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People & Places [1 of 2] -- Inner Hebridean Anchorages

The West Coast of Scotland is incomparably rich when it comes to anchorages, and everyone who sails there will have their own favourites. This list was drawn up for friends who were starting out from Oban, and to whom the West Coast was relatively new. (NB: It is now over eight years since I last visited any of these anchorages. This page however continues to take regular "hits", which is why I have left it online. If time has rendered any of the content seriously misleading, please let me know via the Guest Book.)

1. Horseshoe Bay, Kerrera
Peace and quiet not two miles from Oban. The southern part of Kerrera is delightful -- lovely walks and an ancient castle at Gylen. Immediately south of the ferry the water is deep, but there is usually anchoring room close to the moored boats at the southern end. Although the bay appears open, tucked well in there is pretty good shelter even in a south-westerly. If you fancy fresh mackerel for supper, take the dinghy to just beyond the first starboard hand buoy on Ferry Rocks and put the feathers over on the edge of the shoal. The north end of Kerrera boasts one of the best examples of an unconformity in the British Isles, a text-book example -- literally, (see Kerrera: A Visitor's Guide to the Geology of the Island, by Alex Maltman, available from the Oban Tourist Office).

2. Puilladobhrain, Seil Island
"Pull-door-en" (= pool of the otter), at the north end of Seil Island: still only six miles from Oban, but with a wildness compared to Kerrera, and tranquillity -- at least between tides. A good place to await the flood up the Sound of Mull, or the ebb south through Scarba Sound, for which reason it can often be quite crowded. Inn at Clachan Bridge -- "The Bridge over the Atlantic" -- ¾ mile on foot over the hill. Look out for the bridge as you pass the entrance to Clachan Sound on the way into the anchorage from the north (and look out for the Dun Horses too if you are beating). Excellent shelter in all winds. If it is really blowing, the best holding in my experience is at the northern end, close south-west of the little island; here the bottom is thick mud -- further up the pool, weed can sometimes be a problem.

3. Ardinamir, Luing
"Ard-nammer": at the south end of Seil Sound. The island of Luing, like Kerrera, is interesting, with lovely walks and its own breed of cattle. The bay is an extension of Cuan Sound, so the tide can make itself felt if anchored anywhere north of the entrance. The entrance itself is narrow, but nowadays well marked with perches. If entering or leaving at low water, keep well over towards the more southerly of the two drying rocks in the entrance -- I speak from experience!

4. West Loch Tarbert, Jura
You can get into the upper loch, but the anchorage between the 20ft and 13ft islets is the loveliest. Complete peace and quiet -- the deer used to come down to graze at the water’s edge in the evening, and peer down at you from the ridge above during the day. Maybe they still do. If you want to be on your own, this is the place to go. Some of the best malt whisky you’ll taste is produced in Craighouse, 10 miles as the crow flies -- ten Scottish miles that is. The entrance to the loch is "interesting" but straightforward if you pick up the leading lines.

5. Tinker’s Hole, Erraid
A rock amphitheatre with a sandy bottom, at the very western end of the Ross of Mull; accessible only by boat. Again wonderfully isolated; magnificent view from the hill above, across the Sound of Iona etc. Swinging room is restricted. There are iron rings in the rock at various points on the east side. You can moor up snugly in the north-east corner by dropping back on the anchor and putting a couple of stern lines ashore to rings, thus holding you steady and off the rock walls. If the weather is sunbathing good you can also anchor for the day in Traigh Gheal -- the gut a little to the east, in the centre of the south side of Erraid -- where there is a lovely white sand beach. If you want to visit Iona, you can anchor in the Bull Hole behind Eilean nam Ban (north-east side of Sound of Iona) and take the ferry over from Fionnphort; or if the weather allows, anchor on the Iona side, north of the abbey, close in out of the tide.

6. Gometra Harbour, Ulva/Gometra
Attractive in a barren way, and quiet, but subject to swell from the SW despite the narrow entrance. Two islands -- Gometra and Ulva -- to be explored. There is an equally attractive anchorage mid way along the south side of Ulva, among the reefs and islets of Cragaig Bay. Either anchorage is handy for a visit to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. If anchoring off Staffa doesn’t seem "on", but you want to see the cave, there are boat trips from Ulva Sound (east end of Ulva). In good weather there is a wonderfully isolated anchorage among the Treshnish Isles -- though the same weather also brings bird- and seal-watching trippers during the day. (If proceeding further north, watch out for the race off Caliach Point, NW Mull; it is easily as bad if not worse than the race off Ardnamurchan.)

