X

www.blaven.com uses cookies to make this website better. Read more about this on the privacy policy page.

Random photograph of Blaven
Welcome to

Seven Miles

Blaven is seven miles (11km) from Broadford on the B8083 single-track road to Elgol. There is a lot of history, myth and scenery crammed in to this relatively short distance.

By far the best way to absorb and to soak in the atmosphere of the route is to walk or pedal. Skye Bike Hire is conveniently located near the start of the journey. A much favoured summer option is to walk outwards from Broadford, stopping at the Blue Shed Cafe in Torrin for lunch before catching a Rapsons bus back to Broadford. Their number 49 service runs the full length of B8083 five times a day in each direction Monday to Friday or twice a day on Saturday. Lastly, a car is an acceptable alternative especially when you are soaked and unable to absorb any more atmosphere.

Click to enlarge
Left turn for Elgol and Blaven. Remarkably the road used to be an A-class road, the A881. The old road number has been covered over by the B8083 plate.
Left turn for Elgol and Blaven. Remarkably the road used to be an A-class road, the A881. The old road number has been covered over by the B8083 plate.

Setting out from Broadford, the second largest community on Skye (after the capital Portree), the Broadford Hotel is to the right. It was on the site of the present hotel that the Drambuie liqueur was first produced, the recipe having been gifted to the owner by Bonnie Prince Charlie as a reward for assisting in his escape from the evil English.

Following the road up the hill you get a good view of the low-lying ground that constitute the old district of Strath. The islands of Scalpay and Pabay can be seen behind you.

From the road at the top of the hill a gate and gravel path strides off to the left on to the track bed of the former quarry railway known locally as The Marble Line. The route is described further down this page.

The land between this point and Blaven is amongst the richest agricultural land on Skye. The shallow sea that filled the glen around 500 million years ago has created smooth grassy slopes which are ideal for crofting.

The 132KV electricity power line passing overhead is the main link between Skye and the mainland. Until it opened in the early 1970s Skye depended largely on locally generated electricity from diesel generators and latterly from the 2.4MW Storr Lochs hydro-electric power station opened in 1952. When the power line was extended from Broadford in the 1980s through to Portree and onwards under the sea to the Western Isles it was done as two parallel low-level wooden-pole routes rather than the usual steel pylons to minimise the environmental impact.

Hazards of the road

From this point onwards sheep on the road are a constant hazard to motorised transport. Equally hazardous to walkers and cyclists is Ludag, a malevolent goblin who haunts Strath Suardal. He is known to hop about on his one leg dealing "heavy blows on the cheek of benighted travellers." All travellers should watch out for Skye Marble lorries swooping down on them. Travelling at speed in the hands of their skilled and capable drivers, they can be a frightening sight.

Click to enlarge
The road through Strath Suardal meandering off in to the distance.
The road through Strath Suardal meandering off in to the distance.

As the road bends round to the right good views can be had to the left of Strath Suardal (meaning the dale of sward or green pasture). Just before the sharp, descending Z bend look to the knoll to the right known as An Sidhean, (the Fairy Hill). The remains of a chambered cairn can be seen. Chambered cairns were the communal burial places of the first Neolithic settlers who farmed the fertile coastal areas of Skye. Originally the cairn would have been covered by a drystone covering but this has been lost over the centuries.

The gravel footpath to the north-west runs down to a new footbridge across the Broadford River and on to the ruins of Coirechatachan ("the cony of the cat lairs"). In 1772 tacksman Lachland Mackinnon and his wife Anne played host to the renowned Welsh traveller Thomas Pennant (1726-1798). The following year, as recounted in their book 'A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland', Doctor Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and James Boswell (1740-1795) spent three nights as the guests of the Mackinnons. They had planned an overnight stop but bad weather detained them for a further two days proving that unpredictable weather on Skye is nothing new!

