A Week on Tiree - Sunshine & Sunsets

Well, that’s us back from a weeks holiday on the Inner Hebridean island of Tiree. It’s the first time I’ve been back to Tiree in a couple of years, the last visit was a long weekend in May 2014. Prior to that I think we worked out it was 2008 when I was last there on holiday, which is a shame considering I’d been going to the island 3 times a year every year when I was a youngster (in the dim and distant past!). So, with the kind offer of piggy backing onto my folks holiday (well, one week of their two) Anna and I decided to go for a longer break and hopefully the weather would be a slight improvement on what we experienced two years ago.

Instead of driving from Aberdeen to Oban, as we did two years ago (and it’s quite a drive in the early hours!) we headed to Glasgow on the Friday evening to stay with my parents, enjoy Saturday and catch up with friends before driving to Oban in the early hours of Sunday.

The Glasgow skyline from the Riverside Museum.

With the ferry departing at 0715 and the need to be checked in 45 minutes before, alarms were set for 0300 so we could be on the move by 0400. We arrived in Oban just after 0600 as the cloud and rain from overnight cleared away to leave the early morning sun breaking through the gaps in the clouds and lighting the hills of Mull to the west.

Ben More on Mull with Kerrera in the foreground.

Tickets collected, we then waited for the vehicles to load onto the MV Clansman for our 4 hour sail to Tiree. As we cleared Oban Bay and the Isle of Kerrera we sailed up the Sound of Mull with views of Ben More on Mull and the hills of Ardnamurchan on the mainland.

Kerrera from the upper deck on the MV Clansman.

The weather remained a mix of showers with the sun flitting in and out of the ragged gaps in the clouds, the light dappling the hills of Mull as we sailed north west passing Tobermory before leaving the sanctity of the Sound and heading into rougher water. Coll was our first destination as the ferry called for a brief 15 minutes to disembark those that were off to enjoy that island. Departing Coll and turning west, Tiree could be seen fairly clearly with the sun glinting off the ‘Golf Ball’ on Ben Hynish, I’ve always known know it by this name (it’s the Tiree radar station for air traffic control), and it sits on the highest hill (at a modest 141m above sea level) on Tiree.

A lone fishing boat catching the early morning sun as we sail passed Tobermory.

We arrived at Gott Bay on time and disembarked, back on Tiree - our island home for the week, the house we were staying in is located in Crossapol on the central southern coast of the island. We used to holiday with my family on Tiree when I was younger and we would stay with my Grandparents in their house at Balevullin, a township which is found on the north west corner of the island.

Balevullin beach with the surf crashing ashore as a squall passes through.

Once we were organised (and before we became too comfortable after our early rise) we headed out for a drive. We headed to Balevullin where I hoped to take a walk on the beach despite the heavy squalls passing through and the rather incessant wind! We managed only about a third of the length of the beach before a heavy shower had us running back to the car, with everything soaked we decided that it was enough for this location for the day. I planned a stop at the next beach along the coast in an easterly direction, this beach in known as The Green. I’ve visited it in the past but I wanted to head to the east end of the beach which was new to me, reason being I was looking for possible sunset locations for the week ahead. Keeping half an eye on the rain that could be seen out to sea we walked some of the shoreline and managed a few photos before hunger and the cold made up our minds to head home to a warm fire and a snooze after dinner.

Tràigh Chornaig, The Green - taken among the rocks at the eastern end of the beach looking west.

I’ll confess now, over the entire week I didn’t once manage to drag myself out of bed for a sunrise. On four out of six morning I set an alarm for 5am and each time I woke, switched it off and went back to sleep! Not very committed for a landscape photographer…

Monday we woke to blue skies and a few scattered clouds, it had all the signs of being a beautiful day - the one exception was the wind. It blew steadily (and strongly) out of the west/south west all day and managed to rob the air of whatever heat the sun was creating. We were heading back to Balevullin again today, visiting family to say hello and I was determined to walk the beach with Anna and take in the eastern rocky headland as I knew there would be seabirds nesting on the rocky ledges and in the marram grass. I have covered this in a separate blog, which can be found here - Tiree Wildlife, if you wish to read more.

Fulmars found on the rocks at Sloc a' Ghille Mhoir.

