Late June 2007– Tobermory to Skye via the Small Isles
On 19th June, after a couple of days in Tobermory, we stocked up on provisions and water and headed off north around Ardnamurchan Point (the most westerly point of mainland Britain) to one of the small isles, Eigg. Thankfully, we had a favourable easterly wind to help us on our way so it was a chance to enjoy a rare relaxed sail. Weatherwise, June 2007 made it's way into the record books and it was not because of the rain, but the predominance of northerly winds, needless to say that these have made our passages northwards hard work.
We anchored in South Bay on Eigg which has excellent views of the Sgurr of Eigg (right). This is the remains of a volcanic plug, and is certainly dramatic, with shear cliffs along three sides. We had hoped to walk to the top, but it rained all morning. By the time the rain had eased and we had rowed ashore it was too late in the afternoon to walk up the Sgurr. Instead we were plagued by clouds of flies! They had been bottled up all day with the rain and all came out in the afternoon sun - they were absolutely dreadful!. Still - it gives us a good excuse to go back another day.
From Eigg we yet again fought more northerly winds to move on to Canna, the most westerly of the Small Isles. Canna has the only harbour of all the Small Isles which offers good protection. It is also ideally placed as a stop off point before crossing to the Outer Hebrides. This was illustrated by the number of yachts in the bay, with 9 on the first night we were there. However, by 10am the following morning, we and a resident moored fishing boat were all that were left (the small dots in the picture below). It seems a shame to us that all the others missed the pleasant walk around the island. We spent a day exploring Canna and walked up Compass Hill and were rewarded by the 360º views from the top, from the harbour across to Sanday to Rum (below), to Skye, and over to the Outer Hebrides.
Yet more northerly winds met us on our short passage across from Canna to Carbost on Loch Harport on the west coast of Skye. Despite its name, Carbost is the home of the Talisker Distillery - the only distillery on Skye, and naturally we took the tour. Talisker is one of the Classic Malts and part of the Diagio empire and not surprisingly therefore flies the corporate image. The tour was a great disappointment after the idiosyncratic tours we had on Islay. The ambience and atmosphere of the distillery was not helped by the fact that they were not fully in production because their spring water had run short in the previous week. Production had to stopped to allow the underground reservoir to refill - a first! (There has been a cold front running east-west at around the level of the Clyde for the early part of June, this had kept all the heavy rains in England and Wales and spared Scotland of the awful flooding and damage suffered further south).
Our perverse wind saga continued with a flat calm on our passage around to Dunvegan in the north west of Skye. The anchorage is sheltered bay from all wind directions and it is over looked by the two flat topped hills called McLeod's Tables (above), and has views south to the Black Cuillins. Dunvegan is famous for its castle, the historic seat of the McLeod's - it is a bit of a tourist trap, the Rough Guide was not very complementary so we gave it a miss but thousands don't - perhaps another reason for not going.
The village itself has some excellent services including a bakery, green grocer, two general stores and a tourist information office as well as the expected hotels and other accommodation. Also (very importantly) there is a camp site with (much needed) laundry facilities, and showers. The latter were piping hot and had such a high pressure that you feel pummeled when you came out. It was a good time to catch up on domestic chores as well as getting out and about. We were so impressed by the area that we stayed for five days.
On the hill above Dunvegan is a tall standing stone (left). This was erected by the villagers to commemorate the millennium. It is over 5 metres tall, weighs over 5 tonnes and they put it up in the traditional manner of only using man power - lots of it apparently. However, they did resort to concrete to keep it there! On a showery day, we took the bus into Portree (below) for a mooch about. While waiting for the bus we spotted a couple of Dunvegan locals enjoying a drink (right).
We spotted a poster, while in the tourist information office at Dunvegan, for the annual Skye Pipe Band Festival (Saturday 30th June in Portree). As we were in no rush to move on, we stayed on and again caught the bus to Portree (we did check - the slugs had finished their Guinness and moved on.)
There were eight bands performing at the festival but only two were grade '1' or '2' (we had earlier in the week overheard a conversation between a bus driver and a local Skye woman bemoaning that anything of lower standard was not up to much '... a mere gala band...'). However, while we could tell which were the better bands, they all put in a a good effort and were smartly turned out in their appropriate tartan. The event started with a march through the streets of the town. Each band was preceded by two to three young girls in highland dress carrying a sign displaying the name of the band. After the march, the bands all congregated outside the community centre and from there played one tune together - 100+ pipers and 40+ drummers, they made an amazing noise!
During the rest of afternoon each band performed their own selection of tunes. A couple of them had additional entertainments. The drum major for the Lomond & Clyde Pipe Band, who was the current reigning national champion drum major (though it was admitted that he was from Ireland not Scotland), gave a superb display hurling his baton high into the air and marching around like he was the minister for 'serious' funny walks. Also, the 1st Battalion Highlanders played for a male dancer from the regiment who performed a traditional solo jig in front of the band - His kilt flying in the wind with his motions - Judith was sitting on the curb at side at the time so got an excellent view.... Gradually, however, the weather deteriorated and the festival ended with all the bands congregated in the town square playing in the pouring rain. This didn't seem put them off, but then it is probably a normal form for a Scottish Pipe band!
We left Skye very early the following day (1st July) to catch the favourable tide up the Minch and over to Harris - it is not often we set the alarm for 03:30 in the morning!. Our next major objective is the Celtic Festival in Stornoway in mid July.