Following the road down to the valley floor, the road continues in practically a straight line for the next mile until the crossing another cattle grid on the approach to the partially ruined ivy clad church of Cill Chriosd. There is car parking opposite the church gate adjacent to the two roadside 'information rocks' that give a brief history of Skye marble, geology and wildlife of the Strathaird Peninsula.

Cill Chriosd church

Cill Chriosd literally means Christ's Church. The church served as the Parish Church of Strath until 1843 when the congregation moved to a new church built in Broadford. (Note that after 150 years this 'new' church is very much under threat. Funds are being sought to build a replacement church for the Cill Chriosd church replacement! You can read about the history of this church and the fund raising effort by visiting the website of the Parish of Strath and Sleat).

Click to enlarge
The Cill Chriosd cemetery contains a number of headstones dating from medieval to modern times. Two pre-Christian symbol stones with obscure hieroglyphics used to lie by the church gates but disappeared in recent years. Their current whereabouts is a mystery.
The Cill Chriosd cemetery contains a number of headstones dating from medieval to modern times. Two pre-Christian symbol stones with obscure hieroglyphics used to lie by the church gates but disappeared in recent years. Their current whereabouts is a mystery.

Before the construction of what is now the present ruin, legend has it that in the 7th century St. Maelrubha preached and held mass on the small knoll between the present churchyard and Loch Cill Chriosd. This knoll is still known as Cnoc na-Aifhreann ('the hill of the mass').

Early historical references mention that Kenneth Adamson was replaced by John MacGillivray as chaplain in 1505. MacGillivray was subsequently replaced three years later by Sir John Johenson who in turn was replaced by John Ranaldson.

The present church is believed to date from the 16th or 17th century and replaces a much older building on the same site. Portions of the older church can be seen built in to the west gable of the present building. The recent discovery of finely decorated mouldings suggests that the original church was a fine and imposing medieval church.

In 1627 the church received its first Protestant minister, one Neil Mackinnon. Upon his appointment he "gave his grite and solemn oath that he sall treulie according to his knowledge, give up to the Clerk of Councell the names of all the Papists he knew within the Isles."

Click to enlarge
Roadside sign indicating the footpath to the abandoned villages of Susinish and Boreraig. Blaven is in the background.
Roadside sign indicating the footpath to the abandoned villages of Susinish and Boreraig. Blaven is in the background.

Through the entrance gate and to the immediate left there is a medieval grave slab with a beautifully carved foliate cross. Early accounts of the church suggest that the cemetery contained a large number of decorated stones. In 1913 the Reverent DM Lamont wrote about two stones, one with obscure hieroglyphics erected to Chief Lachlan Mor, the second believed to have been decorated with pre-Christian symbols. Sadly it appears that these and many other decorated stones have mysteriously disappeared in recent years. The cemetery also serves as the last resting place for many members of the Clan MacKinnon of Coirechatachan.

Back to the road and to the left opposite Cill Chriosd a signposted and recently upgraded path track heads off to the disused Ben Suardal marble quarries and the abandoned villages of Kilchrist, Suisnish and Boreraig.

You can read more about this popular walking route on the WalkScotland website.

Suardal marble quarry

It is unclear exactly when marble was first quarried on the Isle of Skye from the sole Skye marble quarry at Ben Suardal ("Beinn na Caillich"). During his 1771 to 1775 tour of Scotland Thomas Pennant recorded that the main alter of Iona Abbey was made from Skye marble however he failed to record the existence of the quarry in 1772 whilst staying nearby. A year later another famous visitor and diarist, Samuel Johnson, also failed to mention the quarry in his writings.

Though primarily a limestone quarry Ben Suardal stone is intersected with hardened limestone which has been compacted over millions of years to form a species of brucillise marble. Highly ornamental the white marble is said to be more beautiful than the Italian Carrara marble favoured by the great sculptors. However Skye marble proved difficult to work and uneconomic to extract compared the to cheaper and easier to work Italian alternatives.

