‘Puffins Galore’ cruise on Hjalmar Bjorge – May 2017
Returning guest Tony gives his account of last week’s cruise, which enjoyed lots of sunshine, puffins, and minke whales.
SATURDAY 6.5.17 Oban to Loch Spelve – 13 miles
Oban greeted us with uncharacteristic sunshine and blue skies – most unScottish! We keenly boarded the boat and Tim, the skipper, introduced himself along with the crew, Craig, Karen and Rosie. The six passengers (Tony, Hilary, Barbara, Margaret, Jamie and Barbara) chatted and settled in. With the promise of a good weather forecast for the next few days Tim decided to head for Iona and Staffa taking a course past Kerrera. We sailed into the shelter of Loch Spelve on Mull for the night where it was extremely calm. After Karen presented us with a wonderful meal of langoustines followed by salmon and samphire we were treated to a view of the ‘spring muster’ of yachts decked with flags and a red but cloudless sunset.
SUNDAY 7.5.17 Loch Spelve to Erraid – 38 miles
We arose to another sunny, blue sky morning and after breakfast followed the rocky coast of Mull. At the mouth of the loch we had a surprisingly good view of a golden eagle perched on rock by the waterside. We scoured the cliffs for more golden and white tailed eagle but none were around. The geology of the cliffs was fascinating and the structure of Carsaig Arches impressive. On the journey we saw a Great Northern Diver, black guillemots and seals on the rocks. We safely rounded the dangerous Torran Rocks and moored next to the island of Erraid where we went ashore. We walked though the well maintained stone buildings of the Findhorne Community (a spiritual organisation) but there was no sign of any people. This village was apparently originally occupied by the workers who quarried the stone that was used in the construction of the two lighthouses that protect this hazardous part of the coast. We walked on past the quarries to an observatory which was used to aid communication in the building of the Skerryvore and Dubh Artach lighthouses designed by the brothers Alan, David and Thomas Stevenson (Thomas was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson who set his book ‘Kidnapped’ in this area). In the evening we enjoyed a meal of melon with air dried ham and roast pork.
MONDAY 8.5.17 Erraid to Gometra (via Iona and Staffa) – 13 miles
Another fine sunny start to the day! The plan was to spend the morning on Iona getting there early to avoid the tourists and then go to Staffa after the tour boats had gone – not that we’re antisocial; we just like it to ourselves. Tim dropped us off at the Fionnphort ferry terminal and we travelled over to Iona where we spent a happy few hours visiting the abbey and walking around the island.
Jamie and Barbara were excited to hear and see a corncrake in a field beyond the abbey. Back at the boat for lunch and then a short hop to Staffa. At sea we saw black throated divers, shearwaters, puffins and arctic terns. The approach to Staffa with its high cliffs of basalt columns and tantalising views of Fingal’s Cave is impressive.
We wondered how we would get into the cave and onto the grassy top of the island but on arrival we found that the National Trust for Scotland has provided convenient handrails and steps. Stepping on the fantastical hexagonal rocks we entered the cave which displayed magnificent architecture and acoustics that had us all spellbound! On the flattish top of the island we found we had the place to ourselves and at the far end were able to get close to the puffins nesting in burrows on the edge of the cliffs. Tim picked us up on the RIB and treated us to a trip into the cave for another look from a different angle.
TUESDAY 9.5.17 – Gometra to Tiree (via Lunga) – 24 miles
Up for an early start to get to Lunga before the tour boats arrive. We went ashore on a rather precarious rocky shore and made our way up the path to a long wide flat area with plenty of puffins (galore even!) hopping in and out of burrows and flying out to sea and back (plus a few rabbits).
After taking a few (!) photos we followed the path further round the island to reach a fine view of Harp Rock – a high rise dwelling for guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shag, gulls and puffins – a positive riot of flying, fighting and nesting. On the way back via the ruined black houses we saw wheatears, pippets and pied wagtails in the grassy areas. After a very enjoyable and rewarding morning we returned to the boat for lunch then off to Tiree. This island is the most western of the Inner Hebrides and is renowned for its sunny and windy climate – today it lived up to its billing. We went ashore at the ferry terminal at Scarinish and walked around the town. Homes based on thick walled old ‘blackhouses’ and ‘white houses’, some retaining their traditional thatched roofs, caught our eye along with the attractive old harbour and modern art installation. We heard corncrakes and saw turnstones. Meanwhile Tim was enjoying the hospitality of the harbour master who had been instructed to levy a charge for mooring within 500 metres of the pier (wait till Mark finds out!)
WEDNESDAY 10.5.17 Tiree to Loch na Droma Buidhe – 40 miles
Off to Coll but we lingered around Gunna Sound with the hope of seeing some sea life as there had been a report of a basking shark locally but sadly none were seen. We went ashore at Arinagour and spent a couple of hours wandering around. Margaret and Barbara spotted red breasted Merganser in the harbour and Tim spied a Goldcrest. In the afternoon we sailed leisurely towards our evening berth at Loch na Droma Buidhe with binoculars trained intently on the sea. We were well rewarded by exciting multiple sightings of at least five Minke Whales. Another enjoyable meal – crab cakes and lamb tagine.
THURSDAY 11.5.17 Loch na Droma Buidhe to Loch Aline (via Tobermory) – 25 miles
We set off for Bloody Bay – I thought Tim was swearing but that is the name – however given the frustrating lack of sea eagles we were soon all calling it that. Round the corner to moor at the attractive harbour at Tobermory with its rows of multicoloured buildings. We walked along the coastal path and back into the town to look at the shops – some more tasteful than others – then back to the boat for lunch. Down the Sound of Mull scanning the cliffs for signs of white tails – I’m sure the woman we spoke to in the whale and Dolphin Trust shop said that that there were so many eagles on Mull that it would be hard not to spot one – we didn’t. We moored up in the sheltered Loch Aline – a picturesque spot except for the large ship loading up with sand from the local mine. We walked along the shore line and enjoyed the profusion of bluebells among the moss and ferns. Evening meal of salmon starter and a beautiful cut of beef.
FRIDAY 12.5.17 Loch Aline to Oban – 16 miles
An early start back to Oban where we moored alongside the Bessie Ellen. After a fine cooked breakfast we clambered over her with our bags onto the quayside where we said our sad goodbyes.
I looked up the meaning of ‘galore’ (just to check that the cruise met the marketing claim – and also because it is a strange word) – it apparently and appropriately comes from the Scots Gaelic ‘gu leòr’ meaning ‘to sufficiency’ and hence refers to a plentiful abundance. If anyone is interested it is a rare example of a postpositive adjective, which means it comes after the word it describes. Anyway I can confidently say that we had enough puffins to constitute a galoreness/galority(?).
Also in abundance was the interest, pleasure and fun we all enjoyed on the cruise – good companship, excellent food, interesting excursions, fine weather and calm seas. Special thanks to Tim, Craig, Karen and Rosie for displaying their skill, knowledge and expertise on the trip and being pleasant and fun company as well.
Text and route map by Tony Broadbent
Photos by Hilary Broadbent and Craig Robinson
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.