Month: April 2023

An Island by Island Guide to the Outer Hebrides

View of a croft house on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides, located off the west coast of Scotland, are a group of islands with a unique blend of Scottish and Gaelic culture, history and nature. With crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and rugged coastline, the islands offer an unforgettable sailing experience. Our skippered sailing holidays to the Outer Hebrides offer a fantastic opportunity to explore the islands by sea – the perfect way to discover the diverse beauty of this remote and unspoiled corner of Scotland. The Outer Hebrides are made up of more than 70 islands – with just 15 of them inhabited.

Here, we’ve gathered just a few of our favourite islands to visit on a sailing holiday in the Outer Hebrides. For those looking to explore further afield, take a look at our St Kilda travel guide.

Barra

Barra Scotland

The Isle of Barra is located in the southernmost part of the Outer Hebrides and is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland. Barra is famous for its breathtaking beaches, including Traigh Mhor, a white sand shell beach with crystal clear turquoise waters. Traig Mhor also houses Barra’s airport, unique in being the only beach runway in the world with scheduled flights! Nature lovers should keep their binoculars at the ready, as Barra is also an excellent destination for wildlife spotting. A diverse range of species call the island home, including otters, seals, and golden eagles.

North and South Uist

The islands of North and South Uist lie centrally in the Outer Hebrides. Their unique landscapes and cultural history makes them a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike. With awe-inspiring beaches like Cula Bay and Traigh Lingeigh, North Uist is a mecca for walkers, birdwatchers and cyclists. A diverse terrain of fresh and saltwater lochs, cultivated crofts, and miles of sandy beaches can be found across the islands. Bird lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to spot the corncrakes at the RSPB Nature Reserve in Balranald, one of Europe’s most endangered species. South Uist is also home to miles of breathaking beaches and anchorages, including Machair Beach and the beautiful Traigh Eais. Delve into the island’s history by visiting the Kildonan Museum and the ruins of Ormacleit Castle after a morning of good sailing.

Lewis and Harris

Lewis and Harris, although technically one landmass, are in fact two distinct islands. As the largest and most populated islands of the Outer Hebrides, Lewis and Harris are steeped in a rich cultural history. The islands boast an abundance of ancient ruins, showcasing the neolithic past found in the Outer Hebrides. Among the must-visit sites are the famous Callanish Standing Stones and the Carloway Broch.

Stornoway, on Lewis, is the capital of the Outer Hebrides, and an excellent base for exploring the islands. Gain a deeper understanding of the town’s heritage by visiting nearby Stornoway Museum, or take a stroll down the main street for a true taste of Scottish culture. Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking natural beauty, Lewis and Harris will be sure to delight.

Benbecula

Benbecula is a gem in the heart of the Outer Hebrides, and while it can often be overlooked in favour of it’s neighbours, the island boasts some spectacular scenery. Explore the rugged landscape by hiking or cycling through the rolling hills and heather-covered moorland. A highlight of any visit to Benbecula is a climb up the Rueval, the highest point on the island, and on a clear day you can even catch a glimpse of St Kilda in the distance!

Benbecula also has a vibrant arts scene, with galleries showcasing the works of local artists and craftspeople. For those looking for an outdoor adventure, Benbecula is the perfect destination for getting out on the water. Tall ship Blue Clipper is a regular visitor to this Isle, and her onboard kayaks are perfect for exploring the coastline up close.

Eriskay

The captivating Isle of Eriskay lies in the Southern part of the Outer Hebrides, and is connected to South Uist by a causeway. The island is the namesake of the indigenous Eriskay ponies, a unique Hebridean breed now at risk of extinction. There’s no shortage of adventures to be had, you can explore the ruins of the Eriskay Causeway or sip a pint at the famous Am Politician Bar, where whisky smugglers once plotted their heists! For those visiting the isle on a sailing holiday to the Outer Hebrides, the waters surrounding Eriskay offer calm and sheltered conditions, making it an ideal destination for beginners and experienced sailors alike.

