Knoydart to Mallaig under the Skye road bridge, May 2017

It was hot and sunny, with very little wind, poor weather conditions for sailing, but perfect for the end of a wonderful holiday.  Someone used the windlass to pull up the anchor, and I was pleased not to be asked to stand in the dark room with a whiff of diesel, helping to coil the anchor chain so I didn’t get snagged.  Instead I sat on the boat with a cup of tea and some toast, looking at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery.  I have never been to Skye, just around it by boat.  I want to return sometime to walk there.

As we approached the Skye road bridge I wondered if the mast would fit underneath it.

Of course there was plenty of room!  Soon afterwards someone spotted a sea eagle flying from Skye towards the mainland.  It flew high in the sky and fast.  I wouldn’t have known it was a sea eagle, the wing span was huge, but it moved very quickly.  There are far worse things to do than to admire beautiful scenery from a boat on a hot sunny day.

When it was too soon, we were back in Mallaig.

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Mallaig harbour

I went for walks around Mallaig, waved goodbye to new friends who travelled on the Jacobite Express old steam train, and sat on a stony beach to watch the sun set over Eigg and Rhum.

North Uist to the Shiant Islands, to see puffins, May 2017 and to look for the imaginary blue men of the Minch

North Uist to the Shiant Islands, to see puffins, May 2017 and to look for the imaginary blue men of the MinchPuffins, Shiant Islands, Hebrides

We sailed from North Uist to the Shiant Islands.  At supper in the cabin the night before, while the wine and beer flowed, the skipper told us as story about the blue men of the Minch.  They lived on the stretch of sea we would be sailing on to the Shiant Islands.  Legend has it that men of the Minch speak in Gaelic and are mischievous and if you see them you have to speak to them in Gaelic in rhyming couplets.  I have problems speaking in English in rhyming couplets and I only know three words of Gaelic; one is “Uisge Beatha”, meaning water of life, another is good night or “Oidhche mhath” and the final is cheers or “Slainte”.  I couldn’t make up a rhyming couplet with three words, although I suppose that the men of the Minch would enjoy the word for whisky.  I asked the skipper if he knew how to swear in Gaelic but he said it was far too polite a language to swear in and the only bad phrase he could think of was to “go and chew on a broom”.

We had a good wind and a pleasant journey.  There’s a wonderful feeling when the sails are full and the boat heels over, but the landscape was very different from any we had seen before.  I kept a look out but could see no blue men in the sea!The cliffs of the islands gradually became visible; steep basalt, angular jutting rocks and more birds than I have ever seen before, nesting, flying and on the water.  There was a tremendous noise from the birds.

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

I was given the option of going ashore to sit for an hour near the birds or to walk up a cliff.  After a dramatic fail to walk up a steep slope in Derbyshire last year, I decided to sit on a beach.  Most of the others chose to walk up the cliff, and the dinghy was launched over the side of the boat to take us ashore.  I was left on a pebble beach while the dinghy returned to the boat.

Shiant Islands, Hebrides

It was amazing to be so close to the birds.  I didn’t move much and moved slowly and quietly. It started to rain heavily and I sheltered under a protruding rock, at the same height as the nesting birds.

The birdsong was very loud.

It was wonderful to be so close to the razorbills and puffins.

Shiant Islands, razor bills

Shiant Islands, puffin

Shiant Islands, Hebrides, puffin

The islands were very atmospheric, and it was sad to leave them the following day, in the mist and rain.  We safely sailed to and from the Shiant Islands without meeting any blue men of the Minch.

 

Mallaig Harbour to Soay by boat and on to South Uist, 20th and 21st of May 2017, my bucket list.

Mallaig harbour

I love walking by the coast, walking on a beach and looking out to sea.  I also like to be on a boat looking across the water towards land.  When the sun shines in Mallaig the water at the edge of the harbour is turquoise and transparent.  I boarded the boat, unpacked, drank a cup of tea in the main cabin and met the lovely people who were to be my sailing companions for the next week.

I put on my oilskins and lifejacket and we cast off, setting sail for Soay, a small island near Skye.  I didn’t look very glamerous in my turquoise wellies, red life jacket and yellow waterproofs.  I sang the Skye boat song to myself while we were sailing.  I didn’t do much to help and was mainly taking photographs and talking to people.

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We anchored near Soay, but it was stormy at night time and the boat rocked violently a few times and not many people slept well.  Over a delicious breakfast the skipper agreed to let us anchor in a sheltered loch the following day.  It was on my bucket list to visit the Hebrides, but as I’d only taken one instead of two sea sickness tablets I ended up clutching a bucket!  We had a rough crossing, but it was so exciting to see the beautiful islands from the sea, and although I felt unwell I was also very happy.  It was cold and raining but my oilskins kept me dry.  After a long sail we reached Loch Eynort on South Uist. I was unable to help with anything on the boat, and noticed a dramatic change in how I felt when we moved into calmer water in the loch.  The dinghy was launched and we were able to go ashore.  I didn’t walk far, but it was lovely to walk through ferns and bluebells and to be ashore looking at the lovely scenery.

Loch Eynort, South Uist, HebridesLoch Eynort, South Uist, Hebrides

I ate a delicious meal and felt cosy in my cabin, being gently rocked to sleep by the motion of the waves.

 

A week’s sailing around the Hebrides. Journey to Mallaig and losing my cheese and pickle sandwich!

DSCN0013I’ve had a week’s break from coastal walking, by sailing around the Hebridean Islands.  A friend advised me to travel by train from Glasgow to Mallaig as the scenery was so beautiful. It didn’t disappoint.  There were small patches of snow on some mountain tops and provided hours of spectacular scenery.  It also crossed the Glenfinnan viaduct, which features in the Harry Potter films.

DSCN0006I broke up my journey by staying in Crianlarich Youth Hostel, next to Crianlarich railway station and knew how stunning the scenery would be.  I went on a short, early morning walk before catching the train.  A short walk from the SHYHA leads to stunning scenery, and early morning mist was rising above it.  It was a short walk, with minimal effort to see beautiful mountain views.  I bought a freshly made delicious looking cheese and pickle sandwich at Crianlarich station, put my sandwich bag down to make a phone call.  When I was on the train and it was uncoupling carriages I couldn’t find my sandwich and remembered it was on the platform.  I spoke to another passenger ad soon the people sitting near me were encouraging me to collect my sandwich.  There wasn’t time and the train moved out of the station, past my white paper sandwich bag, with the other passengers laughing as I pointed at it.

DSCN0043Mallaig is a town with a beautiful harbour and views of Rhum, Eigg and Skye.  I stayed at the Bunkhouse almost opposite the station, paying £22.50 for a single room with a washbasin, free Wi-Fi and use of showers, a kitchen, a living room and a balcony overlooking the harbour.  I found a café which sold local langoustines, and the waitress explained to me how to eat them.  I didn’t want to try to eat them the way Mr Bean did in the film “Mr Bean’s holiday”.  They were delicious.  I removed them from their shells, ate the butter sauce with them, wiped my hands lots of times and dipped them in a bowl of water and lemons.

DSCN0028The boat I was sailing on was moored in Mallaig harbour.  A beautiful wooden boat with a bow sprit it was to be my home for a week.  I went on board the following day with my oversized bag.  I can’t travel light.  I had my own small cabin, which was separated from the main cabin by a curtain. I like to be on the coast, either walking beside it or on a boat. I’ve wanted to go to the Hebrides for a long time, and had a wonderful sailing holiday much further south, on the west coast of Scotland, from Largs four years ago, when I sailed around the isle of Arran and to Bute and Lochearnhead.