18 October 2011--Yesterday afternoon's sailing to Colonsay departs at 7:30 this morning. There isn't very much traffic--if this were an
airline, they'd simply have shuffled us onto this afternoon's trip. I suppose CalMac is contractually obligated to run the extra trip if possible.
Whatever the reason, we're glad they have. We're on the island before 10:00, and it occurs to me that we've missed very little time here--just
an evening in the pub, really.
We circle around the ring road clockwise, looking for our B&B. Pass through Kilchattan (Lower and Upper) and drive out the spur to Uragaig, where I'm thinking the B&B is. It's not, although several other B&B's I'd considered are. We go back, complete the ring (which is maybe six miles or so total), and start around again. Find the B&B in Lower Kilchattan, just up a driveway from a sign bearing its name, which we'd seen the first time around. I spend far more time and energy than it's worth trying to explain to Ron why I didn't think the sign indicated that particular house. Duh. Ron, easygoing as he is, says nothing. I know how lame I sound. Well, it's just as well we weren't doing this last night in the dark.
We check in, and in the course of conversation with our host, I mention that we're planning to visit the ruined priory on the neighboring island of Oransay, which can be reached across the Strand at low tide. I am crestfallen when the landlord tells us that today's tide will not be low enough. He produces a chart which shows the daily height of the tides. I searched all over the internet for this information when I was planning, and could find nothing more definitive than a notation that tide tables are posted at the CalMac office, on the Isle of Colonsay website. The priory was my primary reason for coming here.
[Ordnance Survey spells the name of this island Oronsay, but the locals tend to spell it Oransay, and I've adhered to that, not least to distinguish it from at least three other Oronsays. The name means "tidal island", and all of these are accessible at low tide from adjacent land. If you're googling it, use the o spelling.]
There are about 150 permanent residents on Colonsay, with the largest concentration at Scalasaig, where the ferry docks. There's a shop, and the Colonsay Hotel, but I find it difficult to think of Scalasaig as a village--it's too small and scattered. (Perhaps settlements like this were what the folk of Iona were thinking when they named their village Baile Mòr, "the Big Town".) We park by the hotel and walk a short way up the dirt track that leads to the radio mast. The cluster of stones just off the road is sometimes referred to as a stone circle, but is more likely the remains of a chambered cairn. To the west, we can see the green, flat-topped peak of a hillfort. We'll check that out later.
We drive out the spur road to the Strand and look across to Oransay. It's a blustery day, and as we are wandering over the sands, a squall comes screaming through. Nothing to do but turn our backs and wait. The mail truck comes along and drives across. We can see that the water is not all that deep, and I suppose you could take off your shoes, roll up your trousers, and walk over. It's a long stretch to wade, though, and I imagine the water is very cold.
Dinner at the Colonsay Hotel is accompanied by beer from the local brewery, which I was not aware of prior to arrival here. This is surely the smallest island to have its own brewery, and it's probably a wise decision for them to forego cask ale in favor of regular draft. We'd like to try their IPA, but the keg has just kicked, and we settle for the lager and the 80 shilling. They are quite nice.