Late July 2011, Loch Hourn, Loch Nevis, Arisaig and Eigg..
It has been an unusual July in terms of weather, very calm and lots of sunshine, with only a couple of dull days. With few good sailing winds, we had plenty of time to explore on land. There was one wet an windy day, with strong winds from the north, so we anchored in the beautiful Sandaig bay (below), better known as Camusfearnà in Ring Of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell. The area is spoilt rather by the forestry workings above the bay, but when it has been returned to the native oak woodlands it will be a very special place again.
Just around the corner is the impressive Loch Hourn. This is a long fiord-like loch that stretches inland for just over 10 miles. The southern shore is the remote Knoydart Peninsular that has no road access. On the north shore are two tiny villages that are squeezed between the shore and the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains. We dropped anchor off Arnisdale (right) and rowed ashore to visit the shop for fresh bread. This had closed several years ago so we had the prospect of oat cakes, or Judith's rather solid home made bread for breakfast.
After a walk along the shore we stopped at a delightful tea hut in the village of Corran. This was in a garden shed in the garden of the end croft. Inside was a little kitchen, and one small table with chairs, with additional seating in the garden outside. Here the timid bantam chickens (below) cleared up any dropped crumbs. A tea shop with character! We were bemoaning the fact that there was no longer a shop, and the generous tea shop lady offered to sell us a loaf of bread. So we have very fond memories of that place.
With the calm conditions persisting, we had a gentle sail around the Knoydart Peninsular and into Loch Nevis, mooring off the village of Inverie. This is famous for the Old Forge, the remotest pub in the country. It may be remote, but it was the busiest place we have been all summer. It has a reputation for excellent fresh local seafood which is collected or farmed in Loch Nevis, and also for local venison (right!). It therefore attracts many yachties to their free moorings (for patrons), and also frequent small passenger ferries from Mallaig. As a result it necessary to book a table for dinner, but certainly the scallops and mussels that we tried lived up to the hype. One further attraction is their shower. This is free if you eat in the pub - a subtle hint to the many yachties and campers perhaps! There is a post office-cum-shop in Inverie. It had expanded since our last visit in 2008 reflecting the increase in visitors/campers (we looked for the tin of snails we had seen there back then but they finally appear to have been sold).
Not having the wind for long distances, we decided to go back to Rum. The reason for this was two fold, to use the laundry in the castle hostel, but primarily to go on the Ranger guided "Eagle" walk. Every weekday in the summer the ranger has a different themed walk, with Fridays being eagles. The air was sparklingly clear on the short hop from Inverie, with all the mountains free from cloud and standing proud. The Skye Cuillins (above) were particularly impressive.
Having seen our golden eagles, and washed four loads of laundry, we abandoned Rum when the anchorage became uncomfortable. It would have been nice to go on the ranger's otter walk, but that will have to be for another time. Next stop was Arisaig, just south of Mallaig. This is on the picturesque Fort William to Mallaig railway line, where in the summer a steam train runs the daily Jacobite service. Unfortunately we don't have the connections to wrangle a ride on the footplate, so we caught the regular service train to Glenfinnan for some photo opportunities (left). The best views are when the train is Mallaig bound, and the engine is traveling forwards. However, in order to see this we would have had to have caught the 06:19 train from Arisaig which would have meant a 5am alarm, not very appealing when on holiday! So we made do with the tender-first pictures and a civilised starting time.
It is a very popular spot, not only for the viaduct, with it's Harry Potter connotations, but also for the Glenfinnan monument on the shore of Loch Shiel (below). This was erected in 1815 on the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his standard to signal the start of ill fated Jacobite 1745 uprising, which ended in the rout at Culloden.
It is possible to climb the monument which is an adventure. It has a tight spiral staircase culminating in a very narrow trap door giving access to the platform at the top. The views from the top are good, but not as impressive as from the view point behind the visitors centre (left). The visitors centre was a bit of disappointment, being dwarfed by the adjacent car park, and only having a small exhibition tucked away in a corner, with most of the space given over to a large gift shop and cafe. The one redeeming feature was this cafe, where they had huge slices of delicious carrot cake. These were plenty for two, but as Tim does not like it, Judith had the piece to herself.
We lingered at Arisaig for several days in order to attend their Highland games. These were held in a field adjacent to the local golf course a couple of miles out of the village. Another beautiful day, with just enough breeze to deter the midges. One of these events on a calm damp day must be a feast for the little beasties! The games followed the usual format, with dancing, piping and heavy events, interspersed with running races for all ages. Some competitors clearly take it seriously with proper running shoes etc, but there are also people in jeans and bare feet as the races are open to anyone who wants to participate. The pipers and dancers are in full highland dress, but of the others, only the "heavy" contestants have to wear kilts. But these are just put on over normal shorts and t-shirt. so slightly disappointing..!
The fine calm weather persisted tempting us to cross back to the island of Eigg, and to climb An Sgurr again, but this time in blazing sunshine. The view from the summit was certainly worth the effort, with 360° panorama taking in the Rum and Outer Hebrides to the west, Coll and Tiree to the south, Skye to the north, and (right) the long line of mountains and loch of the mainland to the east.
At last the weather has changed, the forecast has been for wet and windy, but so far we have had the wet, but not the wind. Anticipating an uncomfortable time in the small isles, we headed north, inside Skye, to Plockton and safe from the southerly winds. It is supposed to clear in a day or so, but at the moment it is perfect weather for reading books and listening to the cricket.