Thursday, 10 August 2006


First, a small request from me. I'm doing a bit of experimentation into blogs and blogging. If you run a blog, please can you make a link to this blog, even if it's just temporary. This is so I can see how and when systems such as Google and Technorati detect such links from one blog to another. Thank you. And now, back to our regular programme...

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Another expedition to a Hebridean island. This one was to Boreray, which is about four miles to the west of Berneray. It's a quick sail over there on Donald's boat; we went over during the annual Berneray week. Getting onto the island requires a transfer onto a dinghy for the last few yards, followed by grounding on Boreray's only beach (you can see it behind Donald in the picture below, where he's preparing to drop anchor).


Boreray has a resident population of 1. Jerry lives in his restored eco-house, which is powered by wind turbines and solar panels. He's also restored another building, which is let as a self-catering place. (You don't need to sail or swim across; he'll pick you up in his boat from the south end of Berneray causeway).

Apart from the two buildings that Jerry has done up, pretty much all of the other buildings in Boreray are ruins. As with islands such as Pabbay, there was for many centuries a thriving community here. This can be seen in the many house walls still standing, and the remains of buildings such as the church:

(As we crested the hill and the church building disappeared from view, I'm sure I heard the distant voice of Sarah Beeny say something about "property developers dream", "just need to fix the roof and put windows in", or something like that...). 

Boreray has been inhabited by different races for many centuries; remnants of Viking and other civilisations are frequently unearthed. Remains such as neolithic burial chambers, dating back at least 5,000 years, have been discovered amongst the shifting sands of the dunes. A number of ancient standing stones are to be found around the island. After the end of Viking control of the island in the thirteenth century. the burial ground at Cladh Manach was used for the bodies of monks who died north of the isle of Eigg (those dying south were taken to Iona). There is a cup-marked stone next to a number of the grave mounds on this site.

There is a particularly interesting geo (a small inlet) on the northwest side of the island. It is possible - with care - to scramble down to a tiny beach at the bottom. Birds nest on both cliff faces. Unfortunately, clegs (I really hate clegs) swarm at the bottom of the geo, so I had to quickly scramble back up while they extracted several pints of blood from me:


In around 1460, the island was acquired by Clan MacLean of Ardgour. The MacLeans were to remain until the early nineteenth century. Evidence of the considerable works to improve Boreray's infrastructure - roads, walls, pier and a drainage system for Loch Mor - is still discernible. Few people would actually have lived on Boreray during the MacLeans' stewardship, but there was plenty of work for day-labourers from North Uist.

The thirteenth MacLean of Boreray finally left the island in around 1810. and it was divided into twenty crofts. The population grew quickly; the census of 1841 recorded 181 inhabitants. Many of the numerous ruined houses on the island date back to this particular era:


Despite the efforts of the Free Church of Scotland, who provided a fine church and schoolhouse in 1880, over-cultivation and the collapse of the kelp trade contributed to a gradual population decline until, by 1925, the last islanders were evacuated. One family - descended from the MacLeans - decided not to relinquish their tenancy, and the single, existing croft was created; the remainder continues to be used as common grazing land by crofters from Berneray. Boreray was finally abandoned in the 1960’s.

Various signs of previous work are scattered across the island. For example, on the west side there is a narrow causeway which seperates the largest loch from the sea. Items from around the world that have e.g. fallen off boats are periodically washed up on the bank of the causeway; when we visited, the skeleton of a large sea creature (dolphin or small whale) was present:


Several residents of Berneray - especially some of the MacLeans - are direct descendants of Boreray residents. It is widely said that one of the grandparents of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was a resident of Boreray, though firm evidence is lacking.

It was an enjoyable few hours on Boreray, though that was probably enough time. The island doesn't have the dramatic presence, atmosphere and views of Pabbay; on the gloomy day we visited Boreray, it appeared to be relatively featureless. On a much brighter and sunnier day (and one with less clegs) it would probably have been better, especially as several of the sweeping North Uist beaches are visible from the islands.

Pictures on this blog entry by me; thanks to Jerry Cox for some of the text.

1 comment:

  1. I had pleasure in showing our younger son what Donald looks(ed) like.jgg