MACPHIE-BAGGING ROUTE NOTES
"The MacPhies" is the generic name for the 22 hills in Colonsay and Oronsay that are higher than 300 feet; "MacPhie-Bagging" is the process of finding and climbing them, so as to tick them off your list.
The classic approach to MacPhie-Bagging is to start from some point (any point) below the High-water mark, and then to make a complete circuit of them all (in the order of your choice), in one connected walk, finishing at some point (any point) below the High-water mark. In summer, it is usual to omit Beinn Orasa so as to avoid disturbance to ground-nesting birds; this helps a lot, as it avoids tidal complications on the Strand. However, even a circuit of the Colonsay hills will involve a walk of over twenty miles and the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis, so it can be daunting. On average, a normal walker who starts at 09.00hrs will finish at about 18.30hrs if in company, or 16.30 if alone and not stopping for any break. "MacPhie-Bagging Lite" means to complete the route in four convenient stages, maybe just one per year.
Please be aware of rugged terrain, the dangers of livestock and that large sections of the route have no mobile phone coverage. If alone, make sure that somebody knows of your intentions and, at the very least, please leave a note clearly displayed in your car - where you have gone, and the time by which you should return. There are no remarkable hazards but all parts of the route run through areas which are seldom frequented; if you have an accident you will not be found by a chance passer-by! You need to be able to lift your dog if fences are mentioned; any "mins." refer to fairly brisk speed.
The summits can be taken in any order, but are given here in an order that has been found to be convenient. The local name is followed by an approximate height and a GPS reference; in the explanatory text the Ordnance Survey spelling of the name is given if it appears on Explorer Sheet 354 , but the English translation is from John de Vere Loder, Colonsay and Oronsay in the Isles of Argyll (1935), or as accepted locally.
A' Bheinn Bheag 114m 40703 98584 (O.S. Beinn Bheag) The Little Peak
Carn an Eoin 143m 40922 98466 (O.S. Carnan Eoin) Bird Cairn
A' Bheinn Bhreac 127m 41489 98684 (O.S. Beinn Breac) The Speckled Peak
A' Mhaol Bhuidhe 103m 41459 98424 (O.S. "102" ) The Yellow Bare Hill
Cnoc Mòr Charraig nan Darach 101m 41312 97247 (O.S. Cnoc Mòr Carraig nan Darach) Big Hill of the Darroch's Fishing Rock
Beinn nam Fitheach 108m 40752 96642 (O.S. ditto ) Raven's Peak
Dùn Dubh, a' Phàirc Gharbh 109m 40763 97119 (O.S. "104") Black Mound, at Rugged Field
Beinn a' Sgoltaire 125m 392975
Beinn Uragaig 120m 385976
A' Bheinn a Tuath 120m 381971
A' Bheinn Bhreach 139m 375972
Cnoc Mull-araich 100m 370965
Binnean Riabhach 117m 364964
Carn Mor 134m 373947
Cnoc a' Raon a' Bhuilg 120m 372942
Beinn nan Caorach 126m 366941
Carn na Cainnle 116m 381945
Beinn nan Gudairean 136m 388950
Carn nan Caorach 110m 392948
Cnoc an t-Samhlaidh 93m 383926
Beinn Eibhne 98m 378904
Beinn Orasa 93m 351893 ( Seasonal )
Section 1: The Seven Hills.
This is a splendid walk that will give you astounding views with only three noticeable ascents, the first, second and fifth. Start at An Crosan ( The Small Cross ), where you can easily park, at the start of the track to Balnahard. This section is a circular walk, so you finish where you started. Allow anything from 2.5 to 4.5 hours and, if alone, do make somebody knows of your plans and leave a note displayed in your car. (No fence). A very manageable walk.
Walk along the beach if you wish, otherwise just follow the track - you will easily identify the first two hills, straight ahead of you. The cairn on Carn an Eoin has the profile of a Sphinx, due to three stone buttresses that provide wind breaks. The track to Balnahard is concreted on the steep ascent of An Bealach ( pass or defile ), and at the very point that it stops climbing, turn off to your right and select a simple zigzag route to your left to bag your first MacPhie, A' Bheinn Bheag ( The Little Peak ). You will easily find the cairn, but go a little further and you will find that you have entered an important but unappreciated hill-fort. It is fairly easy to trace its outline, but the well-preserved hut circles in its sheltered interior are of especial interest. They are said to have been sheilings, but of course their original date is unknown. A gatehouse can be identified at the northwest edge.
