Late May 2010, Muck, Barra and Eriskay.
Our new water pump for the engine eventually arrived on Saturday 22nd May. Clearly next day delivery to Scotland means within 4 days! Tim had it installed in less than 20 minutes and we set off immediately. The forecast was for very light winds, and then northerly F4/5 for the next week. Originally the plan was to head north up through the Caledonian Canal, but a long motor against the wind all the way up the Great Glen was not appealing. So instead we decided to go to Barra at the southern end of the Outer Hebrides. We used the calm day to motor up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, and then take advantage of the northerly winds to sail across to Barra with an overnight stop in Muck. It was a decidedly queasy experience beating north to Muck and we were very glad to drop anchor in the calm of Port Mor mid afternoon (above). However it was worth it because the extra distance north made for a much more comfortable, and therefore highly enjoyable, sail across the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra.
Castlebay in Barra has a series of visitor's moorings. Soon after we had tied up, a Wayfarer rowed across from the castle to the mooring next to us. They then constructed a frame, and put up the tent shown in the picture. We thought we had a small boat, but this was in another league. It must have been very cold as the tent did not look very draught proof and the cold northerly wind was bitter.
Last time we visited Barra in 2007 we were unlucky with the weather and had to leave before we had a chance to visit the airport. There are not many places in the UK where commercial fights land on the beach when the tide is out. Admittedly it is not a very large airplane but it is still fun to watch as it touches down on the wet sand sending up plumes of spray before taxiing up to the ground staff waiting at the high water mark just outside the tiny terminal building. This time the little tractor and trailer for the luggage went away empty handed, but otherwise the "baggage reclaim" is a bus shelter at the side of the terminal building (see more pictures). While we were watching three small private aircraft landed one after another. These appeared to us to be on a club jaunt as they clearly knew each other, were in identical planes, and took off again soon after landing heading in the direction on Benbecula. It certainly sounds like a fun idea: "airport hopping" along the Outer Hebrides.
We were most impressed by the airport terminal. Not only the baggage reclaim, but also the cafe. Here you could buy a decent cup of tea or coffee, freshly made bacon sandwiches or a full breakfast, all at very reasonable prices. Then enjoy it sitting in comfy chairs with a great view across the wide expanse of sand to where the local cockle pickers were working away at the tide line in the far distance.
After a day exploring Vatersay to the south of Barra, we made the short hop north to Eriskay. The island causeway between South Uist and Eriskay was opened in 2002 and it must have made a significant difference to life on the island, previously only connected by a ferry. The road access has made things easier and there are now many new build houses overlooking the Sounds of Barra and Eriskay. But there has also been an increase in traffic, as seen by the new "Otters Crossing" road signs! The Sound of Eriskay is famous for the grounding and eventually wrecking of the SS Politician in 1941. The story of which, and the islanders subsequent efforts to salvage the 264,000 bottles of whisk,y is immortalized in Compton Mackenzie's comic novel 'Whisky Galore'.
Eriskay is dominated by Beinn Sciathan. There is a fine view from the top and it takes relatively little effort to climb. The walk was featured in the recent BBC TV series on the Outer Hebrides with Monty Halls, so we were interested to see the improvements to the way markers that he talked about. Lets just say that it still needs improvement!
Part of the walk is along the beautiful white sandy beaches along the west coast of the island. As with the airport across the sound on Barra, the sea is very shallow here making the water a lovely shade of turquoise. The sun rapidly warms these shallows and several people were enjoying a swim. There was even a family enjoying a barbeque. We restricted ourselves to shell collecting! The high water line is a mass of tiny brightly coloured shells, including vivid yellow, orange, red and olive green. In this we were joined by a friendly border collie who easily cleared his garden fence and came over to see what we were doing. This is clearly a regular occurrence because as soon as he got our attention with a few sharp barks, he went searching amongst the seaweed for an old plastic bottle to which was dropped at our feet for us to throw. This game continued until we left the beach when he went to find another beach comber to play with.
Acairseid Mhor ('Large Harbour' in gaelic), pictured below, on the east side of the island is very well sheltered. We stayed for several days to make the most of this attractive island. The only disadvantage is that it is a half hour walk to the shop. This is not normally a problem but we were short of ice so had to make a route march back one day to get the ice in the cool box before it was all melted. Another delight of the anchorage was the occasional appearance of a pair of Golden Eagles, usually accompanied by mobbing crows or gulls.
From here our plan is to sail north to Lochmaddy on North Uist.