We hear of sea-bird cliffs north of Upper Kilchattan, Colonsay. The walk- in is a prelude , mood music to set the scene, a floral motifs that recurs throughout our trip to the Inner Hebrides. July is late in the season for breeding sea-birds but flowers and butterflies are a delight through weeks of fine weather- fairer than we might expect on this Atlantic sea-board. Hay meadows with meadowsweet and purple loosestrife, ditches of ragged robin and fleabane. Over cliff- tops of short turf and bog pimpernel, our destination a geo at Pig’s Paradise. Alert for the reek of sea-bird colonies and rafts of birds on the sea below the cliffs.
Reaching the cliffs at Binnein Riabhach, we look down into a cliff-face of seabirds. My companion picks a way down the upper reaches of the cliff and I hesitate, listening to the cries of kittiwake almost drowned out by the sound of waves pounding the base of the cliff and hearing close above me calls of small land-birds about the cliff-top. Sea-birds are a magnet. I follow a channel that seems to offer some protection, but it’s an erosion gully- vulnerable to cliff- fall. We’re at an angle with a cliff-face thick with colonies of sea-birds but we hope to come closer to see better, so we follow the cliff- top until we come to a geo where we sit in the grass looking down upon another sea-bird cliff. Inland, along the geo, I find chough and they fly above us with high-pitched calls and black-fingered wings. Somewhere here there are grassy slopes where crofters used to pen their pigs. We follow the geo inland. My friend spies a rocky bluff with flowering roseroot and down below a freshwater burn descends through a gulch to the sea. Past bog pimpernel, we find a way across the burn to rocks below our earlier perch, where we’re closer to the sea-bird cliff. We see shag and make out razorbill and guillemot. The cliff-face is thick with sea-birds packed into each niche and cranny in a rather jagged rock face. Waves break in a spume of white on the rocks below and we watch birds flying into their niche and out to sea again. Binnein Riabhach and Pig’s Paradise are enchanting in their solitude and in the way we must seek out vantage points for the sea-bird experience.
Later in the afternoon we head north, to Later Balnahard Bay with dune flora.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.