A Day on Canna

Route: Isle of Sanday and the Puffins

Date walked: 11/05/2019

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 16km

Ascent: 65m

ImageThe Stacks - Sanday/Canna by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I thought I would post this about a day I spent on the beautiful Isle of Canna. I noticed that there weren't any walk reports for the wander I had out to the cliffs, listed on Walkhighlands so... :)
The Isle of Canna had always appealed to me but doing it as a day trip is tricky. It’s only possible on a Saturday by catching the 7.30am ferry from Mallaig giving you until 6.30pm when the Calmac ferry returns. I’d had a horrible week of ( of all things) jury service which trundled on until Friday morning. :roll: I really wanted to make use of the promised good forecast for Saturday, so after being dismissed from Glasgow Sheriff Court, I rushed back home, got my rucksack packed and set out on the 3.5 hr drive to Mallaig. A quick glance at B&Bs for that night revealed eye watering prices, plus with such an early start, I would be missing out on the cooked breakfast part ☹ Nothing for it but a night in the car, which I actually find ok (for one night), as I fit reasonably well across the back seat, being not too big☺

The journey up was just the west at its best and I stopped at so many places just to drink in the views and make the most of the afternoon drive up.
North Ballachulish from the Loch Leven hotel (a really pretty hotel with lovely gardens and sun deck):

ImageDSC_0553.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0577.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Ben Nevis from a stroll along Neptune’s Staircase:

ImageDSC_0588.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Mountain layers beyond Loch Eil:

ImageDSC_0611.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Since I was saving some cash on an overnight, I treated myself to dinner in the Glenfinnan House hotel bar and excellent it was too. Lamb shank in red wine and creamy mashed tatties, then hot triple chocolate brownie with whisky ice cream. With a cold night forecast, I had to fuel up well ☺

I was just glancing through my phone over dinner when I also picked up that the Small Isles sailing had been cancelled that day due to technical problems! :shock: :shock: A message on the site said they would update what was happening tomorrow by 8pm.Nightmare :cry: Not for one second given the light winds had I even thought there would be a ferry problem! There didn't seem any point now in heading for Mallaig until I knew whether the trip was on, so I went for a stroll around the hotel grounds where I had a signal, with a sinking feeling that my hastily arranged plan was going to be thwarted.Not that being at Glenfinnan for longer was any hardship, it's such a beautiful place:

ImageDSC_0619.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

An alert came through on my phone at 7.45pm - the ferry was back in business and normal service would resume on Saturday! Relief! :D

It was a great drive to Mallaig in the evening light and though time was pushing on now, I stopped at one of my favourite lochs, Loch nam Uamh just to admire the views.

ImageDSC_0635.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was after 9pm by the time I got to Mallaig, so after picking up some supplies in the Co-op for my day on Canna, it was time to find somewhere quiet and off the beaten track to park up for the night. One or two spots I had in mind were already taken by campervans :( (there seem to be so many of them nowadays) and it was half an hour later before I found a decent place off the B8008. Good at last to settle down for a read and a cuppa before getting my sleeping bag and pillow sorted in the back and settling down for the night.
Managed one last photo of the Black Cuillin beyond Sleat:

ImageDSC_0643.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I actually fell asleep really quickly, feeling very cosy but woke up (as ever) during the night for a ‘call of nature.’ Unfortunately I then managed to set off the car alarm when I dropped the electronic car key. :roll: :roll: Got it switched off but then found the car interior light wouldn’t go out. :( I was now worried about it draining the battery overnight, leaving me stuck here, a good few miles out of town. After all my efforts to get here and make the trip happen, ferries not behaving themselves etc, I had images of watching the boat sailing off to Canna without me on it! :crazy: Nothing for it but to up sticks and at 3am I pulled into the formal parking area at the village’s entrance and squeezed into one of the few spaces left. Not ideal but it would do until 6.30am when my alarm was set.Now, if the car was kaput, at least I'd spend the day on the island.(Sod's law but the light went off immediately this time :crazy: ) Ah well, better safe than sorry....

Saturday morning dawned just glorious, pretty cold but with cloudless blue skies. A small queue of people were soon waiting behind me to purchase ferry tickets; in all there were around 20 people on board as we set off at 7.30am until pastel pink and blue skies.

