Saturday, 6th July: Gometra
After Ulva, we had intended to go straight to Iona, but we were told that Gometra and its anchorage right next to Ulva is not to be missed, so we changed our plans. We were intrigued by Gometra, which has only a handful of habitable houses. Their website states: ‘We are a small island community, usually of 2 to 4 households, committed to a low impact lifestyle and we do not have electricity or (with one exception) telephones in our homes, or access to a doctor, teacher, shops, Royal Mail post-offices, etc.. We usually have cold and often have hot running water, and even when these fail as they sometimes do in the summer months, we have always had water in our burns which can be boiled.’
The sail to Gometra was calm, we sailed inside Little Colonsay, past our previous anchorage in Cragaig Bay, and enjoyed seeing it all again. We arrived at Gometra Harbour which is a lovely, and almost enclosed bay and for a little while we were the only yacht there, but soon another three arrived.
We tied the RIB on to a stone jetty, made from a lovely dark, fine-grained igneous rock, which felt almost soapy to the touch. There are three old cottages near the landing place and one we found to our surprise to be a combined art gallery and shop, with basic food supplies, all monies paid into the honesty box. The art, it said, was produced on the island.
There was a plaque on the outside of the house, showing that it had once been inhabited by a Mr and Mrs McDonald and their ten children. After being widowed Catherine left the poverty stricken Gometra for a new life in Australia.
We started our walk along a path which we assumed would take us to the main settlement and as always there are gorgeous views of sea and mountains wherever you look. There are hundreds upon hundreds of Scottish Blackface Sheep running free, the lambs following close behind their mothers.
We came to a gorgeous white sandy beach, but were quite shocked at all the rubbish that had accumulated at the high tide mark. We had noticed that the further west we get, the more detritus we see on the shoreline, bought in by the Atlantic waves.
We came to the main settlement consisting of Gometra House, and four other smaller homes. We understand that one of these cottages and one of those by the landing place are available as very basic short-term lets to hillwalkers and kayakers. To get here you have to walk the 8 miles from Ulva Ferry, crossing the small bridge to Gometra, so it’s only for hardy people. We talked to a person in a rental who had arrived last night, which would have been a very wet experience. No wonder there were clothes drying on every available bush outside.
Gometra House was built in the mid 1850s, and the large iron gates, and several small summerhouses hinted at a grander and more prosperous age. Our walk continued to the western side of the island where we had immense views towards the Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Tiree and Coll.
Walking back we came across a lamb who looked like he had two broken front legs. We had seen several signs along the path encouraging us to report any hurt or dead animals, so we walked up to what looked like an inhabited house and a woman opened, and when we tell her of the poor little lamb she said: ‘Oh, the little one with knobbly knees? Yea, we know about him. He’s doing remarkably well, actually.’
Back by the landing place we went to the small graveyard where three gravestones stand out. They are Commonwealth War Graves, the inscriptions mentioning sailors of WWII having been found, presumably drowned, and the date. Sobering.
We were quite taken by this off-grid community living on this secluded, small island. It all looks absolutely lovely in the summer sun, and part of me yearns for such a ‘simpler’ existence. But reality is undoubtedly harsh, and I doubt I could cope without the instant communication I am now used to.
After a coffee on the boat we set off and had a fast run down wind, to Loch Scridain and anchored in Kilfinichen Bay.
Combined stats: distance 21.7M, underway 3hrs 50mins, average speed 5.6 kts, max speed 9.8 kts
Sunday, 7th July: The Burg Walk by Loch Scridain
Our friend Ann had told us about the Burg Walk on the Ardmeanach peninsula at the western side of Mull, and we really liked the sound of it. (You can find it on National Trust of Scotland’s website.) Most walks featured in books or on websites start at a car park, which is not necessarily easy for us to reach. But for this walk, we could see we could anchor in Kilfinichen Bay. When we sailed in to Loch Scridain last night, I was keeping my eyes open for potential places to land the RIB, without much success, but this morning Dominic did a recce and found a really good place off a rocky bit sticking out in the Loch. He also saw an otter which I’m very jealous about!
We landed the RIB on a falling tide, tied up on a very handy iron pole by this rock and walked along the small beach. It was full of fisherman’s junk, 4 crushed lobster pots, a very large plastic buoy, a large rusted metal buoy and more. We walked up a steep wooded hill up to a road which led us to the car park where the walk begins. But before we set off we went to a hotel we’d seen, for a drink and a few minutes of wi-fi use.
Dominic had previously downloaded the walk to his mobile but it didn’t work, but luckily there was a handy information leaflet dispenser in the car park. Off we went!
This must be one of the most wonderful walks we’ve ever done. We went through coniferous and mixed woodland, past wildflower grassland with grazing sheep and cattle. We walked up steep paths to fantastic viewpoints, down into mossy-green glens bathed in sunshine, and enjoyed several waterfalls.
Butterflies of all colours and sizes fluttered around, we saw an amazing green bug which the leaflet identified as a tiger beetle and small birds flew by, jetting in and out of the bracken. Looking out on to the loch we saw gannets diving at high speed and amazingly the sound of their descent into the water echoed like a bomb up to our high position on the path.
Our walk ended by the Dun Bhuirg Iron Age stone roundhouse, sited on the edge of the cliff face with tremendous views over the land and the loch. There are nine such sites around the perimeter of Loch Scridain. This site has not been excavated, but it is easy to see the roundhouse walls, and there is what looks like steps leading down into the entrance of the house. We sat on the 2,000 year old walls having our late lunch, amazed at how wonderful this walk had been and how much we had enjoyed it.
In the middle of the roundhouse is a 1800s memorial to a dear daughter who drowned. This is what you see at the very top of the Dun.
At the very end of the full walk there’s the standing fossil of a 12m high conifer tree. We knew beforehand that the path leading there was compromised by a landslide, so we tried to see the fossil tree from the boat when we arrived at Loch Scridain, but the wind was too strong for us to sail near enough. We will try again tomorrow when we leave.
On our way back we had a moment of concern. The small herd of cattle were all standing on the path, with an enormous bull in front. There was nothing for it, but to walk slowly, heads down and the bull moved to the side and let us pass. After that we had a substantial number of large cows with their calves, some scuttling off into the bracken, others just standing there. We were very relieved when we had passed them all, and that the bull didn’t come charging after us!
We’d walked for more than five hours, 28,000 steps on Dominic’s step counter, so more than 30,000 for me! And we only saw one other group of three walkers. What a lovely afternoon!
We also saw no other yachts in the loch during our entire stay. Very strange.
In the evening we listened to the maritime forecast, which included a change of wind and a lot of rain. We had intended to visit Iona next, but this is not something we want to rush so we will leave that till another time. Tomorrow we’re going north.