We recently completed a cruise exploring the north west coast all the way to Cape Wrath, and regular guest and “ship’s blogger” Tony gives his account here (along with some of Hilary’s great photos)
North Western Explorer cruise – 8 to 17 July 2017
Total distance – 493 miles
We left Oban in the sunshine (second time for us this year – must be a record!) leaving behind three attractive sailboats moored at the North Dock. With Tim as skipper we sailed gently up the Sound of Mull to anchor in Loch Na Drama Buidhe where we enjoyed our first meal with new cook, Patrick. All seven passengers, two couples and three ladies, had previously sailed on the Hjalmar Bjorge and were keen to swop stories and experiences. We were joined by the skipper, Tim, and his first mate, Tiree. Sadly our hopes of a red sunset were dashed by the clouds and rain closing in and but we enjoyed a fine meal of fresh scallops and sea bass.
Sunday 9.7.17 Loch na Droma Buidhe to Plockton – 64 miles
We set off early aiming for Plockton. With the weather improving we landed on the beach at Sandaig and wandered around the site of Gavin Maxwell’s house where he wrote ‘Ring of Bright Water’. We saw the plaque to him and also the rather larger plaque to his otter. We walked along the shoreline and up the track leading inland. Onwards to Skye and up the Sound Of Sleat passing under the impressive Skye road bridge where we saw fleeting glances of porpoises. Michelle from the Northern Light Cruising Co office came on board and it was lovely to meet the person we had all spoken to extensively on the phone. We turned into Loch Carron and moored near the harbour at Plockton where we went ashore. The gardens along the harbour looked attractive in the sunshine and the whole village looked quite tropical being warmed by the gulf stream. We walked along the harbour, up into the woods behind the houses and through an extensive well tended private garden open to visitors completing a satisfying tour of the area. We enjoyed an evening meal with a red sunset over a calm sea – a good day.
We left during breakfast heading towards Portree. Passing through the channel between Raasay and Skye we had great views of the Cuillin ridge. The clouds started to break and we arrived at Portree harbour in the sun – it looked a lot more appealing than my previous experience of the town in the rain! Some went into the town while others walked the Scorrybreac Circuit along the coast and up and over the hill back to the town – an interesting walk with good views along the cliffs and into the harbour and interesting flora. We picked up Rosie who was to join us for the rest of the trip and sailed on up the coast with Rona to the right and views of the weird looking Trotternish Ridge on the left. In the open water we were treated to displays of dolphins jumping and swimming in the bow wave – a boatload of wildlife watchers looked on enviously in the distance! We moved on to the sheltered waters of Loch Ewe where we moored overnight.
Tuesday 11.7.17 Loch Ewe – Cape Wrath – Loch Laxford – 82 miles
An early start at 4.30 to take advantage of the promising good weather to head for Cape Wrath. Those who got up early were rewarded with sightings of common dolphins close to the boat and Risso’s dolphins in the distance. Spirits were high and we thoroughly enjoyed observing the mountainous and craggy coastline with few signs of settlement. We passed the Old Man of Stoer, the magnificent peaks of the Assynt range and the isolated expanse of Sandwood Bay; sadly the swell was too severe to land. The cliffs and lighthouse of Cape Wrath looked spectacular against the blue skies and white clouds. It was a memorable experience to round the headland to gaze along the northern coast of Scotland. We made our way back down the coast to enter the attractive Loch Laxford. We moored close to an adventure centre featuring the yacht, English Rose IV that John Ridgeway sailed around the world. Ashore we eventually found a walk that led to a high point overlooking lochs and distant mountains and afterwards enjoyed relaxing in the pleasant weather and surroundings before dinner.