Click to enlarge
One of the short sections of the 0.9 metre (3-foot) narrow-gauge railway visible beneath the crumbling surface of Broadford pier.
One of the short sections of the 0.9 metre (3-foot) narrow-gauge railway visible beneath the crumbling surface of Broadford pier.

As well as Iona Abbey, Skye marble has been used for paving the lobbies and stairways of now demolished Hamilton Palace and for an ornamental fireplace and staircase at nearby Armadale castle, home of the Clan Donald Centre. The old manse of the Strath was built entirely of Skye marble. Skye marble is also rumoured to have been used in the Vatican and the Palace of Versailles.

The quarried limestone was crushed on site and transported by hand to the old pier at Broadford. Adjacent to the pier there was a large kiln where lime for agricultural purposes was manufactured before being loaded on to ships. The collapsed remains of this kiln can still be seen.

Marble on the other hand was moved by hand down to Suardal close to Loch Cill Chriosd. Here it was cut, dressed and polished using the power of water piped from a dam on the hillside before being loaded on to ships, again at the old pier at Broadford.

Click to enlarge
The rock-fill dam to the right provided the nearby marble cutting and polishing works with a reliable source of water via a short pipeline. Blaven is in the background.
The rock-fill dam to the right provided the nearby marble cutting and polishing works with a reliable source of water via a short pipeline. Blaven is in the background.

In 1897 plans were announced for the building of a narrow-gauge railway between the quarry and a new pier at Broadford. The 0.9-metre (3-foot) gauge, 4km (2½ mile) long line opened in 1904. For the first six years 'The Marble Line' operated by horse power until December 1910 when a steam locomotive was purchased.

The 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive was built by Hunslet of Leeds in 1892 and carried builders plate 564. Named 'Bruckless' it worked for the contractor building the Donegal to Killybegs railway in Ireland. In 1907 it was sold to the contractor working on upgrading the Marble Line and renamed 'Skylark' and  subsequently sold on to the Skye Marble Company itself. When the company failed in 1914 the locomotive was acquired by a Glasgow scrap merchant and sold back to Ireland  to work on the Roundwood Reservoir in County Wicklow. When the reservoir was completed in 1925 the locomotive was scrapped.

Click to enlarge
The substantial remains of the south west wall of the Suardal marble cutting and polishing works. The wall is approximately 58 metres (190 feet) in length. Blaven is visible in the distance.
The substantial remains of the south west wall of the Suardal marble cutting and polishing works. The wall is approximately 58 metres (190 feet) in length. Blaven is visible in the distance.

The Skye Marble Company Limited was incorporated in 1907 and assumed ownership of the quarry. Valuation Rolls from the period show that it employed thirteen Belgian quarrymen and twelve locals - paid 19/- (95 pence) per week - until 1914 when recurring financial problems and the outbreak of World War I dragged the company in to voluntary liquidation. Small scale quarrying resumed in 1935 by the aptly named White Rock Company of Glasgow. Once again war intervened and the Ben Suardal marble quarry was finally abandoned for good in 1939.

Today, on the approach to Cill Chriosd Church, the one remaining wall of the marble cutting and polishing works and railway loading platform are visible off to the left. Just beyond by the roadside on the right are the foundations of the six cottages, shop and club built for the workers. These foundations appear on current Ordnance Survey maps as sheep pens.

Walk along the Marble Line footpath and you will see the remains of the quarry workings and buildings. The quarry operated at two levels connected by a rope worked incline along the route of the upper footpath. The circular bed of the lower horizontal winding wheel can still be seen along with the foundations of the limestone crushing plant and railway loading bay.

Loch Cill Chriosd

Click to enlarge
The reed filled Loch Cill Chriosd which 1,500 years ago was haunted by a evil spirit who preyed on young woman (allegedly).
The reed filled Loch Cill Chriosd which 1,500 years ago was haunted by a evil spirit who preyed on young woman (allegedly).

