Treshnish Isles, Staffa and Ulva

Wednesday, 3rd July: Treshnish Islands and Staffa

A day of an enormous amount of impressions!  We set off just after 10am sailing in mist and greyness.  It was very cold!  We turned west, tacking up towards Ardnamurchan Point.  This is the end of the area for the Maritime Safety Information that we’ve been listening to for so long; Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point.  Then it’s Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath.  A name which fills me with dread!

But we’re not going there yet.  We’re now heading to the west of Mull.  ‘The navigation of the West of Mull requires considerable care.  The whole coast is completely exposed to the SW, and though there are many clean bays which might be used as temporary anchorages, most of the sheltered harbours are rather difficult of access, owing to submerged rocks.’ Those are the words of the Sailing Directory of 1913.  Thank goodness for electronic charts and Dominic’s sailing experience!

Ardnamurchan Point
A rather nice square rigger came sailing by

We passed the impressive 19th century Glengorm Castle on the Mull side of the Sound, apparently now a hotel.  After coming out of the Sound looking north, we see Rum and Skye.  We have come a long way!

Our first point of call today is the Treshnish Isles.  The islands are stark, and look sculptured, being strangely flat on the top.  They are all of volcanic origin, and the odd looking Bac Mor, or Dutchman’s Cap, is an ancient volcano with a lava platform brim.  These islands are a breeding ground for grey seals and many types of sea birds.  We saw two seals on a rock as we slowly motored in between the islands, taking careful note of covered rocks and the varied depth.  We anchored for lunch off Lunga, in company of a few other yachts and two sightseeing boats.  The water is the most wonderful shade of green, and it is so clear that you can see the white, sandy bottom several meters below.  There are birds everywhere. They were literally swarming in the air around Harp Rock, divers showed their fishing skills right by our boat, we saw a puffin fly by with a fish in its colourful beak, shags were flying around us and slowly descending into the water.  It was hard to leave this lovely place!  As we started off, we saw a dolphin, and a puffin sat in the water so close to us; the best view of a puffin I’ve ever had!

Our anchorage by Lunga
Seals and pups on Tighchoie
The rocks of Sgeir Eirionnaich are awash with nesting birds
Coming up to Lunga, with Harp Rock on the right.  Other yachts and tour boats are already here.
The water is amazing, so clear and the white sandy bottom creates a wonderfully green effect
Bac Mor or Dutchman’s Cap

We raised the sails again and we could see and feel the Atlantic swells.  From here we could see all the way to America.  If we had very good eye sight, and the earth were flat. This time we’re heading for Staffa.

‘Compared to this what are cathedrals or the palaces built by man; mere models or playthings, imitations as diminutive as his works will always be when compared to those of nature.’       Joseph Banks on visiting Staffa in 1772

Staffa has been at the very top of my wish list for a long time.  Its basalt columns have given the island its name, as they resemble the staves used by the Norse to build their houses. There are also several spectacular sea-caves, the most famous being Fingal’s Cave.  The source of this name is disputed, but I like the version that it comes from Fionnghall, meaning a fair-headed stranger, which is the traditional Gaelic term for a Norseman who had settled in the Hebrides.  It is the only sea-cave in the world formed entirely out of columnar basalt.

We couldn’t anchor safely here, but Dominic did a wonderful sailing flyby, and I sat perched by the guardrails admiring and taking photographs.  The dark basalt columns are amazing and although I could only see the entry to Fingal’s cave, you could easily imagine hearing the melodious notes that inspired Mendelssohn to write his Hebrides Overture.

Basalt columns on Staffa and sea-caves
The world famous Fingal’s Cave

We had a bit of very welcome sun after Staffa.  And even more welcome was the pod of at least five dolphins who escorted us towards Ulva, for a good 20 minutes.  It was absolutely amazing to see them jump up and along, over and over again!  And when we’d taken our sails down, and passed Little Colonsay, they stopped.  But we could see them staying there for a while longer, as if waving us off.  Little Colonsay is owned by the father of Cressida Cowell, who says the island and its surroundings has inspired her when writing many of her children’s books.

