Sunday, 27 May 2012

Acairseid Mor

The weather continues to amaze. 30 C, high pressure, clear skies and light winds. It has been like this for the past ten days. Most unusual!! Our last report was from Canna, in the Small Isles. From there we back-tracked to the mainland, to Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsular. This remote area can only be reached by a five mile boat trip from Mallaig or by a 20 mile hike through the mountains. Until 1999 it was owned by a succession of clan chiefs and then by southern "wealthies" who used it as a hunting and fishing retreat. Population peaked at around 2,000 in the 1850's before the "clearances" to make space for sheep. The last owners were Mathesons who made a fortune selling opium to the Chinese in Hong Kong and went on to found Jardine Matheson, a major UK/Hong Kong insurance and banking empire. By 1999 population of Inverie was down to 84 people. They, with help from outsiders led by Chris Brasher (Olympic runner) raised the funds to purchase the land and set it aside as a Wilderness Preserve. Some old buildings have been restored as bunk-houses and a camping area developed. Electricity comes from a community-developed mini-hydro plant. Each year Knoydart attracts a growing number of hikers and climbers. (There are three Munros on the Peninsular). It is a popular stop for cruising yachts. The old smiddy (blacksmith) forge has been converted into a restaurant where we tucked in to local scallops and salmon over a herby salad followed by a walnut, whisky and chocolate tart with ice cream....(bangers and mash the fare onboard tonight!).

Our next stop was Plockton by way of the Kyle of Lochalsh where the tide runs up to 8 knots through the narrows that are now spanned by a high-level bridge joining Skye to the Mainland. Plockton was once a vibrant fishing port but is now a favourite lunch-stop for tour busses doing day trips out of Glasgow. The bay is ringed by brightly painted row houses each with it's own garden running down to the water on the opposite side of the road. Gardening seemed to be something of a competitive sport and garden tours were popular.

Portree is the major town on Skye although the anchorage is a bit exposed and subject to strong southerly and westerly winds rushing down from the mountains. No such problem while we were there. After topping up supplies and water and doing a laundry at the Youth Hostel we moved 10 miles up the Sound of Rassay to Acairseid Mor reputed to be one of the most beautiful anchorages in Scotland. Completely landlocked and surrounded by mixed forests and low hills. We have been here three times on past trips and are looking forward to some hiking tomorrow.

Monday, 21 May 2012


Summer seems to have arrived in Scotland. Four consecutive days of light winds and warm days. Lovely. We left Oban on May 16 with a favourable tide up the Sound of Mull and an easy downwind 25 mile run to Tobermory. Just as touristy as ever, Tobermory is a must stop for any boats heading north a well sheltered bay with colourful houses along the shore. The next day we carried the tide around the much respected Ardnamurchan Point and then north west to Arisaig. Tradition has it that a yacht that has rounded Ardnamurchan should tie a bunch of heather on its pulpit to show it's good fortune or good luck in making a safe passage.

Arisaig is captivating, and we stayed three nights. Each day we went for a long ramble through the surrounding farm lands and forests. Yes, forests. Once, the non-rocky areas of Scotland were covered in trees, but the old forests are long gone. Around Arisaig there was much replanting over the past 100+ years and today there are stands of tall conifers, mostly spruce and pine, and many species of native deciduous trees. We spent one afternoon exploring an old garden that was established in the 1930's by a Glasgow businessman who subsequently went bust and sold his plants, but war broke out and nobody came to collect over the intervening years they have have those cuttings taken by visitors! Now, local horticulturists are having a wonderful time bringing it back to its former glory - rather like the Heligan Gardens in Cornwall. The rhodo's, now tall trees often in impenetrable jungles, were in full bloom.

Arisaig was closed off during WWII and became a centre for training of secret agents and saboteurs who were sent to France and other occupied countries to create havoc for the Germans. The little visitors centre, cum-museum, has an interesting photo record of the training and bio's of many of the agents. On the harbour front is a rather moving memorial to about 50 Czech's who were trained here who subsequently were captured and executed by the Germans.

Today we sailed (and motored) through the Small Isles, going south of Eigg, with it's striking volcanic plug on the southern side, then south of Rhum the largest of the Small Isles, about 8 miles by 7 miles. The whole Island is now a nature reserve and visitors are restricted to a small area at the head of a bay on it's eastern side. The rest of the mountainous island is given over to the preservation of the resident herd of Red Deer and Sea Eagles that were once common in the Western Isles but almost became extinct 20 years ago. The eagles on Rhum were imported from Norway.

A 985 Low is forecast to be off Ireland tomorrow so we can expect some strong NE winds and rain. No problem, the anchorage is well protected and there is good walking on shore with some old churches to visit. Right now, 18:30, we have just finished dinner in the cockpit looking east to the craggy mountains of Rhum bathed in the warm summer light with still two hours to go till sunset.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

May 11, Back in Oban and ready for sea

After the winter on the hard, Taonui was launched April 19 and I spent the next two weeks getting her ready to go cruising.  An unexpected major piece of work was repairing two holes in the stern of the fibreglass dinghy. Scotland had some bad storms last winter that caused considerable damage to yachts both on the hard and in the water. Taonui's dinghy was blown off the boat in December and landed stern first on the rocks.
Coryn arrived May 3 and several days later we took the bus to Edinburgh. After two days of sightseeing including an afternoon at the excellent National Museum, we rented a car and headed for the Borders. Rolling hills covered in newly sprouted wheat, barley and the distinctly yellow rape, make this one of the scenic must-see areas of Scotland.  The ruins of the  magnificent abbeys built in the area from 1200 to 1500 attracts thousands of tourists every year.  Historically, the Borders were in almost constant turmoil. The Romans had much grief in trying to tame the Scots and ended up retreating behind Hadrian's wall. By 1100 the Scottish kings controlled the area but were in constant battles with the English. To complicate matters, the locals, later known as the Border Reivers, were totally unmanageable by anyone and loved to steal from the Scottish establishment, the English and themselves.  They gave first meaning to the term "clan warfare". Later, religious strife and succession problems of both Scottish and English kings and queens (Mary Queen of Scots, various James and, of course, Bonnie Prince Charlie) made everyone's life miserable. And so it goes on.  A referendum is planned for 2014 for the Scots to vote on Becoming independent from the UK...if only they can agree on the wording of the question to be asked.
We got back to the boat this afternoon. Tomorrow's forecast is for lovely weather, but on Sunday a new low will slide south bringing SW Force 8, maybe 9. A good chance for needed food shopping and laundry. We'll start out early nextweek heading north into the Western Isles.