Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been developing a theory that the quality of the internet service in any specific location is inversely proportional to the quality of the view. Now, in the fullness of time, I expect I’ll produce spreadsheets, graphs and equations to back this up, but in the meantime you’ll just have to take my word for it. Suffice to say that up until this morning, the scenery had been spectacular whilst the broadband service was slightly less efficient than wrapping individual parcels of data up in brown paper, attaching them to a nearby pigeon and sending it to my web server in Silicon Valley. I am now in a rather unpleasant little industrial town with welders and fishermen for a view, rather than mountains and eagles! Unsurprisingly (if you believe my theory) there is also a blog winging it’s way to California as we speak.
Clearly this theory is just a precursor for an apology for the length of time between blog postings. But, by way of excuse for it’s tardiness here are some photos of just how bad the internet service has been up here in the Western Isles.
Since my last post, the mileage we’ve covered has added nothing to my overall target of getting home at some point! However, this month was about seeing the Western Isles rather than making progress around the country, and to this end, has been spectacularly successful.
After Jane and James left us in Oban, we had 24 hours on our own before Sarah’s parents made the long trip up to spend a couple of days with us. Given the short amount of time we had with them, we decided to stay based in Oban and have day trips out. The first of these was a gentle hop down the Firth of Lorn. The weather was great and the trip should have been relaxing and completely stress free. In the main it was, however I did have a bit of a ‘moment’ when the depth of water under the boat suddenly went from 120 metres to 25 metres, then 20, 10, 5, 2.5. This caused a certain amount of alarm for the skipper!
I suspect that this was a submarine. They are known to exercise in the area and have a habit of tracking sailing boats just a few metres under their keel. However, there are also any number of uncharted rocks around here that could just as easily put a hole in your hull and sink you! These would appear exactly the same on my instruments as the sub! I’m glad the submarines practise but I would really rather they did it under somebody else’s boat! Not great for the blood pressure!
Almost before they’d settled in, Pat and Leslie were heading back. Obviously though, not before Pat had knitted her fish for the woollen aquarium! (Still not sure about this new visitor policy but the aquarium has certainly grown.)
After loosing Pat and Leslie, we almost immediately acquired Flavia and Ben for a few days. We decided to break them in gently with a 25 mile run up to Tobermory. It was a great day but with the wind right on the nose, it did take a lot of tacking to get up the Sound of Mull. I got some great video of the trip and Tobermory was very pretty.
Sound of Mull Video (Warning – this is a large file!)
We also caught up with another friend, Andy, who was also in Tobermory on a diving trip. I only ever see Andy once a year on an annual pilgrimage to Le Mans. With this sailing trip preventing me going this year, it was great to see Andy in very different circumstances and keep up an annual tradition of sharing a beer or two!
After a night in Tobermory, we headed out to a small loch where we were almost guaranteed to see some wildlife. It had been a disappointing week so far after promises of eagles, whales and otters so the four of us were quite looking forward to it. Ben knew the area very well and was also promising mackerel would be abundant and dashed off to procure some appropriate mackerel fishing gear.
The loch was stunning (if a little tricky to get into!) and we dropped the anchor, got out the binoculars and launched the fishing gear. The girls were slightly sceptical about our fishing abilities and set us a challenge. Flavia would start knitting her fish for the woollen aquarium when we put our hooks in the water. The challenge was for us to pull out a fish before she finished knitting hers.
Somewhat surprisingly, the boys (or more specifically, Ben) won, pulling out three mackerel as a shoal swam past the boat. In short order, these were gutted, prepared and shoved on the barbecue for a fabulous lunch of fresh mackerel! The knitted fish took somewhat longer to complete!
Aside from the fish, however, the loch was a complete washout from a wildlife perspective. No otters, no eagles, no whales, nothing!
All too soon, Ben and Flavia left us to head back south and Sarah and I were left on our own.
We were now getting quite despondent about not seeing any wildlife, after all the hype about the Western Isles. To try and remedy this, we booked ourselves on a wildlife tour taking in the islands of Lunga and Staffa. Previously, this tour had seen Minke whales, basking sharks, sea eagles, white tailed eagles and puffins. Surely this would remedy the situation!
In truth, it was fantastic although somewhat limited in what we saw. The island of Lunga is home to a huge colony of puffins which are incredibly tolerant of human sightseers. We spent a couple of hours there just watching them. We then spend an hour in Fingal’s Cave on Staffa which has pretty incredible rock formations. There was also a white tailed eagle’s nest on the return journey where we caught sight of the chick sitting on the nest waiting for it’s next feed! All in all, a pretty good day, but no whales!
After the wildlife tour, it was time for a change of scenery. Sarah and I took Caol Ila up Loch Sunart to a small bay called Salen. Another very quite, beautiful place which was ideal otter spotting territory. Unfortunately, the otters didn’t think so and although we had a very pleasant evening, there was a distinct lack of small furry mammals! Great location, though.
The following day we had planned on heading up to Loch Moidart. We headed off fairly early (with the crew still in bed!) rounding the most westerly point I will be seeing on this trip, at Ardnamurchan. The weather was a little grey with the constant threat of rain, poor visibility and more wind than we’ve seen for a while. As we approached the entrance to Loch Moidart, a combination of poor weather forecast and difficult entry forced us to push on to a more secure mooring at Mallaig. This was a shame. Loch Moidart would have been stunning and Mallaig really isn’t. A rather odd chap running the moorings told us off for not wearing lifejackets when we moored up, and the cost of the berth is somewhat exorbitant given there are no toilets, showers or facilities!
What Mallaig does have, however, is a railway station. Before I left work to embark on this trip, I volunteered Sarah’s and my services as ‘support crew’ for my old colleagues attempting a charity three peaks race. This involves climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowden in 24 hours. Sarah and I are to be the drivers. We are to meet the rest of the team in Fort William on Friday to start the challenge, so at least we can safely leave Caol Ila in Mallaig and get the train down to meet the guys. Will be great to see them again and catch up on all the corporate news!