There's been rapid progress since last Monday (November 19th) on the first phase of what it is hoped will become a £1million project to develop a 40km coastal path from Stornoway all around the Point peninsula.

This first phase of work will secure 100 metres of coastline and also the Ui Church’s graveyard wall, which was under extreme threat of erosion.

It will cost £114,000 and has been 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.

It is being carried out by the Breedon Group and Ali Murray, Breedon’s site agent, said at the 'turf-cutting' event on Monday: “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.  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."

The Ui Church itself was 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.”

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.

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 peninsula, taking in all the historic, cultural and natural attractions in the area, including the Ui Church and the Stevenson lighthouse at Tiumpanhead. The path would also follow 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.

The concept of the path 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.”