Mingulay

A favourite island of historic tall ship Bessie Ellen, even reaching the isle of Mingulay is an adventure in itself! Located on the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides lies this deserted island. Once home to a tight-knit community, the last inhabitants left over 100 years ago, leaving behind a haunting reminder of a way of life lost to the elements. As you approach the island, the towering 250-metre Carnan cliffs loom over you, providing a protected breeding ground for a plethora of birdlife. From puffins to razorbills, guillemots to oystercatchers, important seabird populations thrive in this wild and rugged landscape.

The Monach Isles

A cluster of low lying islands just off the west coast of North Uist, the Monach Isles are truly a step off the beaten path. Wild and uninhabited, they form part of a National Nature Reserve. Explore the undisturbed machair, a rare carpet of wildflowers, and the large grey seal colony that calls these islands home. With over 10,000 seals gathering here each autumn to mate and give birth, the Monach Isles boast one of the largest colonies in the world. And that’s not all – the islands also host a diverse range of nesting seabirds and a rich flora. Grey herons even make use of the abandoned buildings as nesting sites. Dutch ketch Steady is a regular visitor to the Monach Isles, where nature and history truly intertwine to create an unforgettable experience.

Visit the Outer Hebrides

Outer Hebrides Harris Panorama

Visiting these magical islands on a skippered sailing holiday is the only way to truly experience each island at your own leisure, and whether you’re a beginner or an experienced sailor, the islands of the Outer Hebrides offer a range of conditions to suit all. From the pristine beaches of Barra to the rugged landscapes of the Monach Islands, the islands of the Outer Hebrides offer a truly unforgettable sailing experience. Join us on a sailing holiday to the Outer Hebrides to discover the diverse beauty of this remote and unspoiled corner of Scotland.

A Guide to St Kilda, Scotland

Sunny Day on St Kilda, Scotland

Nestled in the North Atlantic Ocean, 42 miles west of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides lies the remote archipelago of St Kilda. Long shrouded in mystery and intrigue, the islands have captivated adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike. Known as ‘the islands at the edge of the world’, they boast stunning natural beauty, unique wildlife, and a fascinating history filled with twists and turns. Uncover the wonders of St Kilda with this travel guide.

Traveling to St Kilda, Scotland

How to get to St Kilda?

St Kilda’s remote destination means it can only be reached by boat or helicopter. This makes it the perfect destination for a skippered sailing holiday on a traditional tall ship! Join us to embark on a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience to this wild and untamed archipelago, just as its inhabitants would have done centuries ago. 

When is the best time to visit St Kilda?
St Kilda is only accessible to visitors between May and September. This is due to the harsh weather conditions that prevail during the rest of the year. The best time to visit St Kilda is in the summer months of June, July and August. At this time the weather is milder and the days are longer. All our sailing holidays to St Kilda take place during summer for the best chance of reaching these magical islands.

A Guide to St Kilda, Scotland

Four main islands make up the archipelago of St Kilda: Hirta, Dùn, Soay, and Boreray. One of the highlights of sailing here is the ability to explore each island at your own pace, which just isn’t feasible on a day trip to St Kilda. With a sailing holiday, you can fully immerse yourself in the rugged and untamed beauty of St Kilda, visiting each island in turn and discovering their hidden secrets. 

The islands of St Kilda are unique in their formation, created from the remnants of a long-extinct ring volcano. The volcanic activity that created the islands took place around 60 million years ago. The islands formation was influenced by the surrounding geology and the movements of the earth’s tectonic plates. The result is a stunning landscape of dramatic cliffs, rugged coastlines, and hidden coves, shaped by the forces of nature over millions of years.

The Island of Hirta

Start your adventure in Village Bay, the main settlement on the island of Hirta. The bay is surrounded by towering cliffs, and provides spectacular views of the archipelago. Here you can explore the museum and church, which provide an insight into the fascinating history of the islands. They also host an incredible collection of pottery, textiles, agricultural equipment and personal items. As you step inside you’ll be transported back in time, with a true sense of the unique way of life of the inhabitants.