Make your way downwards from the south-eastern side of Beinn Bheag, so as to approach Carnan Eoin. As you descend the steep grassy slope, you should easily identify the very substantial but eroded Bronze Age cairn below you and to your right, ten metres in diameter.
On reaching the foot of the slope, you should be able to identify a narrow zigzag path immediately opposite, which will give you a good start on the ascent of Carnan Eoin. You then join a clear, well-defined path, with convenient resting places and great views of Kiloran Bay. The summit cairn was restored in 2020 by the Colonsay & Oronsay Heritage Trust, and there is also a (redundant) "trig point". Ordnance Survey triangulation stations such as this were erected across Great Britain in a project commenced in 1935; when the network was completed, it was possible from any station to see at least two more. There are others on Beinn Orasa and Beinn nan Gudairean.
Leaving the trig point on your right, follow a rough path straight ahead and downwards. After crossing a narrow glen, you pass over a tiny rise and will notice a small group of shieling huts, which you pass at NR410985. With luck, you will pick up the rather convenient sheeptrack, that winds nicely along almost level ground towards Bheinn Bhreach. There are good views, and one or two ruins (including a substantial circular stone setting, possibly an eroded cairn). When you are close to Bheinn Bhreach, please try to keep your party close together and do not delay at the cairn. This is a sensitive site for nesting raptors - there is nothing to be seen due to the overhang of the cliff, but your very presence may cause disturbance and should be as brief as possible.
4. Spot Height 102m
Turn away from the cairn and descend the fairly easy slope towards the south, bearing slightly to your left to cross a heather clad rocky hillock. You will probably see a sheep track straight ahead of you and leading up the flank of your next target, A' Mhaol Bhuidhe (just a little north of Coire Buidhe on the map). The Maol Buidhe on the Ordnance Survey map is somewhat to the southeast, so the spot-height "102" is a help; there are a few summits in the vicinity of much the same height. This one is good because it saves you climbing a difficult fence and it does give some good views, including one of Dùn Mòr (an important unrecorded site, the very obvious green hillock about 800 metres to the northeast).
5. Cnoc Mòr Carraig nan Darrach
Having "bagged" four hills, the route remains undemanding for another kilometre or so. If you look southwards along the coast, you should have no difficulty in identifying the looming bulk of Cnoc Mòr Carraig nan Darrach (Big Hill at the Fishing-rock of the Darrachs). Approach it by continuing to the south for about 200 metres until you reach the march wall between Balnahard and Kiloran; there is a gate in the wall, but it is rather hidden by a well-placed bluff, directly between you and the gate. Once you find the gate (probably to your left) look again to identify Cnoc Mòr Carraig nan Darrach, but instead of heading directly towards it, go a little to your right, towards a small group of eight sycamores in the lee of Cnoc Inebri (Norse: Meadow-slope hill). If you are hawk-eyed, this tiny Victorian plantation is actually marked on the map by the symbol of a deciduous tree. You will notice that you are on a plateau and, as soon as you have crossed the hump of an old boundary, you will have avoided soft ground and can bear slightly to the left, towards your objective and following a sheep path across level grass.
When the ground falls away, you will notice a small ruin below you, Fang nan Each ( Horse Fank ). Keeping the ruin on your left, head towards Cnoc Mòr Charraig nan Darrach and try to identify the lighter colour of a steepish slope, just to the left of a section of dark, heather-clad cliff. The sloping ascent to the summit from Leanan nan Iasgairean ( Fishermen's Meadow, i.e. Heron Marsh ) is not too bad, and there are two level patches for respite. At the summit you will again enjoy great views, including the full length of Loch Fada and a bird's eye view of the fish farm, established in 2015. The farm employs twelve people and has proved to be very successful despite its exposed location.