7. Arinagour, Coll
The charted anchorage is subject to swell, including the HIDB moorings which are laid north of the steamer pier. The best anchorage is in the small pool close north of Eilean Eatharna -- mind the sunken reef to starboard as you go in! Coll is lovely. Bicycles can be hired from the guest house at the southern end of the village. A short history and guide to the island is available (e.g. from Oban Tourist Office), which tells you where to go and what there is to see (see also Johnson’s and Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides). And at the end of the day, dinner in a restaurant ashore -- really!

8. Tobermory, Mull
On the list under protest -- fine on postcards but a bit of a pain in reality; but you can shower in the Mishnish Hotel on the sea front, and enjoy a superb (and extremely reasonable) afternoon tea at the Western Isles Hotel overlooking the bay. Tobermory Bay is deep, so everyone tends to crowd together close off the town, anchoring or rafting up on the HIDB moorings. You can often find a quite comfortable anchorage in 8 fms close (and I mean close) inshore under the steep wooded bank in the NW corner. It is very sheltered there in a W blow, and the boat tends to lie parallel to the shore without swinging. The main hazards are pot markers. If the weather really is rotten, Loch Sunart has quite a lot to offer if reduced to cruising under staysail only -- starting with Loch Drumbuie.

9. Canna Harbour, Canna
My favourite inhabited island -- actually two islands joined by a bridge. Lovely sheltered anchorage at the end of a splendid day’s sail, from whatever direction you come. Look out for basking sharks on the way, especially round the north side of Rhum. Even in these most commercial of times, you may still be offered a freshly caught lobster, fish or prawns for your supper. Lovely walking, especially on Sanday -- real beach combing on the south side; I collected a quantity of mahogany last time I was there.

10. Loch Scavaig, Skye
A settled weather anchorage only, right under the ridge of the Cuillin (sandy bottom, but rings in the rocks for extra security in case of gusts). A walk of a hundred yards or so brings you to picture-postcard Loch Coruisk, a considerably easier approach than the long trek overland. If the tide is right to cross the shingle bar, North Harbour, Soay offers perfect shelter in all winds. This is where Gavin Maxwell had his shark fishery after WWII -- the rusting remains are still visible.

11. Lochs Hourn & Nevis, Sound of Sleat
Loch Hourn is the grandest, most magnificent sea loch in Scotland, though the hills which make it so can also bring down some vicious gusts. Sandaig, at the mouth of the loch, is where Gavin Maxwell’s cottage stood (see his "Ring of Bright Water"). The upper reaches of the loch form a series of narrows and little basins, ending at Loch Hourn Head. It looks beguiling on the chart, but is rather gloomy and unattractive in reality. The anchorage behind Eilean Rarsaidh, on the north shore of the lower loch, is well sheltered and pleasant. And there’s always Isle Ornsay just across the sound if the weather should turn nasty. Loch Nevis too is a fine loch, and its head more scenic than Loch Hourn. The anchorage in Inverie Bay on the north side just inside the entrance is an agreeable alternative to Mallaig.

12. Plockton, Loch Carron
The Scottish equivalent of the Cornish St Ives. In the lee of the Cuillin and "always seems to be in sunshine" -- hyperbole of which my friends are never slow to remind me. Becoming increasingly holiday resortish, but still with a very attractive atmosphere. A well-sheltered anchorage and very active sailing club, and a good rail link to Inverness via the loveliest railway line in Britain.

13. Acarsaid Mor, South Rona
My original (1994) notes read: "Heaven on earth! Sense of total isolation. An uninhabited island with a superb sheltered anchorage behind the islet below the ruined cottage. Walks and wild flowers; sand, shells and seals. Once there you won’t want to leave." Now the cottage is no longer ruined, the island no longer uninhabited, you can get showers and a meal, and the formerly tricky to spot entrance has "B&B" blazoned in white paint on the rock! Some people think it’s an improvement. Ach du lieber Gott!

There is a delightful book called Leaves from Rowan’s Logs, by Dr R. B. Carslaw, which is about family cruising on the West Coast of Scotland in the 1920s and 30s -- when Rona was inhabited by one crofting family and two lighthouse keepers and the postman rowed over from Skye. The book is out of print and not easy to come by, but if you can get hold of it it will add even more to the pleasures in store.

Peter Bell

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