Having visited the marvellous Hebridean isle of Eigg, there’s no limit to the cheesy blog post title possibilities. The above is just one of many that sprang to my irritatingly predictable mind. Does the title have any bearing at all on the actuality of my experience while on Eigg? Well, I really liked the island, but perhaps ‘ecstacy’ is slightly overstating the case. As for the agony, that came a couple of weeks after the Small Isles trip when I parted company with my mountain bike at high speed, badly staving my left elbow and shoulder and removing sizeable areas of skin from left knee, hip and elbow. Twelve days later and I’m on the mend though I can’t move my shoulder freely and it hurts quite a lot. Poor me. I feel lucky not to have broken anything, though. When I was 25 I bounced when I came off my bike, now that I’m 45 my elasticity seems to have dwindled. Ho hum.
Anyway, where was I? Staying in a yurt on Eigg actually – one of two bijou canvas palaces rented out by Clare and Phil at Eigg Yurts; this proved to be an excellent choice as the weather was ‘mixed’ and having a big space for four of us and Dougal the dog with an excellent solid fuel stove to boot was the business. Besides, we’d already had one tent blown away on Canna…
Clare and Phil are the milkwoman and milkman of human kindness – to paraphrase Billy Bragg – and two people less-arsed about profit margins you’re unlikely ever to meet. If you’re going to Eigg, stay with them! The yurts are strategically located half way between Galmisdale – where the ferry arrives/departs and Cleadale, the main settlement on Eigg’s north-west coast.
Anyway, we managed to pack in a creditable amount of walking despite the weather and on our first evening we wandered the mile and a half down to the beach at the Bay of Laig near Cleadale to enjoy the spectacle of the sun setting behind the isle of Rum. Well, it didn’t actually set as such, it sort of slumped into the cloud, but there was a pleasing pinky-purple blush in the sky, which seemed adequate reward for our modest endeavour.
Next morning dawned bright and clear, which was an excellent result as we planned to scale An Sgurr, Eigg’s highest point at 393 metres. The summit ridge is a huge prow-like pitchstone monolith, which is instantly recognisable and visible from afar. With sheer cliffs on three sides, it looks a daunting prospect from below.
We followed the waymarked path up through the dense heather and boggy terrain and as we drew close to the imposing east face of the Sgurr, I realised that it reminded me of something.
Yes! That’s it, the mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you know, the one Richard Dreyfus makes out of mashed potato… Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming apparently. Like the Sgurr, it’s volcanic in origin though this little beauty is a ‘volcanic neck’ (?!) whereas Eigg’s pitchstone eminence is a volcanic ‘plug’. The things you learn off t’internet.
Devil’s Tower National Monument
Anyway, back to Eigg; the path skirts around the sheer north face of the Sgurr, which becomes more impressive the closer you get…
The path gains the summit ridge by way of a gully, which is fairly steep, but undemanding.
Where the path emerges onto the spine of the ridge, there are fine views on to the wee isle of Muck.
A ten minute daunder along the pleasantly airy summit ridge and we’d reached the summit trig point. The views are remarkable and we were lucky to have a relatively cloud free day.
Rather than just retracing our outward route, we had decided to look into the viability of a route down off the Sgurr to the ruined village of Grulin, which sits above the south-east coast. Having descended from the ridge back down the gully, we were beneath the north face of the Sgurr once again. Instead of continuing east back down the path, we struck off north-west on a vague path making for Loch nam Ban Mora. Though a little heathery and boggy, the going wasn’t too bad and Dougal soon saw an opportunity to strike another pose.
We continued around the shore of the loch to its outflow then struck across country to pass by two very beautiful lochans beneath the Sgurr.
We now had to find a route down to Grulin below us; the map and what we could see suggested a traversing descent rather than heading straight down the rough and steep heather-covered slopes. This we did, but it was still an awkward descent on account of the height and density of the heather. We made it down with out any scrapes and we were soon amongst the ruins of Grulin township. Grulin is actually two villages that were abandoned in the the mid-19th century; many families left after the 1847 potato famine, then 14 families were cleared from the land to make way for sheep in 1853. It’s a beautiful and poignant spot.
We sat amid the ruins and ate our sandwiches in the perfect early afternoon stillness before heading back along the path towards Galmisdale beneath the impressive south face of the Sgurr.
Perched in splendid isolation along this stretch of coast is a wee bothy that is now apparently someone’s holiday home. What a lovely place for a billet. It’s all done out very tastefully inside – if slightly Laura Ashley-esque; we had a good ogle through the windys.
We continued back along the track bound for Galmisdale and having encountered only one other walker all day we were suddenly confronted with the bizarre spectacle of a group of 20-odd Scandawegian tourists on a guided walk, many of whom were kitted out for Spitzbergen in the depths of winter; I know the weather in Scotland can be shite, but…
Soon enough we arrived back in Galmisdale and enjoyed beer and carrot cake – a fine combination – at the very excellent Eigg community cafe. The place was thrumming with Eigg-folk and visitors and very lively indeed. The 20-odd Scandawegians soon turned up and Deuchar the cafe’s resident black lab tried to hump Dougal – it was all happening! The tour group made ready to catch their ferry and, not without a slight tinge of whatever the Scandawegian is for schadenfreude, the tour group leader informed us that the following day’s forecast was for gales and driving rain…