6. Beinn nam Fitheach
Looking south you should easily identify Beinn nam Fitheach, which is at the far end of a dampish glen, beyond Lochan Clach ( Little Stony Loch ). Your best approach is to walk 100 metres inland along the ridge of Cnoc Mòr Charraig nan Darrach, so as to descend comfortably to a grassy patch and then make your way forwards, aiming to pass to the right (west) of Lochan Clach. There is a slightly damp patch as you are passing west of Corr Dhùnan, but one good stride should get you across. Then follow the very convenient passage along the west side of the glen, noticing the very distinctive anvil profile of the cliff-face at Beinn nam Fitheach. When you are barely 300 metres from that bluff, look to your left to identify the very obvious (only) passage to the higher ground. There is (probably) a prominent black plastic tub which is a good guide, and when you reach it you will see that there is a ruined wall giving access to an inviting natural passageway. There are interesting lichen as you approach the wall, and about 30 metres beyond it you will reach the first native trees on the walk, Downy Birch ( Betula pubescens ), the uppermost representatives of A' Choille Mhòr ( The Great Wood ). This stretch of ancient Atlantic Rainforest runs from Beinn nam Fitheach right down to the shore and is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Turn right through this slight coppice and after climbing a slope turn left to stand on the aptly-named summit; it would be a sad day if you could not see or hear the Ravens that delight in the locality. Looking down from the summit you look across A' Choille Mhor, also Eilean Olmsa ( Holm Island ) and its anchorage, to enjoy excellent views of the Paps of Jura and along the Sound of Islay.
Turn northwards, towards Carn an Eoin, and identify the final peak on this section, the rounded summit of Dùn Dubh. Go back the way you came, passing (carefully) across the ruined wall and turn back along the path, leaving that black tub behind you. After about 100 paces a wide hollow opens out to your left; cross it diagonally, heading towards the north (and passing a distinctive green habitation site, a hillock about 50 metres to your right). As you breast the ridge, your final summit will lie just ahead of you, with an easy access slope.
You will now need to get back to the starting point, so head southwest along the top of Dùn Dubh, for an easy descent. At the foot turn right and then bear left again, losing height as you head in the general direction of Kiloran Bay. Descending a hummocky bank, you will cross a ruined wall and may be lucky enough to pick up the sheep track that skirts the hillside, still leading towards Kiloran Bay. Ideally, there will be fairly open, tussocky ground below you to your right and you will shortly approach a small, warm, grassy sloping meadow, Garradh nan Coineanan ( Rabbit Field ). If so, you then pass through a narrow and distinctive pass in the rocks and will be rewarded by the sight of An Crosan once again. Even if you have gone astray in this section, there should be no great problem in identifying An Crosan and in getting down to it by one or other of the gates provided.
All told, the distance in Section 1 is probably about 5 miles and a smart-phone will log about 14,000 steps for the circuit. Allow 3 or even 4 hours if dawdling or with young children.
Section 2: A Walk on the Wild Side
8. Beinn a' Sgoltaire 125m 392975 (25 mins from An Crosan)
9. Beinn Uragaig 120m 38484 97565 (25 mins from #8)
9a. Un-named 3811297362 (10 mins from #9)
10. A' Bheinn a Tuath 120m 38088 97095 (10 mins from #9a)
11. A' Bheinn Bhreach 139m 375972 (10 mins from #10)
12. Cnoc Mull-araich 100m 370965 (15 mins from #11)
13. Binnean Riabhach 117m 364964 (15 mins from #12)
Then down via Gortain to the main road, 15 mins.
The first objective is Beinn a' Sgoltaire, which is easily seen but not so easy to attain. The best route is to start from An Crosan and to walk towards Uragaig, passing the car parking at Kiloran Bay and after 200 metres taking the stone track to your left. After 100 metres or so, you can branch off to your right, heading through some light woodland until you reach the fence at the boundary of the open hill. There is an old gate at that point and, once you are on the hill, you will find that you are on very soft, crumbly loose peat and heather which makes for difficult walking. Your best bet is to keep towards your left and gain height, trying to get above the deeper heather and dried bog; beware the siren appeal of a false summit somewhat to your right (the west); you will not see your real objective until you have gained the ridge on your left.
There should be a better way, but we have yet to find it . For research, the route directly opposite the grid at the public entrance to Colonsay House was tried, a big mistake. This is no longer a realistic option; briars, a new fence and a missing stile were not major problems, but the final 200 metres of the ascent is now totally overgrown by waist-high intertwined brambles on a very steep and slippery slope.