ImageHeading out to the Small Isles by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I have to say, that the journey out to the Small Isles would have been worth it for the scenery alone. The Black Cuillin looked really majestic , towering above the Point of Sleat.

ImageShowery Skye by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImagePoint of Sleat lighthouse by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageBlaven rearing above Sleat on Skye by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Porpoises were hunting too , breaking the calm waters of the sea every few minutes – I reckon I saw 30 or more between Skye and Rum.

ImageFirst of many porpoises by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Rafts of guillemots and razorbills and the odd puffin, bobbed on the surface and a Great Skua glided silently past at one point.

Rum soon reared magnificently ahead and in 90 minutes we were docking at its quiet pier.

ImageApproaching the Rum Cuillin by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageRum - shadow and sunshine by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was stop of only a few minutes and 2 people got off, then off we set for the hour’s sail to Canna.The east side of Rum looked incredible and I looked out for the white sands of Kilmory Bay where a friend and I had camped many moons ago.

ImageRum's wild coastline by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageKilmory Bay, Rum by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Entering the sheltered bay of Canna itself was like arriving in a softer, gentler world of emerald green fields, a turquoise bay, little oak woodlands, sheep grazing quietly and the lilac haze of bluebells. Peace perfect peace.It really did look idyllic.

ImageIdyllic wee Canna - just off the ferry by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Café Canna was unfortunately still closed at 10am :shock: so the tea and cake I had been looking forward to after the hard business of standing about on the ferry :wink: would have to wait. I've always loved photos of Canna with the mountains of Rum as a backdrop so I decided to walk out to the cliffs of Sanday. With any luck too,I might see the puffins nesting on the sea stacks out there.It’s just under 4 miles each way, mostly flat.Had a chat with the girl manning a wee information stall beside the cafe and got the bad news that the puffins hadn't started nesting yet which did seem quite unusual given it was mid May. :( Ah well, it still sounded like a really nice walk.

The route follows the bay initially on the tarmac road round the village and then on a good track right along the shore (once over the little bridge to Sanday) and with some fine views to the mainland.

ImageSkye on the walk back from the cliffs by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I was lucky in that there had been very dry weather for weeks so the going underfoot was very solid but once off the path and going across the moorland, it was still pretty boggy in places but thankfully, only for a short while. I was soon out at the cliff edge and wandering about looking for the best view of the stacks and a comfy perch to sit and have some lunch.

It’s really is quite a spot with Rum as a backdrop, the ocean sparkling in the sun and the sound of thousands of seabirds far below, though no puffins on the stacks themselves.

ImageThe Stacks - Sanday/Canna by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageCliffs on Sanday opposite Rum by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageSea pinks and nesting gulls by scotlandmac, on Flickr

A fantastic place to be, puffins or not. I was keen to see the Lighthouse too and this took me through Great Skua territory – not on their nests yet but very territorial having 'paired off.'

ImageSkuas - they soon turned to attack by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Sure enough, I was soon under attack! In fact, the two in the photo actually came round behind me (very sneaky) but were easily chased off when I raised my walking pole.They really are intimidating and were coming straight at me at head height. At one point, when I took my eye off where they were as I crossed beside a gully, one only gave itself away when I spied its shadow looming towards my head :shock: They are completely silent, not like a seagull - menacing but impressive too.

It's a lovely spot at the Lighthouse, there wasn't a soul around and the only sound were the larks singing their hearts out high above me. A cold easterly breeze was getting up but in all, it was just a perfect day to be out in the Hebrides.The views to the mainland mountains were tremendous too:

ImageThe mainland zoomed - Knoydart by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageKnoydart from Canna by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I was really annoyed with myself when I accidently flushed a female eider from her nest of 4 eggs. Just hoped the skuas didn’t see where she rose from, though when I looked back none of them had moved from their look out posts on the higher ground.

It was an easy, delightful walk back over the fields, with some fine views of the Black Cuillin.

ImageSkye on the walk back from the cliffs by scotlandmac, on Flickr

I had a closer look at St Edwards Church now, a very handsome building though it was locked, awaiting restoration.

ImageSt Edward's Church by scotlandmac, on Flickr

A small shrine near the Sanday/Canna bridge marked a short path to a white sand beach, lapped by jade waters. It was incredibly beautiful, especially with the machair at the back of it covered in lemon-yellow primroses. I stooped down to breathe in their sweet , delicate scent, then just sat and contemplated it all. I often think that Scotland is so achingly beautiful it is impossible at times to put into words.

