Slowing Down

On previous visits to the Scottish west coast we have used the Small Isles as a jumping off point for the Outer Hebrides , or at least stopped there on the way back. Muck and Eigg are the closest to the mainland , and like Canna to the west they look inviting , all having at least some areas of low fertile land. Between them sit , or perhaps should I say brood , the high menacing peaks of Rum, usually covered in cloud , and altogether less “comfortable”, which is perhaps why we had never visited. There is a deep indent on the NE side , Loch Scresort and this year we decided to finally go there, beating out on the last of our Tobermory blow.

From Scotland

At the head of this loch lies Kinloch castle , an extraordinary Edwardian folly ,and several fine white houses , but despite these the whole place had a somewhat sombre feel. Until the 1950’s all these buildings , indeed the whole island ,served the family whose extravagant plaything it was , but latterly in an attempt to attract new blood a new croft has been established . Unfortunately, although I am far from expert in these things, it seemed to me that the land chosen for this croft was so exposed and poor that it will be very difficult for the tenants to succeed. In the island shop , the lady who served us was monosyllabic and avoided eye contact , and I got the distinct impression she had been crying. The resident Ranger was more friendly, and very enthusiastic about the ecology of the place, but even she bewailed the fact that it was difficult to attract people to the Island. Perhaps it is ridiculous to come to any conclusion after so short a stay , but it didn’t feel a very happy place.

At the back of my mind there was the possibility of a settled spell of weather allowing us a crack at St Kilda, so after only half a day exploring Rum we set out for the Western Isles. They were of course dead to windward , but depending on whether the wind backed or veered , I hoped that we should be able to make Barra in the South , or Loch Maddy in the middle of the chain before dusk. To our delight the wind backed and we were able to ease sheets for Loch Maddy , but after a few hours it died and then veered such that we were dead downwind of both. Canna was an hour to leeward and a distinctly more pleasant option than beating into the night. Besides which, the forecast for the next day was for a fresh SW wind which would take us to Loch Maddy with no effort at all. So , up went the kite and we moored in Canna’s glorious bay feeling somewhat foolish at having sailed for 6 hours , when the direct passage to Canna from Rum would have taken us 2!

It was a good lesson and we have taken it to heart. Since arriving at Loch Maddy after a fast comfortable reach , we have scarcely covered 10 miles a day, revisiting our favourite anchorage in the wild E coast of South Uist , the extraordinary landlocked Bagh a Bhioran , and spending the last 3 days moored off the island of Berneray .

From Bernaray and anchorages near Sound of Harris

This jewel of a place sits midway between the hills of Uist to the South and Harris to the North. Its west side is machair , low fertile sandy soil that this time of year is ablaze with myriad wildflowers and nesting birds, and the adjacent Atlantic coast is the longest whitest , wildest beach you can imagine . Surround this with turquoise shallows and aquamarine deeps beyond , add a background of purple and violet hills , fleck the sea with white horses and diving gannets and you have a scene that can hold its own with anywhere we have ever been.

From Bernaray and anchorages near Sound of Harris

It is still cold and windy, but the last two days have seen glorious sunshine such that flowers in the machair , unusually late this year , have been unfolding in front of our eyes. It is a magical place, but the wind is due to come in from the SE making the bay untenable, so we will move off in the morning, all of 4 miles to our next anchorage!

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