Walk revised 16 January 2022
From the church walk north on the road and take the first large gate on the right into Baligarve. Go straight ahead towards an electricity pole. A little further on, a white pole with a red stripe indicates a stile. Once over, head for the left of the next pole and down a steepish sheep path towards a small gate in a wall.
After the gate go slightly right, up an incline and around a horseshoe bend looking down into a gully with Balnagown Loch in the distance. On the other side of the gully follow a sort of path beside a semi broken-down wall which soon becomes a fence. This path was once much walked. Many a Liosach would have used this going to church, or to the road, or when out visiting. The loch is still ahead. Eventually, the track and the wall turn left.
You, though, go ahead towards another wall on a tractor path which turns up beside the wall towards a gate. Once through this gate turn right immediately through another gate.
As you go straight, keep to the right of the highest hill ahead, the loch ,sometimes visible, on your right. In this pasture there is, or was, a mowed roadway between the rushes. Looking back you see Balure Farmhouse, Ben Nevis, and Sgòrr Dhearg and Sgòrr Dhonuill (Dhòmhnaill)— the two Munro summits on Beinn a’ Bheithir behind Ballachulish. The broch is to your left and the mainland hills, which, when dappled by clouds, are beige, sage green and purple.
Away in the distance on your right you will see the top of the fire station and the microwave dishes of our current broadband above the telephone exchange.
Eventually, Balnagown Loch is visible again on your right. Climb a small incline on a deeply rutted tractor track, now dry but often wet. (When we did this walk, gorse was abundant to our left and right and, as we approached a gate beside the loch on our right, we saw how low it was, as low as I have ever seen it. 2021 at this point had had below average rainfall.
|21.6% below average
|43.3% below average
|49.6% above average
|72.6% below average
|so far 71.3% below average
Much of this section is on a tractor path which eventually leads down to a wooden gate beside the loch. Through this you are in Balnagown.
Once through the gate and a brief detour to the ruin beside it, follow the path beside the loch. Canada geese are often grazing in the cultivated field ahead. They only eat the best! After another ruined settlement on the left, go through a gate into a field. Stick closely to the wall, as this field is cultivated.
Before the next gate you can detour ahead to see some interesting exhibits in the island’s outdoor museum, including a farm implement bearing the words Blackstone and Company – First Prize – Lincoln 1907.
Retrace your steps and go through the gate beside the Mill race with the Mill ahead. You can cross the water where the stones make this possible. However there is a bridge further on if there has been a normal amount of rain. Some stones are shoogly and can be unreliable when wet, so the bridge is recommended.
From the bridge cross the field diagonally right towards a large ash tree on the Mill road. The Mill buildings are down to your left. Continue on this road until you reach the main road.
The loch and its reeds (some used for thatching Taigh Iseabal Dhaibh the reconstructed cottage at the heritage centre) are on your right, and the view stretches away to the hills on the mainland. Continue past the boathouse—a little green shed with steps down to it (easy to miss). This, like the loch, belongs to the Fells, who have been absentee landlords of a sizable chunk of the north of Lismore since 1866. It happened because Sir John Campbell of Airds needed cash, so sold what was called his Lismore lands to the Haig whisky magnates, and the Reverend Alexander Fell, son of Janet Haig, inherited.
At the end of this steepish hill beside go through what is known as the gate to the Mill.
The impressive cliffs on your left give way and you pass a bungalow on the rise on your left. You are now in Killandrist, a place rich in ecclesiastical history, the name meaning St Andrew’s Chapel.
Further on, you pass a cottage and two barns, the former occupied until relatively recently, and then the shell of Samuel MacColl’s school (Sgoil Shomhairle), a parish school that served the middle of the island in the 19th century, where one of Lismore’s most celebrated sons, Alexander Carmichael, was educated. As indeed were many others, less celebrated perhaps only because history’s celebrating is random and never neutral. How many ‘mute inglorious Liosaich’ held slates here.
The large white Killandrist House is on your right before the gate to the main road where you turn left for the Heritage Centre where, in season you can get refreshments, as well as cultural input (open from Easter to the end of October).
Once out of the Heritage Centre turn left on the main road to Clachan. You will pass first the fire station and telephone exchange on your right. The old manse, now a private house, is on your left—after the road to Port Castle and Castle Coeffin with the smithy opposite. Known locally as The Smiddy, this was a working site in the 1800s and until shire horses were no longer in need of the blacksmith’s services. These days the farrier comes from Oban for the non-working Lismore horses.
After the war memorial and the restored medieval grave slabs on the left, you’ll find the Sanctuary Stone (Clach na h-Eala/idh) in the field opposite. It was said to be a refuge for fugitives fleeing from the Hill of Justice some miles away. If they reached the stone and circled it they were given sanctuary. It is a granite stone which had mythic status in pre-Christian times. The Hebridean Folklorist Otta Swire wrote: “anyone who claimed such sanctuary had his case considered by ‘the Elders.’ If they considered his plea justified, they ‘came out and walked sun-wise round the Swan Stone.’ If they did not approve of his right to sanctuary, they walked round it anti-clockwise and the man was then given over, not to his enemies, but ‘to Authority’ to be tried.”
You are then beside the church with its ancient graveyard and modern cemetery, and the start of your walk is in sight.