The Church of St Kilda at Lochbuie (the Village) on Loch Buie (the Loch) situated on the Isle of Mull - (Part 1)

Featuring a quaint little church built in the mid 1800's, sat alongside a beautiful boulder strewn sandy bay

Setting The Scene - St Kilda’s Episcopal Church is a tiny but very atmospheric and very worthwhile location to visit with your camera, it was built by the Chief of the Clan MacLaine in the mid 1800’s, before finally being consecrated to Saint Kilda in 1876. However it is also said that this tiny church was originally built with the intention of being consecrated to Saint Oran, but apparently St Oran wasn't thought to be saintly enough so Saint Kilda was chosen instead, but more on that below...

There are several interesting stories (or possibly myths) as to why this tiny church was built where it is and so close to the edge of the loch, by the local Chief of the Clan MacLaine. With the most enduring one being, that after the Chief found himself once again arguing until he was red in the face with his local Church Minister from Kinlochspelve, who would insist on herding his gaggle of noisy pet ducks out onto the loch to feed each day and right next to the castle (situated further along the beach) where the chief liked to spend his days fishing. The ducks who were obviously enjoying their time out in the open, would then swim around for several hours quacking loudly and spoiling the tranquility of his fishing, as well as scaring away the fish. So the Chief decided to have his own church built next to the loch but a little further away from the castle, so that he could avoid any further contact with the minister and his annoying ducks, yet still be able to observe his daily prayers and without the need to pack away his fishing tackle, or even pull his line out of the water.

But there might also be a slightly more rational reason why this tiny church was built here and was as a direct consequence of the Clan Chief becoming infatuated by a beautiful young lady, but who also happened to come from a very devout Scottish Episcopal family. So after asking her father for his daughter's hand in marriage, it soon became obvious to her and her parents, that the only church she would then have access to for her daily prayers, would be the one situated at Kinlochspelve several miles away and which had also (and totally unacceptable to her family) been established under the Church of England, so on the advice of her father, she kept turning him down. Until one day he finally began to realise just how deeply he'd fallen in love with her and couldn't even begin to imagine life without her, so he began to build her her very own Scottish Episcopal Church to worship in and so the next time he proposed, she said yes.

How to get there - Lochbuie - Street View 1 - Map View. The main ferry to the Isle of Mull is from the town of Oban on the mainland and which lands in Craignure next to the A849 on the Isle of Mull. So after leaving the ferry, turn immediate left along the A849 and drive on towards and then past the Duart castle turn off on your left (which is also definitely worth a visit and a photograph or two), then on past the tiny village of Gorten then Lochdon on your left. Now continue driving for another 8 more miles or so, until you pass Loch Spelve on your left and then further on until you see a sign pointing to Lochbuie and Coggan on your left and take this turn. You will now continue on until you come out at the opposite side of Loch Spelve and where the road now follows alongside the shore line, but keep your eyes peeled along this particular stretch of road, as this is a hotspot for otter watching and is the reason why you may see several wildlife watching groups along here using their scopes. So if you see such a group and you want to see wild otters, then pull over and have a quick chat with them to find out what it is they are looking at, which will probably be an Otter, or even a family of otters. You will then eventually come to a sign for Coggan to your left, but carry straight on towards Lochbuie for another 5 miles or so. Once at the shores of Lochbuie, you will reach a fork in the road, with an official car park to your right, so find somewhere to park and then retrace your steps back to this crossroads, but then follow the track that continues on along the side of Loch Buie and away from the car park. You will then see a large house on your left with a small church in its grounds and a metal gate that you can walk through to get the church. The main door into the church is always left open and even though it is free to go into the church and look around and take photographs, there is a donation box to help with its upkeep, so if you have any spare change, then pop it in the box.

Now I am in no way a religious person, but even so there is definitely a very atmospheric feeling that washes over me as soon as I walk into this tiny church and which makes me feel obliged to move around quietly and respectfully and only talk in a whisper. I have also visited this church many times over the years to photograph it and I have never met any other person when I was there. So even though I don't think this church is a totally unknown location to visitors to the island, it does seem to remain outside of the main tourists routes.