There are many hiking routes to explore on the island of Hirta, each allowing a new perspective of the island. Climb above the main village for a view of the traditional houses which were home to St Kildans until 1930. Follow the line of cleits to reach ‘the gap’, where the soft grass hills suddenly end, with a plunging cliff face that falls 150m vertically into the sea below. Continue along to climb to the highest peak of Conachair. A challenging hike, but one that rewards in equal measure, with breathtaking views of towering sea stacks and the open ocean beyond. 

The Cleits of St Kilda

Whilst exploring the islands, you’ll no doubt come across cleits – a unique form of stone storage structure. These small, dome-shaped buildings were constructed by the island’s inhabitants to store food, fuel, and other supplies. They played an important part in survival, allowing villagers to dry bird meat and store eggs for the harsher winter months. Although never intended to be dwellings, inhabitants often made use of them when hunting on the islands neighbouring Hirta. Cleits are found throughout St Kilda, and their distinctive shape and construction make them an important part of the island’s cultural heritage. Today, many have fallen into disrepair, but efforts are underway to preserve these unique structures for future generations to appreciate.

History of St Kilda, Scotland

The history of human life on St Kilda dates back more than 3,000 years. Evidence of early Neolithic human settlements remain across the islands, with the first settlers likely Bronze Age farmers arriving from mainland Scotland. These early settlers were followed by Vikings, who used St Kilda as a base for hunting and fishing expeditions.

Two viking tortoise brooches were found on the island, originating in the contents of a female Viking age burial. In the Middle Ages, the island was inhabited by Early Medieval Celtic Christians, with the remains of a medieval village and churches found on Hirta.

The Macleods of Dunvegan took control of St Kilda in the 14th century. From then until the 20th century, the population grew to around 180 people who raised cattle and sheep, and traded with passing ships. Money was not in use on the islands, with rents paid and goods bought from the mainland with a barter system. St Kildans were mainly reliant on the collection of Gannets eggs which they were expert at harvesting. However, by the early 20th century, the island’s population had dwindled with emigration, disease, and lack of resources. In 1930, the last residents asked to be evacuated to the mainland, leaving St Kilda to the elements and uninhabited ever since.

Today, the St Kilda’s history serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by those who live in remote and isolated communities. It also highlights the importance of preserving the cultural heritage and natural beauty of these places for future generations. 

Wildlife of St Kilda, Scotland

St Kilda is home to an array of flora and fauna, with some native species originating in the islands, having evolved and adapted to the environmental conditions. The diverse ecosystem has been born out of a unique combination of salt spray, acidic soil, and strong wind conditions. 

Birdwatching on St Kilda

St Kilda is a haven for seabirds and is home to an estimated 1 million seabirds, the largest colony in Europe. The islands are also home to the largest colony of northern gannets in the world, often seen nesting on cliff-sides and diving into the sea to catch fish. Large populations of puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes, and razorbills can be regularly spotted. The islands are also one of the few places in the world where the rare Leach’s storm petrel breeds. It’s not only seabirds in abundance, the aptly named St Kilda Wren is a native species, known for its distinctive appearance and song. The St Kilda Wren is only found on the archipelago, making it truly a once in a lifetime birdwatching opportunity. 

Animals of St Kilda

Due to its isolated position in the North Atlantic, it’s no surprise that the waters surrounding St Kilda are teeming with marine mammals. Whales and dolphins are regularly spotted as we sail across from the Outer Hebrides. Keep your binoculars handy in the summer months, when its not uncommon to see migratory pods of minke and killer whales, as well as friendly pods of dolphins who love to swim at the bowsprit!

Perhaps St Kilda’s most famous export is the Soay breed of sheep. Native to the island, with origins dating back to 5000BC, the name Soay translates to ‘island of sheep’ in Old Norse. Soay are smaller and hardier than most modern sheep breeds, having adapted to the harsh conditions of the islands. Their fur was originally plucked for the process of making tweed, and the sheep were traded for centuries. 