We also tried via Bealach nan Sleagh (Pass of the Spears), which is the track towards Loch an Sgoltaire, to the left of the main road, about 40 metres past the tight turning near Colonsay House main gate on the way to Kiloran Bay. You walk to the top of the track, where there is a small round pond, and turn right through the neat gap in the wall. Straight ahead is easy going, and you will be following a falling wall on your right, passing to the right of a "drunken" wooden pole, before you reach a neat bit of wooden fence beside a slight scramble down into a gully. You are then confronted by a difficult fence , no stile and certainly too decrepit to climb. Unless you are 5ft 11 in. you will not be able to cross it; if you can, you will have no further problem. From the road to the summit by this route takes 18 minutes.
Having reached Beinn a' Sgoltaire you will enjoy an excellent view of Loch Sgoltaire, and can see the island with its summer house, built within the curtain wall of a small fortification. The fortification was built by 300 men in May 1615, during the rising by Colla Ciotach Macdonald of Colonsay. The cairn is rather special and was restored in 2021 by the Colonsay & Oronsay Heritage Trust. On the east side, resting against the cairn, there is a flat stone bearing an inscription by a military man ( RSM/MACMORRAN/R.SIGNALS/1956 ).
Leaving the cairn, your next objective can be seen to the west, but to reach it you must descent to cross the dam at the northern (righthand) end of Loch Sgoltaire. As you descend towards the loch, keep bearing to the right and if you can eventually detect the remains of an old all-terrain vehicle track just follow it down. In any case you will eventually reach the dam and can cross it - be very careful as you cross the stile, turn left and cross another stile - they are both well-rotted, so any weight must be centred upon the supporting posts. The fence to the left may be safer than the second stile, then follow the path on along the side of the loch, and notice that you have to climb over two fairly steep rocks. Soon after the second one, maybe 20 or 30 metres, turn sharp right, away from the lock, to follow a faint sheep track straight up a reasonable slope for about 100 metres or so. This will bring you onto a natural contour path made by animals, at right angles to your slope. Turn left and follow it with reasonable confidence; as you look ahead, you will see your next hill; it has no cairn, but there is a rock outcrop on the summit which helps to distinguish it. The sheep track is very helpful and when you break away to reach the summit you will be rewarded with good views of Loch Sgoltaire.
From this point, looking to the southwest, you should be able to see a pole on a 50 gallon drum, which is the next place to visit. When you get there, the highest point is a rock between two such poles, which are remnants of an ambitious project to provide TV in the 1980s. Because of poor reception, a local hero, the late John Bridges, obtained permission from the Fletcher family of Jura and erected a small repeater aerial 1000 feet up on the west side of Jura, where a freak signal could be obtained. John built a shed to house the equipment in Jura (with a bank of batteries etc.) and a wind-powered generator, so as to transmit a repeater signal to Colonsay. He then built small masts on a number of hills in Colonsay to receive the signal, and then by wire or re-transmission provided a signal to numerous households. We will not see his likes again.
From here, it should be easy to identify Beinn a' Tuath (the North Hill), an easy walk across a small glen (following an ATV track) and then a gentle traverse to your right. There is a cairn on the top, and if you peer over the side to your south you will see the substantial ruins of a stone cottage, one of four that were allegedly "cleared" in the 1850s. From here you can easy see the next summit, to the southwest, surmounted by a cairn. If you descend from Beinn a' Tuath by the steep flank in the southwest you should easily pick up a well-defined sheep-track that heads straight for A' Bheinn Bhreach (Brindled hill) and will get you more than half way. It should be easy enough from there to the top of the fifth hill. It is not easy to identify Cnoc Mull-araich, so you must simply continue heading southwards for about 300 metres, alongside a level glen between very low rock and heather slopes, until you can identify a substantial, well-built stone wall, the march boundary. There is a form of wooden stile, easily seen, and just beyond it (say 200 metres and a little to the left) you will probably identify the small cairn that marks your penultimate hill on this section. Be very careful indeed with this "stile", it is fairly sturdy but it is treacherous. The surface of both steps is slippery, you could get a leg trapped between an upright and the wall, and the wall surface of untrimmed natural rocks is jagged. The descent steps on the other side are just as bad - do not under-estimate the possibility of a mistake at this point.
On the far side, it is a simple stroll to the next cairn, Cnoc Mull-araich, where you will be rewarded with a view of Kilchattan. The number of houses to be seen has increased dramatically in a generation.
