Work to protect Ui Church perimeter signals start of £1M Coastal Path

There was a great turnout at the Braighe this morning for a very special turf-cutting ceremony… the start of the first phase of the 40km Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path project.

Point and Sandwick Trust is one of the main funders of this first phase of the project, to protect the sea wall beside the Ui Church, which is in danger of collapsing completely in a storm. 

The Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee put out a press release earlier today, hailing the first phase of the project, which will secure 100 metres of coastline and protect the Ui Church graveyard. This section of work will cost around £114,000.

As one of the main funders of the project – LEADER’s £57,000 was conditional on match funding from Point and Sandwick Trust, which goes to the Coastal Path project via our Joint Projects Fund with Stornoway Trust – everyone at PST is delighted to see this vital work get underway.

Point and Sandwick Trust chairman Norman Mackenzie said: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s a wonderful thing. We were delighted to be involved in this project because it’s a dual purpose project in a way. It establishes the Coastal Path which we think is a very important development for Point and Sandwick and it has the additional bonus of protecting the Ui Church and the graveyard.”

Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee’s press release told of their joy at seeing the first phase get underway of what will be a £1million project to develop a 40km coastal path from Stornoway all around the Point peninsula.

The work to repair the large hole in the sea wall beside the historic Ui Church (Eaglais Na h-Aoidh) is expected to take four to five weeks.

The work is being carried out by the Breedon Group and Ali Murray, Breedon’s site agent, was among those at the turf-cutting.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to be involved with this,” he said. “You can see from the amount of people here, it’s very important to everybody.”

Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, the Ui Church Trust, were more delighted than anyone to see the work get underway – as they had feared the graveyard wall would not withstand another winter.

STORMS

Liz Chaplin, Ui Church Trust Secretary, said: “We are absolutely delighted the Point and Sandwick Coastal Path group have taken the lead on this, have done the design work, all the engineering work and crucially have got the funding from the Stornoway Trust, Point and Sandwick Trust and LEADER. The northerly storms are threatening to erode the cliff edge and the graveyard wall.

“We’re so grateful the work is happening now because another winter could have been the end. The cliff could have collapsed completely and then the path would go and the graveyard wall could slip into the sea.”

The Ui Church itself is not at risk because sheet piling was done in 2015 to secure it. The Trust had not had the money, though, for further works so were unable to protect the churchyard wall.

Liz stressed: “Because a lot of people are buried there, including Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the Surveyor General of all India, it’s very historical site. It’s of sociological and emotional important to the local community and it is our duty to protect it.”

FUNDRAISING

Colin Scott Mackenzie, Honorary President of the Ui Church Trust, had the honour of cutting the ‘turf’, along with Mary McCormack, Secretary of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee.

Development of the coastal path is likely to be split into five phases, with fundraising for the next phase to begin soon, but Colin Scott Mackenzie said this first phase alone was hugely welcome.

He called it “a longed-for advance”, adding: “We are terribly grateful to the Point and Sandwick Coastal Path committee and the Point and Sandwick Trust and we mustn’t forget Stornoway Trust without whose consent it would all have been extremely difficult.”

Matt Bruce, chair of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path, a registered charity formed in 2016, said it was “marvellous” to finally get the project onsite.

“This is the first phase of what we hope will be an acknowledged footpath going round the whole of Point and Sandwick. It will be up toward £1million and it may well take 10 years. We hope that at least a third of it will be easy access for any ability whereas other parts will be mostly across the moor. It will lead back into Stornoway as well so people most likely will do it in segments rather than all in one go.”

Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path is a charity formed for the purpose of developing this. Their vision is to create a circular community path right around the whole Point and Sandwick peninsula, taking in all the historic, cultural and natural attractions in the area, including the Ui Church and the Stevenson lighthouse at Tiumpanhead, and also making the most of the beautiful views. 

The path would be linear from Stornoway to Aignish, following the Newton and Sandwick coastline and would pass the Iolaire monument along the way. It would be a combination of gravel path and grass tracks with signposts, and would require a few bridges to be built across ravines, as well as a lot of gates. Some existing peat roads would be utilised.

If funding can be found to complete it, the path would tap into the growth area of nature-based tourism, as many visitors are known to come to the Outer Hebrides to experience the landscape. 

EVENTS

Another major draw is likely to be Tiumpanhead – one of the best land-based sites in Britain for watching whales and dolphins – and the whole development would help to address the issue of the limited path network in the Outer Hebrides.

Although coastal, the walk would be away from the cliff edges and would be developed for multiple users of all abilities. Around 15km of it would be good enough for wheelchair access, while some of it would be suitable for cyclists and horses. It would likely become popular with trail runners and those training for endurance events. At 40km or 26miles long, it could even host a future marathon.

The concept of the path is community driven and described by Matt Bruce as an example of a community “seeing a problem and jumping in”.

The original idea came from retired teacher Tom Clark, former chair of Point Community Council, and a member of the Coastal Community Path committee.

He recalled walking as much of the Point and Sandwick coastline as possible with friends in 2012 and subsequently writing a report about it for the community council, who agreed with him about developing a path.

He said: “Our original plan was simply to put up a few signposts to show people where to go… (but) there is no doubt that an accessible path, with sections suitable for cyclists and other users, would be a great asset to both the local community and visitors.”

• All pictures by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.