Log #16e Highland Lochs Part 2

August 16, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log  #16e Highland Lochs Part 2

Started at Audley Bay
Strangford  Lough, Northern Ireland
Aug 16, 2000
Covers the period 17 June to 21 June

Loch Moidart was our most scenic anchorage and Loch since arriving in Scotland, and possibly the second best of all the beautiful rugged lochs we anchored in. On entering, we wended our way through several shoals, rocky islands, seal colonies, past deserted stone cottages, rock fences, rocky heather clad cliffs and valleys, the occasional sandy bay, tree and rhododendron fringed shorelines, glens inhabited by scattered sheep. After passing in front of the deserted but solid ruins (under repair) of Castle Tioram, defiantly sitting on a rocky tidal islet dominating the western end of the Loch, we dropped anchor about 200 yards away in a shallow bay off the channel opposite Riska Island. We had initially continued on into the back bay behind the island, but there were a few permanently moored boats there and it was in more open water. The anchorage we chose afforded a view of the castle as well as a lovely panorama out the loch with steep wooded cliffs behind us, and about a half mile away the dock and turrets of the manor house on Eilean Shona. There was one other yacht in the channel with us, but it left that evening, giving us sole possession of this million dollar (pound) location and view.

We stayed three days in this lovely spot. While dinghying into the back bay we met the owner of one of the local boats moored there and were invited on board for tea. His brother and eight year old nephew Ben were on board as well. Ben was intrigued by the stories of us climbing the mast and wanted to try it. We invited them over and he actually enjoyed the climb to the top of the mast (suitably secured in the bosun’s chair and safety harness). A brave little guy. We also gained considerable local knowledge from them about the history and fishing in the area. We had a nice conversation with another local who was camped in the loch, but in the channel on the north side of Eilean Shona. He was dressed in a dry diver’s suit as he had been looking for the skeg he tore off the bottom of his motor when he hit a shoal off the castle entrance, the very area we had crossed, but at high tide, the previous evening. We took the safer route when we left a few days later, rather than going in front of the castle and risking those shoals.

We also had a visit from Smudge, one of the staff from the manor house across the loch. The mansion is still used by the owner occasionally and available for rent at other times. Presently it was being used by friends of the owner. We were invited to come across and wander the estate, which comprised the entire Eilean Shona, about three miles long and one mile wide. We explored it one of the days in what turned out to be an exhausting marathon around the whole island, including a trek through the mountainous spine of the island.

We started out just to walk the beautiful cobbled walkways along the shoreline, marveling at the luxury and grandeur the original lairds lived in. There was at one time a small population on the island, crofting and working for the laird. Now these homes were empty together with an abandoned school house around the opposite side from the main house. We passed several empty crofts (well kept stone houses that could probably still be rented by those seeking seclusion) located in the middle of overgrown glens. As we went farther around the island past the schoolhouse, we thought it would be just as fast to go up over the spine of the island on a marked trail. However in the overgrowth, and above the tree line, the marked trail petered out and we found ourselves half way up a mountainous gully following sheep trails through the heather and bracken. We thought we were near the top, and that it would be better to forge on through it rather than backtrack. Judy reluctantly agreed, and on we went, through soggy waist high bracken (of course we had a Scotch mist falling), irregular marshy glens, over exposed and moss covered rocks, thinking the summit was just beyond the next ridge. After several such ridges we finally got to the top for a fantastic view along the south side of the loch, where we saw the shoals and islets  we negotiated with Veleda  on our entrance into Loch Moidart.

The scramble down was as bad as our hike up. The ground was boggy and irregular, tufted with low marsh plants. We had to be careful as it would have been very easy to have stepped into a small crevice and twisted or sprained an ankle. None of the stone cottages we passed were occupied. The mist continued to fall. We were soaked from waist to toes. Our feet were squelching in muddy water inside our shoes, as we both had located mud holes the hard way. When we got down to the shoreline, there was still no trail and we scrambled along the rocky seaweed strewn foreshore, across a small tidal flat, only to encounter a rocky cliff that we would have to climb over or risk edging around, over the rocks exposed at low tide. They were more treacherous than the boggy glens for risk of slipping and spraining an ankle, so we climbed a couple of hundred feet up the cliffs, and fortunately found a bit of a trail  that led us through treed valleys and across several small streams, to emerge on the cobblestone trail at the back of the main house. We felt like intrepid explorers coming out of the jungle to civilization. Seeing children playing on the manicured lawn of the manor house was a startling contrast to what we had just been through. The unexpected odyssey took four and a half hours.

Of course Sprite was now on the rocks at the foot of the tidal dock, and we had to drag her free before starting up. Then as we were motoring over to Veleda, the motor died on us. It took several minutes of fiddling and pulling the start cord to get it going again. Judy reported a similar spontaneous stopping of the motor a month earlier. This I didn’t like, as we need a reliable engine. However it eventually started up again and got us, tired and wet, back to Veleda.

The rocks along the shoreline were covered with mussels, exposed at low tide. We harvested a bucketful and enjoyed a good feed of steamed mussels for supper. The best seafood we have caught since the conch feasts we had in the Bahamas. Conch and mussels don’t swim very fast and are easier to gather than fish, which I have been notoriously unable to  catch.

The castle was still partially intact, with its walls solidly protecting the inner keep. We wandered around it, and took several pictures of it with Veleda in the background. Castle Tioram  was originally the clan home for Ranald, son of Somerled, the first Lord of the Isles, and has a normal bloody history of clan feuds. A rock awash astern of where we were anchored, Lady’s Rock, is said to have been used to drown a woman suspected of stealing from the laird. She was chained to it at low tide and slowly drowned as the tide covered the rock. Another evening at sunset we saw a couple of deer walking across the submerged isthmus over to the castle. As we were farther north (56 41.3 N, 005 49.5 W), it got dark later and later. At 2330, I was still able to sit in the cockpit and read a book by natural light.

As Loch Moidart is bisected into two channels by Eilean Shona, we wanted to dinghy up the back channel and go over to the north channel to circumnavigate the island. We started off, and as we got to the eastern end of the island our motor died again. After fifteen minutes of pulling, and fiddling with the throttle, fuel filter, spark plugs, etc. we gave up and started rowing. It would have been a long row as one oar was broken and mended with a repair of limited strength. In addition, we were rowing against a bit of a tide. Fortunately after about half an hour we spotted the people who were from the main house out for a boat ride, and hailed them to get towed back to Veleda. The next day the motor started and we went over to the main house to say goodbye to Smudge, but again on our return the motor stopped spontaneously half way back. We need to have it looked at!

We left Loch Moidart on June 21, heading for Arisaig, a pleasant little port village we saw a few weeks earlier when we took the train from Corpach to Mallaig. There we hoped to have the outboard looked at and repaired.