Walking the shores of Loch Kirkaig

I finished my last offering with the comment that the warm weather had at last caught up with this corner of the world. I have to say that there is no better place to be anywhere than in the Highlands when the weather is hot! We never get that over-whelming, sultry, oppressive heat in the way that other parts of the country do – and other countries, as my friend in British Columbia told me in an e:mail this week! The air tends to remain quite fresh, and there is often a small breeze off the sea which helps keep us from getting too, too hot. This year, it has actually been up to nearly 30° which is a bit unprecedented for this part of the world!

It is rare to see The Minch quite so calm and blue!

It was such a day last Sunday when the Field Club held its July meeting in Inverkirkaig. The last meeting in June in Inchnadamph had been very well attended, as had another meeting botanising on the shores of Oldshoremore a couple of weekends ago – a meeting which was a combination of Lochboom Field Club, the John Muir Trust and our club and which evidently attracted over 20 people. This time though it was just our wee “family” of regulars who met down by Angus’s house ready to ramble along the north shore of the loch to see what we could find. The weather was totally perfect, with just a wee breeze to keep the insects at bay, and the sea was a beautiful, calm blue.

As the designated contact for this walk, I had looked at the Ordnance Survey map to discover the names of the places we were likely to visit. The headland which runs along the north of the loch is called Kirkaig Point at its tip, with two bays – Poll na Criege Ruaidhe or the “hollow of the red rock” and Poll nan Gobhar or “goat hollow” – poll being the Gaelic word for a wet hollow of whatever nature. The point on the rather more difficult south side of the loch is called Rubha na Brèige which could translate as Deceiving Point, which name probably originates in something navigational such as a reef of rocks lying under the surface beyond it – but I am afraid that I really don’t know that for sure.

I thought that we would be walking along to the tip of the headland, and was amazed to find that in fact we only got a very short distance along it – maybe as much as a mile! It was not so much that we kept stopping to look at different plants or whatever, it is also that it is not really a path at all, just a bit of a sheep track – as paths round here often are. There was however a proper style built into a fence which crossed our way which was not only quite convenient for us, but also did prove to us that we were following the path, such as it is. This path took us down to the foreshore, and we could not resist a paddle on such a hot day, especially as, with the exception of Julian who always wears sandals, we were in our walking shoes or boots. Julian spotted a shoal of sand eels in the water which is always good news for feeding sea birds! Which reminds me that there was a piece on the news last night about the number of jelly fish there are around the British coast this year. There are a lot, which almost certainly means that there should also be a good number of Leatherback Turtles which feed on the jelly fish, following the Gulf Stream up from Florida. Unfortunately, they didn’t mention them in the report.

We stopped for lunch at a spot which commanded a superb view out over the water where we were watching a family of seven Black-throated Divers busy feeding along a line where the currents met. Loch Kirkaig is a sea loch and very shallow when the tide is out. Unusually for this area, it is very flat and the tide goes out a long way. If you want to swim in it, you really have to wait for the tide to be just about full, otherwise a paddle is all you can reasonably hope for without walking miles down the loch! It is very safe for kayaking though, and we saw someone out on the water doing just that. We also saw a swimmer, but that was the only humanity we met while out on our walk, in spite of being only four miles or so from Lochinver.

We walked a bit further on after lunch and came to some brackish pools which positively teemed with sticklebacks! I was the one who identified them initially as I have them in my garden pond – I have been fond of them since reading Jeremy Fisher when a child. They are very small, unassuming fish which sort of hover in the water, not going very far or doing very much. In fact, I have found with mine that – with the exception of feeding time – they only really come out when the weather is warm and sunny!

