Early June 2014, Islay, Campbeltown, Lamlash
The problem with having any sort of plan when sailing is that the wind is never cooperative. Our plan for this season is to explore the Clyde which means needing northerly winds to go south and get around the Mull of Kintyre. In the fortnight since the last update we had one day of suitable winds which we used to sail from Ardfern to Port Ellen on Islay (below). Then the northerly winds were always forecast two days away and never actually arrived. We whiled away the time for eight days, then gave up and motored around to Campbeltown at the southern end of the Mull of Kintyre.
Last time we were in Islay in 2008 the first thing you saw when alighting from the ferry was the boarded up Islay Hotel. Since then it has been knocked down and rebuilt into a very posh sort of place though luckily it is not too posh to welcome scruffy yachties. Several nights a week they have excellent traditional music in the bar, and include good tourist fodder like "Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lommond", "Black Velvet Band". We certainly enjoyed it. The bar itself is also impressive, (see More Pictures) with the top self of about 40 "foreign" (i.e. not Islay) whiskies. Then two shelves (~80) Islay whiskies grouped by distillery. Needless to say we did not try them all! What we did try was the 2014 Festival Ale by the Islay Ales brewery which was made using the peaty grist from one of the Islay distilleries. Its a smokey brew and a real pity that it, or something like it, is not available all year round.
Although the winds were southerly they were from the east and brought fine weather so we enjoyed several outings. We were very pleased to see this young chough (left - it is pronounced 'chuff') that just sat in the field of sheep next to the track and watched us as we walked passed. We got chatting to the local farmer who said it was one of three that had fledged in a nearby barn.
The handsome 2" long toad (right) we nearly ran over during an outing on the folding bicycles along the coast road to Kilmartin (see 2007). That road must have less than one vehicle an hour so crossing is not usually a risky venture. It quickly hopped off into the undergrowth and was very reluctant to pose for a photograph. The road is ideal for a cycle ride, winding through beautiful native deciduous woods with flowering rhododendrons. It undulates beside several quiet bays that are protected by outlying islands topped with heather toupees, and always with the goal of Kilmartin ruined chapel to keep you going. Someone with and entrepreneurial spirit has set up a picnic bench outside the chapel compound with a flask each of tea and coffee, a box of assorted cakes and an honesty box. The other excellent feature of that coast road is that is passes Laphroaig (see title), Lagavulin (right) and Ardbeg (see 2007) distilleries all within 3 miles of Port Ellen.
On our penultimate day we had thought to cycle up to the American Monument (below) on the southern tip of the Mull of Oa peninsular, however we were still rather saddle sore from the Kilmartin ride so organised a taxi instead and walked back to Port Ellen. The monument is in the memory of American soldiers and sailors from the transports Tuscania and Otranto which were wrecked off the coast in 1918.
The Oa is an SSSI and RSPB reserve with a mainly moorland habitat. We saw a distant golden eagle, newly fledged ravens, many many skylarks, and even a flock of feral goats (above). There are also reputedly peregrine falcons and chough but they were in hiding for our visit. The views were excellent, with Northern Ireland and Rathlin clearly visible across the North Channel to the south, and the Mull of Kintyre away to the east. Just as we were across the bay from Port Ellen, the Hebridean Princess (left) steamed in passed the lighthouse, with a coach waiting at the pier ready to take the passengers to one distillery or another.
Eventually, after a week in Port Ellen we decided to move on. It was rather a shock to the system waking to the alarm at 4am to catch the tide around the Mull of Kintyre. Campbeltown is a convenient though unexciting place. It too has several distilleries (see more pictures), but more importantly for us, an excellent laundrette, fishmongers and bakery. We stayed for three nights but mainly listened to the cricket (first test against Sri Lanka at Lords) but still no decent wind arrived so we decided to motor around to Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. The intention had been to do some walking, but the anchorage was subject to swell so uncomfortable on board, so we decided to move on to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. One advantage of motoring is that we can engage the autopilot and so both enjoy the view and also listen to the test match on the radio. The Arran mountains (below) were spectacular with barely a cloud in the sky.