Sloc a' Ghille Mhoir, the rocky north coast between Balevullin and The Green.

As we walked back along the beach I stopped here and there to take a few photos, I was trying to capture the different views and textures of the sand, waves and rocks that combine to make Balevullin the surf beach that has become renowned in the surfing community. I have to admit I did struggle with finding that something with the camera, it’s a beach I have etched in my memory from years of playing in the burn, building sand castles and generally just causing mayhem! But it just wasn’t translating into a photograph with the camera.

Tràigh Bail' a-Mhuillinn (Balevullin Beach) looking south west toward Beinn Hough.

Waves in the sand - Tràigh Bail' a-Mhuillinn

I returned again on the Monday evening in the hope of capturing the sunset but even that eluded me on this occasion.

Sunset at Tràigh Bail' a-Mhuillinn

That evening, back at the house I was showing my mum the various shots from the day (and complaining that I just wasn’t managing to take a decent picture of the beach) when it was announced that she would like to have something printed, something to remind her of where she grew up prior to my Grandparents moving to Glasgow in the years that followed. So, commission accepted… I now had a challenge on my hands! The photo that prompted this is below.

Tràigh Bail' a-Mhuillinn - Overlooking the bay to the north east.

Now while this particular photograph was going in the right direction I wasn’t happy with it, mainly as the light was harsh and I knew I could do better. So, while I mulled this over, we went exploring the beach at Crossapol, just across the road from the house.

Tràigh Bhàgh, Crossapol.

As the day had clouded over and sunset wasn’t particularly guaranteed I headed east to explore the small inlets around the main town of Scarinish. These inlets usually consist of rocky points with white sandy beaches, some are only a few metres wide and some ten or so metres wide but never bigger than this. The largest of these natural inlets holds the old harbour but I didn’t make it down there on this visit unfortunately.

Eilean an Arbhair, Scarinish looking to Ben More on Mull.

Eilean an Arbhair, Scarinish looking toward the harbour.

Eilean an Arbhair, Scarinish again looking toward the harbour.


Hynish was our destination on Wednesday, this is home to the Skerryvore Museum which documents the history of the Lighthouse of the same name, the light can be found 16 miles to the south west of the island. Our plan was a walk out to a place known as Happy Valley on the coast beneath Ben Hynish. It was yet another (near) cloudless blue sky for a mornings walk along the shore to one of the small coves that can be found along this section of the coast. We were accompanied at various point by cows and calves, sheep and lambs as well as Gulls and Fulmars.

Looking east from Cleit Mhor, the Treshnish Isles and Ben More on Mull in the horizon.

Looking south west from Cleit Mhor.

Looking south from Cleit Mhor

The bemused locals..!                                                                              Photo courtesy of Anna Weir

The promise of lunch at the excellent Farmhouse Cafe at Balemartine kept us going while we enjoyed the walk. It has to be said that most of the houses on Tiree enjoy enviable views on days where visibility is good and the sun is out. It’s a little different when enduring a winters gale and horizontal rain!!

A view to be jealous of?? Looking south west from Balemartine.

Upon our return home the wind dropped off completely and the sky turned a deep blue with the only cloud showing on the distant horizon. Mull, Jura, Rùm, Canna, Barra and the Uist’s could all be clearly seen from various points around the island. For sunset I (yet again) chose to head to Balevullin, this time I planned to go left of the beach and out on to the rocks that form the western point of land. From here you can sit and watch the sun sink below the horizon with nothing between you and the continent of North America, thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.

Awaiting the right light on the rocks, Balevullin.

Anna watching the sunset, the islands of (R-L) Rùm, Canna and the peaks of Skye's Cuillins create the distant backdrop.

The last of the sun (with a little bit of lens flare!), Balevullin.

I had great hopes of capturing the night sky and the Milky Way as Tiree certainly doesn’t suffer from light pollution as it’s far from the nearest (large) light source on the mainland. Unfortunately the moon conspired against me as it was approaching a full moon during our stay. This is the only night photo I managed, taken around two hours after sunset and looking north the horizon still has plenty of light from the long gone sun. A few constellations can be made out but any hopes of the Milky Way were squashed there and then…

[Please note, wild camping is controlled on Tiree due to the fragile Machair. The tent in this photo was merely being used as a prop.]