Returning to the road outside Cill Chriosd church and head off again towards Blaven, the reed filled Loch Cill Chriosd comes in to view to the immediate right.

In days of old it was not advisable to linger by the loch as an evil spirit haunted it. The spirit would ensure that anyone drinking or bathing in the loch would die. Fortunately for modern day travellers, in 570 AD St Columba chased the evil spirit away.

Later the loch was again haunted by a each uisge ("water horse"). Disguised as a handsome young man the water horse would seduce young woman and gallop off in to the loch with them. The story goes that one day the water horse mistook a priest in long robes for a young woman. The priest successfully converted the water horse to Christianity and the loch has thankfully been safe from evil spirits ever since.

Today the only occupants of the loch are Herons, Reed Warblers and Dabchicks. In the autumn Whooper Swans travel from Iceland to spend the winter on the loch.

Click to enlarge
A frozen Loch Cill Chriosd is burried under a fresh fall of snow.
A frozen Loch Cill Chriosd is burried under a fresh fall of snow.

The loch was extended for fishing purposes at the turn of the last century by damming up the outflow. The shallow lime-rich waters are rich in vegetation including the all pervasive common reed and club rush. In contrast, during the summer the loch is covered with pink and white water lilies.

Following the road as it twists around the south shore of the loch the woodlands of Coille Gaireallach appear on the left. Comprised mainly of Hazel and Birch this area is all that remains of the expansive woodlands that once covered much of the lower slopes of the strath.

Kilbride diversion

Click to enlarge
The road to Kilbride and Camas Malag.
The road to Kilbride and Camas Malag.

The main road veers off to the right while the road straight ahead leads to the village of Kilbride (Bridget's cell, church or chapel). On this road, in the field to your right you will see a 2.5m (8 foot) standing stone known as Clach na h-Annait ("stone of the chief or church"). The stone is believed to have been part of a Neolithic stone circle. Nearby there is a well the waters of which are said to have the power to heal the sick.

A little bit further on, and also on the right through the trees can be seen the white marble house that once served as the manse of the Strath. The workings of the present Torrin Skye marble quarry can be clearly seen from this part of the road. Follow the road to the left to the attractive Camas Malag bay. The bay is also one of the starting points for the popular walk to the ruined villages of Suisnish and Boreraig.

Suisnish and Boreraig

Thirty two families were cruelly evicted from Suisnish and Boreraig in September 1853 by Lord Macdonald's Factor and constables. The villagers quickly returned. A second attempt at eviction was made five days after Christmas with the villagers being turned out in to waist deep snow. This time to prevent their return all of the houses were raized to the ground.

Click to enlarge
The dry stone dykes of the cleared village of Suishnish are visible in the middle background in this view from Drinan across Loch Slapin and in to the mouth of Loch Eishort.
The dry stone dykes of the cleared village of Suishnish are visible in the middle background in this view from Drinan across Loch Slapin and in to the mouth of Loch Eishort.

The villagers did their best to survive the winter in the remaining barns and outhouses before finally abandoning the villages in the summer of 1854. A young geologist was visiting the area at the time of the clearance. It made a lasting impression on him as 50 years later, the now elderly, famous and knighted Sir Achibald Geikie wrote; "As I was returning from my ramble a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze from the west. On gaining the top of a hill on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession wending along the road that led from Suisnish. It halted at the point in the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentation became long and loud... Every one was in tears;... and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set off once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven; the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed; and, after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation."

Lord MacDonald's factor issued a circular defending the action on the grounds that Lord MacDonald had been "prompted by motives of benevolence, piety and humanity... because they [the people] were too far from the church."

The final stretch

Retrace the steps back to the main road and turn left towards Elgol. Take extra care at this point if driving and be to have your windscreen filled by a Skye Marble lorry hurtling down and around the twisting single track road. The modern day Skye Marble quarry is passed on the left on the approach to the village of Torrin. These days the quarry produces small chips for roughcasting buildings.

