Our visit to the Island of Lismore
Lismore is a small island off the west coast of Scotland. The island is 10 miles long and 1 mile wide.
It is on one of the most fertile islands of Scotland and may once have supported a much larger population. The first reliable estimate is 1500 at the 1831 census. The current population is between 180 and 200 people and has risen from a low of around 100 in the 1970s.
The name Lismore comes from the Gaelic lios-mor which means great garden and refers to the fertile island with its abundant wildflowers, shrubs and trees although there is only little natural woodland. The island has been inhabited since early times. In 1974 a polished stone axe-head was found and was dated by the Edinburgh Museum to 3500 BC, it’s presently on exhibition at the Lismore Historical Society Heritage Centre
Lismore Lighthouse is not on Lismore but is actually on the island of Eilean Musdile. It is easily visible from ferries entering to and from Oban and the Isle of Mull. Eilean Musdile is separated from the main island of Lismore by a small channel. A light was first established in October 1833, displaying a fixed white light. This opened up navigation into Loch Linnhe and the Firth of Lorne for the Caledonian Canal entrance.
The island is served by two ferries, one vehicle ferry from Oban, operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, and a passenger only ferry operated by the Argyll and Bute council from Port Appin to Port Ramsay, a ten-minute crossing.
We decided to take the passenger ferry from Port Appin as it was just a 20-minute drive away from the campsite that we were staying at. North Ledaig Caravan Park is in a great location, and we have stayed before. If you are interested, just click this link – North Ledaig Caravan Park
Lismore, for us, was always going to be a cycling trip and we had no intention of leaving Sam, our wee dog, behind in Dora our campervan. We would either need to leave Sam with a dog sitter or take him with us. Sam is now nearly 15 years old and although he is still sprightly, his age is catching up with him, so we pragmatically thought through a solution. The best solution we could come up with was to purchase a bike pet trailer. Thus, enabling us to continue cycling whilst away in our campervan.
We purchased a secondhand trailer via Gumtree. It was in great condition and a perfect size for Sam. It did require a bit of setting up, attaching the two wheels, and ensuring all the securing clips were in place but this also meant that it could be folded up and stored away. Lismore would be our first outing, what could possibly go wrong!
We drove up to North Ledaig Caravan Park the night before our trip to Lismore as we planned on getting a reasonably early ferry to Lismore the next morning.
We had roughly worked out how long our cycle on Lismore should take. The Island is 10 miles long and we were planning on going as far as we could. As we had a trailer, we could travel at an average of 6 mph, stopping for a coffee on the route and our lunch at the other end of the island, so 5 hours would give us plenty of time.
By the time we arrived at Port Appin ferry port, it was 9.30 am. We looked around for our ferry and our eyes were drawn to the only sea vessel in port. Surely this couldn’t be our ferry? It looked more like a small fishing boat, moored up and being pushed about in rough waters. How was this small boat going to accommodate both of us, Sam, 2 bikes and a trailer as well as at least another 5 foot passengers who were standing near the slipway? This was going to be an interesting trip!
Just as we were trying to get our heads around it, the captain and his mate were making their way to the ferry from the local hotel, we assumed that that’s where they take their breaks away from the elements. We asked if he was able to accommodate us plus our bikes, Sam & trailer and he responded with a casual ‘of course’.
We quickly lugged the folded-up trailer, which was a bit heavier and more awkward than we thought it would be and our 2 bikes down the slipway then with the help of the ferry crew, everything was lifted onto the ferry and secured in a corner out the way.
The crossing to Lismore only takes 10 minutes but it’s 10 minutes on a small ferry, with plenty of character, across choppy water to a small Scottish Island. This makes for a very special and memorable journey.
When we arrived at Port Ramsay Lismore, the weather was dry and the sun was making an effort to show itself but there was a strong wind and judging from its direction, it would be behind us as we cycled down the islands one main road, which runs down the spine of Lismore from Port Ramsay in the north to the southern tip with a view across to Eilean Musdile and Lismore Lighthouse.
The captain informed us that the last return crossing for that day would be 4.30 pm and if we didn’t make it, we would be stuck on the Island overnight. This bit of helpful information certainly focused our minds and we quickly organized ourselves. By the time we had sorted the trailer, secured our panniers and placed Sam in the trailer, who was looking a bit bewildered, it was nearly 10.30 am. So based on our calculations, we should be back at the ferry port at around 3.30 pm. This helped to relax us a bit but it all depended on how accurate our calculations were!
The road was single track but was in a good state of repair and apart from some short steep hills which slowed us down, we were making good progress. So, when we arrived at the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre, we were more than happy to stop for a coffee. This innovative, eco-friendly building was opened on 17 March 2007. Within the building is a café and museum with its collection of objects, documents and images which are regularly updated by the islanders. Sitting beside it is a reconstructed cottar’s cottage. What a great spot for our first coffee stop. There are dedicated cycle stands and outside decking that encourage you to sit outside and take in the views.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t hang about and we were soon on our way again but it wasn’t long before we came across our next reason to stop. The Standing Tomb Slabs were unexpected and very striking. Sitting within purpose-built support, at the side of the road and next to Lismore Graveyard, from where they had been removed, was 8 standing tomb slabs dating back to the 14th and 15th century. During a visitor guide inventory in 2009, it became very clear that some of the most valuable, medieval, stones had deteriorated and a project was created to save them. Thankfully this was successful and they are now protected for future generations.