Wednesday 11.7.17 Loch Laxford – Handa – Isle Ristol – 52 miles
A sunny morning and a completely glassy loch greeted us as we set off for Handa island. As we approached the seabird colony Tim took us close to the cliffs to see the nesting guillemots and fulmers – they seemed to occupy every ledge. On the sea were rafts of guillemots and puffins. We passed the Great Stack and returned to a sandy beach much to the consternation of two Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteers who couldn’t work out where we had come from. We were ushered into the visitor centre and given a short health and safety briefings (don’t fall over the cliffs and watch out for attacking Bonxies). Most of us set out to walk the four mile path around the island well provided with gravel paths and boarding to avoid the boggy areas. The nesting Skuas (Arctic and Great) entertained us with their wheeling around and insistent calls. They did not appear particularly threatening until the end of the walk when one took exception to our proximity to its nest and threatened a serious bombimg raid on our heads. We survived to return to the beach and for Tony, Tiree and Tim to swim in the clear blue tropical (?!) waters – not too bad once you are in! Tim announced he was taking us on a tour of the Summer Isles, a group of small low islands just off the coast – it was more interesting than intended as Tim’s preferred mooring was fully occupied by a fish farm. He improvised and moved on to a mooring off Isle Ristol on Altain Duibh. On the way we saw four dolphins and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
Thursday 17.7.17 Isle Ristol – Badachro – 35 miles
A pleasant morning and a sandy beach on Isle Ristol beckoned. After a short walk on the rich machair and a paddle on the shore we set off along the rocky coast. We put in at Loch Gairloch for our overnight stop. The skies had clouded and rain threatened as we went ashore at Badachro harbour for a short walk and a sit in the Inn to access the wi-fi (and have some refreshment). We happily watched the terns diving, the gulls scavenging and the heron stalking the shoreline.
Friday 18.7.17 Badachro – Loch Nevis – 57 miles
We left Loch Gairloch with the intention of visiting the allegedly spectacular Loch Torridon but low cloud spoiled the plan. We pressed on to Loch Nevis where we passed a strange religious statue (Rosie says it is known locally as ‘plastic Mary’). Further on was an area with a rowing boat that Tom McLean had used to gain the world record for the smallest boat to sail the Atlantic – the story is that the record was broken soon after by an American in response to which he chopped of part of the length of the boat and did it again to regain the title. Also bizarrely was a black boat in the shape of a whale that was intended for Atlantic crossing. We moored round the corner from Cameron Mackintosh’s attractive stone house. At Tarbert Bay we went ashore and walked over the hill into the next valley containing Loch Morar, a beautiful deep fresh water loch. At the jetty we talked with a couple occupying the church converted to a holiday let about their love of this isolated spot.
Saturday 15.7.17 Loch Nevis – Rum – Loch Sunart – 45 miles
A morning for which the Scottish word ‘dreich’ was made to describe. The open sea over to Rum was rough and we were tossed around for a couple of hours before arriving at Kinloch bay. The land was shrouded in cloud and a strong wind blew from the land making it impossible to launch the RIB. The best thing to be said was that it saved us the disappointment of being refused entry to the castle (see previous blogs!) Leaving Rum we saw large numbers of shearwaters which breed on the island. Onwards though the turbulent waves to reach the shelter of Loch Sunart at Ardslignish where we spent the night.
Sunday 16.7.17 Loch Sunart – Tobermory – Lismore – 46 miles
Thankfully the bad weather had left us. After a sail around the attractive Loch Sunart we moved into the Sound of Mull to look unsuccessfully for white-tailed eagles. Putting into Tobermory we went ashore and had a walk and an ice cream. The harbour was busy and looked colourful in the sun. We moved off on another of Tim’s ‘magical mystery tours’. He was aiming for an attractive mooring on Lismore overlooked by a tumbledown castle. Again his plans were frustrated not by a fish farm this time but by a yacht occupying the small bay. We moved on to the end of the island and moored happily at Port Ramsay.
Monday 17.7.17 Lismore – Oban – 13 miles
We set off for Oban at 8.30 and had our full breakfast on the way. At the quayside we said our sad farewells reflecting on a good trip and did the traditional clamber over the Bessie Ellen.
Overall it was a really good cruise, one of the best, the highlight being the impressive views rounding Cape Wrath. The passengers got on well and we talked endlessly about our different and common interests. Tim as always was an excellent and entertaining skipper keen to give us the best experience possible: Tiree worked hard and was always pleasant and interesting; Rosie was a good source of local information and a friendly travelling companion; Patrick provided us with excellent food ranging from fine dining to hearty meals.
Tony Broadbent Photos by Hilary Broadbent
DID YOU KNOW?
Monachs. The main islands of Ceann Ear, Ceann Iar and Shivenish are all linked at low tide. At one time it was possible to walk all the way to Baleshare, and on to North Uist, five miles away at low tide.