or early 12th century and was discovered at Cille Bharra in 1865.
The presence of the stone suggests that Cille Bharra was in use as a Christian centre from a very early time, perhaps even as early as the 7th century, though there is little concrete evidence for this.
Also in the north chapel are four late medieval carved slabs, probably representing MacNeill chiefs. One of the slabs is carved with a galley, a common MacNeill symbol. One of the slabs is thought to have come from the workshop on Iona, while another is probably a product of the Oronsay school of carvers.

Compton MacKenzie grave

One last point of interest at Cille Bharra is the grave of noted writer Sir Compton MacKenzie. Mackenzie, the author of the humorous novel Whisky Galore, is buried beneath a simple stone cross in the upper graveyard, just north of the path.

Cille Bharra stands with Rodel on the Isle of Harris as one of the most important centres of early Christianity in the Western Isles. There is some suggestion that there was an early priory here, though evidence for this is scanty.

 

 

 
 

 

Dun Bharpa Chambered Cairn

www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=4982

Photo credit: David Ross

Despite the name, Dun Bharpa is not a dun, but an impressive chambered cairn, built about 3500 BCE. It is really quite an imposing monument, about 30 metres across and 5 metres high, and is the best-preserved chambered cairn in the Western Isles. The edge cairn is marked by large upright kerb stones, several of which are at least 3-4 feet high.

There are several obvious depressions in the cairn, perhaps indicating where individual burials were made. There has never been a thorough investigation at Dun Bharpa, but the cairn is so impressive that you have to wonder what archaeologists might find if they did excavate the site!

The easiest way to access Dun Bharpa is to follow the Craigston road to the parking lot at the end, then follow the obvious farm track deeper up the valley until you come to the ruined blackhouse at the end of the track.Turn uphill, keeping the farm fence on your left, and carry on for about 10 minutes until the dun will come into view in a gap of the hills above you.

OS: NF670014

 

 

 

 

Dun Ban

This mound - crowned now tumbled stones - is the remains of an iron age broch dating back 2,000 years. The setting is magnificent, overlooking a wild stretching of coastline with crags and inlets battered by the great waves of the open Atlantic.

 

 

 

 

 

Borve Standing Stone

 

The Borve Standing Stone is a solitary standing stone looking rather lost in the midst of thick machair about 50 yards from the coastal road opposite the signposted road to Borve village. Haphazard excavations here have turned up evidence of human remains, possibly a Viking burial.The stone is about 3 feet high and leans at a considerable angle to the east.

Courtesy of www.britainexpress.com

 

 

 

MacLeod's Tower

 

This medieval tower occupies a small island in the centre of Loch Tangasdale, just north-west of Castlebay. The tower dates to the middle of the 15th century, though it stands on a much earlier Iron Age dun. The tower was built by John the Rough in 1430. It was originally 3 storeys high but the crumbling walls are now only half that height. It is not a massive medieval fortress; this is a small defensive structure, albeit one in a beautiful location! The structure only measures 2.9 x 2.6 metres interior dimension, and the walls are 1.4 metres thick.

Courtesy of www.britainexpress.com