Guest Liz kindly shared her account of August’s “Focus on St Kilda Cruise” last week:
A single traveller review
St. Kilda has always held a fascination for me and I have always hoped to visit it and have the chance to explore it over a few days instead of only a few rushed hours ashore. I found the Northern Light Charters website and have followed it for a number of years, enjoying the blogs submitted by the various guests. I decided that they would be the best way to try and get to St. Kilda. The only problem being that I was a single female traveller who hadn’t been on holiday for seven years and never by myself, however I decided to book it and hope for the best.
Saturday 1st August
I arrived at the North Pier in Oban in the afternoon and met all my fellow travellers, Tim the skipper, Craig the 1st mate and Mark the chef. Over tea and coffee Tim quickly advised us that sadly the trip to St Kilda would not be possible due to the very bad weather forecast in the Outer Hebrides. He showed us his ‘red squiggles’ weather charts (Magic Seaweed) and explained just how bad it would be out there. He assured us that we could go to various more sheltered islands and places over the coming week and after the safety briefing we were off.
Leaving Oban we headed up the Sound Of Mull and passing the Morvern peninsula we saw a sea eagle flying overhead – a great start.
We stayed overnight in Loch Sunart, had a lovely dinner and got to know each other a bit better, everyone very chatty.
Sunday 2nd August
Tim had the ‘red squiggles’ charts out again! His plan is to sail up around the Ardnamurchan Point this morning. Beautiful scenery with views of Scalpay, Eigg, Rum and Skye and plenty of seabirds.
On our way, we encountered a large pod of dolphin including a baby one who had come to greet us and play around the boat. Tim stopped so that we could enjoy the privilege of their company. All of us then went ashore at Isle Ornsay for a walk. it was to be a beach landing because it was low tide and we all had to wade in the last few metres in our bare feet with our trousers tucked up to our knees to much hilarity – apart from Diane who had her tights and a pair of pink Long John’s under her trousers so she was pulled majestically into land in the empty rib by Tim and Craig after having laughingly refused Craig’s gallant offer to carry her across the water to dry land!
Great dinner again tonight and good conversation. Tim, Craig and Mark all sat with us over coffee.
Monday 3rd August
An early wake up call this morning from Andy who had spotted an otter swimming along the shoreline which we were all able to see. Andy has quickly become the ‘eagle eyes’ of the group and is very knowledgeable about all the birds and can pick them out even when they are in the distance, he also saw some puffins that I sadly missed.
After breakfast we sailed past Sandaig where Gavin Maxwell lived and where his book “Ring Of Bright Water” was set. Then through Kyle Rhea and into Loch Alsh and around the corner into Loch Duich and the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle.
We anchored in a small bay across from the castle and went ashore again on the rib for a walk up to a fascinating galleried broch called Dun Grugaig which stands out on the hillside with a commanding view over Loch Duich and lies close to the old cattle drovers road. Back on board for lunch and it was me and not ‘eagle eyed Andy’ who spotted two otters in the water close by the boat who were successfully fishing then running back onto a rocky spit of land to eat their catch, it was hard to tear ourselves away from watching them to eat our own lunch.
We then sailed under the Skye Bridge which is I suppose a necessary evil nowadays but I much prefer the memory of the old ferry crossing there. Our destination was Loch Kishorn and the beautiful village of Plockton where we were anchoring overnight. We went ashore again for a few hours to explore and enjoy the scenery in lovely sunshine. Back on board in time for dinner followed by cheese and biscuits and good company.
Tuesday 4th August
We sailed up the Applecross peninsula this morning then through between Rona and Raasay. We dropped anchor just off Arnish on Raasay and after lunch went ashore on the rib and walked the whole length of Calum’s Road. Calum McLeod built the original road himself between 1964 and 1974 with a wheelbarrow, pick and shovel after the council refused to make a road to the little hamlet of houses where he lived. His road is nearly two miles long and a remarkable feat for one man. After his death the council did start to maintain the road and there has now been a book written about it called appropriately “Calum’s Road” and is written by Roger Hutchinson. We also saw the amazing ruins of Brochel Castle sitting on its high pinnacle of rock overlooking the sea.
Back on board for newly made shortbread and tea before a memorable and truly exhilarating sail down the Sound of Raasay in a force 7/8 – the sea was amazing and you have to admire the fishermen who sail in worse that that regularly. Dropped anchor across the bay from Portree for the night, nobody felt the need to venture closer.
Wednesday 5th August
Left early this morning to avoid the katabatic winds blowing down over the cliff face (a new weather word for us all!). Shortly after leaving someone, probably Andy, spotted two sea eagles quite close flying along the side of the cliff face, they looked huge.
I enjoyed my second visit to the wheelhouse to watch Tim at work and to be shown all the screens,switches and dials used to sail the boat which was very interesting.
We went back under the Skye Bridge and through Kyle Rhea narrows again then down the Sound of Sleat to Loch Nevis. Lunch on the move then went ashore at Inverie for a couple of hours before continuing down Loch Nevis to Tarbet where we dropped anchor for the night surrounded by the most amazing scenery. Porpoises and seals aplenty during the day.
Thursday 6th August
It was hard to leave the beauty and serenity of Tarbet but we had an early start so it was also breakfast on the go this morning. We called in at Mallaig to drop off two of the guests who due to unforeseen circumstances had to leave early. We were all sorry to see them go and I hope that their long journey down south was not too arduous and that all was okay when they eventually got back home.
We then sailed across to Rum and anchored in Loch Scresort. We went ashore in the rib armed with a picnic lunch for a few hours. Tim had phoned ahead to see if he could book a tour of Kinloch Castle for us and had left a message with our arrival time, however there was nobody around at the castle so we then all went our different ways with some really energetic people walking up the nearest ridge for as far as the time ashore allowed. We then sailed down the Sound of Rum with frequent stops as we were surrounded by basking sharks, Tim counted at least 18 of them, a fantastic sight.
Overnight anchorage at pretty Tobermory with a walk ashore before dinner. There was a large sailing event on and the harbour was full of boats of all shapes and sizes.
Our last dinner aboard was delicious as usual and we said out thanks to Mark with a toast and also toasted our two absent friends who had left us this morning.
Friday 7th August
It was our last morning aboard. An early start down the Sound Of Mull to Oban where we all enjoyed a huge breakfast before everyone said their goodbye’s and departed for home at around 1045hrs.
I loved every minute of the trip, everyone got on really well and we had lots of laughs. Thank you to Tim who gave us such a wonderful journey. he has to be one of the most professional and laid back people I have ever met! Craig looked after us all so well and is a really charming guy. Mark performed miracles in his tiny galley, the food and presentation was always superb.
I hope that my fellow adventurers think that I have done justice to our week away in this blog. We have all shared a wonderful trip and I hope that sometime I might meet you all again. So Sam, Andy, Diane, Val, Ruth, Mike, Gavin, Will, Sarah and Matt thank you all for your company, and Gavin, I hope that your blue mug never runs dry!!!
Finally, will I try to get to St. Kilda again – of course I will and it will definitely be with Northern Light Charters. However I think that Diane might make it there before me as she is considering buying a plane ticket with Icelandair and parachuting down on their way over. Good luck to her, I hope that we both make it there eventually.
(Photos by Liz Hamilton and Sam/Andy Johnson)
DID YOU KNOW?
The first signs of habitation on Hirta (the largest island in the St Kilda archipelago and the only one you can really land on) are thought to have occurred c. 600 AD.