Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Holy Island

To some, the map of Arran is shaped like a peanut. To me Arran is a high-foreheaded man, about to swallow a peanut. In this paradigm, the peanut is Holy Island. There's a more famous Holy Island on the east coast off Northumberland, which I described a while ago. Now I'd like to tell you about Arran's Holy Isle.

Holy Island from Lamlash Bay:

Holy Isle is an island reached from another island. It got me thinking - what island requires most ferry journeys to reach? In Britain there are a number that require two boat trips, such as Sanday, or Raasay, but I can think of only one - Unst - requiring more than two boat trips. Of course, Britain itself is an island for someone coming from Europe.

My 1990 copy of the MCofS guide to the Scottish Islands suggests a swim from Kingscross Point on the Arran mainland as a sporting way of reaching Holy Island. I am not that much of a sportsman, and chose the ferry from Lamlash. Lamlash is a beautiful village in summer sunshine, elegant white houses gleaming against verdant west-coast greenery and a gaggle of yachties and wetsuited family activities around the pier. Holy Island closes off the east end of this attractive bay, used as a naval anchorage during WWII.


Holy Island was bought by the Buddhists of Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir in 1992 when the existing farmers decided to leave. They run a retreat, spiritual centre, vegetable garden and cafe at the pierhead, and a nunnery at the southern end where women go for four years intensive solitude. We were met at the pier by a Buddhist volunteer who gave us some suggestions for our visit. The owners request visitors don't stray from the paths, but on a day trip there is no time to do so and the things you will likely want to see are all accessible from the path.

The retreat:

As it was a rare fine day, we started up the hill path, views opening with altitude. Lamlash Bay and the Firth of Clyde open up, with Arran's northern hills coming impressively into view.

Summit View:

To the south, Ailsa Craig and Whiting Bay can be seen beyond the bay lighthouse and the nunnery. I wouldn't fancy a four year spiritual retreat myself. Imagine what you could do though with four years, dedicated entirely to one particular subject of interest?

View South:

The descent from the summit is precipitous, with deep, heather-covered fissures roped off to keep pedestrians safe. Holy Island's firth lighthouse can be seen from here, flashing its light across to Ayrshire.

Pillar rock light:

The return journey along the shore can take as long as you fancy, wild Soay sheep nibbling at the grass and largely ignoring passing pedestrians. There's Buddhist rock art and, at a gentle indentation in the island shore, protected by steep slopes above and a lip of land below, St Molaise's cave. As a sheltered site, Molaise chose well.

West shore of Holy Island:

This cave is a peaceful spot to contemplate Lamlash Bay. Molaise was a 6th century Irish monk, a nobleman who chose a life of spiritual contemplation (he later became abbot of Leighlin in Carlow). I wonder if he ever swam across to Kingscross Point?

Pathside Buddhist art:


blueskyscotland said...

It's a great island. Glad you got a beautiful day to explore it. The rock paintings give it a special quality.

Gavin Macfie said...

I seem to be shadowing your island visits this year. Just left Arran where I ran the tops from Lochranza to Corrie.

Robert Craig said...

Perhaps we will meet on Skye in October??