Before you leave this hill, look to the southwest and identify the highest point on the cliff-top bordering the sea. Head straight towards it, pick up a grassy route to lose some height, then bear round to your right, continuing to descend. You will notice flat ground on your left, slightly boggy, and when appropriate you can cross over, so as to continue westwards and now with higher ground on your left. You will round the rock to see a well-defined track descending across a narrow defile, A' Chaigeann ("the mountain pass") and on your right you will see a deep rounded glen running out towards the sea. This is quite a dramatic spot (especially when ice-covered in winter), and you quickly leave it to find yourself on a fairly easy grass-covered surface. You have your objective in mind - the current route goes vaguely towards it, and then you will bear briefly to the left, and descend slightly to cross a ditch-like stream, Aoineadh an t-Sruth (Terrace Stream). From this point you have a clear and obvious route to your final objective, Binnean Riabhach (Brindled Peak). Be cautious when you get there, this is a very high, unfenced cliff, not a suitable place for children or dogs to scamper around on.
To regain the road, turn your back to the sea and identify the white cottage with a red roof, Gortain (small rough field), and notice the distant but obvious ATV track leading in that direction. Simply head for that track and follow your nose. When you are close to the cottage follow the fence to your left and pass through two kissing gates, then pick up the stone track leading directly to the main road, where you should turn right. After 250 metres you will reach the track to Seaview on you left, which is the start of Section 3 on this trail.
Section two would take up to three hours with a seven-year old, it is about 12,500 steps on an App, and (say) 4 miles in all. (2 difficult fences and high wall)
Section 3: Colonsay's "Massif Central"
14. Carn Mor 134m 373947 (20 mins. from road below Gortain (or start at Graveyard) )
15. Cnoc a' Raon a' Bhuilg 120m 372942 (10 mins. from #14)
16. Beinn nan Caorach 126m 366941 (15 mins. from #15)
17. Carn na Cainnle 116m 381945 (30 mins. from #16)
18. Beinn nan Gudairean 136m 388950 (30 mins. from #17)
19. Carn nan Caorach 110m 392948 (20 mins. from #18)
Then down past The Smokery to main road, 20 mins.)
Walk in along the stone track towards Seaview and follow it onwards and behind the house; pass through a gate and make your way to the right, to cross a small burn just below a prominent but redundant brick water tank. Climb the steep slope upwards and to your left, to catch your breath at the top, An Diollaid (The Saddle). Passing onwards you will be heading towards Carn Mòr (Big Cairn) and after about 100 metres you may perhaps notice an interesting geological feature, a brown dyke liberally endowed with black mica discs about 3 cm in diameter. This is Colonsay Ouachatite, an interesting curiosity first mentioned by Thomas Pennant in 1772.
14. Carn Mòr
You should have little difficulty in reaching the summit of Carn Mòr (Great Cairn), which actually has two cairns.
15.Beinn nan Caorach
From the higher cairn, look southwest across the Dubh Loch (Black Loch) to identify Beinn nan Caorach (Sheep Hill), but it is best to avoid the direct route across swampy and difficult ground. Instead, head towards the southeast for about three hundred metres, and then to the south, so as to pick up a faint ATV (all terrain vehicle) track, which you can follow until you reach the march fence separating Kilchattan Common Grazing from Machrins Farm. Unfortunately the gate has been removed and there is no stile, leaving you to use your initiative with the rather shoogly fence. Once you are across, turn right and climb a little until you can clearly see your objective, Beinn nan Caorach. It is an easy walk across reasonable ground; it is tempting to stop before reaching the actual cairn, but much better to go the whole way and to enjoy the commanding views.
16. Cnoc a' Raon a' Bhuilg
Then turn back and take the easy summit of heather-clad, Cnoc a' Raon a' Bhuilg, (Hill above the Bag-like Plain) - unless you bagged it on the way out! It is not named on the map, but the highest point is fairly obvious. Just below Cnoc a' Raon a' Bhuilg, about 100 metres to the south, you may notice a bright green area, highlighting an old ruin, which was described to Symington Grieve as "a Temple of the pagan Norsemen"; nearby was said to have been the place of the Thyng "where the Norsemen held their Supreme Court in connection with serious offences". ( The Book of Colonsay and Oronsay , Vol ii, p. 344).
