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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.