On a bright Wednesday morning a group of walkers from Islay set off on the ferry from Port Askaig for a day out in the isles of Colonsay and Oronsay. James How of RSPB Islay, previously warden at the RSPB reserve on Oronsay, was leading this day’s walk. WalkIslay organisers had checked that the tides would give time for crossing the ford between the islands, giving us some time to explore Oronsay. Maybe especially because of this fairly rare chance of the tides fitting in with ferry times, there were quite a number of Islay people amongst the folk gathered for the outing.
On the ferry trip out, most of us had a good CalMac breakfast, and some of us checked our maps and got ourselves orientated. It wasn’t long until we were ashore on Scalasaig pier in Colonsay. As the Colonsay minibus wasn’t available, some of the walk leaders with vehicles gave lifts for the 3.5 miles to the road-end, where the ford across The Strand to Oronsay starts. This is as far as vehicles are allowed. Others of the party walked some or all of the way from Scalasaig to the ford. We all met at the road-end, where James How gave a short talk about Oronsay, as did Crystal, the current RSPB warden on Oronsay.
We all set off across the ford with the tide well out, so although the walking was splashy crossing the sand it wasn’t really wet. ‘Ashore’ on Oronsay, we picked up the track and walked the 1.5 miles past a hill with an Iron Age dun (hill fort) and other archaeological sites, on to the Oronsay farm steading and the nearby ruined Priory. James told us that there are forty-seven recorded archaeological sites on Oronsay, so there is plenty of interest besides birds and botany on this small island. On reaching the Priory in brilliant warm sunshine, we all enjoyed sitting out on the lawn and munching packed lunches. While we sat, Crystal, the RSPB Oronsay warden, gave us a talk about land and farm management for wildlife on Oronsay. The RSPB manages the whole of the island of Oronsay, which is owned by an American.
With about an hour left before the tide would turn, most of us spent this time looking around the substantial Priory ruins. There are high walls remaining, with doorways, steps and windows between the several small ‘rooms’. One room contains a small cloister, and one building has been roofed and houses several grave slabs fixed against the inside walls, kept undercover to protect them from weathering. Notes were provided, explaining the history of those whose graves they had covered, and giving a short explanation of the carvings.
James had advised that we all must meet at the ford at 3pm to be sure of getting everybody back across to Colonsay before the tide began to flow again. The ford is very flat and sandy with a bit of track along part of the shoreline, and the tide would come in quickly to cover the sands. As there were eighty-year-olds and six-year-olds amongst the ninety or so of us in the party, it was important to leave time for everyone to cross safely. So we all gathered and walked back to Colonsay, enjoying the sunshine and looking forward to a cup of tea in Scalasaig. All boarded the ferry back to Islay, most of us tucked into fish suppers or other meals on board, and all agreed that we’d really had a thoroughly ‘grand day out’. Thanks to Ian Brooks, James How and everyone who helped to give us a most pleasant and interesting day in Colonsay and Oronsay.