If April and May were hard work (and they were at times), then all that effort has certainly been rewarded this week. With the arrival of Sarah, Jane and James, also came a week of absolutely fabulous weather. To have had this in the Scottish Western Isles, which are lovely in any weather, has been a real blessing. Admittedly, the downside of all this sun is a distinct lack of wind but at least the engine has managed to get us round the place with ease.
We started the week with a longish run up from Troon to the mouth of the Crinan Canal. This canal is the first of my shortcuts round Scotland and is taken partly to save distance, and partly because I didn’t really fancy doing the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland! It’s hard work with big tides and rough seas!
This was about a 40 mile trip and with a fairly late start, we were stil plugging away late into the evening. Wildlife had started to become fairly abundant and with a plethora of gulls, harbour porpoises and even seals to entertain us, along with Sarah’s ballon sword, the miles were soon covered.
Eventually we did get up to Ardrishaig Sea Lock which gives entrance to the Crinan Canal and moored up on their pontoon to await the first lock of the following day. After a well earned meal and a quick look round a fantastic old steam powered boat on the other side of the lock, it was heads down for a day of swinging locks the following day.
The day dawned but in thick fog, you could have been forgiven for missing it. I was glad to not have to navigate at sea in it! At least the canal has limited opportunities to get lost! After a quick lesson in working the lock mechanisms we were on our own and into the canal itself. The weather quickly lifted and bright sunshine took over.
Being gallant and not at all chauvinistic, James and I kindly allowed the girls to do the heavy work of opening and closing the lock gates whilst we did the far more strenuous tasks of steering the boat through them. With the locks being close together, the girls stayed off the boat and walked or jogged between them. After successfully completing the first four, it was indicated that a role change may be appropriate. I wasn’t sure this was a great idea – they had already earned a sympathy ginger cake from a local passerby. I didn’t want to jeopardise further bakery-based rewards but equally, Jane and Sarah can be quite persuasive when they put their minds to it!
In the end, roles were swapped several times throughout the rest of the day, and in truth, the lock staff who were at many of them also did more than their fair share.
By mid afternoon, we were through the last of them and decided to spend the night just inside the exit sea lock in Crinan itself. This was a stunning setting where we had a pontoon all to ourselves. A few celebratory drinks, BBQ, general entertainment from mooring shenanigans of other boats and a breathtaking sunset, and the day was over.
The next day saw us heading south down the Sound of Jura to Craighouse. The winds were very light but none of us were in a hurry and with the fabulous weather it seemed a shame to use the engine. Boat speed dropped throughout the morning though, and when it reached less than 1kn and our ETA started being measured in days rather than hours, we decided it was probably time to start making some more meaningful progress.
Craighouse is the home of the Jura distillery and the community have laid on a number of very useful mooring buoys which we took full advantage of. A very pleasant evening was spent watching the world go by. We even spotted a sea otter swimming across the bay!
The following day, we popped across to the shore for a quick explore of the Jura distillery and to stock up on some essentials from the store before heading off for the short hop up the Sound of Islay to the distillery at Port Askaig. This distillery being one of the highlights of the trip as it produces the whiskey which the boat is named after, Caol Ila.
The trip was only a few hours and in the brilliant sunshine, we motor-sailed round the south end of Jura and up between Islay and Jura through the Sound of Islay. Outside the distillery itself were some conveniently placed mooring buoys which we happily attached ourselves to! Out with the dinghy and a quick zip across the bay got us to Caol Ila itself.
After booking ourselves on a tour and buying pretty much everything with a Caol Ila name on it in the shop, we talked the staff into letting us have one of their Caol Ila flags so that we could fly it from the rigging of the boat. After some persuasion they relented!
Jane and I headed back to the boat and promptly raised the flag whilst Sarah and James found the owner and showed him!
Once we had finished the tour, we decided to pop round the corner to Port Askaig for a drink in the pub. Although the guide book claimed it was only half a mile, this was ‘as the crow flies’. ‘As the person walks’ it was substantially further, and very steep! Eventually we made it for a well earned pint and decided to have dinner there as well. As it was right next to the quay where the fishing boats came in, Jane decided to see what fresh produce she could persuade them to part with! With some impressive negotiating skills, she returned with two huge crabs for only £6!
After dinner, we decided to try and take a short cut back to Caol Ila by hacking through the countryside rather than going by road. This turned out to be slightly more adventurous than tackling the Borneo Rainforest and was accomplished with two very large, very alive and slightly disgruntled crabs!
The following day we headed away from the distillery, proudly flying our flag and wearing enough Caol Ila branded clothing to be considered a moving advert for the whiskey! It was up to Loch Spelve we headed where it was reputed that otters and seals could be regularly seen. Infact we saw nothing more exciting that a red deer and some jellyfish but it was a very pleasant place, nonetheless.
From here, it was another shortish hop over to Oban where Jane and James would leave us to head home whilst Sarah’s parents would travel to and join us for a few days. We had a great berth in the local marina and a fabulous meal in the restaurant there. It seems a new boat tradition was also started by Sarah and Jane involving all visitors knitting a fish for a woollen aquarium. Not sure about this at all!!
Very sad to see Jane and James leave us but it’s been a great week.