17.Carn na Cainnle
From this hill, it should be possible to identify Beinn nan Gudairean (meaning uncertain), graced by tall mobile phone masts. Make a note of the direction and set off, remembering that for part of the time you will lose sight of those masts. You will cross the march fence again, perhaps using the remains of a rusting Victorian ladder stile) and then be walking on short turf, passing numerous peat hags (cutaway bog, where peats were extracted for fuel). The masts were just for a guide, as your actual next objective is Carn na Cainnle, (Candle Cairn), aptly named because it does resemble the squat triangular shape of a simple tallow candle, made perhaps from seal fat moulded in a scallop shell. It will come into view, a little to the right of Beinn nan Gudairean and much nearer. You will cross one more (easy) fence to reach it, and will enjoy an excellent view of Scalasaig and the harbour, with Dùn Eibhinn in the foreground. This impressive Iron Age fort became a seat of the Vikings, and was eventually the ancestral home of the chieftains of Clan MacPhee.
18.Beinn nan Gudairean
It is now time to head for Beinn nan Gudairean (meaning is obscure), passing about 100 metres to the right of Loch an Sguid (Loch of the Shelter) and continuing until you reach a substantial march wall. Look carefully along the top of the wall, to try to identify the flat stone set upon its edge that marks the stone stile. If you can find it, crossing the wall is easy - you should then cross a narrow marshy hollow and bear to the right, to start to climb the hill leading up to the nearest and most substantial mast. There is an excellent animal track leading gently to the mast, a great convenience. Just before the mast, on level ground, you will turn left and follow a prominent ATV track until you break away to head for the cairn and O.S. Trig point on Beinn nan Gudairean. This is actually an ancient observation point (a listed monument), although sadly much of the masonry has fallen away in recent years.
19. Carn nam Caorach
There is only one more hill in this section, Carn nam Caorach (Sheep Cairn), and you can identify it about 450 metres to the east of south east, surmounted by a blue barrel. Do not try the direct approach, instead it is best to descend by way of the lesser of the two masts, following an ATV track down to join the Old Road, where you turn right and pass through a gate (at a very muddy spot). Immediately beyond the gate, climb the rocks to your left and follow the fenceline to the east (beware of barbed wire in the first few yards). The ground will open up, and you can keep to drier ground on your right whilst still following the fence line, which you should rejoin where it is met by a low wall from the right. There is a ditch here, easily crossed on an old log, and you can step across the low wall. From here to the summit is a fairly easy scramble through fairly long heather, keeping to the bare rock where possible. After gaining the summit and taking in the views of the harbour, retrace your steps to the ditch, then make your way back towards the Old Road but keeping rather more to your left, so as to breast a small slope and descend towards Scalasaig Steadings and the Old Road. On the way, you will pass the picturesque "Druid's Circle", an eroded Bronze Age burial cairn. When you reach the steadings and excellent Colonsay Smokery, go straight onwards if you are bagging all the MacPhees in a single walk, otherwise turn left to gain the facilities of the pub.
Section three could take up to three hours, it is about 14,000 steps on an App, and (say) 6 miles in all. (4 difficult fences).
Section 4: The Mossy Plain
If you are completing the circuit in a single walk, you will have descended the "old road" to pass the restored Scalasaig Steadings and The Colonsay Smokery, so just turn right at the main road, pass over a cattle grid and then turn left towards Oronsay at An Geata Dubh (The Black Gate). After a kilometre, you take the track on your left, for Baleromindubh, and pause at the summit of that track.
However, if you are tackling the MacPhees in four sections you probably finished Section 3 at the pub; just cross the road, towards the church, and follow the track that climbs westwards. At the summit it becomes less distinct, but you should have no trouble following it onwards, with a stone dyke roughly parallel on your right. Ahead of you there is a large, heathery hill - you will be aiming to cross its righthand (western) shoulder. At the foot of the slope, the track crosses a bridge and if you look forty-five degrees to your right you will identify an attractive slope leading onto the higher ground. After you have breasted the heathery hill you may begin to see Cnoc an t-Samhla ahead; the road will be running below you on your right and a rough stone track will appear between you and your objective. When you reach that track, follow it up to its summit, as in the paragraph above.
