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Scotland, at last.

It wasn't a long or scary passage from Ireland but arriving in Scotland meant the fulfilment of a long held dream and arriving by boat was a more interesting proposition than flying in. Travelling by boat means you can visit out of the way islands and experience places in different ways to air and overland travel.

Predawn approach to the Isle of Mull

As I emerged from the companion way and stood on deck, my very first impression was the smell of forest and pines. Having spent several days at sea I was sensitised to land smells and the fragrance of pine on the brisk, crisp air made a deep and lasting impression.

I could see many boats and large vessels moving about in the dark. There was the faint tinge of dawn appearing, though still too dark to see anything more than humped shapes of land. Trevor had been up all night navigating the numerous dangers, fishing boats, freighters and other vessels. A light breeze was moving us forward to our destination of Tobermory, Isle of Mull, as the sun came up and illuminated the landscape for my first glimpse of Scotland. It was a lovely, magical morning and I could see steep mountains diving into the sea, white painted houses and neat gardens, it was a wild place and I loved it at first sight. We slowly made our way toward the harbour to pick up a visitors mooring, the harbour is so deep there that anchoring is do-able but not desirable.

Tobermory harbour

The town quay was ranged by brightly painted houses and looked cheerful in the morning light. The water was very clear and green, too deep to see the bottom. Forest covered the hills around the town and water rushed into the sea loch from numerous burns. Tobermory is a busy place as a starting or stoping for boats going through the Caledonian Canal, a series of canals that connect the north of Scotland with the south via inland lochs. As our first port of call we were required to fly the Q flag and ring the yachtline number to tell them we had arrived and receive instructions. Having done this we were able then to take down the Q flag and go about our business. Strangely, the people on the other end of the phone couldn't be less interested in us but we filled out our form and posted it to them, out duty discharged.

The day turned out to be sunny and warm so I went for a swim and washed my hair - it was breathtakingly cold but so nice. People were on paddleboards and zooming past in dinghies. Later I went into the town to reconnoitre what the services were and find UK SIM cards. There I came across Seafare, a chandlery that had a small but very diverse stock of useful items and where we could purchase the much needed cruising guides for Scotland. Catherine, who tends the shop turned out to be from California originally and we had a nice long chat. It was great to connect with her and have some women chatter for a change. Tobermory is a ferry port that takes people to and from the mainland other islands nearby so there is a steady stream of tourists and campervans, understandably the locals seemed a bit weary of this.

Sweet and delicious inner Hebridean scallops

Asking around I found out that there was a fish shop a little way out of town so I went to investigate and found some amazing shellfish for our dinner.

Pasta ai frutti di mare

Loch Drambuie

After a really stunning summery day in Tobermory the weather turned a bit more Scottish.

After a little research in the cruising guides we decided to set off for less touristy areas on our way north. Grey mist and fog rolled in and we motored in flat calm to Loch Drambuie, former site of a monastery where the monks developed the liqueur of that name. I spent the next day working on a design project and once I reached a satisfactory stage, we walked up the hill to find cell phone reception so that I could send it and receive feedback. The walk we took is part of a body of work compiled by a member of the RCC who collected "100 walks from Scottish Anchorages", an excellent resource when cruising in Scotland. I am of course always on the look out for mushrooms but only found 2 or 3 of the right kind and they were beyond being edible. It did give me hope that I would find more somewhere.

The islands of Muck, Rhum and Eigg, part of the Small Isles.

The next day we weighed anchor and set off in a medium breeze and a medium tide chop. Again it was grey but not wet so all to the good. Rounding the dramatic Ardnamurchan point with its jagged cliffs and lighthouse, the wind freshened and we hauled up on the wind, beating up the coast for the entrance to Loch Moidart. It was slow, uncomfortable and tedious work but we got there and as the wind backed a little and softened it got better. Fortunately we approached Loch Moidart in little breeze and no swell. The entrance there is a series of s-bends around numerous rocks and follows a tricky channel through shallow water and shoals. Observed by many lazy seals eyeballing us from numerous rocks we entered the loch. At one point we completely lost track of where we were on the chart and the water was getting extremely thin under the boat. Backtracking, we regrouped and looked long and hard at all the rocks and charts before finding the way, heaving big sighs of relief once we were through the tricky bit. A few more s-bends and we found ourselves an the anchorage opposite the ruined castle with magical, woodlands and steep hills surrounding the loch. There were no other boats but plenty of people who drive to the castle to walk dogs. With lots of interesting birds and a few seals making their way in from the outer loch it seemed a great place to spend several days.

Sunset over Moidart castle

The castle
A peak at the ruined courtyard through the gate

I had some internet and connectivity obstacles to overcome, I walked the 5 miles to the nearest hamlet which consisted of a hotel, a cafe, a service station and a small shop. On the way I had plenty of time to look around. The day before I had spied a smattering of very tiny chantrelle mushrooms next to the trail we were walking, too small to harvest, but gave me hope of finding more. From the road I admired the forests and kept an eye out for the brightly gay yellow mushrooms. To my delight I saw a large patch of sizeable chantrelles a little up on the slope next to the road. Noting the location so that I could grab them on the way back I carried on with a spring in my step. Having sorted my stuff using the cafe internet, I stuck out my thumb and got a couple of rides back to the anchorage, stopping on the way to grab all the mushrooms I could find. The final 20 minutes gave me time to plan my mushroom meals.

I loved the forests of this area, the walking tracks well were maintained and climbing higher you got into the heather with stunning views all around. One of the tracks took us past a ruined village from the time of the clearances, a sad sight, it must of been a happy bustling place at one time in a protected position overlooking the loch. Days passed and we went for more walks and got the second set of oars out so that we could both row the dinghy that had us scooting along at speed.

The road to loch Moidart

In the heather above the loch

Sadly it was time to press on, the equinox was drawing near and we needed to be at a certain latitude before then. I made one last trip to the mushroom forest, I thought I had already got most of them when I stumbled upon an even better patch higher up. Satisfied that I got all the mushrooms I needed, I found my way back down only to notice a patch in someones front lawn, clearly the locals didn't take notice or know what they were... I judiciously resisted the impulse to climb the fence and grab them.

A delightful discovery

We weighed anchor the next day and set out for The Small Isles, an island group south of Skye.

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