Set Sail to St Kilda

Whether you’re interested in exploring the ruins of an ancient settlement, spotting rare bird species, or marvelling at impressive sea stacks, there is something for every adventurer on St Kilda. The archipelago’s remote location and rugged terrain make it a challenging but rewarding destination for adventurous travellers interested in the history of the natural world. Whilst the journey requires a little planning and preparation, the rewards of visiting this beautiful and historic destination are well worth the effort. 

Our skippered sailing holidays to St Kilda offer you the chance to truly immerse yourself in this magical destination in safe hands. So if you’re ready to make this epic voyage for yourself, make sure you take a look at our St Kilda Sailing schedule.

A Guide to Sailing Holidays in Rias Baixas, Spain

Spain Vigo iles cies, Rias Baixas

If you’re searching for a unique holiday experience where you can soak up some sun and explore hidden gems, a sailing holiday to Rias Baixas should be at the top of your list. A breathtaking coastal location in Spain’s Galicia region, the area is distinguished by its uninhabited islands, sparkling sandy beaches, and rich cultural history. In this blog we’ll delve into the highlights of this beautiful region of Spain. There’s no better way to truly experience Rias Baixas than on a Spanish sailing holiday – so why not jump on board with us to explore this unique coastline.  

The Vibrant City of Vigo

Begin your sailing adventure in the vibrant city of Vigo. Known for having Europe’s largest fishing fleet, Vigo blends industrial progress with traditional Spanish culture.  As you wander through the old city walls, you’ll be enchanted by the historic Spanish architecture, quaint tavernas, and traditional tapas bars. Before boarding your vessel, take the time to soak up the local atmosphere and enjoy some authentic Spanish cuisine. From fresh seafood to local wines, Vigo is a culinary paradise that will set the tone for your sailing adventure.

Coastal Sailing and Island Exploration: Rias Baixas

After setting sail from Vigo, you’ll enjoy an exhilarating coastal sailing experience along the Rias Baixas coastline. The four main inlets that make up the region are a sight to behold, with secluded islands fringed with white sandy beaches and granite boulders. This area is a National Park with strict visitor policies in place to preserve their natural beauty. Our vessels have the necessary permits that allow you to get up close to this beautiful region. You’ll have the unique opportunity to anchor in the islands under star-lit skies, far away from the hustle and bustle. Wake up to the gentle sound of waves lapping against your boat, and dive into crystal-clear waters for a morning swim along the serene coastline. It’s a dream come true for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

The Serene Cies Islands

One of the must-visit destinations in Rias Baixas is the Cies Islands. A group of three islands – Monteagudo, Do Faro, and San Martino – the islands are known for their breathtaking beauty. The beaches of Rodas and Figueiras have been recognised as some of the best beaches in the world, with fine white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. Spend your days sailing from one picturesque bay to another, anchoring in front of these stunning beaches. The Cies Islands are a true paradise for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts, offering opportunities for hiking, snorkelling, and bird watching as well. Keep an eye out for the native bird species, including cormorants, the rare yellow-legged gull, as well as other wildlife that call the islands home. Apart from their natural allure, the Cies Islands also offer a unique cultural experience. Monteagudo, the largest of the islands, is home to an ancient Celtic settlement and a Roman hillfort, providing a glimpse into the rich history and heritage of the region.

Culture and Cuisine of Rias Baixas

One of the highlights of a sailing holiday in Rias Baixas is the incredible culinary experience. The seafood and shellfish in this region are renowned for their freshness and flavor, and there are a wide variety of culinary delights to indulge in. From succulent langoustines to tender octopus, and from clams to the famous goose barnacles, the seafood in Rias Baixas is a true gastronomic treat. And let’s not forget about the local wine – Albarino, a crisp and aromatic white wine, is produced in this region and pairs perfectly with the local seafood. You can also explore the wider region and indulge in some excellent Rioja wines, both red and white, along with other local produce such as cured pork, organic steak, and corn-fed chicken. Dining out in Rias Baixas is a true pleasure, with authentic tapas still being served to accompany your drinks.