From this point, it is a simple stroll of 150 metres or so to reach the summit of Cnoc an t-Samhla, the name of which was quite puzzling. Loder called it "Likeness Hill", but "likeness" to what? It was Alastair Scouller who first noticed that there is a hill with an identical name, beside Finlaggan Loch in Islay, the seat of the Lords of the Isles; both hills are in view of one another. Suddenly, all became clear. The arrangement of major dùns (hill forts) in Colonsay and the neighbouring islands (and onwards to Antrim) is such that many are in line of sight; but when the Lords of the Isles established a permanent centre at Finlaggan they lost that line of sight with Colonsay, because of the bulk of Beinn Eibhne. This spot was important because from here you can clearly see Dùn Cholla, Dùn Domhnuill, Dùn Ghallain and Dùn Eibhinn as well as the lookout points at Beinn nan Gùdairean and Cnoc na Faire etc.; a signal could be transmitted swiftly between Finlaggan and any of those points by means of this hill and its twin, the Cnoc an t-Samhla in Islay. Perhaps a better rendering into English would be as "mirror" hill; in fact, besides fire or smoke, a copper sheet may well have been a way in which a signal was transmitted.
20.Cnoc an t-Samhla 93m 38299 92637
From here, look south to identify the highest point on Beinn Eibhne (the meaning is uncertain; some people pronounced it "ben-eenye"). The route is across fairly featureless land, so a good sense of direction will help. Head straight for it now, to cross a fairly level tussocky former bog; looking ahead, there is a break in the former field wall that is worth using, from which you continue up the slope and somewhat to your right. Beyond the crest of the hill (Druim na Glaic Mòire, "Big Valley Ridge") there is a slight fall to another level area, damp in the middle, beyond which a nice but steep grassy bank leads down onto the open peat and rock of Glac Mòr (Big Dell). If you notice the foundation of an old hut on your left at the foot of this slope, it might be encouraging; it is about one kilometre from here until you pick up the reassuring modern track to Balerominmor.
Assuming you are in the right area (with a view of Baleromindubh Farmhouse to your left), go straight across the low ground below the electric power line, turn right on the edge of the heathery rock and after about 50 paces turn sharp left through the heather and peat! It will not look promising but within another 100 metres you will be looking down across an old fence, a burn and can see the obvious exposed rocky slope of a former ford. This is the drainage of Rumaich na Caillich (The Hag's Marsh) and marks the ancient boundary between Baleromindubh and Balerominmor ("Dark part of the Boggy Fermtoun" and "Main part of the Boggy Fermtoun").
It is easiest to cross the fence and drainage a little to the left of that rocky slope, then move towards it and turn left again, to follow the (faint) vestigial traces of an old track. If all is well, you should soon pass between the iron supports of a long-gone gateway, somewhere about NR 3848 9186, presumably where there was once a march-fence. If not, you must decide to do whatever seems best, but if you are at that old gateway you are on firm ground and can press ahead towards the south, possibly keeping a little to the right. If you look very carefully, you will be able to detect the route that was followed by ponies and sleds or even light carts in the past; at all events within a few hundred metres you should reach the modern access track to Balerominmor Farmhouse. When you reach the track, turn right (or left if you have wandered to the west!) to make your way to the MacPhee memorial, a standing stone in a distinctive railed enclosure, very visible from the track.
From the MacPhee memorial ("Chapel & Burial Ground" on the O.S. map) you can refresh your view of Beinn Eibhne and simply head towards it, about a kilometre across fairly easy sloping terrain. You will soon be rewarded with nice views to your left, across the sandy inlet that O.S. wrongly identifies as Meall an Arbhair (Corn Headland!), but when you get closer to your objective you will have simply splendid views out across Oransay.
21.Beinn Eibhne 98m NR 37875 90342
The simplest descent from Beinn Eibhne is by continuing another 200 metres to the south, then bearing fortyfive degrees to your right, so as to leave this high plateau by a narrow declivity at NR3760 9042 (under the "B" of Beinn Eibhne on the Landranger map). From that point you have a good view of the strand and can easily see the cars parked at the end of the road 750 metres ahead. Head that way, keeping a little to the left, so as to follow a reasonable sheep track along a glen until you can comfortably reach the shoreline.
This section might take up to three hours, but is probably no more than about 12,000 paces, about 5 km as the crow flies. The entire distance for a circuit of the MacPhees is a little over 21 miles and on an App it registers as about 50,000 paces. ( No fences come to mind .)
22. Beinn Orasa 93m 351893 ( Seasonal. This is for the purist, a very easy walk which can be combined with a look at Dùn Domhnuill, but to avoid disturbance of ground-nesting birds please avoid in March through July.)