26 August to 1 September: Jura, Corryvreckan and Colonsay
Regular guests Bill and Erica gave us the trip report, and lovely photos from our recent cruise:
“Going south” and round a cluster of gratifyingly remote islands to see ruins ancient and modern, beautifully-posed eagles, singing seals, a concentration of distilleries and a famous whirlpool.
Saturday 26th: Oban to Eilean Dubh Mor
The lovely new pontoon took us by surprise in Oban as we boarded the Hjalmar Bjorge on the Saturday afternoon. Great to be in the hands of skipper Tim once again and to anticipate more of chef Steve’s wonderful cooking. Bosun Tiree and working guest Louis completed the crew as we joined another eight guests for the voyage to the south, initially passing Kerrera, Seil and much of Luing. The conversation flowed easily as we became familiar with each other, with the boat (love the extended top deck) and the routine. We joined a couple of other boats at anchor between Eilean Dubh Mor and Eilean Dubh Beag – two small islands to the northwest of Scarba and its neighbour Lunga. Fed on a delicious halloumi starter, a hake main and Eton mess to finish, we heard Tim’s briefing on the weather prospects and looked forward to the days ahead.
Sunday 27th: Eilean Dubh Mor to Shuna
After breakfast we pulled up the anchor and headed west to the Garvellachs, looping round and through this chain of small islands before anchoring by the most southerly, Eilach an Naoimh. Any doubts on pronunciation could speedily be resolved by reference to our new friend Danny, retired teacher of Gaelic, from South Uist. We landed to find a group of kayakers had overnighted on the island, though we shortly had the place to ourselves as we explored monastic ruins with origins stretching back before Columba’s time. It is said to be where Iona’s saint came for rest and relaxation, also the final resting place of his Mum and his uncle St Brendan. From the island we had fine views across to Scarba, Jura and our next destination, the renowned Gulf of Corryvreckan.
Tim had timed our arrival at the famous whirlpool to be adjacent to low tide, simply to be able to navigate safely through. He took us on a number of passes through the churning waters, the boat being pulled along at 8 knots without the assistance of the engine and heeling now and then under the effects of quickly-changing currents.
Those in the mood for a walk were landed on the northern tip of Jura and battled through the bracken and part-way up a hill. Sarah proved to be a tick magnet! The local seals were in good voice. Back on board we cruised up to the east of Shuna and anchored in sight of the ruined Shuna House on the north-east corner of the island.
Monday 28th: Shuna to Craighouse, Jura
The only problematic period of rain in the whole trip delayed our landing on Shuna until 11.30, when most of us had a dampish walk round from the jetty up to the house – built in 1911, designed allegedly by a Titanic victim. He went down in 1912 and his house in turn was abandoned, though not till the eighties. It is not a pretty sight, close to, but each of us in turn may have been imagining the scale of lottery win that would allow for its purchase and refurbishment… After a further wander we reboarded the Hjalmar Bjorge for lunch before completing the anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Shuna and the long cruise down the Sound of Jura to Craighouse. En route we passed Barnhill, a house where George Orwell stayed during the writing of 1984. The post-dinner conviviality tonight was fuelled by some guest malt as well as some stories from Danny on his residency in St Kilda ringing birds.
Tuesday 29th: Craighouse to Aros Bay, Islay
Craighouse is home to the Jura Distillery and a number of guests fancied the tour and were at the distillery shop on time, unfortunately finding the morning tour fully booked. Short or medium range walks, punctuated by the odd shower, were therefore the order of the morning, some having fun on the hillside to the south of the settlement on the path up to the “Market Loch”.
Back on board for lunch (Lamb Pilaf, lovely) and then headed round the south end of Jura and across to Islay, anchoring in Aros Bay. A special cake was produced by Steve for Martin and Rosie, whose 47th wedding anniversary it was (and a litre of Grouse was later produced for the rest of us by Martin and Rosie!).
A slightly tricky landing on stones at the north end of the bay allowed us to explore onshore in the late afternoon, and half a dozen managed the couple of miles’ walk to and from the Kildalton High Cross, viewed as the finest Celtic cross in Scotland and remarkably standing since the late 8th century in its place next to a more recent but now ruined church. Graves in the church were also worth a look.
