The Small Isles

Back in 1982 when the Falkland Islands were invaded we all reached for our atlases – for there were no Google Maps back then. Most assumed the islands were somewhere north of Scotland, and wondered why the Argentinians were interested. The same geographical ignorance was evident when it was suggested that I should visit the Scottish Small Isles (consisting mainly of Muck, Rum, Eigg and Canna). I had heard of them individually but couldn’t place them. On looking at the map it was clear that they would be an ideal first venture out with my new crew Caspar, and son Jonty.

On leaving Oban we needed somewhere to stay for the first night, and we headed back up the Sound of Mull, largely motoring in calm conditions and a bit of drizzle. Past Tobermory and to the right is the lovely Loch Na Droma Buidhe (more and more Gaelic versions of names appear to be used in the charts) where, coming around a corner, we were met with several other yachts sharing the tranquility.

Entering the murky narrows of Loch Na Droma Buidhe, on a driech June evening
Preparing to go after a quiet first night; seals snorting and cuckoos calling

To get up to the Small Isles necessitates heading up and past Ardnamurchan Point, a slightly totemic landmark for the cruising yachtsman as past it you are in the high north west of Scotland. When passing it on the way back tradition dictates that you append a sprig of heather to your pulpit, to signify your safe return.

Sailing past Ardnamurchan Point and its lighthouse; a slightly notorious landmark that demarcates inshore waters forecasts and pilot books…
Caspar at the helm

Once past this slightly notorious point, and having tried to fish to no avail, we headed to the first of four islands, Muck, for a brief visit. We anchored in the small harbour, had lunch and strolled around corner of the island, flushing out grouse, pheasant, snipe and curlew as we did so.

Muck harbour (above and below). I have avoided puns in this blog.

It was a pleasant stroll, and the island is quiet, with few inhabitants. The next stop was Canna; the entrance into this island is quite spectacular, and after we had picked up a buoy we sat and drank in the view.

Entering Canna Harbour

It was a beautiful evening, and we went ashore by dinghy to explore the foreshore, some of the buildings and the grand house and gardens.

Canna house and gardens
Canna Harbour, looking south
A window on the Atlantic

A wonderful backdrop to wake up to

We had a great walk and drink at the community-run bar, and settled into a calm night surrounded by hills and beauty on all sides. Canna certainly leaves an impression on you, and I will be back.

The next morning we sailed round to Rum, into Loch Scresort and its spectacular surrounds. Like Canna, Rum’s history is interesting: various owners / lairds, some benevolent, some not, and fortunes rising and falling over the decades. These islands seem to be thriving at present, on a very small scale; tourism and fish farming seem to be the main industries and there is very much a sense that investment in the form of Ro-Ro ferry terminals have bought in some prosperity (although the Scottish Government is keen to attribute this to EU funding). There is also a strong sense of community ownership, decision making and cooperative organisation.

Rum is dominated by mountains and has interesting deer and other wildlife bought in by previous generations. You could happily spend a week walking its hills.

Arriving in Loch Scresort, Rum
Looking out at the mooring (above and below)
At last! A viable use for an old phone booth
Coffee at the Rum community shop
A former laird’s baronial castle, now sadly in need of much repair

The final island to visit was Eigg. Dominated by a very distinctive cliff bluff, it was a pleasure to sail down. We entered its small harbour for a quick look around.

The southern shore of Eigg
Spellbinder at anchor in Eigg Harbour

And so ended a brief tour of the Small Isles. They were lovely and next time I will dedicate more time to each, as the walking (weather permitting) is spectacular on each, for different reasons.

Spellbinder headed to Mallaig and to pick up one more crew, and to send Jonty up the mast to try and fix the wind indicator. We have now gone around the east coast of Skye, and plan to head north towards the Outer Hebrides in the coming days.

Sending one’s son up the mast. The process is much easier now I can use a cordless drill with an appropriate bit to do the lifting.

5 thoughts on “The Small Isles

  1. Mary Nottingham

    Nick-Great to get another blog –I fear your weather has deteriorated a bit – Have some of ours- It’s too hot for me. Certainly made us reach for our maps ! Intrigued to know who your new crew member is – and how did he get to Mallaig ?- Perhaps he’s a native .. or flew ?- M xx


  2. Neil Wilson

    Looks gorgeous. Where next, what are the future plans?

    I am going to take St Barbara around the northern coast and into Ullapool later in the month.

    Did you see the crowds at Edgebaston yesterday? More entertaining than the cricket!


    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Nottingham

    Hello Spellbinder-No blog this weekend – How are you doing? Afraid not much sun – hopefully not TOO much rain. Our weather breaking up later in the week – Thank goodness. – M xx


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