Old Coast Road to Carsaig
Start location: Lochbuie (NM 605 249)
End location: Carsaig (NM 544 214)
Geographical area: Argyll and Bute
Path Type: Rural Path, Pilgrimage Route
Path distance: 8km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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This is a beautiful route with many trees, cliffs above, and changing views of Colonsay, Jura, Scarba and the Garvellachs.
Start in Lochbuie at the end of the public road at NM605249, where a green sign with white lettering states "Public Footpath to Carsaig". The unsurfaced road runs as far as Glenbyre (NM586236). Go behind the house through gates into a field (sheep). At the far end of the field there is a delapidated footbridge over the Glenbyre Burn; this is in a slight gorge and not visible until you get to it. After crossing the bridge go through a field gate on the left. An alternative to the bridge, dependent upon the state of the tide, is to go down to the shore where the burn is wide and shallow as it crosses the shingly beach. Most of the remainder of the route is on the raised beach just above the modern shoreline. The way is sometimes clear, sometimes indistinct, and sometimes an easy scramble. At one point (very approximately NM580230), if the tide is high it is necessary to descend a near vertical small cliff (about 2.5m high) - although a rope is provided to help, check it remains safe. Reaching Carsaig the now well-made path runs on the N side of the first houses and ends at Carsaig Pier (NM544213), where a signpost states "Public Footpath to Lochbuie".
There is parking space near Carsaig Pier, and you may be able to find a space at Lochbuie.
OS Landranger 49 (Oban & East Mull) & 48 (Iona & West Mull, Ulva)
The present way to get to Carsaig by road is from Pennyghael, but George Langlands doesn't show this road on his 1801 map of Argyllshire. Instead the route to Carsaig lies along the coast from Lochbuie. The ruined township of Gortenasroine is located near the route at NM593247 and Tobar Choluim-Chille (St Columba's Well) is marked on maps at NM591244. This well is a fresh water spring still occasionally used. It may be the Loch Buie well whose medicinal properties are mentioned in a late 17th century account. According the OS Name Book of 1878, nearby the well is Uamh a' Chrabhaiche (the cave of the devout person), but the exact location of this cave is now lost.
George Langlands' map doesn't show any road continuing on from Carsaig and so the land route for most pilgrimage traffic through Mull may have gone along what is now the main road to Iona. However the presence (even if only in myth) of St Columba's Well and the cave of the devout one indicates the possibility of pilgrimage traffic using this route. Early Christian crosses have been found at both Lochbuie and Carsaig. Another well was located east of the old burial ground at Carsaig. Open until the early nineteenth century, the ancient St Mary's Well was supposed to cure diseases, but its site cannot now be identified.
Further west along the coast from Carsaig lies the reputedly steep and dangerous Nuns' Pass, one of the few places where a gap in the cliffs allows access to the moorland above, perhaps this way lay an alternative route to Iona? Below the pass is Uamh nan Cailleach, commonly called the Nuns' Cave. The cave is said to have been a refuge for nuns driven out from Iona at the time of the Reformation.
The west wall of the cave has numerous carvings, some of the crosses are thought to be as old as the late sixth to ninth centuries and an encircled cinquefoil is probably of late medieval date. As well as more recent crosses, there are two mason's marks likely to have been carved by men who worked in the nearby quarries in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and a sailing ship perhaps eighteenth century in date.
A freestone quarry is marked here on George Langlands' 1801 map - a free stone being one that can be worked with a chisel to produce architectural mouldings and tracery. The quarry at Nuns' Cave is said to have been worked by forcing wedges into fissures in the rock at lowtide - the stone loosened by the expanding wedges was then worked in and around the cave, as is testified by the chippings left behind. When Iona Abbey was restored in 1874, stone from Carsaig was used for the repairs.
Carsaig's once busy pier is said to have seen sailings to Easdale and Tarbert. The present pier remains date to 1850, when it was built by Joseph Mitchell for the British Fisheries Commission. In the late 1960s it was reported that a mile or so east from Carsaig, a huge boulder with an inset ringbolt could still be seen. This was possibly for the tethering of ponies in the old days, for the boulder sheltered a small smithy. If this was so, it is further testament to the path's far greater use in the past.
This old coastal route is now part of the Stevenson Way, a non-waymarked wilderness walk across Scotland based on the 1886 novel Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. It follows in the footsteps of David Balfour, the kidnapped hero of the story, as he travels from Erraid just off the Isle of Mull back to Edinburgh.