Late July 2014, Jura, Colonsay, Iona, Ulva and Mull
A stonking sail (see more pictures) from Ardfern brought us to Craighouse on Jura. There are very odd tides here, as there is quite a tidal rate, but very little range. It feels wrong to be tying up to a mooring near high water with only couple of meters of water under the keel, but careful tidal height calculations prove there is no problem. There are 16 visitors moorings at Craighouse because there is lots of kelp so it is difficult to anchor. We stayed 4 nights and the occupation rate on the moorings ranged from 75% to 100%. This is not surprising when you realize that Craighouse is the home of the Jura Distillery (below left and more pictures), has an excellent hotel for dinner and, most importantly for us, has a well stocked shop. Many of the islands seem to have got lottery funding to renovate their village shops, Craighouse, Scalasiag (Colonsay) and Dervaig (Mull) have all been recently done up by the look of them.
On the third day at Craighouse we tried to leave. The wind was from the west which meant we should have had an excellent sail down to the southern end of the Sound of Islay, and then up the sound to Loch Tarbert. However the wind was much stronger than anticipated and we could not make nay headway against the wind and waves, so after two hours fighting it, we turned around and were back in Craighouse 45min later. We tried again on the following day when it was a flat calm, so having to motor but at least moving in the right direction. The sound is very pretty with the Islay hills to the west and the Paps of Jura to the east, then as you near the northern end you pass Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain distilleries (see more pictures).
Loch Tarbert (left) nearly cuts Jura in two and is well sheltered but very remote. We ventured ashore but were plagued by tiny ticks in the tall bracken so quickly retreated. As we picked them off each other with the tick tweezers, we felt like the monkeys you see on television grooming each other. We were still finding them a couple of days later, so ever since have avoided bracken in places with deer. They itch much more than the bites that midges inflict.
From Loch Tarbert is was a short motor across to Colonsay - an island we have not visited before. The anchorages are quite open so we needed the winds to be light for a comfortable night. The image (right) shows our bay with the Paps of Jura just touching the cloud base in the distance. From here it was a short walk over the headland to Scalasaig the main village on the island. There are not many places where you walk along a track to buy a loaf of bread of from the local shop and have such great view, but also have choughs on one side of the track and a calling corncrake on the other - magic.
With still no wind we continued on under motor to Tinker's Hole (left) off the island of Erriad. A little further round from the anchorage is "David Balfour's Bay" of "Kidnapped" fame (Robert Louis Stevenson), where the hero is washed ashore after their boat was wrecked on the Torran rocks just to the south. These rocks make the passage exciting as the clear approach to the narrow entrance is at an angle, so the opening is not visible until you are almost on top of it. The view from the adjacent islands is spectacular for such minimal effort. The picture left shows Tinker's Hole to the east, and to the west is the Iona (see more pictures) seen across the rock strewn sound. That day it was beautiful as the sun was shining and the sea a sparkling blue. The following moring some wind finally arrived and we got to sail up the Sound of Iona with good views of the abbey, then passed Fingal's Cave on Staffa (see more pictures) and on to anchor off the north east coast of Ulva.
Ulva once supported a population of over 850 people in crofting and kelp farming (used in the production of soap and glass). The population was decimated in the 19th century first by the potato famine and then brutal eviction as the clearances made way for sheep farming. Today it is home to around 20 people centered around the ferry slip at the eastern end. Here there is the all important tea room, but also "Sheila's Cottage" (right) which at one end has been set up to show the interior of a typical house at the first half of the 20th century, with box bed, earthen floor and old Sheila in front of a peat fire (see more pictures). The other end of the cottage houses an exhibition about the island. Here we bumped into Jonny Evans, our friend who owns Vancouver 34 Daphne. By coincidence he just happened to be anchored off the southern shore and was also going for a walk on the island. We continued on together for some of the way, then parted company as they returned to the tea room for lunch and we continued on to the basalt columns (left). These are not as impressive as those in Fingal's Cave, but are much more accessible, and were a pleasant spot for our picnic lunch.
We left the following morning and motored around to Loch Cuan (or Chumhainn in gaelic) and spotted a Golden Eagle being mobbed by kestrels - though too far away for photographs. The following morning we had a great sight as a Sea Eagle flew up the loch, this one mobbed by herring gulls, and just within camera range (right). It was at the extreme of the zoom lens, but the white head and tail can clearly be seen, and the great rectangular wings that can span 8ft.
Following instructions in a walks book, we wandered up the coast a short way from our anchorage to find some fossil trees (below). They have survived the fossil hunters because they are not actually fossils, but are trees that were covered in lava and then rotted away. The cavity was then filled by a subsequent flow of harder lava, which is what remains after the softer rock was eroded. They are therefore identical to all the surrounding rock and so not worth collecting. In the picture below Judith is sitting on the root ball of one of the more impressive (and recognizable) specimens.
Loch Cuan is open to the north west and gave us a fantastic sunset. We nearly always have land between us and the setting sun so we were blessed that we got such a display in the one night we did have a clear view of the horizon (see banner above and more pictures).
With the weather about to break we made a dash for Tobermory to do the laundry while it was still good drying weather (the tumble driers there are very ineffective). That done we are now listening to the rain and wondering where to go for the last few weeks of this year's cruise.