Neil and Clare arrived shortly after Crispin’s departure, and enjoyed a day in Belfast before we left the following morning. The Titanic Centre is excellent and gives a real picture of life in the docks in their heyday at the beginning of the 20th century.
Our first destination was Portpatrick, across on the Scottish side of the North Channel and on the exposed Mull of Galloway. Fortunately conditions were fair and we negotiated the tides to arrive in this charming harbour and tie up against the wall.
Portpatrick was remarkable for its neatness and sense of community spirit; the harbour is owned and run by the community itself, and staffed by volunteers. Good things abound – floral displays, information boards, helpful signage and facilities and so on. Also remarkable were the guillemots, which inhabit the holes in the harbour wall and feed off the little fish which seem to abound. Their acrobatics were a joy to watch and occasionally they would miss their nest and rebound of the wall, falling in the water or onto our deck.
We strolled above the town, visiting the ruins of Dunskey Castle, then settling down somewhat more prosaically to watch the football.
We then debated whether to head back to Northern Ireland, or go to the Isle of Man. We had filled in our proof of vaccination forms for the IoM, and the very efficient system gave us permission to enter, but on investigation learned that we must first land in Douglas, rather than Peel, which would have made for a longer journey. The winds were fairer for a re-crossing of the North Channel though, so we aimed for Strangford Lough and had an excellent cruising chute run most of the way there.
I had visited the Lough before by land, but coming in by sea is quite spectacular. The tides race through the Narrows between Portaferry and Strangford and timing is all. We registered some quite impressive speeds as we slid through and headed north up the Lough.
We aimed for a little inlet where Down Cruising Club have their pontoon and clubhouse, which is an old light ship. Unable to land on their pontoon owing to Covid restrictions, a friendly member lent us their buoy for a couple of nights and we enjoyed pausing in a very tranquil and beautiful environment, walking and kayaking and chatting to the locals. We were also joined by Charlie, an old friend and work colleague.
We headed out and picked up a buoy (kindly lent to us by another Down Cruising Club member Ivan) nearer the Narrows, in Ballyhenry Bay, where we had a BBQ and a quiet night, before heading out in the dinghy to explore Portaferry and Strangford itself. The latter was more picturesque, and we enjoyed a good lunch at the Artisan cafe.
That afternoon, to get out and make the most of the north going tide, we stemmed the last of the flood and punched out, riding the northerly set as far as Glenarm, a charming little town set at the foot of one of Antrim’s nine glens, arriving at dusk in the little marina.
The next day saw us stroll around the town, visit the lovely castle gardens and walk up the glen.
The final voyage of the week took us back to Scotland, to Lamlash in Arran. We had another good sail in fine weather, picking up a buoy as the light faded, and waking up to the fine view of Holy Isle, and the sail training ship Tenacious which occupied a central part of the anchorage. We strolled around Lamlash then motored over to Holy Isle, anchoring off and walking around the edge of it.
After lunch we headed up the Clyde to Ardrossan, where I will be leaving Spellbinder for a while, during which time she is due to have a bit of an electronic refit, with new wind instruments, autopilot and VHF to be installed. The originals date from 2006 and are coming to the end of their lives.
Thank you Neil and Clare for your company in what was an excellent week, in lovely weather.