Field Trip to Luing – Saturday 16th January

As we assembled at Cuan waiting for the ferry to take us over to Luing, I’m sure we were all wondering whether the conditions were going to be kind to us after the very stormy night we had just experienced. Our numbers had been depleted by cancellations following the weather forecast and the overnight heavy rain and wind. However after arriving at Cullipool the clouds had lifted and the wind dropped, as we met our guide for the walk, Anya Lamont. The Gods were with us !!

We proceeded to walk south along a farm track opposite the Luing Stores and soon saw five Greylag Geese in a field off to our left and a flock of about sixteen Meadow Pipit. Continuing south we arrived at the locally named Pond Island (Fraoch Eilean which should be Heather Island). We were to learn that the channel behind this island had been dammed either end and was used to store lobsters ready to be sold when the price was right, hence Pond Island.

As we moved south along the shore the going was rather difficult and I found myself grabbing the heather on the rocks above me for support. Mingled together with heather was a lichen named Cladonia portentosa (Reindeer Lichen) one which grows low on the ground. To our right a Shelduck flew past us and in the distance a group of eight Red-breasted Mergansers were diving for fish. There were also several Grey Herons patiently awaiting their opportunity.

Further along the coast we were surprised as we flushed a Jack Snipe close by, which flew low for a short distance and then settled again into the undergrowth. This was repeated again as we disturbed another bird and the same result followed. Out to sea on a small skerry we counted at least eighteen Shag drying their feathers after fishing this area, which obviously had good supply of food.

We dropped down into a small bay where there was a good selection of seaweeds and we managed to identify Knotted wrack, Channelled wrack, and Spiral wrack. Knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum) is a common brown seaweed which grows on sheltered rocky shores all around Britain. However the very distinctive free-living variant Mackaii has a very limited distribution, occurring in Scotland, some sites in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The main British (and world) populations are confined to extremely sheltered shores on the west coast of Scotland. Anya explained that this free floating seaweed required a brackish situation to survive and this small bay where a burn joined the coast, was the perfect habitat.

No sooner had we absorbed these fascinating facts, than our eyes were taken with the framework of an old boat, long past its sell by date. The frame was barely intact with the bare ribs sticking out like a skeleton, only held together by rivets which had been used on this wood framed hull. It had been named the Golden Chance and the fishing boat had been brought to the shores of Luing some fifty years ago, to be used as a house boat. Unfortunately this did not materialise and the wreck stands as a testament to someone’s romantic folly.  We were now halfway down the coast to Blackmill Bay, when we came across the old slate quarry at Tir nan Og. This mine was worked until the mid 40’s, when it was said a quarryman was killed, which was a fairly unusual occurrence . It might have been thought to have brought bad luck and the quarrying which had been low key, was ceased shortly after. It is still possible to see the pathway and old pier, from which the slate was loaded onto boats to be shipped further up the coast. We also found this unusual perforated rock which resembled a honeycomb, caused either by mollusc’s or salt erosion.

As we crossed several dykes which were formed during the Tertiary period (60 million years old) by the larva flows from the Mull volcano we could see in the distance the Cobblers of Lorn, sheets of acid igneous rocks, which predated the dykes. These rocks are Devonian (400 million years old) and are the result of melting at the base of the crust which had been thickened because of folding and piling up of thrust sheets following the final closure of the Iapetus Ocean and the resultant continental collision which formed the Caledonian mountain chain. This brought us to Blackmill Bay where there is a small settlement of houses and cottages. As we arrived a flock of about 20 Wigeon flew into the bay to add some interest. We had now completed half of our walk and turned north to head back to Cullipool along farm tracks.

The going was now a lot easier along good tracks and our attention was soon diverted to a flock of Curlew, numbering about thirty, which circled and landed again behind some geese. Here there were about eighty geese a mixture of Canada and Greylags. Further along the track we disturbed another group of Greylags totalling approximately 100 accompanied by a single Lapwing and two more Curlew.

The farm track was climbing now with the anticipation of good views and we were not to disappointed, for at the top a panoramic view was set out before us. Colonsay, Jura, Scarba and Lunga lay to the south with Easdale, Seil and Mull to the north interspersed with many small islands. This was a view to be treasured and stored for the future. However we were soon distracted again as a group of half a dozen Skylark moved in front of us and then circled back reminding me that their song can be heard as early as February if the weather is mild.

Our destination lay before us now and we soon reached the car in time to catch the 15.35 hour ferry back to Cuan. My thanks must go to Anya Lamont for making this walk so pleasurable with so many interesting features, one that I will remember for a long time to come.

Next Month’s walk :- Saturday 13th February 2010 (Loch Oude to Melfort Village).