Click to enlarge
Approaching the village of Torrin and journeys end. A snow covered Blaven is visible in the background.
Approaching the village of Torrin and journeys end. A snow covered Blaven is visible in the background.

Just past the quarry in the run down in to the village are some spectacular views of Blaven. Passing through the village, described elsewhere on this website, the road descends sharply down almost to the level of Loch Slapin (literally the sluggish muddy loch) as it curves around the loch. Indeed after heavy rain the combination of high tide can result in short stretches of the road at the top of the loch being under water.

At the head of the loch is a ford which fortunately has been supplemented by a new European Development Fund funded road bridge. Just before the bridge look up the dirt track to the right hand side is a large grey boulder known as Clach Oscar ('Oscar's stone'). This stone was apparently thrown from an adjacent hilltop by Oscar, one of a mythical race of giants called the Fienne.

Continue to follow the road round the base of Blaven and over the second bridge, the Falls of Slapin to your right. Parking is approximately 1km further on at the car parking area opened in 2001 by the John Muir Trust.

Walking the Marble Line

Whilst it has always been possible to walk along the track bed of the former narrow gauge railway between Broadford and the old marble quarry at Strath Suardal, the ground was often muddy and awkward under foot.

Click to enlarge
The new Marble Line footbridge under construction in Broadford during the summer of 2010. This links the northern and southern halves of the Marble Line footpath and closely follows the alignment of the original Marble Line railway bridge. Indeed it makes use of the original railway bridge abutment on the northern side.
The new Marble Line footbridge under construction in Broadford during the summer of 2010. This links the northern and southern halves of the Marble Line footpath and closely follows the alignment of the original Marble Line railway bridge. Indeed it makes use of the original railway bridge abutment on the northern side.

In early 2003 through the efforts of the Broadford Environmental Development Group the first 1.7km (1 mile) of the track bed was turned in to an all-abilities footpath between the outskirts of Broadford to the area of the chambered cairn. From the track bed a link path turns right back to the road and the cairn then onwards to the new footbridge that crosses the Broadford River. This path runs past the ruins of Clan MacKinon family home at Coirechatachan before joining a road eventually looping back to Broadford.

During 2004 the remaining 2.7km (1¾ miles) of track bed was opened between the cairn and the old quarry workings where the path links up with the footpath to the deserted villages of Boreraig and Suisnish described earlier. You can read more about this route on the Walk Highlands website.

Bronze age rubbish

Rediscovered only as recently as 1972 by students from the University of London Uamh an Ard Achadh ('Cave of the high field' or 'High Pasture Cave') lies approximately 1km (½ mile) south east of Torrin in a shallow valley on the north side of Beinn an Dubhaich. The cave contains around 320m (1,050 feet) of accessible passages making it the second longest cave complex on Skye. The complex was found to contain piles of pig and wild boar bones plus remains of cow, deer and shellfish. Examination of the bones revealed butchery marks. Basic pebble, bone and iron tools, burnt charcoal and pottery shards have subsequently been discovered, as have human remains.

Investigation has confirmed the presence of a late Bronze Age, early Iron Age settlement around the cave entrance suggest that the cave was used as a midden or dumping ground for domestic rubbish.

Visit the High Pasture Cave website for the latest news, photographs and detailed directions to the site.

Gallery

A selection of photographs of Blaven appear below. More photographs of Blaven, Torrin, Isle of Skye and beyond can be found on the Gallery page.

