The first phase of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path has been completed at the Braighe, safeguarding part of the sea wall and the graveyard at the historic Ui Church.
Community volunteers are “delighted” with the result, which has repaired a severely eroded stretch of coastline and transformed the coastal path project from a concept to tangible reality.
And none are more overjoyed than Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, the Ui Church Trust, who had feared the graveyard wall would not withstand another winter.
Although the historic Ui Church had been safeguarded in 2015, with the installation of a section of sheet piling at the cliff edge, the northerly storms were threatening to erode the land on either side of the sheet piling and destroy the graveyard wall.
For that reason, and because the coastal community path route goes along this part of the cliff edge, the path committee prioritised this Braighe section of the route for the first works.
The Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path vision is for a 40km route which would begin in Stornoway and go through the Braighe and Aignish to then follow a circular route around the whole of the Point peninsula. In all, it could cost £1million and take up to 10 years – but the volunteers are delighted that the critically-important phase one is now complete.
This first phase has secured 100 metres of coastline including the outside of the Ui Church graveyard. One particularly large hole in the sea wall has been repaired and the contractors, Breedon Group, made extensive use of rock armour, sourced from local stone, as a sea defence.
Local material was also used for the path – red scalpings from the old quarry, instead of the more usual grey pieces – so that it looked as nice as possible.
Altogether, the phase cost £114,000 and was funded by £57,000 from LEADER with the remainder coming from the Joint Projects Fund set up Point and Sandwick Trust and Stornoway Trust to manage the Community Benefit Fund which goes to landowner Stornoway Trust from the profits from PST’s community-owned wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag.
Members of the community path committee visited the site at Aignish on Wednesday, December 19 – exactly one month to the day after the work began, and were “delighted” with the results.
They were accompanied by Alasdair Nicholson and Tony Robson, Point and Sandwick’s retained funding and engineering consultants, who have been supporting the coastal community path committee over the past two years. They too were very pleased with the results.
Tony explained that a lot of the previous rock armour had been washed out, meaning the coastal protection had to be strengthened.
The damaged section was rebuilt and the new rock armour was bigger than before.
It had been “severely eroded for the last 15 years” and “all in all, the place is in a better way than it was before and it’s now able to withstand a north-westerly”.
He said it was a “good job to have done for a number of reasons”. As well as safeguarding “a very important historical site” – the Ui Church is the burial place of a number of the Macleod clan chiefs – it has also created a good walking surface, with the new pathway.
Liz Chaplin, Ui Church Trust Secretary, said: “Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe is delighted with the work done on the coastal path. It was completed quickly and very efficiently.
“We are greatly relieved that the coastal erosion has been stopped and that the path and therefore the Eaglais na h-Aoidhe graveyard are now safe for years to come. I think the Point and Sandwick Coastal Path will bring more visitors to Eaglais na h-Aoidhe and from there to the rest of Point.”
Liz added: “We are almost ready to publish the Graveyard Records of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe.
“This booklet will include maps of the graveyard and at least a mention of everybody who is named as buried in the church and graveyard.
“We anticipate many more visitors to the graveyard as a result of this booklet. It is very fortuitous timing that the coastal path is completed before the publication of the records.”
Once completed, the coastal community path will include sections that are surfaced to a standard that allows wheelchair access and prams. In other places the path will be less formal, and marked out by signposts, but the consensus is that the Braighe works have been a great start.
Matt Bruce, Chair of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee, praised Breedons for their “excellent” work.
He added: “It’s great that, by working together, we’ve had all this work carried out and we’ve also been very lucky with having a contractor that can just go ahead and make it look easy.
“It’s very worthwhile to have protected bits of the coastline as well. It’s great to see so much progress made in such a little time.
“Whereas originally we said it would take 10 years, let’s hope we can do the lot in five.”
Alasdair Nicholson, who worked with the path committee on accessing the LEADER funding, said the development would “open up new tourist-related opportunities as well as additional ways to promote health and wellbeing for the local community”.
He added: “It’s obviously highly significant that the monies that are helping to pay for this development originate out of the wind that is blowing over Lewis. It’s tremendous to be able to think that this is now actually doing things in the community for long-term benefit.
“This is an example of ‘social bricolage’ – taking an under-used asset and creating something out of it. In terms of the path, it’s creating new opportunities out of nature, out of rough areas of ground, hopefully for the long-term benefit of people in an area.
“The significant thing about having this section done is that the coastal path is no longer just a concept. It is tangible. It’s become a real project.”
Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path is a registered charity formed in 2016 for the purpose of developing their vision of a circular path around the whole peninsula, taking in all the historic, cultural and natural attractions in the area, and making the most of the beautiful views.
The idea originally came from retired teacher Tom Clark, former chair of Point Community Council, and a member of the Coastal Community Path committee.
He and some friends set out to walk as much of the Point and Sandwick coastline as they could in 2012 and he subsequently wrote a report about it for the community council, who agreed with him about aiming to develop the path.
He said: “I am most impressed by the progress that has been made to date. I look forward to works happening on the next stage to Garrabost and hope that will encourage many of the local people to walk the coastline and see some of the wonderful views.”