I’m quite exhausted by all the wonderful things we’ve seen today, and all the new impressions. I know my photos go nowhere near in making justice to the drama of the dark mountains in the distance, the verdant rounded cliffs around us, the stark beauty of the skerries, the sereneness of seal and pup resting on the rock ledge, the clear sea lapping on to our boat, the grace of the gannet flying.  We are now sitting in splendid isolation in Cragaig Bay, off the southern side of Ulva.  Though we’re not quite alone.  There are seals popping their heads up every now and then, and there are two resting by the water’s edge.  And some walkers came down the hill on what must be a path; they seem to stay in the old bothy which is near the beach.  We might try that path tomorrow.

Stats: distance 32.1 M, underway 3hrs 23 m, average speed 5.7 kts, max speed 9.7 kts

Thursday, 4th July: Ulva – Wolf Island (Old Norse)

We went ashore on the RIB and tied up near the bothy.  A man came out and met us near the landing place.  He and his family are here for a couple of nights and they had indeed walked here last night from Ulva Ferry, which had been interesting but tiring for the young girls.  He invited us in for a cup of tea.  The cottage is extremely basic, but luckily it has a stove heater and a good supply of fire wood.

Two standing stones from 1500 BC near the Old Bothy, Cragaig Bay

We set off for Ulva Ferry over the hilly island.  We came across the ruins of Cragaig village and later those of Ormaig as well.  General Lachlan Macquarie, ‘The Father of Australia’ was someone we heard of a lot when we visited our daughter in Sydney.  He was possibly born here in Ormaig, and his family had owned the island for generations.

The remains of Ormaig

We saw Inch Kenneth, a small island named after Cainnech, who is said to have saved St Columba from drowning by the power of prayer.  It is a fertile island, and once provided grains for the monks on Iona.  It was also one of the main centres for kelp burning in the 1800s, as the alkaline content of the ash was very high due to button wrack being prolific in the area.

The low island of Inch Kenneth

The path took us to a tall and triangular standing stone and there were two smaller ones near our bay.   An impressive bird of prey soared over one of the hilltops, and we watched several herons fishing in the sea.  The walk was long, 3.5 miles of up and down on stony ground, and it was spitting with rain, but the views more than made up for it!

We got to Ulva Ferry and spotted The Boathouse, where we had a lovely homemade soup with fresh bread.  We took the short ferry ride across to north west Mull and checked out the pontoons that the community have recently installed.

The Boathouse at Ulva Ferry

After coffee and cake, we enjoyed the reconstructed Sheila’s Cottage.  Sheila MacFadyen lived in the cottage from 1911 until the 1950’s, when she was a dairymaid up at The Big House.  The cottage also houses a very interesting exhibition about life on Ulva from the mesolithic to current times.  It gives information on the very recent community buy-out of the island of Ulva by the North West Mull Community Woodland Co.  I find it a very interesting subject, but reading round the issue, it is clear that the successful fundraising and purchase was not without a fair amount of difficulty and opposition.

Sheila’s cottage
Walking back from Ulva Ferry
A gorgeous mossy stone wall

When walking back we talked about the family in the bothy.  We decided we would offer to take them back on our boat.  We popped in to them on the way back, and they very quickly took us up on their offer, and we arranged that we’d come and pick them up in the morning.

The evening was very rainy and windy and we had a cosy evening in our boat home!

Friday, 5th July: Ulva Ferry

We picked up the family from the Old Bothy and they were very grateful for the lift as it was still raining and the island was covered in a cloud.  They’d never been on a yacht before, and particularly the dad seemed to enjoy it.  We dropped them off on the pontoon at Ulva Ferry where their car was parked.  We stayed on the pontoon for a few hours and then anchored further out in the sound.  We had plenty to get on with after two days of no internet connection!
































2 thoughts on “Treshnish Isles, Staffa and Ulva

  1. Wow, you are certainly getting about! Those places look pretty familiar. We liked Ulva, in fact were weather bound on the pontoons for a few days, so we got to know it pretty well. Did you try and get all the way through the Ulva Ferry channel from Loch na Keal to Loch Tuath? Craigaig was also very nice.


    1. No, Dominic wanted to go that route, but I was relieved that it turned out that we approached from the south. The pontoons are so shiny and new! And everyone there was very friendly. I had recently re-read your blog on Ulva so was aware we were treading in your footsteps!


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