Set Sail to Rias Baixas

A sailing holiday in the Rias Baixas region of Spain promises an exceptional adventure for those seeking to combine the thrill of sailing with the beauty of nature, the delights of local cuisine, and the rich cultural heritage of the area. With its pristine waters, idyllic islands, and charming towns, a sailing holiday in Rias Baixas offers a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration. Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a novice, this destination has something to offer for everyone.

So, set sail on a journey of discovery, immerse yourself in the stunning surroundings, indulge in the local flavors, and create memories that will last a lifetime on a sailing holiday in Rias Baixas with pilot cutter Pellew, historic tall ship Maybe, or tall ship Blue Clipper.

The History of the West Country Trading Ketch

Bessie Ellen Full Sail Cornwall

The history of the West Country trading ketch is rather unromantic. There’s no sailing into the sunset or walking the plank here – but that doesn’t make their legacy any less important. West Country trading ketches were the lorries and trucks of their day. Between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, they carried tonnes of essential cargo like china clay, slate, and coal around the southwest. Usually, they were small, family-run enterprises operating out of ports such as Bideford, Fowey, and Appledore.  West Country trading ketches were complete workhorses. The constant repair and maintenance needed to keep them afloat often meant an ecosystem of chandlers, boatbuilders, merchants, and sailmakers would thrive around small harbours.

What is a West Country Trading Ketch?

A  West Country trading ketch is a two-masted vessel typically around 100 feet (approximately 35 metres) in length. It cuts through the water with a sharp bow and a sweeping, rounded stern. The relatively deep keel provides stability in rough seas. At roughly 20ft (6 metres) across at its widest part, with two deck hatches for fast loading and unloading, West Country trading ketches were the perfect balance of spaciousness and speed. They were strong and nimble enough to conquer even the toughest conditions, but with room to transport between 75-150 tonnes of cargo in their hold. Their traditional rigging consisted of two gaff sails, a topsail, and up to four jib sails attached from the bowsprit. This made them easy to handle with a small crew, often made up of family members. Sailing speed varied but in a beam reach with a good breeze, it wasn’t uncommon to hit eight knots, making cargo delivery swift and efficient.

West Country Trading Ketch Design

The design of the West Country trading ketch was essentially as fast as a sail-powered cargo boat could get before diesel engines and steel hulls took over. They were some of the last commercial vessels to be built from wood. Everything from pitch pine, elm, and oak were in use for the construction of the hull – often a mixture, depending on the price of the raw materials. Trennels, or tree nails, usually made of oak (essentially strong wooden dowels, turned on a lathe) would have been used originally to hold the hull together, but in later designs and in refits, these were replaced with metal.

The history of the West Country Trading Ketch

In their heyday, the fleet of these ketches numbered around 700. However, like many other sail-powered boats, the decline of these ships began with the advent of internal combustion engines at the beginning of the 20th century. Although some were still used as late as the 1960s, many West Country trading ketches ended their working lives during the Second World War. During this period they were moored up in various estuaries and used to hold down barrage balloons which protected ports and harbours from enemy aircraft. Sadly, after the war, there was little money to be made by refurbishing these ships for commercial use, and many were left to rot in shipyards, or on the shores of the estuaries themselves.

West Country Trading Ketches today

The demise of the fleet of West Country trading ketches means that these vessels are now extraordinarily rare – only three remain in the UK. Venturesail are thrilled to be offering charters on Bessie Ellen, a West Country trading ketch whose history stretches back nearly 120 years. Her working years all began with a cargo of manure on her maiden voyage from Plymouth to Bideford in 1907. Bessie Ellen then worked through both World Wars, and her long history at sea has earned her a place on the National Historic Ships Register. Refurbished by owner and skipper Nikki Alford in the early 2000s, there’s nary a winch in sight and all sail handling is done by hand. Happily, though, the cargo hold has been converted into a comfortable main cabin with private bunks so you can relax after a day hoisting halyards and helming (as well as enjoying the stunning scenery of her sailing destinations).

