Late August, Early September 2007 - Hiding from the weather...
It has always been one of our ambitions to visit the Garvellachs. These are a chain of small uninhabited islands south of Mull, north of Jura and west of Corryvreckan. The southern most island, Eileach an Naoimh (Holy Isle) was where St Brendan the Navigator founded a community in 542, roughly twenty years before St Columba founded that on Iona. The island is thought to be Hinba, Columba's legendry retreat. It certainly has some very interesting monastic ruins which date from around the ninth century and later. The double-beehive cell (on the left in the picture below) is supposed to be the finest example in Scotland, with only those on Skellig Michael off the south west coast of Ireland being better preserved.
It requires some interesting rock dodging to get into the Garvellach anchorage above, and it looks like it should be a lovely sheltered spot, but the tidal race from Corryvreckan disrupts the normal water flow, and the bay suffers from considerable swell even when the wind is not blowing into it, as was the case that day. So with the weather forecast to deteriorate we headed back east and into the shelter of Ardinamir (middle left below) on the north east corner of the island of Luing (pronounced Ling).
As expected the rain came down the following day, but the cricket on the radio kept us entertained. Thankfully the poor weather only lasted one day and we could get out to explore Luing itself. The island has a real lowlands feel about it, with rolling hills and clumps of woodland. The main industry on the island used to be slate mining, and its effects are clear to see with deep water filled pits alongside the road leading to Cullipool, the island's main village. Cullipool is made up of rows of old mine workers cottages, now done up as pretty little holiday homes. But nowadays, farming and particularly the cows have the upper hand. The island is famous for its unique herd of prize beef cattle. These are a beautiful rusty brown colour, and appear very docile. The bulls were just lounging around enjoying the sunshine and chewing the cud, while the calves would peer at you from behind the safety of Mum, while she just languidly turned to gaze at you as you walked passed. This one had obviously been admiring her reflection for a while as there were no ripples on the water.
The fine weather did not last so we headed back to Oban Marina for a few days. We went to see "The Bourne Ultimatum" on the opening night at the Oban cinema and made the audience up to eight people! Not surprising the cinema is up for sale but more surprising is that it is advertised as a going concern!
Walking on Kerrera is most enjoyable as there is a good wide track all the way around giving excellent views to all points of the compass. At the south end of the island is Gylen Castle. This was a favourite of the artist J.W.M. Turner who filled 25 pages of his "Staffa sketchbook" with sketches of the castle when he visited in 1831. It certainly stands in a very imposing position on the edge of a rocky precipice. Though apparently the natural spring in the castle was not adequate to supply the defending garrison when under siege so it changed hands with bloody consequences.
One of the other entertainments while we were awaiting better weather at Oban was watching the daily arrival of the sea plane from Glasgow. This would land in the harbour in a great plume of spray before taxiing to its "stand" which was a small isolated floating pontoon. The life-jacketed co-pilot would climb down onto the floats on the approach and then leap across to the pontoon to tie up. Then the passengers would disembark and stand around with their luggage while the plane took off again. They would eventually be picked up by the marina launch, but this could take up to 20miutes if it was busy. They looked very forlorn standing on a small platform in the middle of the bay, and must have been most uncomfortable at times as the pontoon bounced around in the wakes from passing boats and ferries.
There then was another display of good early autumnal weather, we had one fine breezy day when we had a cracking sail around the south coast of Mull, and then followed two days of continuous rain or drizzle with fog at times reducing visibility to a few hundred yards. We had anchored in a place called "Tinker's Hole" at the south end of the Sound of Iona. It is another place for careful navigation around rocks to get in, but once there it is a perfectly sheltered spot, surrounded by steep rocky islands. One of the pilot books describes it as being like anchored in a flooded quarry. One of these islands is Erraid, which features in Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Kidnapped". The story's hero David Balfour was shipwrecked on the Torran Rocks to the south, and came ashore at the bay named after him on the island.
When the visibility improved (but not the drizzle) we set off for Iona and anchored at the north of the island, well away from the ferry slip which is in constant use bringing crowds of tourists to see the Abbey. The weather was slowly improving, and by the time we had walked up Dun I, the highest point on the island, the view back to our anchorage was beginning to emerge out of the gloom. Even the sheep appeared to enjoy it (left - Innisfree is the dot in the water).
Before about 11 a.m. the island is a pleasant quiet place, but it all changes as the coaches bring the first loads of tourists across Mull from the morning Oban ferry at Craignure. The abbey is an imposing building, rather spoilt by the scaffolding - we were sure it was like that when we were here last in 2005! We didn't hang around long once the crowds arrived, but re provisioned at the well stocked Spar shop, and then set off for Tiree.
From May to September Tiree has relatively low rainfall and is the sunniest place in Britain. Just not when we were there! We shall remember it for rain and drizzle. Because it is so flat, there are few safe places to anchor, and we chose to tuck in behind the Cal Mac pier in Gott Bay. It is a rather public place, with large sand barges unloading and creating constant traffic to and fro on the pier. So it was rather a surprise to observe one of the chaps on the boat anchored near by relieving himself over the side. Then to cap it all, when their boat left his mate was obviously dragged out of his bunk, and was helming in just his underwear - most entertaining!
We did not linger on Tiree, just long enough for a walk in the morning then setting off for Coll. At this time of year the sea around Coll, Tiree and the Treshnish isles is well known for basking sharks, so we kept a good look out and were rewarded with sightings of three of the huge creatures slowly weaving their way passed us against the tide. More low cloud and drizzle at Coll did not encourage us to stay, so the following morning saw us sailing off to Tobermory for our first proper showers in nearly a week.
We are nearing the end of our summer cruise, so are not planning anything ambitious for the next couple of weeks, only venturing out to some local anchorages to do some walking in Morvern, and then to prepare Innisfree for her winter lay up.