The following notes were compiled about the Church of St Kilda, by the late Reverend Canon T. Hannan of Musselburgh:

"St. Kilda is regarded by some as a mythical personage, because the name is only found in connection with the Island, of which the proper name is Hirta. But the ancient wall on the Island with the name Tobar Childer – Wall of Kilda – indicates a Norse saint of the male sex, probably a hermit, the spelling of whose name should be S. Kildar. This is the accepted view.-

An interesting object is the Celtic Cross built into the wall of the porch on the right – the south wall. This was unearthed at a considerable depth when digging the foundations of the present church. There is no tradition of a chapel or burying ground on the site, which is an indication of the remoteness of the burial. The cross is of the simplest and earliest form, and may be more than 800 years old. The cross is of yellow sandstone probably from Carsaig.  The top is missing and the outline of the cross is incised, the bottom of the shaft being left open.  A shallow groove has been cut round the centre of the ring, but the angles at the intersection of the arms are more deeply hollowed.

The Crucifix (shot 2) above the Chancel was carved by Joseph Mayer, who played the part of Christ 114 times in the Ober Ammergau Passion Play, and carried this cross as part of the play. He died on December 1 1903. The late Murdoch MacLaine of Lochbuie bought this Crucifix and had it placed in its present position.

In the wall to the right of the Altar is a piece of the Altar of the church of Mercy-le-Haut, the slab which covered the relics of a Bishop of Metz who died in 1851. The church was fired by the retreating french troops in 1870, and a french priest rushed into the burning church, broke the covering slab and rescued the relic. The late MacLaine of Lochbuie acquired the piece, he being at the time the war-correspondent with the German Army for the London newspaper The Times.

The population of Lochbuie is very small and its is not possible to have a resident priest for this church, because there are no funds to support him, but services are held regularly during the summer months by visiting clergy, Even the upkeep of the Church and Parsonage are a considerable burden on so small a congregation. Visitors, then, are requested to help by placing a contribution – no matter how small – in the box, and by remembering St. Kilda’s of Lochbuie in their prayers."

So having entered the church, you will immediately see the small christening area to your right as shown in shot 1 and also see that this side of the church is facing in a generally Southerly direction and so often gets flooded with daylight throughout the day. So to get around the huge dynamic range you will probably encounter when taking photographs in this very dark corner of the church, I have found that it is usually more productive if I can be there when the sky is heavily overcast (so not really a problem for most days in Scotland eh?), but which will then help to diffuse the light and make it to appear less directional. This will then allow you to capture the light coming in through the window evenly, as well as control the highlights and the shadows. But to make sure I had indeed captured all the detail that I wanted, I manually exposure bracketed two separate shots and then blended them back together later on my computer using my basic Luminosity masks technique (as explained in detail throughout my book).

The stained glass windows on the opposite wall however (as shown in shots 3 and 4 ), do not receive direct sunlight as they are facing in a more Northerly direction, so are much easier to photograph with a single shot. There are also several other pretty stained glass windows in the church that I haven't shown you here, because when I was last there, they were either too high up, or being obscured by several large items that had been left leaning up against the walls, which must have been left over from some previous event, and as I wasn't willing to start moving things around and disturbing the tranquility of the place, I just made do with shooting the windows that I could see fully.

You may also see various items left on the sills of the stained glass windows by visitors, which I believe are given the general term of a "Votive Offering", which are described by Wikipedia as being: "A votive offering or votive deposit is one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for religious purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favour with supernatural forces."

You may also notice that these votive offerings always seem to have some connection with the sea and can include anything from a small sea shell (as shown in shot 4), through to short lengths of modern trawler fishing rope, or even just a simple pebble taken from the nearby beach etc., but which always seem to have been replaced by different items each time I visit, so I imagine they must keep being tidied away by the cleaners whenever their numbers grow to the point, where they begin to clutter up the front of the windows sills.

--Exif information for each of the numbered shots shown throughout this chapter

--1 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 12.5 and 3 minutes 2 shot exposure bracket set, f/16, ISO 100, Focal Length 28mm, taken on 1st Dec at 15:01

--2 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 30 Sec 3 shot pano, f/16, ISO 100, Focal Length 16mm, taken on 28th Aug at 14:36

--3 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 1/125 Sec, f/8, ISO 500, Focal Length 35mm, taken on 28th Aug at 14:41

--4 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 1/125 Sec, f/8, ISO 160, Focal Length 35mm, taken on 28th Aug at 14:42

Continued in Part 2 - Moy Castle

If you have enjoyed reading these 'Extra' chapters to my Guide Book and think you might also enjoy reading 79 more chapters across 270 pages, that also includes more than 340 Fine Art quality images, along with detailed descriptions and large scale maps to guide you to the exact location of where I took each and every one of them and which then goes onto discuss the techniques and tools I used to process them, but where everything is written in plain easy to understand English? Then please consider buying the Book.