Cruise on Hjalmar Bjorge, 2nd to 8th September 2017

Our favourite magician, Archie, has cruised with us several times and loves entertaining the other guests with his magic.  Archie joined us again for our early September cruise and here is his account of the cruise:

The wind ruffled the sea as we left the pontoons at Oban North Pier.  This year, I was on my way to the St Kilda group of islands and in particular the island of Hirta.  I say this year; for I have been on several such cruises before and I ask myself, “Why do I keep coming back?”  You could say – the answer is blowing in the wind – for the gentle caress of wind (and sometimes rain) on the face, the heady bouquet of late heather and bog myrtle in the air, and a great expanse of mountain to stretch the townie’s eyes; these are all there.  It is more than that though; for I look forward to the genial company of my fellow guests.  There are eight of us this time round and I look forward to getting to know them and share their experiences of this trip.

Tim is our skipper this trip with Tiree as crew –  I know both from previous trips – with Toby (a newcomer to the company) as cook.  These three play a large part in the success of the cruise; guidance for the guests, ensuring their comfort and providing attractive meals.  In addition, there were two other guests, Rosy and Sam, providing extra deck help.

With disturbed seas, we progressed up the Sound of Mull to our first night’s anchorage in Drumbuie Loch.  This is an attractive and well protected haven, almost surrounded by mainland hills and small islands.  There, we watched the sun setting over the Ardnamurchan peninsular as we settled to our attractive evening meal.  Meantime, skipper Tim gave us an update on the weather prospects, such as they were.  Strong winds were predicted and the prospect of  the trip to Hirta seemed remote.  However, tomorrow we would move nearer our target by sailing to the anchorage at the Island of Canna.

The journey west-ward revealed some interesting views as we passed some of the Small Isles, Eigg, Muck and Rum.  You could taste the salt in the air as the Hjalmar Bjorge crested the waves with the stabilizers working hard.  The middle of the day saw us enter the anchorage at Canna to be greeted by a lone seal paddling its lazy way alongside and blowing rude noises at us.

Stained glass by Archie SmithCanna is an interesting island with much to see and with plenty of not-too-energetic walks.  There were three churches with their own little histories and some rather attractive stained glass.

After some walking and imbibing at the local pub, all returned to the ship for the evening meal – ah scallops!

The following day after a diversion to Loch Scresort on Rum, we made our way west again passing some spectacular waterfalls on Skye.  Again, the weather forecast was for high winds with 40mph for the St Kilda Islands. Nevertheless, we pressed on ever nearer our intended destination.  But wait!  Just as we sailed around south Loch Bracadale, we spotted a sea eagle – excitement all round – and there was another.  After some time observing and photographing, we picked up speed again and made our way into Loch Harport.  There, waiting on the shore near Carbost were two sea eagles, probably the same ones.  After posing for a bit, they took off and soared away over the cliffs to the south.

Carbost is sleepy little village with an interesting aroma. HBJ in Loch Harport by Archie Smith It is the local distillery producing the renowned Talisker single malt whiskey.  (perhaps that is why it is a sleepy village.)  Judging by the traffic, it was popular too with the tourists.  It made for pleasant walking and a visit to the local pub, also pleasant before making our way back to Hjalmer Bjorge for the evening meal.

As ever, the evening ended with a magical cabaret led by Klaus the Mouse and Tiny Plunger assisted by Archie.


Next day we ploughed through the waves in the direction of the Outer Hebrides accompanied for a time by about 30 dolphins.  I wonder if it was the same group we encountered two days earlier!  Skipper Tim indicated that they still had 40mph gales in the far away St Kilda Isles; so the prospect of making that part of the trip was receding with the morrow being the last day we could set out.  Tim was just as disappointed as we were; for, of 7 such trips scheduled this season, this would be the first time he would not make it.  Still, there were plenty of Outer Hebrides islands to explore.  This time, we made for Lochmaddy in North Uist.

Lochmaddy on Loch Maddy (confusing, isn’t it!) is the typical Hebrides town/village with its collection of houses with an outlying scattering of other properties.  The village, however, had that odour of a farming-come-fishing community although on this occasion, there were no animals waiting for CalMac’s transport to the mainland.  The pontoons were handy for getting on and off the ship so we were not tied to set boarding times. 

Lochmaddy has its usual all-purpose shop and a gift shop (for tourists like us) though it must have some major standing in North Uist, for there was a sheriffs Court (and a former sheriffs court) as well as a primary school, a police station, a post office and a fire station.  As with our other stops, there was plenty of scope for walking before wandering back for our evening repast.  Tim gave us the latest on the weather prospects and I’m afraid there had been no let up, with gales at Hirta unrelenting – not unexpected.  Tomorrow, we would mosey south along the east side of the various Hebridean islands.

The following day greeted us with high somewhat moderated wind because of the lee of North Uist.  Saying goodbye to Lochmaddy, we sailed south with a brief diversion into Loch Eport to savour the delights of the various little channels and lochans.  Further south, saw the shores of Benbecula as we skirted the coastline. Then there was the long hop along the coast of South Uist until we arrived at the island of Eriskay.  Sailing past the various reefs and skerries, the ship came to anchor off the pier in Acairseid Mhor.  The actual village, Haun and the ferry terminal are on the other side of the island and some of us tackled the walk to the Politician, the pub there.  This was named after the ship which foundered in the sound of Eriskay in 1941.  Its cargo – whiskey!  This was the incident that featured in the book (and film) Whiskey Galore by Compton Mackenzie.  Needless to say, the shores yielded no such treasures during our visit.  The last leg of our journey would take us to Tobermory; but that would be tomorrow.

All emerged to the grey of an angry morning on our final full day.  The sky was an overcast grey and a thin grey mist hung over the grey waves.  Oh what a grey day!  Hjalmar Bjorge set off for Mull via the north tip of Coll.  Mid-morning saw us approaching Ardnamurchan with Mull on the starboard bow.  In no time, the boat was tied up to a pontoon in Tobermory Bay and after lunch, we all disembarked  to view the delights of the town and some extended walks.  The walk to the lighthouse was closed probably due to the path being washed away.  All along the front, there was that aroma we had come to expect in Highland towns, that of the whiskey still.  A thin drizzle descended, the first real rain during our various walks; for although it did rain during the sailing periods, it invariably cleared for the afternoon walks.  The evening ended with another sumptuous meal and cabaret with the famous card-in-orange.

It was an early start for our return to Oban and I mused over the experiences of the past days.  Indeed, it was an experience for the senses.  What everyone looks for when visiting the Highlands and islands of Scotland, there were the mountains in all their hues and the islands hiding behind each other; the sunsets – well, there was one – and the different shades of the rainbow on the sea and hillsides frequently reflected in the busy clouds.  The tastes and perfumes in the air; heather in full bloom; bog myrtle crushed beneath the unwary boot and sending its aromatic bouquet into the atmosphere; and, of course, the every- presence of the angel’s share loosed from casks of uisge-beatha;  the touch of gentle spray or the caress of the wind, sometimes tender, other times brutal with its force yet stimulating; these were all there to be basked in.  And something that I did not realise till I arrived home, how free we were from noise pollution.  Away from the ship on walks across moorland tracks, there was nothing to break the silence but natural sounds, bird life, the sough of the wind through the grasses and always the chuckle of waves on the shores.  “O, to dream. O, to awake and wander there through the trance of silence, quiet breath . . “  Oh what a noisy world we live in!  Enough!

Farewell friends for we had arrived back in Oban, to the business of every day life.

Slan leat

Archie Smith

Magician Extraordinary

(September 2017)