Introduction to the islands
The Treshnish Isles are a central part of the scenery of the southern
Hebrides. Like a fleet of Dreadnoughts passing through the Hebrides in line
astern, these islands have been landmarks for travellers through the Hebrides
for at least 1000 years. The names of some of the islands still reflect their
importance to the Vikings who once ruled in the Hebrides.
The Treshnish Isles are formed from 8 principal islands varying in size from
less than 4 hectares to 60 hectares. The archipelago lies, at its closest , 3 km
wets of Mull and extends along a northeast-southwest axis for a distance of 11
Apart from the scenery of the Treshnish and their mystique as a group of
uninhabited islands, they hold nationally important treasures in the form of a
mediaeval castle as well as large colonies of breeding seabirds. In autumn they
are the breeding ground of Atlantic grey seals, which give birth to their white
pups along their shores.
Shags overlooking the Dutchman's Cap
Overlying this geology and geomorphology is a rich natural and human
history. A medieval castle of national significance is present on the northern
islands. Elsewhere there is ample evidence of human occupation across the
centuries up to the time that the village on Lunga was abandoned early in the
19th century. This includes sheilings on the Dutchman's Cap, a possible early
Christian chapel in Fladda, and a corn kiln and possible whisky still associated
with the abandoned village on Lunga.
The islands provide breeding habitat that is free of rats, cats and mink for
nationally important concentrations of seabirds. At the Harp Rock on the island
of Lunga, these are particularly spectacular because dense aggregations of
guillemots can be viewed across a narrow but precipitous ravine thus giving
people a unique experience of a seabird colony. Amongst the fallen rocks on the
fossil beaches there are internationally important concentrations of breeding
storm petrels. These birds, "which are the size of swallows", are highly
secretive and, to avoid being eaten by gulls, they only come ashore at night
from the deep ocean where they feed. During winter, the islands provide valuable
grazing for barnacle geese and in the autumn, the beaches are breeding habitat
for nationally important populations of Atlantic grey seals. In early summer, it
is also possible to hear the rasping call of corncrakes (witnessed and
photographed by Jane in July 2005) on Lunga.
The value of the Treshnish
The Treshnish Isles have been sufficiently isolated to avoid spoilation from
development and the introduction of alien species. Colourful legends, ancient
castle, abandoned village and the incessant call of sea birds give the islands a
mystique and atmosphere of their own. Even today, the difficulty of landing and
the isolation mean that some of the islands are rarely visited whereas others
are visited by many thousands of people each year.
In June 2005, John and Andrew visited Lunga and some of the other
Treshnish Isles in our boat 'Wanderer' and were fortunate enough to spend a day
and night camping on the island photographing some of the stunning views,
township ruins, medieval fortress remains, flora, fauna and bird life.
Burgh More (Cairn of the Big Castle), Cairn Na Burgh Bed (Cairn of the Little
Castle) & Cairnburgh Castle.
Explorer Map 374 1:25,000 – NM 306448 & 307449
natural fortress islands of dramatic sheer basalt cliffs with their
medieval castles on their summits lie at the northeast end of the
Treshnish Isles chain, 5 km southwest of Treshnish Point, northwest of
the mainland of the Isle of Mull.
is an area of outstanding scenic beauty and a safe habitat for birds,
flora and fauna. In the past this site was of great strategic importance
with a medieval castle of natural significance commanding the main inner
west coast sea lane and Inner Hebrides.
early Viking times it was called Kiarnaborg, and then altered to
the Gaelic of Cairn na Burgh and today it is known as Cairnburgh.
The first known record of the castle was in 1249 when it was listed as
one of four castles held by ‘Ewen’, Lord of Lorne, whose benefactor was
King Hakon of Norway. Thereafter during the next four centuries because
of its strategic and political significance it was held and fought over
by various clans, including the MacLeans of Torloisk, MacLeans of Duart,
the MacDougalls and the Campbells during clan disputes, civil war and
the Jacobite Rebellion.
you see today?
islands are separated by a narrow channel which has a strong tide. The
sheer cliffs, particularly of Cairn na Burg More rise to thirty
five metres from sea level making it a magnificent natural defensive
structure. Where the cliffs are lower or there is a ravine, curtain
walls have been built between the cliffs to complete the defensive line.
The walls 1.4 metres thick consist of random rubble masonry laid in lime
mortar with evidence of dressings of Carsaig sandstone. Where there is a
ravine, the summit has been made inaccessible by carrying the curtain
wall down to the cliff base.
and barracks are situated on the gently sloping summit 35 metres above
sea level and today stand partially to wall head level.
Ownership of the Treshnish Isles
islands are under the stewardship of
Hebridean Trust with financial aid and support from Heritage
Lottery Funds. The islands are also designated as a site of special
scientific interest under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 because
of their unique geomorphology, seals, wild birds, wildfowl and house
Hebridean Trust state that the Isles have unique landscape, rich
wild life communities and contain habitat which is vital for several
Guidance for visitors
The Hebridean Trust is a charity and it
does not charge people for visiting the islands. It cannot take
responsibility for the safety of people who choose to visit and it does
warn visitors that the Treshnish Isles have dangerous cliffs and
During your visit it is important to observe some basic guidelines.
Please remember you are a guest on the islands and that because the
islands are uninhabited you are an alien in this environment. You should
endeavour at all times to minimise the impact of your presence while
also bearing in mind that even small impacts when multiplied up amongst
all those who visit the islands can amount to spoilation.
You are asked to avoid dropping litter, disturbing wildlife or walking
away from the paths. The livestock on the island are wild animals and
should not be disturbed or approached. In particular during the seabird
breeding season, we ask that you do not leave the paths to obtain a
closer view of the seabirds. Rather than leave the path visitors
are encouraged to sit and wait for a while and observe from an
Please do not climb on old walls or move stones - this can damage a
valuable archaeological site. Take care at all times - do not take risks
by approaching the cliff edges.
It is vital that no alien species are introduced to the islands.
Rats, mink or cats on these islands would result in the death of many
tens of thousands of seabirds, including all puffins and petrels. Dogs
or other pets are not encouraged to visit the islands.
Conservation activities on the Treshnish
Actively managing the islands absorbs time and resources. Apart from
prevention of the introduction of rats, mink and cats, the Trust
undertake remedial works on the archaeological sites and works to
improve the botanical diversity of the islands. All donations are
gratefully received by the Trust.
Information supplied courtesy of The Hebridean Trust. For further