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Cruise of the Betsey 2

In September 6th-12th 2014 The Royal Scottish Geographical Society and The Friends of Hugh Miller jointly led a replica voyage round the Inner Hebrides which Hugh Miller made in 1844, as recorded in his book, The Cruise of the Betsey.The aim of the Betsey 2 journey was to ensure that Hugh Miller's importance as a writer and pioneering geologist was better understood and more widely known. 

Team Betsey 

The Leader, a gaff-rigged ketch, built in Brixham, Devon in 1892, sailed from Oban with Team Betsey,  a crew of geologists, naturalists and artists led by Joyce Gilbert. Arriving on Eigg, they joined Professor John Hudson, Emeritus Professor of Geology at the University of Leicester and "old Eigg hand," Dr Angus Miller (Scottish Geodiversity Forum & Geowalks), Camille Dressler (Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust/ Comunn Eachdraidh Eige), Jim Blair (Lochaber Geopark), Essie Stewart (storyteller), Issie MacPhail (UHI) and Norrie Bissell from the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. 

Hugh Miller Festival’ Island of Eigg (7th – 10th September, 2014)

Led by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum, Lochaber Geopark and with John Hudson's expert guidance, the Eigg event engaged the local community and visitors to the island with the story of Hugh Miller’s exploration of Eigg and his wide-ranging scientific discoveries as well as visits to the sites associated with his discoveries.

The programme included guided walks to explore Talm at the north end of the island where Miller discovered plesiosaur bones and An Sgurr, following Miller’s footsteps in investigating the formation of Eigg’s famous landmark and his discovery of fossil pine tree

It ended up as a traditional community ceilidh at the Glebe Barn Field Centre, where everyone, including the Betsey crew, locals and visitors, had an opportunity to hear about the project, share readings, music and songs. 

John Hudson on Hugh Miller 

The ceilidh was an opportunity to hear John Hudson's memories of Eigg over 50 years and record his contribution in re-evaluating the importance of Hugh Miller's geological genius. John, who wrote Eigg geology with colleague Ann Allwright (now re-published by the Edinburgh Geological Society) described his exploration of Eigg fossil beds in the early part of his career and how this led him to understand how important Hugh Miller's discoveries had been, not only in his time, but for geological theory in general. Miller was indeed one of Scotland’s outstanding geologists, one of the first of many Scottish ‘citizen scientists’ and stands beside the greats of Hutton, Lyell and Murchison, but had been largely forgotten until John Hudson's work brought him back into the linelight. 

You can watch John Hudson's tale on youtube

Retracing the footsteps of Hugh Miller 

Martin Goswick, from the Cromarty based Friends of Hugh Miller Society described the arrival to Eigg on the Leader. "We trace from on board, and in reverse, Hugh’s epic walk in a single day, which he accomplished with John Stewart, geologising all theway as they went, from the Bay of Laig, and the Singing Sands on the western shore, all the way round the Ru Storr (today Sgurr Sgaileach) at the northern tip, and back along the eastern shore to the Betsey at Eilean Chaisteal (today Eilean Chathastail). 

We cruise under the “mighty ramparts” of Beinn Buidhe, with their fantastic polygonal columns of basalt and vertical streams. Tis a pity we cannot identify from at sea, the foreshore where Hugh found the abundant Plesiosaur remains, about two kilometres north of Kildonan, nor the ruined shieling a little further north where he and John Stewart met the comely girls at the summer pasturing, but it is good to see for ourselves the scene of Hugh’s discoveries, and his heroic walk over ground which has become even more inaccessible than it was in his day. The Sgurr Sgaileach towering headland at the northern tip is a play of sunlit rock atop and dark grassy shadows in the depths. Simon Cuthbert recalls being rescued from becoming trapped there by the chance appearance of a passing rambler coming in the opposite direction. It is hard to imagine how the sheep browsing on these perilous heights are ever rounded up. Along the western side, we are awed by the “pyramidal” mountains of Rum to starboard, as well as by the chalk-white Singing Sands, and the fertile Bay of Laig with its crofts at Cleadale township, its fossilised oyster beds, and its incredible rounded stone “concretions.” Finally, in late afternoon, we are dwarfed under the impossibly imposing, all but perpendicular Sgurr ridge, a few kayaks paddling by seeming even more insignificant; this is the pitchstone colossus, called the glass mountain because of its lustrous black rock, resting on a Jurassic pine forest." 

More on the Leader voyage by Martin Goswick can be found in the society's newsletter. 

 

 

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