Lying 10 miles south of Barra, Mingulay is the second most southerly island in the Outer Hebrides and this relative isolation has led to it being dubbed by some ‘the near St Kilda.’ On the calm day that we visited, it took little more than an hour to reach by boat from Castlebay, but there is no pier and I imagine that in any but the best weather, it must have been a very isolated existence for the people who once lived here, the last of whom left in 1912. Even in good weather it can be tricky to land as I demonstrated only too well – we had to transfer to a smaller boat to take us to the island itself and as I was disembarking from this onto the rocks, a sudden swell made me lose my balance and almost fall into the sea! Luckily I managed to keep hold of the rail and disaster was averted.
A steep scramble brought us to the one intact building on the island – the old school house, which is now used by the National Trust for Scotland warden. From here, a path runs north towards the remainder of the village. This path is in better condition than most of the buildings and it is easy to imagine the schoolchildren running along it to and from classes. Most of the buildings in the village are in an advanced state of disrepair. They would have been of the traditional blackhouse design, so of course the thatched roofs are long gone, leaving the rest of the buildings at the mercy of the winter gales. The beach is also encroaching upon the village now, and some of the old houses are partially buried in sand.
As there isn’t a great deal to see in the village any longer, and we were keen to visit the high western cliffs for which the island is famed, we headed straight for the hills. We aimed initially for a prominent cairn in the bealach between McPhee’s Hill and Carnan.
From here we got our first sight of the awesome cliffs of Biulacraig, which rise straight from the sea to a height of around 750 feet. It was a dizzying spectacle looking down at the sea far below.
Disappointingly, it seemed that many of the birds had already left for the year; although there were still probably many hundreds of fulmars and guillemots about, it wasn’t quite the sensory overload that I had hoped for.
It was hard to leave the awesome cliff scenery of Biulacraig behind, but with time limited and much still to see, I headed for Carnan, the island’s high point. Although only 896 feet above sea level, it is a fantastic viewpoint, giving spectacular views of Pabbay, Berneray and Barra in the near distance, and towards Skye, Rum, Mull and Tiree further afield. I wished I could have stayed for much longer.
The descent towards the village was surprisingly tricky as the vegetation grows in such a way as to conceal any holes that might be lurking in the ground. Mindful that this would not be the best place to break or sprain my ankle, I proceeded with care. The bonxies were also eyeing me suspiciously though, so I was keen to move as quickly as I safely could!
Reaching the village with a little time to spare, I headed across the beach to see if I could take a quick look at the puffin colony. I thought I saw some of them flying out to sea, but my watch told me I was due back at the boat in ten minutes, so I had to content myself with that.
Some photos by Georgina Collins