Broadford Pier. Click to enlarge.
The 'Girl Beth' catches the winter sun at Broadford Pier.
Sunrise over Broadford. Click to enlarge.
Winter sunrise over Broadford Bay.
Broadford ducks. Click to enlarge.
Ducks enjoying a mid-morning stroll around Broadford Bay. Just above the head of the rightmost duck is the abutment of the bridge that used to carry 'The Marble Line' narrow gauge railway down to Broadford Pier.
A busy Broadford Pier. Click to enlarge.
Passengers await the arrival of the Paddle Steamer 'Waverley' for a cruise to Loch Nevis.
Marble Line footbridge under construction. Click to enlarge.
The new Marble Line footbridge under construction at Broadford in the summer of 2010. The footbridge joins the two halves of the Marble Line footpath and closely follows the alignment of the original railway bridge.
"Troll wanted, apply below bridge". Click to enlarge.
"Troll wanted, apply below bridge." An employment opportunity created by the construction of the new Marble Line footbridge under construction at Broadford in the summer of 2010. Has the position been filled?.
Beinn na Caillich. Click to enlarge.
Beinn na Caillich with the remains of the chambered cairn in the foreground.
The B8083. Click to enlarge.
The low winter sun sets on Strath Suardal. The B8083 road to Torrin, Blaven and Elgol disappears in to the background.
The B8083. Click to enlarge.
An overcast summer evening in a lush Strath Suardal. The B8083 road to Torrin, Blaven and Elgol disappears in to the background.
Industrial remains. Click to enlarge.
A tree sprouts from brickwork near Suardal and the abandoned marble cutting and polishing works.
Cill Chriosd. Click to enlarge.
The ruined church at Cill Chriosd on the road from Broadford to Torrin.
Cill Chriosd at night. Click to enlarge.
The ruined church is photogenic and worth exploring at any hour. For this shot on a bitingly cold, dark December night I triggered the camera remotely as I drove past in the car with headlights on, parked up and walked back along the road towards the camera in total darkness using a torch (flashlight) to paint in the building and features.
Cill Chriosd Church in infra-red. Click to enlarge.
Cill Chriosd Church in infra-red. Note the two ghostly figures and the summit of Blaven that is just visible. It is well known that anyone who shoots infra-red photographs has to have at least one church and graveyard scene in their portfolio. This is mine.
Loch Cill Chriosd in the winter. Click to enlarge.
The autumn sun settles over Loch Cill Chriosd. Blaven is visible in the middle distance. Compare this image with the next image taken in the summer.
Loch Cill Chriosd in the summer. Click to enlarge.
Loch Cill Chriosd in the summer. Contrast this with the previous image taken in the winter.
Loch Cill Chriosd boathouse. Click to enlarge.
Some maps still show a boathouse at the north-east end of Loch Cill Chriosd. This is how it looked in July 2010.
Kilchrist. Click to enlarge.
The old manse in the abandoned settlement of Kilchrist. Blaven is to the left and Beinn na Caillich to the right.
Kilchrist window. Click to enlarge.
Blaven through the square window of the old manse at Kilchrist.
Blaven shrouded in cloud. Click to enlarge.
Blaven shrouded in cloud, viewed from Strath Suardal.
Blaven shrouded in cloud. Click to enlarge.
Loch Cill Chriosd with Blaven in the distance.
Strath Suardal. Click to enlarge.
A snow-dusted Strath Suradal.
The turnoff to Kilbride. Click to enlarge.
The turnoff to Kilbride with Blaven directly ahead.
Blaven from the Kilbride road junction. Click to enlarge.
Blaven from the Kilbride road junction.
Camas Malag. Click to enlarge.
The Kilbride road continues onwards to Camas Malag.
Allt an t-Stratha Bhig. Click to enlarge.
Allt an t-Stratha Bhig flows down from Strath Beag, past the old Torrin marble quarry and in to Loch Slapin.

More information

"The Road to Elgol" by Donnie Mackay

Elgol-based photographer Donnie Mackay has self-published a delightful book "The Road to Elgol." This showcases his distinctive, timeless photographic style, recently shot digitally and on traditional silver halide film along the 15 mile B8083 road from Broadford, past Blaven, to Elgol.

It is available as a signed limited edition from Donnie's excellent Photo Hebrides blogsite here.

Home | Top