Wednesday 30th: Islay to Scalasaig, Colonsay
Tim had phoned ahead to book wannabe dram-samplers in to the 11.30 distillery tour at Bunnahabhain, one of (we reckon) eight such establishments on Islay, either active now or recently so. In lovely sunshine we passed Caol Ila, one of the others, on our way up the Sound of Islay. Those not touring the distillery had the chance to pick a walk and at least three different directions were selected, one terminating in a swim just up the coast, accompanied by a couple of inquisitive seals who must have wondered what they were seeing! The walkers and swimmers rejoined the rest of the shore party just in time to assist with the consumption of the end-of-tour drams and a group in good spirits re-boarded for lunch.
A significant swell made for a tricky crossing to Nave Island, a breeding ground for seals and home to much birdlife off the north-west corner of Islay. Tim will always do his best to land those who are eager to “bag” another island but the swell this time was too much and the view from the boat was as close as we got to Nave.
The effect of the swell reduced, spirits rose again and a few complexions lost their green tinge as we then turned north to head for Colonsay. We anchored near the jetty at Scalasaig a little before the ferry from Oban arrived. Dinner of hot smoked salmon, mushroom lasagne main and tiramisu was followed by a liberal distribution of Jura malt, courtesy of Les and Jeff.
Thursday 31st: Colonsay to Loch Spelve, Mull
Colonsay’s lesser neighbour to the south-west, Oronsay, can be visited on foot at low tide. Not content with a first landing on Colonsay we had some hopes of knocking-off Oronsay too, but when both the locals and the notice in the ferry terminal window say that the tide just ain’t low enough today, you back off! Tim offered pick-ups after three or four hours, with most taking the longer option. This allowed for a variety of walks on shore, from pottering in the Scalasaig area, ascent of hills, or an eight-mile yomp around the loop provided by the island’s road system, with views of the west coast, the golf course, the airstrip, the school and the three linked elements of Loch Fada. Also a very satisfying soaring buzzard, though this was not to be the last raptor of the trip.
It’s worth mentioning the whole wildlife and sealife thing at this point. This was neither the right area nor the right time of year to see awesome swarms of birds or a sea full of fins or leaping dolphins. And we didn’t. But there were actually plenty of birds around, including gannet, kittiwake, gulls of various types, guillemot, razorbill and shearwater. I know for sure we saw floating shags, as Tim had one of those speed-cutting moments when he thought at first glance they might be whale-fins! Seals were common, some early risers spotted otters and the wild-life on shore included red and fallow deer and the wild goats of Jura. By the end of the trip we felt charmed by this cluster of islands we had explored and well-satisfied by its mix of remoteness and civilization (some of it ancient and unique).
And Tim kept a look out for the birds and the beasts right to the end, finding us two white-tailed eagles perched in a cliff-top tree as we cruised up from Colonsay to Mull for our last overnight anchorage in the entrance to Loch Spelve.
We had help finishing the Auchentoshan malt after dinner (which featured mackerel pate and beetroot before a lamb tagine). Reluctantly to bed as the end of the cruise drew close.
Friday 1st: Loch Spelve to Oban
On this our fourth cruise on the Hjalmar Bjorge (and already dreaming of being back the other side of the Minch in 2019) we realised the last morning is always going to be at least a little forlorn. The exchange of email details and resolutions to swap photos accompanies the last breakfast (wow, Steve – where had you been keeping all that!!).
But we had a last bonus in the golden eagle Tim spotted on a rock by the exit from Loch Spelve. It put up with us admiring it from all angles as we moved past and then rose into the air and flapped up north along the coast.
Docked at the Oban pontoon again (nice reversing, Tim!), we left to our various homes or continuing travels for Aussies Joan and Lyn, wishing the crew well including Tiree heading back to uni at Bangor and Steve heading to spend four months in Antarctica over our winter. Thanks to crew and fellow-passengers for a lovely week on the water.
Bill and Erica Young
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.