Early July 2011, Small Isles, Muck, Eigg, Rum.
Work commitments kept us busy until the end of June, so it was not until the morning of the 5th July that Innisfree was back in the water. It was great to be afloat again after ten months, and we were treated to a couple of hours of perfect sailing conditions. Day two was continuous drizzle and no wind, the perfect day to unwind with a good book while at anchor in a quiet loch. There then followed a week of typically un-Scottish weather: warm, sunny and practically no wind. Motoring is all very well, but not very interesting, so we opted to go island hopping around the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum seen in the distance on the right below. Each has their own character, Muck is low lying and fertile, Eigg is dominated by An Sgurr a long ridge of volcanic rock, and Rum has it's Cuillins, castle and midges.
En route from Tobermory it was tempting to have a short diversion into Sanna bay (below) on the western end of Ardnamurchan Point. Usually the Atlantic swell beats against the coast line here making it no place for a small yacht, but with a light northerly breeze it was a beautiful spot for a lunch time stop.
After dropping anchor in the clear turquoise waters we rowed ashore to explore. On scrambling out of the dinghy a small child, who was building sand castles on the beach, demanded to know if we were pirates... hopefully this was not because of our appearance! Having assured him (or perhaps disappointed him) we went for a short walk up the hills immediately behind the beach. These form the western rim of the crater of the long extinct volcano that occupies much of the Ardnamurchan peninsular. Being very worn down it not spectacular, but from the summit of the hill was clear recognisable. However the view out to the small isles (above) was breathtaking.
A five mile motor brought us to Muck the most southerly of the Small Isles. Being only 2 miles by 1 mile in size it is perfect for a lazy days walk. Rough camping is allowed on the island and we passed a couple of tents a few yards from a beautiful white sandy beach. It looked idyllic, but I think the midges would enjoy the banquet. However that day it was breezy enough to keep them at bay, so stopping for a leisurely lunch looking out towards Eigg (right) was a pleasure.
Back in Port Mor, the tea shop was open (it being a day the Mallaig ferry visited) and served us delicious tiffin while we sat outside enjoying the view. Next stop was the craft shop which sells everything from hand made rugs, to local honey comb, to vegetables and second hand books. It is open 24hrs a day and is operated by an honesty box with a book to record your purchases. Here we bought the obligatory "Isle of Muck" tea towel and a couple of boxes of local raspberries to have for breakfast as a change from grapefruit. Then to conclude a lovely day we sat in the cockpit watching the resident black guillemots (left), and listening to cricket on our LW radio (England beat Sri Lanka in the final one day international of the series).
Another five mile motor brought us to Eigg. We were clearly not the only ones with the idea of pottering about the islands, as there were already four other yachts in the anchorage when we dropped the hook at 11 a.m. It was an odd sort of day, the island was making it's own weather with the cloud boiling up over the An Sgurr to fall as drizzle on us, while away to the east Mallaig was bathed in sunshine. The forecast promised it would clear by 4 p.m. so we set off up the An Sgurr in the swirling mist. It was good walking conditions, cool and damp, and the path was well marked so no chance of loosing our way. It was very dramatic, with the occasional glimpse of the cliffs as the mist parted, but otherwise only knowing they were there by the eerie echo of our voices. Five minutes after our arrival at the summit, right on cue it began to clear giving glimpses though the mist of the harbour far below. But it was getting chilly so after half an hour we retraced our steps, only to see it fully clear (right) when half way back to the harbour.
In no hurry to move on, and still no wind forecast we stayed a couple of nights just enjoying the calm conditions. At times the sea was mirror smooth tempting Judith out in the dinghy to take some classic reflection photographs (left). The only ripples seen on the water were left from the oars used to paddle the dinghy. The ferry pier is seen on the left of the picture, with En Chathastail (Castle island) to the left that, and Ardnamurchan peninsular on the mainland in the distance. The water was crystal clear and you could see why a colony of terns had made it their home. The little fish were easily seen darting about, and it was even possible to see the crabs walking along the bottom five metres below the keel, though none were large enough to tempt us to try out luck with our fishing line or folding lobster pot.
With the calm weather persisting, our next stop was the island of Rum 10 miles to the north west. The island is diamond shaped, with the anchorage in Loch Scresort on the eastern corner. It is a wide open bay with Kinloch Castle (right) at the head. This was built by George Bullough and English millionaire as the hunting lodge when he used Rum as his sporting estate. It was completed in 1900 using red sandstone shipped from Dumfriesshire, and top soil from Ayrshire. It is all turrets and crenellations and looks impressive, but was built as stone cladding on a metal structure which is now in need of some serious renovations. The island and castle including all the fixtures and contents (not even the wine cellar was emptied), were sold for £23,000 in 1957 to Scottish Natural Heritage. This works out a roughly £1/acre which was a bargain even then.
There are daily tours, and the inside lives up to the expectations of the exterior. The entrance hall has stags heads on the walls, tiger and lion rugs on the floor, a grand piano, and a huge (~9ft) tall sculpture of an eagle with out stretched wings (see more pictures) flanked by two smaller statues of eagles, dragons and sea monsters. The other rooms are equally period pieces; billiard room, drawing room, bedrooms with four poster beds. All now looking rather tired with faded draperies and soggy chairs, but still giving an impression of the grandeur of the era. The castle also doubles up as the youth hostel, though this is housed in the servants quarters, not the state rooms!
Rum has a reputation as a haven for midges and horse flies and this proved to be true. Judith had to go for a walk just to get away from them while waiting for the laundry to run its cycle in the hostel. They do not seem to be bothered by midge repellant, the best deterrent/protection being a long sleeved shirt, though they even bite through this if given the chance.
Being a nature reserve, the wildlife is actively encouraged. Many of the buildings have swallows nests, including in the visitors centre, where there are man made nests inside (see more pictures). They seem to be thriving, but making little impression on the midge population. The shores of the loch abound with oystercatchers (left) shrilly piping if you get too close. There are also apparently otters if you know where to look. We did go for a walk into the interior of the island in the hope of seeing Sea Eagles or Golden Eagles, but no such luck, again you probably need to know where to look, and they do not advertise to discourage egg thieves.
In the summer the most common bird on the island are the Manx Shearwaters (right), though you never see them. They nest in burrows high up in the hills, and only come ashore undercover of darkness to feed their young. During the day they are out on the water either feeding, to congregating in great rafts. They are perfectly adapted to life on the waves, with their long wings catching the up drafts from the waves as the glide by looking for food.
On the final morning we woke up to find an unusual ship anchored with us in the bay. If we had landed from this, the small boy in Sanna could have been forgiven for thinking we were pirates! The tall ships were on there way from the Clyde to Lerwick in Shetland, and this one (Pelican of London) stopped for a spot of sight seeing on the way. It was nice to see one with the sails rigged.
At last some sailing winds arrived, so we set off back towards the mainland, having a good sail around the southern tip of Skye, and northwards into the Sound of Sleat, Tarka the Otter country. We have a couple of days of wet weather forecast, and then the fine calm weather is supposed to return so we are planning to explore the long sea lochs of Loch Hourn and Loch Nevis.