Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Holy Island of two faiths, Arran

From the SW tip of Holy Island we looked across Lamlash Bay to Lamlash village backed by the distant hills of Arran.

When we arrived at the Holy Island Inner Lighthouse the "No landing closed retreat" notice did not bode well for our visit to the island. It has a rich tradition of peaceful meditation dating from the the time of the hermit monk St Molais in the sixth century to the Samye Ling monks of today.

However, the closed area was just the immediate vicinity of the lighthouse buildings.

Good paths, followed by a mild scramble, allowed exploration to the highpoint of the island. If you are looking for the Inn of the Sixth Happiness you will not find it on Holy Island. Those seeking that sort of enlightenment would be better to head for Lamlash.

We enjoyed our visit to this stunningly beautiful and peaceful island.

NB please see the comments for a very different experience of visiting Holy Island.



  1. Wonderful! Interesting figures on those rocks...

  2. Hi Douglas,
    interesting, as always, to read of your adventures-especially Holy Island as Barbara and I had a very disappointing experience there a few weeks ago while padding with two friends.
    We had opted to camp (very, very discretely) at the north tip of the island - arriving quite late. Being aware of the island and it's community, we were continually careful to do nothing to offend anyone.
    One of our party even collected four bags of rubbish from our vicinity to take away and dispose of.
    We were aware that several young people - probably attending one of the commercial courses held at the monastry - had seen us and so were not surprised to be visited by one of the monks who spoke to one of our group. Unfortunately, I was busy with our meal and so didn't hear the exchange until the monk had left.
    Assuming this had been of the nature of asking where we had come from, where we were going, had we had a good day etc I was dismayed to discover that my friend was quite upset at the aggressive and unpleasant manner in which he had been informed that we were unwelcome and, had it still been light, we would have been ordered off the island then and there.

    Initially saddened at this contradiction to my assumed understanding of the monk's Buddhist philosophy; my thoughts turned to our rights to actually be there and to wild camp and whether we had inadvertently failed to honour the responsibilities that go with that right.
    I could find no reason to support this.
    We had kept well clear to avoid intrusion into the community there; had tried to leave the place better than we had found it; had refrained from building a fire and had behaved with respect for the island, it's community and it's wildlife.

    Upon arriving home, I immediately emailed the monastry via their commercial email address and put our case explaining our disappointment and wondering whether, had we been prepared to pay the B&B fee to stay, we would have been treated in a similar way.
    I also questioned the legality of their stand outlawing our right to camp and especially their signs banning access to the area below the high water mark.

    I have had no reply to my email - again disappointing as I would dearly have liked to try and explain our philosophy of peaceful co-existance to them.

    Long response - I apologise, but thought I'd share this experience on Holy Island as a thankfully rare example and so different to many other, welcoming people we've met on our sea-kayaking adventures.

    Be warned if you choose to camp on Holy Island - we were also "threatened" with the possibility of wild ponies attacking us!

    Thanks for an interesting and informative Blog.

    Kind regards


  3. Chris thanks very much for this reply.

    When Tony and I visited and saw the no landing sign our first comment was "this lot haven't heard of the Land Reform Act." We landed just about 100m along the coast from the sign and as we saw no monks and enjoyed unrestricted access to the hill, we relaxed.

    However, your experience has rekindled our worst fears.

    I assume that you were not camping in the immediate area of the buildings or on enclosed cultivated land and so under the land reform act you have a legal right to wild camp providing you do so in small numbers and do not stay for more than three nights.

    The religious beliefs of the landowners have nothing to do with this right under Scottish law.

    I would strongly suggest that you report the aggressive and illegal behaviour of this so called monk to both the local authority:

    "Local authority powers: Local authorities have been given new powers within the Act to assert access rights."

    and to Scottish Natural Heritage

    and to your MSP

    and to the Scottish Canoe Association

    I have a good mind to head for Holy Island on our next camping trip.

    I also believe that landowners now have a responsibility about allowing threatening and dangerous animals to roam free. What I can say is that Tony and I wandered through a very laid back and peaceful herd of Eriskay ponies who had clearly reached a higher state of Buddhist consciousness than this particular monk!

    Chris go for your rights! I will help in any way I can.

  4. Michael judging by Chris's recent experience the white sign on the left means NO ENTRY and the Green one on the right means RETREAT

  5. Chris,

    Really sadden to hear about your experience.

    The local access officer for North Ayrshire Council (relevant local authority) is:

    Contact Details

    Louise Kirk
    Access Officer
    Planning Services
    North Ayrshire Council
    Perceton House
    KA11 2DE Tel: 01294 225198 Fax: 01294 225184

    SCA Access Officer is a sea paddler himself

    Access and Environment Officer: Mike Dales, 01738 850175,

    Such blatant disregard for your legal right to wild camp in a responsible manner needs addressed by the relevant authorities.



  6. Hi Douglas and Cailean,

    thanks for your supportive replies and sound advice.

    You are, of course, right and the matter does need escalating to the appropriate authorities, which I shall do as soon as I return after this weekend's trip away.

    I think we were reluctant to do this initially, bearing in mind the sensitive nature of the occupants of Holy Island and the possible loopholes for such communities in the Land Reform Act 2003.
    Further reading implies, as you have suggested, that there is nothing to exempt religeous groups.

    We also concluded that, just like in most walks of life, there can be one bad apple - an uncharitable, purple-clad one in this case - and that we'd be wrong to assume that he represented the majority and their philosophy; which is why we decided to contact the monastery first. However, they have not seen fit to respond or even acknowledge receipt of my mail.

    Maybe they have had some bad experiences with irresponsible wild-campers in the past and I could possibly understand their attitude better had the whole island been a "retreat", but they welcome PAYING visitors and open their doors to PAYING guests, course attendees etc. There does seem to be some hypocrisy based around pound signs here.

    If the approch had been more friendly and tolerant, they may have found us willing to donate something to the excellent environmental cause they champion on the island.

    The freedom to roam and wild camp as responsible sea-kayakers/mountain walkers is something that we were captivated by when we first began our explorations north of the border .. so different from our experiences of the restrictions in England and Wales.
    It's something worth fighting for.

    I'll keep you updated.

    Kind regards

  7. Chris, thanks for bringing this to attention and please let us know how you get on.

    I think I will drop a letter to Loise Kirk asking about the No Landing signs.