Visit Mingulay as part of your St Kilda voyage

St Kilda is one of our main destinations for the early summer of 2016. It is a mysterious and hard to reach places, beyond the outer Hebrides. A good 40 miles west of the sound of Harris, surrounded by foggy myths it is a prime destination for the adventurous sailor. But what to do when the weather takes a turn for the worst? Sailing from Ullapool the outer Hebrides are our first stop on the way to Hirta (the main Island of the St Kilda archipelago) If we are being held back by the north Atlantic weather the Bishop Isles are a perfect way to see more of Scotland’s marvels!  Mingulay is known amongst other things as the “nearby St Kilda”.  Geographically closer to civilization, but none the less equally isolated. Mingulay’s cause of isolation was not the vastness of the ocean but more so the absence of a save landing place, vital to bring in the necessary stores and the occasional visit of the priest.

Geography

With a size of just 2.5 miles by 3.5 miles, there is hardly room for the six compact peaks, Carnan to the west being the highest at 273 meters. With such amazing peaks, Mingulay is perhaps the most spectacular of the southern Islands. Like most of Scotland Mingulay was covert with ice in the Pleistocene. It is mainly made up of gneiss and some granite but you can also find erratic blocks of rock and boulder clay left by the ice.

Visit Mingulay as part of your St Kilda voyage!

Legends – Macphee, the rent collector that was left on a deserted island, Mingulay

When the Islands where owned by MacNeil off Barra one day a rent collector by the name of Macphee was dropped off at Mingulay Bay. To his great horror he found every one dead. He rushed back to the landing site and called out to the boats men to pick him up for he feared the residents were victims of the plague. On hearing this the oarsmen rowed for their lives and left Macphee for dead. A whole year poor Macphee lived by himself with only the corpses as sad company. Every day he would climb what is now known as Macphee’s hill and wave at passing ships. The only response was a friendly wave back.

He survived and eventually MacNeil though it save to resettle the Island. He made a special grant of to Macphee by way of compensation and since then

Further history

Without a doubt the Island was settled long ago for there are several potential archaeological sites. Crois an t-Suidheachian  (cross of the sitting place) was a structure on a level area of ground above the road at Aneir. Nothing remains but it has been described as a standing stone or a circle of standing stones. Viking graves have been found on many of the other Isles in the Barra group but are not abundant on Mingulay. Viking influence is found in topographical names the Norse men gave to the place such as Hecla, Skipisdale, old Norse for ship valley but also Mingulay, beliefed to have come from the old Norse Mikil-ay meaning “Big Island”

Between 800 and 1200,Viking raids on the outer Hebrides were common practise. Many Norse men made the Islands their home. In the second half of the 12th century their influence diminished and by 1266 the Islands where under Scots control. Like on many of the isolated Islands, live on Mingulay has always depended on crofting, fishing and the harvesting of birds and their chicks. At one point when MacNeil owned the Island, rent was payable in fatlings or shearwater chicks!

The shelter of Mingulay bay formed the base for the later village. At the height of Village life there was a mill, a chapel house consisting of a church and a priest’s residence, and a school. However, despite there being a continuous population on Mingulay for at least two thousand years, evacuations began in 1907 and the island was completely abandoned by its residents in 1912! Some attempts to live on the Island have been made, but the hardship has proven too much. What is left is a ghost village.

The houses no longer have a roof and the tomb stones are over grown with grasses and mosses. Once you set foot on the beach you take a step back in time. Standing at the fire place in one of the remaining houses, you can nearly touch it as you pear out over the sea. Times when men climbed up the sea stack Lianamul on a bare rope to let their wedders fatten. Climbing down the slippery face of Biulacraig (at 215 mtr once believed to be the steepest in Great Britain) to harvest eggs and chicks, becomes easier to imagine when you are part of this long gone setting. The Island remains abandoned although in present times the great bird colonies attract some naturalists in summer.  Mingulay is owned by the National trust of Scotland since 2000.

 

Position

56´49N 007´38W.  Separated from Berneray by a narrow strait, Mingulay is the second largest in the Bishop or Barra Isles in the outer Hebrides.

Wild live

When we visited Mingulay last summer we were welcomed by a bay full of basking sharks, feeding on plankton and sunray’s! An awesome site as these magnificent dinosaur like creatures glided past the ship. That evening after our hike on the Island the many Puffins found their way back to their burrows in the last sun beams

Captain Gijs tells us

Late at night, during my anchor watch, I was kept awake by the growling seals on the beach. When I poked my head outside I found them all huddled together in the moonlight, keeping a close eye on the ship, making sure I was still up.

The Island spectacular cliffs are home to a great variety of sea birds. Among them are: Tysties, Black legged Kittywakes, Fulmars, Shags, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Storm Petrels and Arctic Terns. When we left Mingulay last summer we past the Heiskers on our way to Vatersay and spotted 3 Sea Eagles!

Walking on the Island offers some of the most spectacular sights of the Atlantic ocean. Gunamul on the SW side has a natural arc of 150 meters high. Further south Dun Mingulay is home to an Iron age fort. This together with the Sheillings at Skipisdale and the northern promontory and its hill Tom a’Reithean make this gem truly unforgettable!

 

Mingulay chart

  • Scotland