Soon, we were off again and slowly but surely the road surface began to get rougher as the scenery became more dramatic and wild but we still had a good way to go. After a couple of large metal gates, we were on an uneven dirt and rocky track. We were now unsure if we would reach the end of the island and Sams trailer was getting flung about. It felt like we were in complete wilderness and Sam was also becoming more distressed.
We knew we would have to make a decision soon and a quick look at Google Maps on our phone seemed to suggest that we still had a good way to go. We decided to stop next to and above Loch Fiart. A relatively small but deep loch nestled in dramatic surroundings adds to its moody demeanour. We let Sam out to stretch his legs and took the opportunity to gaze at 360 degrees of magnificence. Our decision was made, we were carrying on for as long as we were able to.
Our journey didn’t get any easier but eventually, we cycled past what looked like an abandoned farmhouse. The path we were following began to narrow and was now a grassy walking path. We continued along this path for a short stretch, aware that we were about to turn a corner with an overhanging cliff. As we turned the corner, with rocks above us, we realized that we had reached the bottom of the island. What a buzz that was, it felt like we had achieved something special that day and it was worth it. Finding a sheltered area, in between countless sheep droppings, we finally had our lunch and looked over the water. Lismore Lighthouse was directly in front of us with the Isle of Mull beyond that, Oban in the distance to our left and Loch Linnie enveloping the Scottish coastline to our right. We could have stayed there all day but time wasn’t on our side.
The cold wind had been at our back for our journey south but we knew that we had a long cycle back to the ferry with a piercing wind in our face, a grumpy dog in a trailer that was slowing us down due to the terrain and the last ferry to catch or we would be stuck on the island for the night.
As much as we were enjoying our sheltered spot and lovely view, we accepted our fate and started the long journey back.
About a mile or so into the return journey, Aileen to her horror noticed that the left wheel near the edge of the path, which had a steep drop, was wobbling and looked like it was ready to come off. She shouted out a warning but because of the strong wind, the warning wasn’t heard. She had a vision of the wheel coming off, causing the trailer to go over the steep edge and take Tom and his bike with it. Luckily Tom stopped for a rest and this enabled Aileen to break the news about the wheel.
Sure enough, for some reason the detachable wheel, which slots then clicks into place was only slotting but not clicking, hence it wasn’t getting secured in place. It was just a case of having to stop regularly and push the wheel back in. This was adding to our return journey time as well as increasing our stress levels as we were cycled into a strong cold wind with a dog that was whining and wasn’t happy with his new trailer, having to regularly check on an insecure wheel as we cycled over rough rocky terrain as well as constantly checking our watches.
The last ferry was at 4.30 pm. We were still about 7 miles away, the time was now 2.30 pm and we were currently averaging 5 MPH so we could still make it with time to spare as long as nothing else happened.
The good thing about the return journey was that the road surface got better, allowing us to get slightly faster and it put less strain on the dodgy wheel. This gave us more optimism, which turned out to be justified as we finally got back to the ferry port with 45 minutes to spare. This gave us time to dismantle the trailer and investigate why the wheel wasn’t staying in place. We discovered that the cause of the issue had been from when the trailer was being assembled earlier that day. We had stepped off the ferry and carried the trailer to a gravel area to set it up for our journey. It turns out that a random small piece of gravel had found its way into the slot that the wheel is attached to. This resulted in the piece of gravel stopping the wheel from sliding completely inside and clicking securely into place. How the wheel had stayed on the trailer for the journey to the bottom of the island is anyone’s guess.
All we had to do now was relax and wait on the ferry. By now the strong wind was freezing and we retreated to the ferry waiting area. This was a small portacabin with a toilet and padded bench seating. We sat and gazed around this odd shelter that can only be created on an island like this one over time. There was a small selection of bikes ranging from reasonably modern to retro. There was a selection of books, one titled, War and Peace, concerned us regards how long a visitor could be stranded. There was also a collection of dusty games. The place had a bothy feel to it which did help to create a cosy shelter until the ferry arrived.
As scheduled, the ferry arrived on time and we were soon back on board. We would definitely recommend a visit to Lismore. For such a small island, it had a lot to explore and breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately, due to our limitations with the trailer, we didn’t get time to explore everywhere and we will need to return. If we’d had more time, we would have taken a couple of side roads leading to a couple of castles – Achanduin Castle a 13th century ruined castle built on the top of a ridge with fantastic views and Castle Coeffin another ruined 13th-century castle set in a stunning location.
We hope that you enjoyed our account of our visit to Lismore. You can find our ever-growing list of Scottish Island blogs here.