Oban to Belfast via Iona, Staffa, Treshnish, Tiree and Islay

This last week has been full of adventure and new places. I was joined by Crispin in Southampton airport and we took a flight to Glasgow and onward taxi back to Linnhe Marine, where Spellbinder awaited us, having enjoyed rather better weather than we had had in the South. Linnhe marine were excellent – thank you to Nick and his father for running such an excellent service. It’s a great place to leave a yacht.

Linnhe Marine

Having checked all was well on board, we motored in very humid weather down to Oban, where we had a first meal out in the same restaurant I had enjoyed with Sue and Jonty a couple of weeks back.

EE-Usk: a great restaurant by Oban Harbour

The mussels were superb, but not as good as some we had the next day, as we were to find out. It was a driech start, and having done some shopping, we headed out into the drizzle to Loch Spelve for lunch.

A reminder that sailing in Scotland is often damp…
Driech, temperamental conditions

Loch Spelve has a slightly tricky entrance, but having negotiated it we anchored off a mussel farm, and bought a 2kg bag for later consumption.

Mussels for sale
A bargain, as we were to find out later

There then followed quite a lengthy motor down the south side of the Ross of Mull in improving weather, as we headed for one of the most iconic anchorages in the Western Isles, Tinker’s Hole. It is really just a cut in the rocks and a pool behind, but the setting is stunning.

A view of the entrance to Tinker’s Hole, as seen from the drone. Iona is behind and to the left.
At anchor in Tinker’s Hole

There was just about enough room to anchor, and after eating our Loch Spelve mussels (deliciously sweet) we enjoyed an excellent evening with the crews of Ptarmigan and Seanachaidh, whom we joined the next day. Thank you for your hospitality and some memorable entertaining, most notably some fine singing from the young girls in Gallic!

Loch Spelve mussels, cooked to perfection by Crispin
Thank you to the crews of Seanachaidh and Ptarmigan for your hospitality!
A great place to fly the drone
One of the finest anchorages I have taken a yacht
Another drone view, looking the other way

After a stroll around the hills above Tinker’s Hole, we threaded our way out of the anchorage through some narrow, rock-strewn anchorages towards Iona, where we anchored to explore the ancient abbey and its surrounds.

Iona abbey
The grounds of the old nunnery on Iona

Iona was delightful, and the weather superb. It is somewhat touristy though, and we were unable to tour the abbey for want of guided tour slots. We enjoyed our time there though, and enjoyed a good lunch in the St Columba Hotel.

An hour or so north of Iona is the wonderful island of Staffa, full of columnar basalt, tame puffins and Fingal’s Cave, a spectacular sea cave named after the eponymous hero of an epic poem by the Scottish poet James Macpherson. It also inspired Mendelssohn’s concert overture The Hebrides. Anchoring off the island, we dinghied ashore and explored all of this, enjoying the spectacular rock formations.

Fingal’s Cave, a short stroll around the cliff from the landing place
Tame puffins, with Spellbinder at anchor in the background

After a couple of hours on Staffa, we sailed over to the Treshnish Isles, spectacularly remote and with some more stunning bird life. Anchoring just east of Lunga, Crispin went for a run and we joined our new Scottish friends for another evening of general merriment.

The anchorage at Lunga, Treshnish
Sunset at Treshnish – photo taken not long before midnight

After a calm night we headed over to Tiree, picking up a buoy in Gott Bay, and strolling around the local area. I’m not a great football fan, but felt that it was worth tapping into the zeitgeist and we found ourselves that evening in the newly refurbished Scarinish Hotel, clinging onto some slightly unreliable WiFi and watching the Euro semi final on my phone, with some somewhat ambivalent locals!

Watching England beat Denmark

The next day we undertook the first of two quite lengthy passages. Up early, we motored out and headed down towards the south coast of Islay, some 60 miles distant. The aim was to visit a couple of the distillery bays. First was Laphroig, where the holding wasn’t that good, but we flew the drone and savoured the atmosphere, smelling the distilling process in the air.

Laphroig Bay. I love peaty whisky, and sometimes prefer Laphroig to Lagavulin, which is amongst the peatiest. It’s a question of mood…

Around the corner was Lagavulin, where we had about 30cm below the keel at low water, but given the calm conditions it was a perfect place to stop for the night.

Views of Lagavulin Bay, on a serene evening

We had a great little stroll around the Bay, although we had arrived too late to visit the distillery itself. We had a calm night though, before getting up at 5am and heading out towards the Northern Irish coast, aiming for Belfast, which we reached 12 hours later, heading up the Loch, reporting in to Belfast Harbour Radio, and into the channel right into the heart of the City, in the Titanic quarter, which has been recently developed to great effect.

Passing the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, heading into Belfast City Harbour and the Abercorn Basin
Spellbinder moored in front of the Titanic museum. It is great to be in Belfast in happier times

Crispin and I had a final night in the company of Tony and Penny, old friends of mine, with whom we dined in the Titanic Hotel. It was great to catch up.

Spellbinder has another week with new crew Neil and Clare before I leave her in the Clyde and head back south. The weather looks set reasonably fair so hopefully we’ll have some more adventures in new places. This last week has been fabulous though, and everything I anticipated cruising the Western Isles would be. Thank you Crispin for being great crew again!

3 thoughts on “Oban to Belfast via Iona, Staffa, Treshnish, Tiree and Islay

  1. Julian Hickman

    Gosh, what amazing pictures, showing the Western Isles in their very best light! How can any yachtsman not aspire to sail these waters at least once in their life…? It’s certainly on our to-do list when we have a boat again. Thank you for the inspiration, just stunning….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Crispin

    Thanks for a brilliant week Nick – perfectly captured our pictures and your prose.
    Belfast the perfect spot for a crew change with airport and mariner rubbing shoulders! Good to be there in happier times.
    Hope subsequent weeks of your trip are as memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Caroline

    SO much vicarious pleasure via one email. Quite amazing. Thank you so much Nick.

    Is it as difficult to name a boat as it is a horse – or a human come to that? You would think not as ‘Spellbinder’ could hardly be more perfect. Long may she sail our territorial waters and the high seas. Warmest regards, Caroline

    Liked by 1 person

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