Late July 2018 - Islay and Faery Isles
The weather continued dry and sunny for much of the rest of our stay on Islay. This allowed us to a couple of good cycle rides. (We do not like to get the bicycles wet if we can help it because they do not dry inside their bags on the boat). The first was an early start so we could cycle from Port Ellen to RSPB reserve on The Oa in time for the guided walk given by on of the reserve staff. It is a bleak place, all high rough moorland (see more pictures) and sheer cliffs. But on a warm sunny day it is stunning, in fact it has been so unseasonably dry this year that the farmers have managed to make hay instead of silage. With a large group of people on the lookout we managed to see both the "gold star" species on the reserve of Chough and Golden Eagle.
The second cycle ride we cheated and caught the bus most of the way to the other RSPB reserve at Gruinart (see more pictures) and then cycled the rest. Folding bicycles are allowed on the bus if it is not too busy. This reserve is mostly for the over-wintering geese, so July is not the best time of year to visit, but we enjoyed the two short trails. From Gruinart we continued westwards on the quiet single track roads to Loch Gorm and then on to the Kilchoman Distillery (see more pictures) for coffee. With only a small bicycle bag for carrying things we refrained from stocking up on their whisky, but instead continued on to the Bruichladdich Distillery (below). This was the end of our ride and the bus stop back to Port Ellen, so we could now indulge in a bottle - choosing the gin as we had enjoyed the Harris gin so much.
From Islay we motored in light winds northwards, across the Sound of Jura and up Loch Sween. This is a long shallow loch which stretches 6NM up in to the Knapdale deciduous woodland. At the southern end of the loch is a ruined castle (see more pictures) that is further ruined by the surrounding caravan park. The only navigational hazard is a rock about half way up the loch, but this is easily spotted as it is a favourite sunbathing spot for the seals (right). They never look particularly comfortable, but seem to have a smile on their faces as they watch you gently coast past. The head of the loch splits into several arms; the eastern most one has the village of Tayvallich (see Late June 2017); the western ones have mooring and fish farms. Our destination was the central arm known as the Faery Isles (see banner and below left). This is group of tiny islands covered in trees and grass, amongst which is a beautiful sheltered anchorage. It was a real deja vu as the last time we were here in Aug 2007 it was also beautiful weather and we also spent one of the days listening to England vs India in a cricket one-day international, and another walking through the woods to the loch where the beavers have been released. The beavers are only active at dawn/dusk or at night so we did not see them, but it was fun to see their lodge (below right) and there was ample evidence of their activities with gnawed tree stumps along the waters edge.
From the Faery Isles we headed back to our base on Loch Melfort, where we started on the long list of decommissioning jobs well into the evening. Our efforts were rewarded by an Osprey doing a spot of fishing as the sun set (left and more pictures). The masts unadorned with lights or instruments clearly made excellent look-out posts, and the bird would sit on the top peering intently into the waters below before launching into a dive and splashing into the loch. It would then surface and fly up to another mast before repeating it all over again. It was getting pretty dark by the time flew off, too dark to see if it had been successful or just given up for the day.
It took us another day and a half to get to the end of the jobs list, and we drove out of the yard with Innisfree out of the water and being spray washed by the yard staff. We are looking forward already to the 2019 season.