My first sight of Tiree was when the little twin otter plane I was in approached the wide empty expanse of beach that my map revealed to be Traigh Mhor - which happens to be Gaelic for big beach. It was a couple of hours later that I’d got settled at my accommodation (the mill hostel) and set off for my first beach - nearby Traigh Chornaig. By then the sun was low in the sky, giving a golden yet somehow cold feel to the scene. It was so beautiful that I wondered if the plane had crashed and this was heaven.
Next morning I woke to a sunny day. As ever on Tiree, a breeze blew, gently moving the shower clouds across the sky. Setting out on my tour of the islands beaches my first encounter was with a couple dressed as a bush by the side of the road, staring through binoculars in the search for unusual birds. I saw the bush later in the day driving a small red car on the quiet roads.
Within the hour I reached Traigh Baille A Mhuilian and had a walk up and down the beach. When a shower struck I found shelter by surf shack hut that had been moved around on the beach judging by the tracks. This was one of the beaches used for kite surfing.
Heading further west I climbed the slopes of Beinn Hough, getting a view of the entire island and the ‘Dutchmans Cap’ island across the Hebridean sea (so named because of its shape). Crossing an expanse of grass and then dunes I reached the Southern end of Traigh Hough. Its an empty beach - mainly sandy but with curved ridges of shingle sculpted by the tide.
A few yards South led my to Traigh Thallasgair - the only shingle beach I found on the island, and then the much sandier Traigh Thodhrasdail. I walked barefoot, enjoying the fine soft white sand but not so much the chilly sea that numbed my feet.
Around the corner I came to Traigh Ghrianal, but by now a cloud that I had been watching all morning, reach landfall, and the rain began. The light changed completely. Where there had been a deep blue sea it was now a interesting shade of pale aqua verging on light grey in places - particularly around the many rocks that jutted from the sea at this point.
My next stop was to be what my map showed as a museum. It turned out to be three thatched blockhouses with very little thatch left and a for sale sign. I had a look inside. The crooked sticks that held the remains of the thatch broke the sky like crazy paving. The floor was grubby with animal droppings, yet there were electric heaters on the walls. I felt an urge to runaway and buy the cottages, do them up and set myself up selling art to the tourists. But then I came to my senses, realising how little passing trade I would find, and how hostile the other nine months of the year would be.
Traigh Nan Gilean came next. Another beach, this time with a hill at the end of it. Here I came across a couple walking a dog. I’d not normally bother mentioning this, but coming across anyone on a beach on Tiree is an event.
I cut across below the hill to reach Traigh Bhi - another big sandy beach. This one was particularly flat, and so the waves left the sand wet and shiny, reflecting the cluster of cottages at the far end. Behind them the white golf ball radar atop Carnan Mor was the only distraction. I climbed Carnan Mor, and headed back for the evening.
Day two started with a road walk down to Balemartine, where there is a pottery (but which I found didn’t open until later in the day). Following a multitude of sandy inlets I came to a den, with a sign pointing to ‘Neverland’,’Hogwarts’, ‘The Shire’, ‘Narnia’, “Whoville’ and every other literary escape I could think of, each painted in a different fancy font on a separate scrap of wood nailed to the post.
Traigh Shorobaidh is another of those white sandy beaches. A train of waves from deep blue water, urged on by the breeze was washing up anything it could, but that was just clumps of seaweed. A flock of little birds was running with the tide, looking for food. Looking back the cluster of houses of Balemartine huddled tightly together on the shore.
At Traigh Bhagh I bared my feet once more. A little way along the beach a dog came bounding up, looked at my bare feet and then looked up at me with a puzzled look. At first I tried to ignore him, but he followed me along the entire beach and waited patiently whilst I dried my feet off, and put my walking boots back on. Climbing up onto the headland, the dog bounded off in pursuit of a rabbit, but then rejoined me as I investigated a pottery marked on the map (which happened to be closed due to illness). As I traced my way back along the road, the dog ran off chasing cars up and down. I pleaded innocence despite the scornful looks I was getting from the drivers. At the little shop nearby the shopkeeper explained it was an inquisitive farm dog, and it would now return home.
Day three started with a bus ride to the capital - a scattering of buildings called Scarinish. Under a grubby sky I found a few small bays with grubby sand, and the reamins of an old wooden boat - nothing to compare with the delights of the previous days. I watched the ferry leave under an increasingly moody sky, and then headed for the largest beach.
Traigh Mhor was indeed a big beach, and so flat that I could walk well into the sea before it reached my knees. A large black cloud hung over the bay, and the sea was a pale aqua fringed with grey. Along the rim of the bay there buildings well spread out from each other, caught in a band of light from brighter skies beyond. Only when I turned the corner to Traigh Crionaig did the cloud slowly move away. Here there were seals in the water watching my every move. If I brought out the camera they all disappeared, only to pop up again when I put it away.
The island is not very wide at this point, so I crossed to the North side to sheltered Traigh Shathallum. There were cows on the beach, but they didn’t mind me passing through. At the far end, I looked back over rich blue green water contrasting with the heavy dark cloud and a white farm cottage lit by the sun. My map showed Traigh Chrogain, but the tide was in, so there was a shallow sea instead.
Traigh Bhalla was perhaps one of the most beautiful I found, but being all around me, it was impossible to frame that beauty in a photograph, so I moved on, crossing the moorland to the ringing stone. I wasn’t sure I’d find it, but it proved very obvious as it stood out from the rest of the geology - an erratic I believe. I threw a stone at it and it rang. It was a very pure low tone, but it was definitely ringing.
Traigh Bheag (little beach) proved to be a little beach, complete with a herd of cows. I didn’t linger, but instead continued to Cladach A Chrogain - the last of the main beaches on my trip. I had bared my feet once more, but found much of the beach gritty.
My final day require bike hire. The far Eastern end of the island was just too far to walk comfortably. I had seen all the main beaches, but was curious of what I would find. An Traigh Lochain was as the map sugested, a narrow sandy beach with views of the nearby islands of Gunna and Coll. Just to the North, I found an unnamed beach, so sheltered by the rocks that much of the sand was green with algae. A few sheep were wandering around, including a family of three I spotted walking away from me in a line, reminding me of that Beatles album cover with the pedestrian crossing.
That just leaves me to show you the viewpoints all my Tiree paintings were done from, and those which I may well paint in days to come...