Under the stars - but no Milky Way unfortunately.

Thursday saw us heading to Vaul on the north eastern coast of the island. Vaul is the site of a Broch, Dum Mor Bhalla which was the subject of an extensive archaeological dig a couple of decades ago. As we wandered along the coast under yet another blue sky we were enjoying the views of the beaches and watching the new born lambs enjoying the spring sunshine. By this point in the week I’d realised that the best way to take photos was to walk to the farthest point we intended to go to (while looking for likely locations) then, on our way back, I could stop off and take photos at the locations I’d previously identified as having potential.

Tràigh Bhalla, Vaul Bay.

Tràigh Bhalla, Vaul Bay.

Marram Grass - Tràigh Bhalla, Vaul Bay.

Now, time was running out a little for my mums request. With another cloudless sunset on the cards I decided once again to head back to Balevullin for a last (for this holiday) attempt at capturing the beach, hopefully this time the light would be good and I’d have a photo that would be worth considering for a print.

Tràigh Bail' a-Mhuillinn at sunset.

While out on this evening I was also watching the moon rise to the south east as it climbed into the darkening sky. It wasn’t the best night with regards to the wind - at times I found myself struggling to stand in one place as it blew ashore from the north. Holding onto a telephoto lens and capturing a sharp image (even at fast shutter speeds) was a bit of a challenge! (Why wasn't I using  my tripod? Generally laziness and my other camera with the 24-70 was fastening to it!) As the sun sank lower toward the horizon, I managed to grab a few bracketed exposures of one of the traditional thatched cottages with the sun setting behind it. I intended to create a HDR so I could capture as much of the dynamic range as possible - I’ve tried to keep it as ‘real’ as possible!!

Sunset behind Creah Chrom, Balevullin.

Tracks in the sand, Balevullin Beach.

Sunset over the Atlantic.

Moonrise over Tiree.

On Friday my aunt and uncle were arriving to spend the weekend with my folks (we were departing on Saturday) so we headed over to the ferry to meet them and I took a few shots of the Clansman arriving and departing the pier.

Last vehicles loaded and readying for departure.

Departing the pier at Gott Bay.

MV Clansman leaving Gott Bay with Ben More and the Dutchman's Cap on the horizon.

We then had a bit of time to kill as the ‘oldies’ were off to do a bit of sightseeing and they had the house keys so, we headed back out to Balemartine and then to Balephuil. A quick trip up Ben Hynish for the view from the trig point and then off to investigate the car park at Loch à Phuill with the walk out to Traigh Bhi. This beach lies between Ben Hynish and the southern tip of Ceann A’ Mhara.

Balephuil Bay (Tràigh Bhi) and Ceann A' Mhara from the slopes of Ben Hynish.

As this was to be our last night and there was yet again the promise of another special sunset we decided to head to Sandaig and watch the last of the days light on the northern flank of Ceann A’ Mhara. As we watched the light turn orange and then to pink I decided to grab a quick ‘selfie’ with Anna, our background the sinking sun in the west.

Sunset on the sands of Tràigh nan Gilean.

I asked Anna to take this - Watching the last of the light on Ceann A' Mhara.

Our last sunset on Tiree for this holiday - camera on timer and a dash to stand with Anna! (And yes, it was cold and windy!!)

Sunset from the sands of Tràigh nan Gilean, looking at Ceann A' Mhara.

Saturday dawned and that, unfortunately, meant a car to pack. It was with heavy hearts that we departed, it had been a fantastic week and we had been really lucky with the weather. I’d had a great chance to reacquaint myself with the island, show Anna (who bravely endured while 6 months pregnant!) as much as possible and just generally enjoy a break from work.

Departure - Leaving Gott Bay.

The last photographs from the trip were taken as we sailed to Oban, visibility was again good although the weather wasn’t quite up to the previous days standards. Despite the cloud and threat of some rain we were treated to views of Eigg, Rùm and Muck as we approached the Sound of Mull where Ardnamurchan Lighthouse stands guard. Further down the Sound, as we passed Craignure on Mull, we sailed passed the Coruisk approaching the pier on her scheduled sailing from Oban.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

The Coruisk passing Duart Castle on Mull.