United States Lighthouse Society Summer Solstice Lighthouse Cruise (15-25 June)

We’ve just completed another Lighthouse Cruise, this time with the United States Lighthouse Society. Our guests were met at Oban railway station by local taxi driver Ian Duff. Ian in a former life was a lightkeeper with the Northern Lighthouse Board and at one time also kept the light at Skerryvore. Assisted by Ian, the guests boarded and after the usual safety briefing we set off via Lismore lighthouse to Tobermory. Our itinerary for the trip was quite ambitous, with a mix of visits to lighthouses, castles and remote islands.

Tuesday 16th June. We had a very early breakfast before our party jumped ship and boarded the Tobermory – Kilchoan ferry to be at met once again at Kilchoan by Ian. The party then travelled across the peninsula to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and visitor centre with Ian giving an expert commentary of life with the NLB. After returning to Hbj for lunch we set off on an amended itinerary (allowing for bad weather) to Isle Ornsay off Skye.

HBj at Eilean Donan Castle by MichelleWednesday, after moving half a mile for a more favourable anchorage. we landed the guests on the small island that Isle Ornsay Lighthouse occupies. This was a lovely visit and a first also for the skipper, crew and ship’s dog. After this visit, we cruised through the Kyles and dropped anchor within 50m of Eilean Donan Castle for a picturesque lunch. Our guests were then landed at the slip at Dornie adjacent to the Red House, Michelle’s other employment… After a leisurely visit to the castle, we boarded our guests once again and proceeded to Kyle and our overnight berth on the Railway Pier.

USLHS at Eilean Ban by MichelleThursday, our guests after an early breakfast made the short walk to Eilean Ban underneath the Skye bridge. Here they were met by the local guide to the lighthouse and cottages, guess who that was? Yes, Michelle in another of her local roles. For those reminded of the film Local Hero, she also runs the local pub The Clachan at Dornie! After departing Lochalsh, we cruised north past the Rona lighthouse and then across the north of Skye into Loch Dunvegan, anchoring off Dunvegan castle for the evening.

Friday, following breakfast, we landed our guests on the pontoon adjacent to the castle and gardens. Despite the occasional shower we all had enjoyable walks meandering round the beautiful gardens, Anna and I loved the summer house. Returning to Hbj, we lifted the anchor and cruised away from the loch, lunch was taken en-route to Neist Point Lighthouse. Here, unfortunately the swell was too much for a safe landing.  Turning west, we crossed the Minch to Ushnish Lighthouse on South Uist. Fortunately conditions were much better and the guests landed and made the short walk to this isolated light.

Saturday. We cruised south to Mingulay, off Pabbay we had good sightings of Basking Sharks before dropping the hook in Mingulay Bay. The guests spent a lovely afternoon ashore, most being preoccupied admiring the Puffins and the vast numbers of seals on the beach. A few of the guests remained on board and we made a seperate foray for them, taking the inflatable amongst the caves to the north of the bay. Once back aboard the shore party reported meeting the the NTS bird ranger who was resident for the summer. He proudly stated that WIFI is now available on the island, please not here I thought! We had a lovely evening in the bay and spotted another basking shark feeding to the east.

Skerryvore LighthouseSunday. The swell in the bay seemed to get worse over breakfast, we had hoped to land on Berneray, it was clearly not going to happen, however we did cruise to the west of Barrahead and enjoyed seeing the lighthouse beneath the huge west cliffs, the sea state was rough! Crossing the sea of the Hebrides, I had intended to go straight to Canna, however I let myself be persuaded to visit one of the most iconic of west coast lighthouse’s, Skerryvore. Although not on the original itinerary, the improving weather conditions made this an easy choice. The approach to the lighthouse is tricky to say the least, but I did manage to get  Hjalmar just where I wanted and we all enjoyed close and spectacular views of the lighthouse. Nearby Mackenzies rock I’ve often vsited and dived, the wreck of the steamship Labrador being one of the greatest scottish divesites. From Skerryvore we cruised north to Gott Bay on Tiree and enjoyed a quick walk before dinner.

Monday. More adhoc planning led to a minibus being hired and a quick trip to the lighthouse museum at Hynish, this was really enjoyed by all. Once back on Hbj, we then cruised to Staffa and then to Cragard Bay, Ulva where I had a quick splash and gathered a few scallops for supper.

Tuesday, we had a lovely sunny morning to visit Iona. In the afternoon we made a quick hop over to Erraid and landed the guests at the former NLB shore station to visit the quarry which provided the granite for Skerryvore’s build. A few walked  to the signalling beacon, this was used for communicating from the shorebase to Dub Artach and Skerryvore lights.

Wednesday. Our initial plan had been to sail down the Ross of Mull to Lochbuie, however steaming south through the Torrans the sea seemed unusually calm. It took the guests awhile to realise the new destination, a wee tower on the horizon, Dub Artach Lighthouse, I think they enjoyed the visit!

Dub Artach LighthouseWe did in the end make it to Lochbuie and all aboard had a walk to Castle Moy and the stone circle. I took the opportunity of paying a quick visit to old friends Phil and Sue, now resident in Benbuie Cottage, my former home which has been recently rebuilt.

Our last evening was spent in Ardencapel Bay before returning once more to Oban. It was rather nice for the guests to see Ian once again on the pier, especially since he’d been a lightkeeper at both Skerryvore and Dub Artach….