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Late July 2015 - Gairloch, Raasay, Soay and Canna

Sods law says the wind is always contrary to where one wants to go, and this was certainly the case for us. We waited 10 days in Lochinver Gairlochfor a suitable sailing wind to head south, and had strong south westerly after south westerly. As soon as we got a light south westerly we motor sailed to Gairloch (see also Early July 2008) via the Summer Isles, and there we had 10 more days of strong south westerly winds.

Gairloch (right) is a small harbour with one pontoon much of which is taken up by tripper boats as the area between Gairloch and Skye is well populated by whales and dolphins. There are two berths for visiting yachts making it necessary to raft up to three deep at times. Luckily for us one of the tripper boats was out of service leaving a free berth which the friendly harbour master offered to us because we are smaller than most yachts so difficult to accommodate in a raft. The rigmarole of moving from the raft to the berth the morning after we arrived meant that we missed the bus to the start our walk along Loch Maree (below). The harbour master then kindly offered to give us a lift which we were most grateful for as the weather for the following days was not forecast to be as good. All this disrupted our usual morning routine with the result that Judith packed the rucksack for the walk leaving the lunch behind. This was not discovered until we stopped for a snack after a couple of hours to discover we only had juice and water for the day. There were no shops along the whole route so we were rather hungry when we got back for a late lunch at 3.30p.m.

Loch Maree

With all the wet and windy weather Judith had plenty of time to crack on with her knitting project. Not being something she has done for nearly 30 years it did not all go according to plan and there were several frantic pleas for help to her sister for translation of the pattern instructions, and there was almost as much unraveling as knitting. The first time she tried it on had us both in giggles as it was huge, even too large for Tim and so 10cm in length and several stitches in width were removed from the sleeves (see more pictures for the "before" result). The finished article is still on the large side but is a creditable result for a beginner.

When the weather finally changed for the better and the winds turned to the north they were so light as to be practically non existent, but this gave us the opportunity to visit Raasay (below), a new island for us, and anchor in Churchton Bay (see banners #92 , #93 and more pictures). This bay is a beautiful place with fine views south to the Red Cuillins on Skye, however this view means that it is very exposed to winds from the south, and why we have not, until now, had the conditions to stay. There are other better anchorages around Raasay, but not as convenient for climbing Dun Caan, the high point on the island. Dun Caan is a very distinctive flat topped summit that has fine views all round. The image (right) is the view looking south over Loch na Mna to the Red Cuillins, see also more pictures.

The other main interest on the walk was the old iron ore mine which was used during the first world war to reduce the dependence on foreign imports. The ore was transported from the mine to the pier via a cable operated narrow-gauge railway. All that remains today are the ruined buildings of the "hauler" and "compressor" houses and the track bed which runs in a dead straight line to the coast. At one point this crossed steep gully over a concrete viaduct of which only the pillars now remaining (see more pictures).

From Raasay, it was on to Sandaig (see Late July 2011) via Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge (more pictures). Sandaig is better known as Camusfearnà in Ring Of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell. It is a beautiful spot and ideal for otters as there is a lively fresh water stream emptying into the bay for them to wash the salt from their fur. After a couple of nights there, we moved on to Soay which shows the ugly face of Gavin Maxwell. He bought the island in the 1940's and built a factory to process shark oil from basking sharks. Thankfully the business was unsuccessful and closed down after 3 years, but not before decimating the shark population. Now all that remains are the ruined buildings and a rusting steam boiler - not something we were expecting to see on a remote island. The thing we did find was an over abundance of midges so quickly retreated back to the boat after a quick look around.

The final two days of the spell of fine weather we spent on Canna (below). Having briefly visited earlier in the season we wanted to spend some time walking around the island on one of the rare sunny days of the summer. What the picture does not show is the biting northerly wind that kept us in long sleeves despite the vigorous exercise.

After this brief interlude of pleasant conditions, the wet and windy weather has now returned and we have retreated to Tobermory. West Highland Yachting Week is this week, and 1000+ competitors are due to descend on Tobermory in a few days. We are debating whether to stay to enjoy the social events, or to run away to somewhere with more peace and quiet. It all depends on the weather forecast...