The Quest – Lost and Found


I promised I would tell you the story of the Reclaimed by Nature photograph – so if you’re sitting comfortably…..

Himself was asked to undertake a mission on behalf of the Lost and Found Fungi Project to try to find Peltasterinostroma rubi  a fungus which was first recorded on bramble near Molingeanais (Molinginish) on the island of Harris in 1974 and has not been seen since. As Himself is the only resident mycologist on the islands we were keen to help and so an expedition was planned. This is hardly equivalent to searching for the holy grail, but in scientific terms a worthy endeavour. Mycologists with an interest in micro-fungi on plants are few and far between in the UK, so it is not surprising that very small black dots on bramble stems and leaves may have been over-looked.

During a settled spell of early summer weather in May we took the ferry to Harris, drove to Tarbert and headed east towards Scalpay. A few miles along the road is the footpath to Reinigeadal and Molingeanais on the east coast of Harris on the shores of Loch Trolamaraig. Harris is a very rugged island and although it is not a very long walk, about 6 miles, the climb up the slopes of Beinn Tharsuinn to the pass and down to coast is steep – maybe not for fit Munro baggers but perhaps for those who are more accustomed to rambling along the beaches of South Uist. However, the only reason it took 2½ hours to get to our destination was to allow time to look at the view and stop to record the flowers, lichens and other wildlife.

East coast Harris, Shiant Islands
Looking east towards the Shiants before the descent to Molingeanais
Gate to Molingeanais

As we walked down the narrow path to the east coast the Shiant islands came into view and after a rapid descent we reached the gate to Molingeanais.

Molingeanais village comprises a few houses in a steep valley which cuts down to a  small bay on Loch Trollamarig, at the mouth of Loch Seaforth. It was once part of the Scalpay farm and occupied  by shepherds. In 1823 the entire population on the west of Harris from Bunamhuinneader to Loch Resort was cleared and the lease of Molingeanais was given to a family who had been evicted from Teilisnis on West Loch Tarbert. Other families arrived and the population grow to about 40 in the 1880s.

As in most coastal communities subsistence level agriculture was supplemented by fishing and the production of tweed. The herring fishery declined after the First World War and the village population slowly dwindled. After the war the Board of Agriculture encouraged families in Harris to relocate to new crofts at Portnalong in Skye. Although a number of families from  Molinginish left a school was built in 1921. This continued until 1935 when the authorities withdrew the teacher and paid a lodging allowance for the children to go to school in Tarbert. This must have been a long hard walk for the children from Reinigeadal and Molingeanais each week, particularly in the winter gales, as the path reaches a height of 280m at the bealach (narrow pass) between Trolamul and Beinn Tharsuinn.

The last inhabitants died in the 1960s and the village is now deserted, although a pair of stone cottages are used in the summer by a local family.

This is a magical place, and unlike many of the abandoned settlements, is not troubled by the ghosts of those who were evicted or forced to leave when their way of life became unsustainable.

Molingeanais deserted village
Molingeanais houses
Asplenum trichomanes and Asplenum marinum
Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenum trichomanes and Sea Spleenwort marinum

The village is slowly being reclaimed by nature as the coastal ferns begin to take hold amongst the amongst the stones of the houses and primroses are now nestling old field banks and along the burn.

As for the fungus, we found a single bramble, which was remarkably healthy, but no fungus. However, I suspect we will be looking at brambles all summer for black fungal lesions. We might not have found the lost fungus but we encountered a magnificent green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) which appears to be rare in the islands and has not been recorded since 1977.

Green Tiger Beetles Cicindela campestris
Green Tiger Beetles Cicindela campestris

14 thoughts on “The Quest – Lost and Found

  1. A wonderful island and a very worthy enterprise. Good luck with the search.

    • Questing is great fun, but somehow the unexpected discovery is more exciting.

  2. A fascinating piece with some beautiful photos and scenery. And I love the Tiger beetle. What a find! (And maybe a bit more glamorous than the hoped for fungus?? )
    Best wishes

    • Some fungi are definitely for the nerds whereas beautiful bettles are there for everyone.

  3. [D] We’ve seen more a Tiger Beetle here in the Garradh Mor on more than one occasion. Had we known they were rare, here in Eilean Siar.

    • We are only just beginning to get to grips with which species are present, which are widespread, local, common or rare. So it is really important that residents and visitors tell Outer Hebides Biological Recording about what they see. Records are always appreciated and we can always help with the identification. So next time you see a Tiger Beetle, please let us know and we’ll add another dot to the species map for the islands.

  4. [J] Really good macro photos

  5. Liz Morton

    It was very interesting to read about your journey in search of “black dots” & the beetle is a magnificent specimen.

    • Thank you – always tales to tell and discoveries to make.

  6. We went there last summer, but the weather was too bad and we didn’t go all the way down to the houses – we’ll try going there again soon though. The walk was fantastic! It’s such a magical place.

    • It is well worth the effort, the village is an enchanting spot.

  7. I enjoyed reading about your quest, Christine, and the flora and fauna and history you encountered on the way – i suspect there will be no questing this week and that tasks in the polytunnel will take preference over other morecexposed ones

    • Alas too much questing, a deluge of visitors, too little time for gardening and no time at all for blogging – a typical Hebridean summer.

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