Near to the ponds were obvious signs of “lazy beds” where the residents of Inverkerkaig grew their crops of oats, barley and tatties in times gone by. I was thinking that it was a long, rough walk to get to them, but although there was rather a lot of rock to scramble over to get to the area where the beds were, it is pretty obvious that the folk of a few years ago would have come round by boat. We don’t know when the beds were abandoned, but we all reckoned that it would have been in the inter-war years of the last century. Inverkerkaig was never “cleared” in the 19th century, and life went on there much as it always had until those two big upheavals changed things for ever. The thing that really indicated where the beds had been was a great patch of bracken which, as Ian pointed out, was probably how the people found the right place to grow their crops in the first place. Here there was something of depth of soil, with plenty of seaweed close at hand to fertilise the crops.

It was round here too that we suddenly happened upon a whole colony of tiny, tiny frogs a picture of one of which I have posted. They were babies of course and had obviously all had changed from tadpoles to fully formed frogs at the same time, and left the pond together. It was great that we should come along at just that moment to witness this exodus!

Now we stopped for a quick drink before heading back down the path to Inverkerkaig. There was a bit of excitement as we were sitting looking over the loch because David saw something in the water which made him think there was a basking shark in the offing. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm, which I found a bit disappointing as I have never seen one. It is on my “bucket list” of things I really want to see before I die!

The group enjoying the sun for once!

Returning to Inverkerkaig, we went immediately up to Achins Bookshop where Ian treated us all to ice cream as it was his birthday. We sat in the shade outside the shop just relaxing and chatting, which was a fitting end to a wonderful excursion – made all the better for being such a brilliant and sparkling day 🙂

Our Highland Games day falls next week and things will be very busy for everyone. I will be helping in the craft tent as I did last year, and also plan to enter a pair of socks and a painting into the competition. I don’t expect to win anything, but I have always thought that we should put on display all the things that are made and created round here, showing how skilled so many folk still are when it comes to those simple, domestic things of life such as craftwork, growing, making and baking. There is normally a terrific display of such in the Craft and Produce tent, the competition being just an excuse to show off our efforts – and why not?!

As I will be very busy next week, and also visitors coming to stay for the following two weeks, I shall post a piece I wrote a wee while ago and then take a break for a fortnight…

[Photo by Clarinda]

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2 Responses to Walking the shores of Loch Kirkaig

  1. Ann Woolner says:

    I have just happened upon your site and read with delight the entry above. My parents lived at Lon Cuilc (my step mother for some 15 years). She was Beryl Woolner. The mention of the ‘lazy beds’ Achins Bookshop’ ‘Ian’ ‘ The Field Club’ and the Games Day just had to make me smile. They are all so familiar to me. It warmed my heart. I will look forward to reading again. Tell me did you know Beryl, for she also was very involved with the Games Day and entered many items of produce, paintings and needlework. Has Ian retired? We visited Achins last September. Best wishes Ann Woolner

    • Clarinda says:

      Thanks for your comment and sorry it has taken me a while to reply – life is really busy just now!

      I didn’t know your step-mother, Beryl, personally but I spoke to my friends Wilma MacKay and Angus MacEwen – both long-term residents of Inverkirkaig – and they of course knew Beryl. I gather that she was an artist and that Achins used to sell her work. Lon Cuilc is unfortunately a private holiday home now and therefore stands empty for most of the year – a big pity.

      When we arrived in May 2002 and I went to my first Games Day that summer, the Produce Tent was empty – for some reason the Show had fallen by the wayside and remained so for several years. Then a sub-committee got together and three or four years ago, it was up and running again. Last year, I accidentally found that I had joined the committee(!) and although last year was a poor season after a very cold spring, we hope the Craft and Produce show will go on for years to come. I feel it is an important part of life here, and I should think that Beryl must have felt that too as she was such a strong supporter. I gather from Wilma that your parents had given a cup for vegetables, but that it went south when the Show was in abeyance.

      Ian Evans? I guess he is retired – I always assumed he took early retirement when he came up here 30-odd years ago – but I could be wrong about that. Not that he ever stops recording the wildlife around here and I can’t imagine him ever stopping!

      Thanks again for your interest and I hope you can get up to our wee bit of paradise again very soon.

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