It might seem a little nuts to drive from Cornwall to Oban, especially as the entire trip would equate to 1200 miles of driving. There are no regrets though as once past Glasgow, the scenery began to dramatically change and I was soon in awe of the snow topped peaks standing tall beside the mirror flat Lochs.
The winding turns and dramatic landscape forced me to stop and absorb the wonderful sights on more than once occasion. City life felt a million miles away and difficult to believe only an hours drive. Although I drove, flights to Glasgow and trains to Oban are frequent and the train journey beautiful!
My Scottish adventure sailing around the Hebrides, in the middle of May aboard an historic Brixham Trawler was due to begin in Oban. As I reached the brow of the hill, Oban lay in a horseshoe nestled in the bay. The surrounding hills protect this beautiful spot which is of such importance for travel to the western isles, with regular ferries and fishing boats and multiple ways to connect with the sea.
The Oban Distillery is unusually located in the heart of the busy town with the chimney standing proud since 1794 just below McCaig’s tower, which is the Colosseum lookalike that stands above the town.
Once parked in the free long stay car park by the Leisure Centre I strolled down to the boat, Leader was to be my home for the week, built in 1892 and one of the largest Brixham fishing trawlers known at 105 feet overall including bowsprit.
The weight of her is noticeable when sailing and manoeuvring as she ploughs through the water pushing everything aside and boasting power. She is rigged just how she was over 100 years ago with a Gaff Ketch and the ability to fly up to eight sails! One powerful rig and a sleek underwater line is what set Leader up to be a successful trawler in the late 18th Century.
It was onwards to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull to begin with, past dolphins and islands all with their unique landscape shaped by natural forces. Volcanoes and glaciers, sandy beaches and craggy hills sailed past us as we made our way under song to the Balamory theme tune.
Tobermory is home for roughly 700 people and is derived from the Gaelic Tober Mhoire, meaning “Mary’s Well”. An elusive tale tells of a sunken Spanish galleon which lies sunken in the Tobermory silt, although the identity of the ship is still in dispute and it has never been found, tempting artefacts reward keen divers and treasure hunters. However, these waters have remained reluctant to fully surrender the full secret of the missing ship.
Tobermory is wonderfully idyllic, the brightly painted houses, popular pubs and whisky distillery provide all that you need to enjoy a short holiday. The Island of Mull offers a variety of interesting spectacles each with their own attached history and folklore. From ancient “haunted” Lochbuie stone circles, an ogre fight in Mackinnon’s Cave and life-giving waters in Loch Ba, the history and tales boost the character of this charming island and lure you in to experience the delights, not to mention the whisky!
It was in Tobermory that when standing outside the dangerously friendly Mishnish Pub that Toni (Skipper) and I noticed a ripple moving through the water. Beyond where we stood lay the edge of the water with tenders and dinghies tied to outhaul lines all floating quietly in the bay. Without warning, a rounded glistening back of velvet fur rolled into the first dinghy, paused, sniffed the air and continued to scramble around the boat in search of scraps.
With cunning and intent, our otter proceeded to slip elegantly back over the transom, into the water and glided silently towards the next boat. Like a fox of the sea, our friend continued to explore, tucking into any scraps left behind by the fishermen before leaping overboard and disappearing into the night.
Afraid that too much Tobermory ale had been consumed and our eyes were deceiving us, we confirmed our sighting with each other and attempted to relive the moment over and over again, much to the envy of the rest of the crew.
Toni kindly provided a wonderful drawing of the sighting and that moment will forever be remembered. It wasn’t long after this sighting that I came across this beautiful poem by Kenneth Steven in a local shop, he captures the spirit of the Hebrides perfectly and the magic of spotting an otter.
Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave
From Tobermory we sailed south and past Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave, a truly majestic sight to see and explore. The sea cave is known for its natural acoustics and is formed from hexagonally jointed basalt columns created by lava flow. In Gaelic the cave’s name means “The Melodious Cave” and the naturally arched roof gives an atmosphere similar to that of a Cathedral.
It is such an impressive place, although I felt filled with a haunting sense of mercy at the weight and height of this natural wonder.
Climbing up to the top of Staffa really gave us all a unique vantage point from which to take in our surroundings, beautiful flowers, blue waters and glistening sun all set the scene for Leader to anchor and await our return.
Geology in it’s Element
Sailing around the Inner Hebrides is by far the best way to explore this beautiful place, the geographical landscape is of such interest particularly when sailing between islands that are so close to each other, yet each own completely different and complex landscapes.
The changes can be tracked through time from the Ice Age to the Jurassic era, proved by the discovery of dinosaur remains on the Isle of Skye and depositions of sands and limy muds 540 million years ago, now only seen to the north of Mull.Periods of time can also be traced by the rocks on Mull and Iona to the Age of the Earth.
There is a fascinating publication written by David Stephenson titled “Mull and Iona: A Landscape Fashioned by Geology” which is well worth a read and can seriously spark your interest in the ways in which the Hebrides have come to be. You can find it here.
Isle of Coll and of Eigg
From the flat lands on the Isle of Coll with its eerie absence of trees, to the distinct rocky peak on the Isle of Eigg and its pioneering community who are powering the island by wind, water and solar power alone, each small island emits a sense of escape and paradoxically, a sense of unity with each of the other islands who are only separated by small expanses of waters, the dolphins and whales.
Wildlife flourishes in this area of the world, both on land, in the water and the the skies. Puffins, Otters, Minke Whales, Dolphins, Eagles, to name just a few, not forgetting to mention the hundreds of bird species; A ornithologist’s dream! An Sgurr is the highest hill on the the island of Eigg and it’s distinctive shape is the result of a volcano eruption, made of pitchstone, it is possible to climb to the summit and is a fairly easy scramble due to the natural paths and crevices.
It’s wonderful to explore small communities and famous islands, but what can make sailing these waters much more special are the remote anchorages and secluded bays that are only visited by smaller sailing vessels.
Due to a minor anchor chain issue, we only managed to anchor overnight on one occasion. It was a very special evening, to be in an area not visited often by tourists and to gaze at the seals basking on the land created an atmospheric scene for us all to relax well enough into, we also met up with Eda Frandsen on this occasion which only added to the setting.
Another Brilliant Adventure
Every Classic Sailing voyage I have had the pleasure of sailing on has never failed to deliver a mix of fascinating characters, varied sailing and wonderful food. By the end of the week, like any other trip we were all equally as sad to leave and feeling entirely despondent with the whole concept, if not a little jealous of the working crew and skipper who have a whole summer of sailing to look forward to!
Evenings spent sat at the large table eating dinner and chatting will be remembered fondly. Leader cared for us well and together we all had a wonderful week, she is a beautiful boat and her layout encourages social activities. Whether it be learning about and getting to know a whole new set of people or maturely playing air hockey with table mats, she will leave you dreaming of Scotland after each days adventure.