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Jolyon's Travels - Part 2 - The Isle of Eigg

Last Updated: 17th Sep 2009

By Jolyon & Katya Ralph

The Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

After Rogerley, I was fortunate to be invited to join a small field trip organized jointly between National Museums of Scotland and the Fersman Mineralogical Museum of Moscow. The destination was the Isle of Eigg - where the NMS had never been on any official field trip, so it was a journey of exploration and discovery for us all. So, once again, I found myself enjoying Scottish Highland weather as we drove through Glen Coe on the way to meet the ferry.

Driving through Glen Coe

Tourists are not allowed to bring their cars to the island (which is only 9 miles by 5 miles), so we carried all our necessary kit (including food for our self-catering accommodation) in our bags and took the 'ferry' to the island. The ferry is more like a small tug or pleasure boat than a true ferry, and in the picture below you can see Maria enjoying the journey across.

The benefits of open-top ferries to the Hebrides

Thankfully the weather started to improve once we were on the island, and our first stop, after depositing our things at the hostel, was to walk down to the south coast looking for zeolites.

The coast at Rubh'an Tangaird

We found various zeolites - mostly analcime and fibrous zeolites (natrolite/mesolite/scolecite), but mostly in tiny crystals, and nothing that would excite most collectors.

Here's a couple of samples showing the size of zeolite cavities - not terribly impressive, and most were like these solidly filled with massive zeolite.

Zeolites in basalt

So we walked back to our accommodation with our poor haul of zeolites, and as we got back to our home for the evening we saw the sunset light up An Sgurr, the highest point on the island, and our destination for the next day.

An Sgurr at sunset - Amazing photo by Maria

So... The next day after a hearty breakfast we started the long walk up to the summit of An Sgurr. Here I am with Brian slogging our way up the path towards the Sgurr. Although it was signposted as a path on our maps, it was actually more of a stream than a path.

Walking up to the Sgurr

The Sgurr is our main reason for visiting Eigg - it's a large outcrop of hard pitchstone overlaying, as you can see in the photo below, at around 30 degrees, the underlying basalts. There was much controversy about the origin of the Sgurr. An earlier Victorian theory that the sgurr is the remains of a valley system in softer basalt country rock later infilled by a harder pitchstone around 58 million years was widely discounted for over a hundred years but has now come back into fashion and is currently the accepted theory of the formation. So in the photo below, the 40 degree angle between the hard pitchstone at the top and the softer basalts below is actually the "fossilized" remains of an ancient valley system.

The Sgurr from the East

Climbing on up from the north side we ascended the path towards the summit, and examined the hard pitchstone showing columnunar jointing. Mineralogically the pitchstone contains phenocrysts of sanidine to a few mm, but isn't terribly interesting for mineral collectors. Slices of the pitchstone cut and polished are very attractive however, with gemmy yellowish sanidine phenocrysts in a dark matrix.

Pitchstone on the Sgurr

Finally after a few hours we reached the summit, marked with an ordnance survey trig point, and posed for the obligatory photo as the clouds came in obscuring the fantastic view we'd been hoping for.

The Intrepid Explorers

Slightly disappointed and slightly wet, we started the long walk home, hoping for a break in the clouds. Then, while we were still on the top of the sgurr walking towards the route off the hill, we saw a break in the clouds open up. Here's the view to the south, showing in the distance the Isle of Muck (one of the other Hebridean small islands). We rushed back up to the summit.

The view to the south - break in the clouds

And the view was spectacular! Here's a photo Maria took.

The view to the east

And here's a photo Brian took of Maria taking the photo. In the distance beneath the cloud you can see the Isle of Rhum. This is the remains of the volcano that originally filled the valleys here with pitchstone nearly 60 million years ago.

View towards Rhum

We wandered back down and I had a brief chance to collect minerals when I found a small vein showing agate banding and some small amethystine quartz crystals.

The next day, our last on the island, was a five mile walk to the northern part of the island to visit the "Singing Sands", which is a pure quartz sand beach. I had the clever idea, or so I thought at the time, of hiring bikes and riding there.

Eigg Bike hire

Actually, it turned out to be a very good idea - here's a sight you don't often see - your webmaster on a bike:

Jolyon on a bike

Finally, we reached the Singing Sands (so-called because when dry the sand makes a 'singing' noise when you tread on it.) Unfortunately the sand was pretty damp when we were there. And coming back to the geological point of this trip again, here is a view of the beach showing a rather nice dyke running across towards the ancient volcanoes in the Isle of Rhum which dominates the skyline to the northwest.

The Singing Sands

Finally we rode our bikes the five miles back to the port and we took the boat back to the mainland, and as we left the ominous dark clouds returned to Eigg, and we realised how lucky we had been with the weather on our quick trip.

The view back as we leave Eigg

Eigg wasn't the most productive place for mineral collectors, but it has a fascinating geology and breathtakingly beautiful scenery. We enjoyed every moment! We then spent a few more days in Edinburgh, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Fringe Festival.

So, after three days of peace and quiet on an island where hardly anyone else was around, we were thrust into the crowds and noise of Edinburgh at it's busiest, complete with maniacs on the street brandishing balloon swords.

En guard!

Tremendous fun in a totally different way! Eventually we left Edinburgh and headed back down into England...

Part 3 (Devon and Cornwall) coming up soon!

Article has been viewed at least 16906 times.


Hi Jolyon, maybe it is even better without one of the last photographs from the Singing Sands)) Nice report, thank you

Maria Alferova
17th Sep 2009 9:54am
Greetings Jolyon ,

Very Very Beautiful place.One of your pictures is my desktop background.
Thanks for Sharing.
Love for you
Nauroz Nausherwani

Nauroz Nausherwani
17th Sep 2009 1:19pm
What a fantastic trip! Getting there is half the fun of collecting. Except, perhaps, the balloon act. . .

Best regards,
Fred E Davis

Fred E. Davis
19th Sep 2009 11:40am
Thanks for putting these travel logs up - interesting.

Matt Zukowski
10th Oct 2009 6:59am

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