Our last cruise of the season was a cruise around Mull and Iona. Guest Sara kindly provided the following blog (with photos by fellow guest Chris)
Hjalmar Bjorge, last trip of 2017
Arrived at Oban pier at the appointed time, greeted by a tall man by the name of Tim who steered me to the boat I had spotted from the pier, where I met my fellow passengers for the week. If I had known there would be freshly baked scones with jam and cream I would have arrived earlier. That was just an introduction to the culinary banquets which were in store.
We were introduced to the crew: Rosie and Tim the captain, Steve the cook (Bear Grylls in a former life) and the enchantingly-named Tiree, multi-tasker.
We headed off to Mull, discovering on the way how much a boat can go up and down. I wasn’t really being brave staying up at the front – where Jenny aka Kate Winslet was usually to be found throughout the forthcoming week – but didn’t dare let go of the rail. On the way we were thrilled by our first sight of a sea eagle and once in the shelter of Loch Spelve we were served a splendid meal which set a high bar for the rest of the week. Sitting around the table in the saloon, we got to know each other: Gary and Ruth a pair of optometrists with an electric car; Chris a nuclear physicist with the aforementioned Kate Winslet; William, a now retired and recovering teacher; Rory, wit and raconteur – book him as your after-dinner speaker – and me, Sara.
Sunday started damp, drizzly and misty. Thanks to a forecast of windy weather mid-week Cap’n Jack warned us that it was unlikely we would be able to get out to Coll and Tiree (the island, not the enchantress), so we headed southwards, past the Carsaig arches and Iona. Saw some gannets, guillemots and lots of shags, but no sea eagles. The sun had come out by the time we reached Bunessan where we landed for a few hours and went our separate ways to explore around the village. Great excitement as an electric car charging point was discovered – this was to become a theme during the week. Herons, oyster catchers and curlews in the harbour, hooded crows and lots of robins.
Monday was warm, sunny and dry as we headed to Iona where we were released into the wild to look at the abbey, the nunnery, John Smith’s grave. An exploration to the top of the hill, found a bog, got lost on way back, found way back through the bog. There were some wet boots that evening. We set off towards Staffa where we came tantalisingly close to Fingal’s Cave. We could see people all along the path and a boat at the pontoon, but sadly the swell was too great to allow us to land in the dinghy, so we had to be content with the view from the boat.
Our wise and experienced chief followed the sensible and safe option to take us on a scenic cruise of Little Colonsay and Inch Kenneth, while we enjoyed warm sunshine on the deck, stunning scenery and the sight of some seals doing their best banana impressions, tea and freshly baked cake, to our mooring for the night in Gometra harbour. Following the usual lavish repast prepared by the Sailing Gourmet (who was limbering up with a tour of the Western Isles in preparation for a stint with the Antarctic Survey), we were treated to a beautiful sunset, buzzards and ravens, red deer roaming across the hillside and a clear, starry sky featuring the Milky Way. Sadly no northern lights or sea eagles to complete the experience, but we did hear an interesting tale involving a cave which must not be mentioned.
The next day we had a couple of hours for a pleasant walk in the sunshine across Gometra – William headed off to neighbouring Ulva – following a well-signposted path, discovered a bothy, saw more deer, didn’t find the cave-which-must-not-be-mentioned, fantastic views.
On the move again, this time to Loch Sunart, seeing diving gannets but no sea eagles or otters, to our home for the night in Tobermory harbour. A dreich morning, but a pleasant place to look round, aquarium, interesting museum. A strange statue was discovered by one individual, so magnificent in its awfulness that a photograph had to be taken. Can anyone explain why a bright pink cherub-like effigy was presented to the burgh of Tobermory?
Post-trip note – you can read all about Tobermory’s Memorial Drinking Fountain here: https://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com/tag/tobermory/.
That night was spent at Loch Aline where we had the luxury of a pontoon at which to moor so we could come and go as we pleased, although as the rain set in soon afterwards we did not get much further than to the village – apart from William who returned in a rather damp condition having ventured much further afield.
Redemption. For our last full day Captain Scott had decreed that, rather than having us bouncing around like charged particles, our itinerary would be revised to avoid another windy forecast by running for the shelter of the Caledonian Canal near Fort William, from where a bus would take us back to Oban. The route took us to Lismore for our daily exercise, where the discovery of the day was a red phone box repurposed as a cake shop, and along the stunning Loch Linnhe. Steadily chugging along when we slowed down on approaching a low rocky islet. And there they were! Just a few yards away, a pair of sea eagles gazing unconcernedly at us jumping with excitement. Not only them, but way up on top of the mountain was the silhouette of another pair. And as the grand finale another solitary sea eagle staged a flypast across our bow. Unbelievable! A fitting climax to complete the tour.
Retribution. We made the shelter of the canal at Corpach, where we could walk up to Neptune’s Steps. This involved a small step from ship to shore for long-legged people but a giant leap for those of lesser stature. A shriek from Rosie as I jumped, and a forlorn line of bubbles indicating where my camera had launched itself from my pocket to take up its new and permanent residence at the bottom of the canal. The revenge of the Tobermory statue?
Tales from the Saloon. Deep and meaningful after-dinner discussion covered such topics as electric cars, nuclear physics, flexitarianism (that’s non-vegetarians who prefer veggie food and get the chef thoroughly confused), the Black & White Minstrels, electric cars, nuclear physics, the multitude of statues seen, which celebrity had died while we had been cut off from the outside world, did the outside world still exist, electric car charging points, nuclear physics (but don’t mention the cave).
Tales from the Wheelhouse. The comfy dentist’s chair provided a first-class viewpoint and interesting conversation. Probably best not committed to paper, except to say one involved a large number of packets of custard creams, a quantity of butter icing and the construction of a wall across someone’s bedroom door. Just ask Tiree (the enchanting one, not the island).
Despite a slight shortage of wildlife – the dolphins had obviously followed Douglas Adams’ suggestion and left the planet – only one person saw otters and harbour porpoise from the boat while the rest of us were on Lismore – we had a great time. A quick poll of selected highlights include eye-boggling scenery, a star-struck night in Gometra harbour, chocolate mousse and the sight of Tiree (the beguiling one) dropping anchor with one hand whilst making a pot of coffee with the other. Left with happy memories supplemented by borrowed photographs, an expanding waistline, an urge to scan the skies for large birds and a strange sensation of going up and down.
DID YOU KNOW?
Atlantic puffins have penguin-like colouring but they sport a colourful beak that has led some to dub them the "sea parrot". The beak fades to a drab grey during the winter and blooms with colour again in the spring.