Highlands Ahoy

We have had a bit of a zig zag route north… to say the least

I last wrote from Cushendale, Northern Ireland. We had a nice afternoon there. We met Paul, a member of the committee of the Cushendale Sailing Club, who saw us rowing ashore in the dingy. He met us at the pier to welcome us; see where we had come from and offer us a lift to the sailing club for showers. Very nice! After a walk ( and very good bramble picking, they have been great this year) we set off for the island of Gigha. We slalomed through the flashing buoys in the channel and arrived at midnight, anchored on the north east and had a restful night till early am when we set off again on the north going tide.
On a gentle flat sea we motored through milky calmness up the sound of Jura to Loch Cragnish, to anchor in the pool south of Ardfern. The low islands gradated back in misty blue to the hills of the mainland, to starboard and Jura to port. The horizon line merged, white with the sky and seemed to leave the velvet lands hanging. We arrived at lunchtime and anchored in the placid lagoon. That afternoon we had a cycle up a wide Argyle glen, Barbreck. The trees were starting to turn: horse chestnuts and oaks singed with the first draft of autumn, then a pint in the Galley of Lorne.

With Hestur snug at anchor in the loch, we packed our rucksacks and booked bus tickets for a sojourn south! The next day we bussed up to Oban then across to Edinburgh where we joined Dans brother Nick and his girlfriend Maddy, we hopped in the car with them and headed down to the Lake District for Nicks 30th Birthday weekend. It was a glorious weekend. Friends came up from the south and we met here, half way from the north. We were camping in luxury, in a beautiful cosy and comfortable yurt in Langdale.
On Saturday we walked up Bowfell in perfect sunshine and along the rocky ridge of Crinkle Crags. Lovely to be back on the hills. That same weekend, coincidently good friends of ours from the mountaineering club college days were in the Lakes too, so Dan had a day climbing with them that day. We all ate together that evening in the Yurt. Curries had been cooked and then congregated at the camp stoves. They bubbled and steamed on the various flames fuelled by; paraffin, petrol and gas. We had a feast. It was a bright moon and cloudless sky that night. The crags and hills encircling the campsite glowed brightly with a magical light, we were cosy and merry under canvas and ash.
Sunday was as still and sunny as is possible. Not a cloud in the sky. We drove over little steep twisting passes to Eskdale and walked up the Esk to a superb deep turquoise fresh pool. We swam. The boys jumped in from the overhanging trees above the deep water ( reminded me of the monkeys in Gambia) . The water was so clear and sparkling. We warmed up with camp stove tea and birthday cake on the rock afterwards. It was as perfect as a Birthday weekend could wish to be, so lovely for us to see everyone again after so long away.

Setting the compass north again, we unwound our way from the Lake District; by car and then bus back to Ardfern, breaking the journey a night with Nick and Maddy in their beautiful flat in Portobello outside Edinburgh. They had done lots of work on the flat since we were last there so great to see it again. Also we coincided with there flatmate, Peter – the most handsome black and white cat!
From Ardfern we set forth once again. We bobbed and sluiced though the tidal races of the Sound of Luing, always a fascinating stretch of water. The surface boils and breaks, small whirl pools emerge as you watch, an ever changing surface- and depth. We got to Tobermory on the north western end of the Sound of Mull that evening. The anchorage is very deep there. It was high tide and we tucked in to the edge. The steep black and white lichened rocks disappear into the green water. Trees over hang the rocks.

Ashore in the morning I went to to An Tobar the contemporary art gallery on Mull where there was an artists film showing: The Weepers by Rachel Maclean (on till Sat 27th Sept). Involving, detailed and comic, the film was a captivating reworking of a Scottish folk tale, with intense characters, situation and sound score.
” Maclean’s intelligent, satirical and colour- saturated, exaggerated style is at home here as she presents back to us funny, twisted visions of heritage and stereotype that are at times uneasy, if not chilling” text from Comar Autumn publication.

The sun was sparkling on the sea, there was a blue sky and hazy hills. The weather at the moment is very settled, sunny and beautiful, but with no wind. There is a warmth like a rubbed hand when the sun comes out, but a chill just behind it too, with a draft like someone left the door open, when a cloud intervenes.
The tide was in our favour again by the afternoon and we slipped off at 12 midday to head round the next marker point on our way home: Ardnamurachan – the most westerly point on the British mainland. Sailing up or down the west coast of Scotland, there are such clear points between zones : Islands, Headlands and Sounds like chapter headings – or conclusions. The feel of the southern areas I know, but I am not as familiar with them as I am with the northern chapters. Here though I could sense our progress in way other than just miles on the chart. Ardnamurachan point was a scene of tranquility as we passed it, no hint of the turbulence and ferocity in the water which gives it its reputation: boats who make it north of here earn the right to ware a sprig of heather on their bows (Aye, very good). Past this point we could now see across to the distinctive shape of the Small Isles, Eigg, Muck, Rhum and beyond to Skye. The Sound of Sleat lay before us with Mallaig and then Knoydart of to Starboard and Skye to Port. We motored – still no wind- up the sound and anchored in twilight at the Sandaig islands just south of the narrows of Kyle Rhea. A big moon shone.

On the tail end of this mornings’ tide, we slipped on through those narrows, passed the little cottages in the pink early morning light on the shore and the black headed seals fishing and playing in the rapids, to Kyle of Lochalsh where we tied up and waited for the tide to turn again and take us under the Skye bridge and up the coast. We shopped in the Co-op. I bought Gin for the sloes we had piked from a gnarled age-ed tree in the Lake District on our way home that sunny afternoon. We cycled over the Skye bridge to Kyleakin on the other side of the sound. We peered down from the bridge on the lighthouse, bright white in the fresh sunshine and the cool blue water with luminous barnacled boulders just below the surface. We spoke to a cyclist and people who had come up on the tide behind us from Kyle Rhea in a lovely little wooden motor boat to visit the dentist in Kyle.
Then at 1 pm we slipped our lines and took off under the next sea-mark on our journey home: The Skye Bridge. “The Gateway to the North” as Dan enthused , before us is familiar ground indeed…


2 thoughts on “Highlands Ahoy

  1. Oh and there will only be one more, I’m thinking, before the story of this journey is over, but there are very many people, like me, who will hope for a continuing Starboard Locker. It has been a wonderful story and we have read it, first and foremost for its news of you both, when you have been so very far away from us, but we have also read it for the sheer enjoyment of the writing. The photographs too of course were great to see, but your descriptions of little fields ‘stitched together’ and the leaning trees on the hillside, gave me the strongest images which have stayed in my mind. Great travel writing Charlotte. We want more. And I forgot to mention the paintings; monkeys in trees are my favourite.
    See you before the day is out DV.
    Love to you both, Mum/Barbara xx

  2. And I forgot to say, Rachel Maclean as an invited artist, is showing a film now at An Talla Solais, the visual arts centre , here in Ullapool. Good stuff!
    BP xx

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