ImageSunday's lovely shell sand beach by scotlandmac, on Flickr

As a tea jenny, I was now desperate for tea so headed back round to Café Canna, a pretty wee place with outside tables. Tea and a piece of carrot cake never tasted so good!
John Lorne Campbell, a Gaelic scholar and, as Chris always calls him, a 'pukka Campbell', was the well known and respected owner of Canna. With his American wife Margaret Fay Shaw , they lived in lovely Canna House, a stone villa surrounded by fine gardens. Both were renowned for being collectors of traditional Gaelic songs and spent much of their life working to protect and safeguard this aspect and more of Gaelic culture. Lorne Campbell granted Canna to the National Trust for Scotland in the 1960s.
The house is undergoing restoration but the gardens were open so I strolled up through the grounds and what an oasis of beauty and peace they were.
The OS map also suggested that there was an access path outside the garden which would lead me to Canna’s very interesting ancient site of A’Chill. Here once was a monastery, the outline of its walls visible and the remains of a Celtic cross with fine carvings.

I pushed open a side door of the garden and sure enough, a little path wound its way into the oak woodlands and the ferns, cool and damp but lined with a profusion of wild garlic and bluebells.It was gorgeous. I'm not a huge fan of the scent of wild garlic - or Ransoms - but the sight of thousands of their starry white flowers against swathes of lilac blue must be one of the glories of early summer.

ImageBluebell and wild garlic woods by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Across a field then through another little woodland copse, where I passed the fine cairn marking John Lorne Campbell's grave.It's simple inscription said 'Fear Chanaidh' - Man of Canna. What a lovely, secluded final resting place, amongst the wildflowers and woodland.

ImageJohn Lorne Campbell's grave by scotlandmac, on Flickr

A ' Chill was certainly worth visiting. There isn't much left of the 7th -9th century cross though carvings on one side were clear. Close by was the 'punishment stone', a standing stone with a small hole through it, in which the finger of a miscreant was wedged for as long as was deemed necessary to fit the crime :crazy:

I really didn't do justice to the huge number of ancient sites which are dotted throughout Canna - on another walk is what is known as the 'King of Norway's Grave' , a large stone built enclosure; two Souterrains, which may be ancient burial sites or were perhaps used 2,000 years ago for storage? Another visit required :D

With another hour or so to spare before the ferry, there was time for a stroll to see beautiful Rhu Church , built as recently as 1911, Irish in design. Just time too, to walk over to the volcanic sand beach below Prison Rock where, incredibly, there are the remains of a well built stone castle or prison still visible at the top of the stack. Legend has it that the wife of a Macleod was imprisoned here in the 17th century for infidelity :shock:

ImageBlack Sand beach and Prison Rock by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageThe old castle/prison on Prison Rock by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Cafe Canna was now going like a fair and their full evening menu was on the go; they wrapped up a very good Lobster Macaroni Cheese for me to takeaway and I demolished it as I walked the 10 mins back to the small harbour.
In the little waiting room, decorated with glass fishing floats and fishing nets, a lovely video on Canna playing in the background, I spoke to a young couple from Hungary, on a tour of Scotland.The chap himself had been thrilled with their day.
'Why does everyone go to Loch Ness, or those other busy places - why don't they come here? Canna is amazing.'
On that cool sunny day of clear blue skies, I couldn't have agreed more.

ImageA peaceful croft scene, Canna by scotlandmac, on Flickr

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Comments: 15

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Attachment(s) Grahams: Beinn Mhor (Uist)
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Distance: 10km
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Comments: 12
Views: 1727

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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Beinn Dhubh (Harris)
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Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Sgurr na Stri
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Distance: 10km
Ascent: 800m
Comments: 15
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Munros: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch
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Comments: 4
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This post is not published on the Walkhighlands forum
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Anne C

User avatar
Activity: Mountaineer
Pub: Any wild camping spot
Mountain: Quinag
Place: North Uist
Gear: Zamberlan Boots
Member: john Muir Trust;NTS;RSPB;Historic Scotland
Ideal day out: Mountain beside the coast or coastal walk with lots of wildlife spotting

Munros: 120
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