Mulling It Over

Having had a successful trip north, thanks to the sterling efforts of Alan & Alan, I was joined by Sue and Jonty in Whitehaven for a couple of days of family visits and reprovisioning. Jonty stayed with me for the next three days as we made our way up past the Mulls of Galloway and Kintyre to Oban.

Spellbinder leaving Whitehaven – very calm conditions. Photo taken by Sue from the lighthouse.

We had a calm motor over to East Tarbert Bay, a little cove just in the hook of the Mull of Galloway. The passage north is all about getting the tides right, as they run quite ferociously through the North Channel. This meant taking the passage north in 6 hours blocks, which turned out to be 0600-1200 and 1800-midnight. Luckily at this time of year it is very light, and we made the most of it.

Approaching East Tarbert Bay as the sun was setting

We had a very quiet, albeit rather short night and were up at 4am to the dawn, rounding the first mull and heading to our interim destination, Sanda Island, which served as a passage and lunchtime anchorage as we awaited the next fair tide.

Rounding the Mull of Galloway at dawn

Sanda was breezy, with a significant tide race to its south west, even in quite calm conditions. You can see why many people opt for the Crinan Canal rather than head up the Mull of Kintyre. Conditions were settled though, and we caught the first of the fair back eddy which took us close into the peninsula, and kept us heading north at a brisk pace.

Anchorage at Sanda Island, awaiting a fair tide around the Mull of Kintyre
Following the Mull of Kintyre close-to, with the first of the northerly tide

By this time the autopilot, which has had a mind of its own so far this season, was starting the play the game, much to our relief. We carried the tide up past Islay to Jura, where our destination for another short night was Craighouse, which nestles under the Paps of Jura, pimple-like mountains which dominate the small harbour.

Approaching Craighouse, with the Paps clearly visible

The usual mooring buoys had yet to be laid in the harbour, and despite its reputation for being a rather kelp-ridden anchorage we set first time and well, enabling us to blow up the dinghy and head to the Jura Inn for last orders, as well as to buy a bottle of Jura Single Malt. For me it is not quite as peaty as the Islay ones (although certainly of that ilk) and is slightly sweeter.

Another early start beckoned and we were greeted to a magnificent dawn as the sun rose behind the Paps.

0430 in Western Scotland in early June – the light certainly extends the cruising day…

Heading up the Sounds of Jura and Luing, we made fast progress in quite flat waters past the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan to port and Fladda lighthouse.

Racing past Fladda lighthouse – the fair tide is evident from the lobster pot in the foreground

As we approached Kerrera and Oban, Jonty cooked an immaculate scrambled egg breakfast and all was well with the world. We found a berth in the new Oban transit marina, which is much more conveniently located right in the centre of town. It was here that Sue was to arrive by train later.

Top breakfast Jonty – thank you
Spellbinder in Oban marina

The next day we sailed up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, which brought back memories of the BBC children’s TV series ‘Balamory’. It’s a beautiful little town, with its signature pastel-coloured houses on the seafront. We enjoyed touring it and had a couple of enjoyable walks to the north and south of the harbour.

Spellbinder in Tobermory ‘dressed overall’ for the anniversary of HM’s Coronation
An imaginative collection box for the lighthouse path – but who carries cash these days?
Rubha nan Gall lighthouse just north of Tobermory
The view over Tobermory, looking south

The next day saw us head to Loch Aline, a beautiful short loch which is enclosed by mainland Scotland. We anchored near the head of the loch, which is overlooked by Ardtornish castle and its 35,000 acre estate, into which Sue and I wandered in the afternoon, undertaking an 8-mile circuit which took us up into some remote Highland territory.

Ardtornish – a typical baronial-looking Scottish castle in my book
View from a mountain bothy
We found deer hooves on the beach of this loch
The electric outboard back in use

Fossils found by Sue

After a night on Aline, we headed back down the Sound of Mull to the north coast of Kerrera, where we sailed past an island full of seals and anchored in a quiet bay to get a walk of the island in. It was lovely – although just a stone’s throw for what counts as urban sprawl in the Western Isles, it seemed delightfully remote.

Highland cow in Kerrera – I have never worked out how they see where they are going…
Spellbinder at anchor in Oitir Mhor Bay. We climbed a local hill to get the view north up the Firth of Lorn
Better days have been seen…
Local enterprise
Wild, what we would call English bluebells everywhere, amongst this year’s emerging bracken
Monument at the NE end of Kerrera island
Young Canada geese. Spellbinder in the background.

Somewhat tired after our walk, we repaired back to Oban, and went out to dinner in a rather good seafood restaurant adjacent to the marina. Sue departed by train this morning, and a new crew member, Caspar arrives this afternoon. We then head to the Small Isles and Skye…and the weather forecast is benign.

Oh – the joys of eating out once more!

2 thoughts on “Mulling It Over

  1. Éric Lajouanie

    Nick, superb pictures and description of your trip!
    Brings me back in August 1981 or 1982 when I stayed 3 weeks camping with my boys scouts on a hill just over Tobermory! Local fishermen provided us with fresh fishes that we cooked on the fire. And it rained 20 days out of 21 …


  2. Mary Nottingham

    Dear Nick – Enjoyed your latest blog- AND phone call. Fear you are going to have a dose of Scottish weather this week….Break in the heat was welcome here AND the rain but I think it’s going to get hot again this week –Not my favourite weather ..M xx


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