Saturday, 9 January 2016

Glas Eilean

Glas Eileann, the grey island, which is only an island during the higher tides, lies between Mingary Pier on Rubha Aird an Iasgaich and Kilchoan Bay (see satellite picture at bottom of this post). This view looks at the island from the east, as one sees it shortly after leaving the car park at Mingary Pier and beginning the somewhat rough walk, across rock, marsh and bog, to reach it.  It's so low-lying that it's hardly visible on the far side of this wide and, as far as the OS map is concerned, un-named bay.

As the satellite picture suggests, the area is a geologist's paradise, with a complexity of igneous intrusions criss-crossing an area of sedimentary rock. In this picture, sedimentary strata dipping from right to left are cut by two cone sheets of the Ardnamurchan volcanic complex, both dipping from left to right, the larger one forming the cliff at top right.

It's also an ornithologist's paradise. At this time of year greylag geese graze the grass at the back of the beaches - until they're disturbed, when they fly around until the disturbance goes away. Ducks, particularly mallard and widgeon, pair up in small, hidden pools in the marsh land, while....

....hooded crows find a high point confident that the 'disturbance' will fall in a bog and provide a meal.

The western end of the bay is one of the best places to watch seals lazing on the rocks, these ones so idle they lie and wait for the rising tide to float them off. This is also a good area for otters, whose signs are easily found on the hummocks around the brackish pools close to the tide line.

There's plenty, too, to keep the archaeologist amused. A cairn, one of Western Ardnamurchan's scheduled monuments, lies on a knoll at the back of a small beach. Referred to in its designation, rather vaguely, as a 'prehistoric', someone has named it the 'Ben Hiant House cairn'. While the white croft house visible in this picture to the left of the cairn is called Ben Hiant, it might have been better named....

....after the bay immediately below and to the south of it, Port na Luinge, the port of the ship.  The name conjures visions of a Viking longship drawn up on the beach and a chief being carried ashore to be buried on the knoll beneath a high cairn of rocks. Sadly, the cairn has obviously been pillaged.

Working round the bay, one comes to a point immediately opposite Glas Eilean. Given a fairly low tide which should preferably not be making, it's a scramble over slippery, weed-covered rocks to reach the island itself, helped by an outcrop of igneous rock, probably one of the many cone sheets, which offers a natural path across the weed.

From the highest point on the island there are good views across Kilchoan Bay to Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg. Evidence is easily found here which suggests that it was once used as some sort of lookout or, perhaps, lightly defended fort. This includes old walls and a naturally protected vantage point. Because it has such wide views, this is also one of the best places to find sea eagles.

Satellite picture courtesy Bing Maps.


  1. This is something to be confirmed with the gaelic speakers, but I had always understood that glas in the context of an island meant green, typically because, being isolated, the grass was very lush due to being fertilised by gulls and also grazed less intensively.

  2. You're right, Neil - my Gaelic dictionary gives translations "pale, wan, grey, green (of grass)". I have always thought of it as the grey island because of the colour of its rocks. Jon