Step back in time and experience the maritime history of these beautiful vessels for yourself with a voyage on Bessie Ellen.

The Best of the 2023 Maritime Festivals

Douarnenez Maritime Festival

The beauty of sailing, fundamentally, is getting out and about on the water, the freedom and fresh air that invigorates your soul. However, for those that aren’t ready to cross oceans, or for first time venture sailors, taking part in a festival afloat is a classic way to learn the ropes and experience what traditional sailing has to offer. No tents or muddy fields to master, just rather elegant maritime glamping. So get your sea boots on, ready to dance across the waves at the 2023 maritime festivals!

2023 will play host to a real variety of festivals afloat, each taking place in picturesque locations around our coasts.  Fleets of classic and historic craft parade across the bays creating a stunning picture of canvas and sail steeped in nostalgia.

We have a number of voyages taking part in maritime festivals this season – find all maritime festival voyages here.

2023 Maritime Festivals 

Brixham Heritage Regatta – 26th – 28th May 2023

May sees the start of events where the fishing town of Brixham hosts the Heritage Sailing regatta. Held in Torbay since the early 1800’s, the fleet of sailing trawlers would race against each other for the glory of their craft. In 1914 King George V presented the winner with the King’s Cup, to be challenged by trawlers over 40 tons. The cup was challenged annually until 1939, resuming in 1997 by enthusiasts. The regatta is now one of the Westcountry’s most vibrant sailing events! In the sheltered waters of the bay you can soak up the festivities in 2023 on board classic yacht, Escape for the weekend. Prince William Quay is the focal point for the weekend long party and celebration of classic sail.  Brixham Yacht Club host the event with a magnificent running buffet for hungry sailors when they come off the water on Sunday afternoon before the traditional prize giving.

Falmouth Classics and Sea Shanty Festival – 16th – 18th June 2023

Early summer sees the historic Cornish maritime town of Falmouth host the Falmouth Classics and Sea Shanty Festival, a weekend of sailing races, sail parades and shoreside entertainment and singers from the world over who gather to sing songs of the sea.

Head over to St. Mawes or the famous Helford river during the weekend, with sheltered waters and stunning scenery for a moment to get away from the bustling marinas. The races include classes for all, from working boats to classic yachts and the emphasis is on taking part and above all having fun.

Paimpol Sea Shanty Festival – 4th – 6th August 2023

Paimpol Sea Shanty FestivalPaimpol Festival du Chant de Marin, comes at the start of August, the perfect way to kick off the summer! The town was once home to a large fleet of fishing vessels that would sail across the Atlantic, fishing the deep seas. The maritime music festival celebrates the towns seafaring traditions with energetic dancing, classic wooden vessels, brass bands and the occasional sax lift the mood to remind the festival-goers that this is a celebration of maritime culture. The town itself has plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy, and the atmosphere is electric over the three day festival. 

Dartmouth Royal Regatta – 19th – 27th August 2023

The Dartmouth Royal Regatta finishes up the festival season this year, having been a key player on the regatta circuit since 1882! Competitors from all over the UK come to take part in the racing festivities, and it is a popular weekend with maritime lovers. On land, there’s shopping, food, music and all sorts of entertainment during Regatta week in Dartmouth. The Parade of Classic Craft is usually on the Saturday and heritage trawler Pilgrim of Brixham will join in the parade and provide a great viewing platform for the spectacular end of regatta firework display. Set sail with Pilgrim of Brixham to take part in this years festivites!

We hope to see you at one of these incredible events celebrating maritime culture in Europe. To join us on a sailing trip at a maritime festival, view all our festival voyages here.