Oldany, a wonderful uninhabited island of sheer beauty.
Oldany Island (formerly Oldney Island), Baile na Cille, is an uninhabited island in Assynt, Sutherland, north-west Scotland. Oldany Island is a large tidal island at the southwestern entrance to Eddrachillis Bay/Kylesku. It has an area of 200 hectares (500 acres). Its highest point is Sidhean nan Ealachan at 104 metres (341 ft).
The settlement of Oldany is on the adjacent mainland. The island has long been used for grazing sheep. Oldany island is owned by the Turner family.
On a summer cruise in 2019 we rounded Steor Point and turned east into Eddrachchillis Bay and made for the island of Oldany. The island intrigued me as a possible safe anchorage. The chart showed several small lagoons and bays that might keep us tucked away over a quite night. Charts did not lie. As we approached, the shoreline was a continual run of small craggy inlets. Each, subject to drying out at low tide. To the eastern end of the island low water landlocked lagoons looked inviting. However to choose a spot where we could not lift anchor and sail away at any time did not appeal.
One bay did however appeal, Carefully I nudged our bow around a rocky headland. My sailing crew of Gordon and Ranald smiled broadly as we entered what looked to be a perfect shallow bay. At its head a wonderful white sandy beach. Behind lay a machair bank that in turn was topped and interspersed with bare rock and boulder. The narrow entrance, drying reefs, low islets and the rising hills towards the heart of the island presented a perfect anchorage. I toured the boat around the bay to check out the depths and chose a spot dead centre and above a clean sandy bottom. The clear water allowed us to pick the exact spot to let the anchor go to drop on the sand and so provide a good firm hold.
We settled, cut the engine and soaked up the silence and beauty of the bay.
We had coffee and sat for 30 mins to make sure Trade Winds was secure. Having not moved and happy this was the case jumped ship and rowed ashore to the very inviting beach. We were each bowled over by the sheer beauty of the place. We were however not alone. A small fire burned in a gully across the bay and three young girls were enjoying themselves on the beach. Walking across the machair was an adult in yellow wellies who we engaged in conversation. It transpired he was the owner and that the kids were his daughter and pals up from London. What a difference I thought; busy London to this paradise.
Local Doctor’ tale
We picked up a lovely anecdote about the bothy or cottage that sat overlooking the bay. It was where the local doctor liked to escape from his duties to fulfil his passion for fishing. The locals on the mainland concerned that he may be out of reach at times of need agreed to supply power and a telephone line to the island. How things were done back in the day! After our chat we split up and wandered around the bay, just chilling in the perfect surroundings.
Calm evening aboard
We retired to Trade Winds to enjoy a wonderful calm still evening under the stars and moon with not a soul to be seen or heard. It would also be fair to say we gave the store of whisky and good hammering that evening.
Time to explore
The following morning it was time to set off for Handa. I still had to summit Oldany. Looking at the map I could see a short route from the north west shore. We weighed anchor, and slipped out from what we now referred to as ‘Hangover Bay’ and went searching for a landing spot on the precipitous rocky shoreline.
A deep ravine and gully that had been weathered out of the rock presented itself. I disembarked leaving Gordon and Ranald to care for the boat. I rowed for shore and paddled to the head of the gully to land on a wonderful boulder beach. With the dinghy hauled well up and tied to large boulders I set off to find a route up to the summit. The ground was rough with heather, grass and wet bog making for slow going. The summit was not obvious, so I had a little detour before cresting a ridge and seeing the cairn on the highpoint ahead.
I had a big smile on my face as I summited, as the cairn, whilst clad in a thick coat of lichen had the top of a welly boot protruding out the top.
Time to top the island
The island had been ‘topped’ and I knew we were on a tight timeline to sail on to Handa. So, without much ado I took my images and set off back down the hill to the dinghy. Needless to say, I did not manage to take the direct route and managed to get myself disorientated. I came to the cliff tops at the wrong side of the island. Looking out at fish farm cages it dawned on me that I had taken the wrong route. Now aware of my error I about turned and crossed back to the correct side. I soon found the head of the ravine where the dinghy was beached.
Row back to Trade Winds
As I rowed back out, I passed through thick soup of small jellyfish. White, blue and pink specimens rocked back and forward in the slopping sea that slurped and gurgled on the surrounding rocks. This I thought was a perfect opportunity to capture the scene on my Go Pro camera. I drifted through the jellyfish. Greedy for another take, I rowed back upwind and set off again to film. No sooner was my hand in the water the camera slipped. It was not tethered to my wrist as it always is ! The camera gently glided down, down, down and out of sight into the swaying kelp some 15 feet below. Boy, did I let some language go! On my return to Trade Winds the lads were howling in laughter knowing full well what had befallen my camera. Friends indeed!
At Baile na Cille, Oldany Island, an ancient burial ground with the graves outlined with flat stones. In some instances with similar stones placed upon them. At the back of the burial ground, against the hill, are the ruins of rude structure outlined with great slabs of rock placed on end. The largest 3′ high, 3′ broad and 1′ thick. It is roughly rectangular and lies almost N-S, measuring internally some 12′ by 10′ with an entrance from the E.
On Oldany Island, adjacent to the burial ground is a considerable cairn of stones which may originally have been a temple. In the cairn is to be seen a hollowed stone having a lid or cover of stone. The author recounts the local tale that until the c. 18th century this hollowed stone contained a brightly coloured round stone which was held in great veneration by the people and which was shown to strangers as an object of curiosity. Consequently, he considers the site Pagan and the hollow lidded stone ‘not a Popish font’.
Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 1841954543.