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Water worlds

These Western Isles are so liberally spiced with sheltered havens and anchorages that the waterborne visitor barely knows which way to turn. Each place comes with its own set of properties and potential risks. For example a sea loch which opens to the west is not the place to be when the ocean swell rolls in. But when like now the wind has blown from the east for several weeks and there are no swell-generating depressions anywhere out in the North Atlantic then the sea around the Western Isles becomes as smooth as glass, making even the most exposed anchorages tenable.
One such place is Loch a’ Chumhainn which faces north-west out into the Minch just south of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Fortunately for the non-Gaelic speakers this is also known as Loch Cuan and within its rocky borders there is a rocky lump called Goat Island behind which anchored one night.

Our arrival coincided with the departure of the last breeze before dusk so by the time we had the anchor nicely bedded into the course sand 3 metres beneath the hull the air was still and the surface of the water was free of the slightest ripple. Under these circumstances if the sky is clear and the sun high then the sea will act like a mirror and reflect anything above it almost perfectly. Strangely under some conditions, like if the sky is overcast, then there may be no reflection at all. It is as if the surface of the sea no longer exists; it becomes invisible and the land beneath can be seen clearly. Cirrus Cat, and us aboard, are suspended miraculously some distance above the sea bed with no visible means of support. The drop is alarmingly vertiginous as we lean overboard to observe the antics of the many crabs who inhabit this world of sand and weed and gaze at the tiny fish who float like birds above them. One wonders what they make of us from below. My guess is they mutter to themselves, “Oh no, another set of retirees on their boat” and just go about their business.

To think that mere water can create such variety, one moment it is clear and the next it is opaque and noisy like this waterfall beside the sea in Tobermory.

Whilst enjoying water in all its many forms, there are limits to the amount that we expect to put up with in contact with our bodies when fully dressed. We cover ourselves with waterproof layers on the assumption that this will protect our clothing and generally speaking this works. But take a hot muggy day and a small uninhabited island called Oronsay located between the lochs of Sunart and Drumbuie (Loch Na Droma Buidhe) and insert two intrepid sailors already moistened from rowing ashore in a solid rain shower, then dip them in every boggy bit of land you can find, most of which is chest deep in dripping wet bracken and the rest of which is ankle-wrecking tussocks of tough grass and moss, and what have you got – full penetration of water into every article of clothing notwithstanding the waterproofs. What we discovered in the process was what happens when land is abandoned and nature takes over. Once in the past Oronsay was inhabited, the ruins are still there as evidence, but there are no footpaths for humans here now, only a few deer roam the land and they leave few marks. From a distance the island looks an easy walk but this is an illusion because with vegetation this thick every step is difficult and wetter than the last. The landscape was remarkable for being so wildly natural, untamed and raw. We lingered only long enough to get ourselves lost in a few bogs, to ensure the water had properly penetrated our boots, socks, underwear, etc.

Actually we liked Drumbuie. Entering through a narrow gap between two rocky shores it is like arriving in another world. Getting here by land is almost impossible and with little incentive to do so anyway, why would you. Mobile phones are useless and the fm radio barely receives anything either. It briefly becomes home to a few yachties who anchor overnight then squeeze out through the gap and leave. The loch just gets on with life on its own.

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One Response to Water worlds

  1. Looks lovely. Very jealous – oh, to be on the move again …

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