If you’re a nature lover wishing to see one of Scotland’s most adorable seabirds, the puffin, there’s no better way than on an adventure sailing holiday to the Hebrides. The craggy coastline and secluded islands of the Hebrides make it one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland. These remote islands provide ideal nesting sites for these colourful and intriguing birds. Join us as we set sail to three spectacular puffin-watching locations: the Treshnish Isles, St Kilda, and the Shiant Isles.
Puffins, sometimes known as “clowns of the sea,” or “sea parrots” are mesmerising seabirds with vivid orange beaks, dramatic black and white plumage, and a funny waddling stride. Puffins are well-adapted to a life on the water, as their wings are designed for underwater propulsion, allowing them to be excellent divers. They primarily feed on small fish, such as sand eels and herring. Breeding colonies are a significant part of puffin life. They nest in burrows or rocky crevices on cliffs and islands, where they lay a single egg. Both parents take turns incubating the egg and caring for the chick after it hatches. Puffins are monogamous and often return to the same nesting site year after year, forming strong bonds with their partners. Whilst puffins can be spotted all over the world in off the beaten track locations, the best places to see puffins in Scotland are truly remote, and often only accessible by boat!
When is the best time to see puffins in Scotland?
Plan your trip during the breeding season, from late April to early August, to experience the magic of puffins engaging in courtship displays, caring for their chicks, and thriving in their coastal colonies.
The Treshnish Isles
The Treshnish Isles are a series of small islands off the western shore of the Isle of Mull in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Lunga, Staffa, Bac Mr, and Dutchman’s Cap are the main islands in this archipelago. Highly regarded as one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland, the largest of the Treshnish Isles, Lunga, is famous for its thriving puffin colony. As you sail towards Lunga, you’ll be welcomed by stunning views of puffins sitting on cliff ledges, performing courtship dances, and plunging into the water to grab fish for their brood. The island provides ideal nesting conditions for these birds, with its rocky terrain and abundance of burrows. Visitors can get quite close to the puffins with careful approach, providing amazing chances for observation and photography.
The St Kilda archipelago
Our sailing expeditions to Scotland often venture to the ‘islands at the edge of the world’, St Kilda. This UNESCO World Heritage site consists of four main islands: Hirta (the largest and only inhabited island), Dun, Soay, and Boreray. Sailing to St Kilda is an adventure in itself, as it requires crossing 42 miles of the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the effort is rewarded with an unforgettable encounter with one of the most significant seabird colonies in the world. Among the millions of seabirds that inhabit the islands, the puffin population stands out as one of the most iconic. Puffins find their nesting spots on the steep cliffs of St Kilda, creating a stunning spectacle as they come and go with fish to feed their chicks. The isolation of St Kilda has allowed its wildlife, including the puffins, to thrive undisturbed.
The Shiant Isles
The Shiant Isles, also known as the “Enchanted Isles,” lie in the Minch, a strait that separates the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The Shiant Isles are home to a diverse range of seabirds, with puffins being one of the major attractions. These islands are a vital nesting site for the puffins, providing an ideal habitat for breeding and raising their young. Only accessible by boat, whilst being fairly close to the mainland, the Shiant Isles are one of the best places to see puffins in Scotland off the beaten track! As you approach the Shiants on your sailing vessel, you’ll be welcomed by the raucous calls of seabirds filling the air. The cliffs of the Shiants are dotted with puffins, offering an incredible opportunity to observe and photograph these charming birds up close.
Set sail on a puffin spotting adventure
All our sailing expeditions to Scotland provide a gateway to some of the most remarkable places to see puffins in Scotland. From the Treshnish Isles’ abundant wildlife to the remote splendour of St Kilda and the enchanting Shiant Isles, each destination promises an extraordinary encounter with these lovable seabirds amidst breathtaking natural surroundings. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or simply a nature lover, our sailing adventures offer an unparalleled opportunity to witness the comical charm of puffins in their natural habitats.
Tired of the usual go-to choices for your next family trip? Then why not join us for a stress-free skippered family sailing holiday?
Our unique fleet sail in stunning locations around the globe offering a range fully skippered and catered sailing adventures. Best of all, no experience is needed to climb aboard and guests have the option of doing as little or as much as they like. From individual berths to whole boat charters, set sail on a skippered family sailing holiday with us in 2023!
Why choose a family sailing holiday?
Our family sailing holidays provide an ideal opportunity for families to connect and create lasting memories. With no distractions you can focus on spending quality time together, engaging and forming strong family bonds. Sailing holidays also encourage self-reliance, problem-solving, and teamwork. Children will also have the chance to actively participate in sailing tasks. These could include helping hoist the sails, steer the ship, and learning the ropes of seamanship under the guidance of experienced crew members. Of course there are benefits for parents too, as you relax, unwind and indulge with no cooking, cleaning or washing up to do!
Whether you’re dreaming of traditional sailing in Denmark, luxurious escapades in Sardinia, embarking on a thrilling pirate ship adventure in the Caribbean, discovering the wonders of the Faroe Islands, or sailing the crystal-clear waters of the Saronic Islands in Greece, we have curated an array of remarkable experiences to cater to every family’s desires. Keep reading to discover five of the best family sailing holidays for 2023, handpicked by VentureSail.
1. Greek Island Sailing on Zorba A short flight to Athens and you can be on board Zorba within a couple of hours of landing for your family sailing holiday in Greece. Teenagers will love the Instagram-worthy turquoise waters and out-of-this world scenery. There is also the chance for the whole family to swim, snorkel and explore ancient historic sites all whilst soaking up the Grecian sun. Each island is completely different so no two days are the same – boredom is not an option!
Warm evenings are spent in local taverna’s feasting on delicious traditional Greek cuisine. It’s the perfect way to switch off, relax and get back to simple family pleasures while enjoying good food, fabulous weather and comfortable accommodation. Owners Aga and Greg are the perfect hosts, making a stress-free sailing experience. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere aboard Zorba encourages quality family time. Spend evenings stargazing from the deck, sharing stories and laughter, and forging bonds that will last a lifetime. View Zorba‘s 2023 Summer Schedule >
2.Sustainable Family Adventure Holiday in Denmark
A sustainable family sailing holiday in Denmark’s South Funen will certainly capture the imaginations of parents and children alike. Step aboard magnificent schooner Aron, a beautifully preserved historic tall ship. A family sailing holiday with Aron is a journey where time seems to slow down, and the cares of the world fade away. This traditional sailing holiday also presents a unique blend of relaxation, exploration, and cultural immersion. Children will undoubtedly delight in helping hoist the sails and steer the ship, fostering a sense of adventure, teamwork, and independence.
The islands of South Funen reveal a world of enchantment, with each possessing its own distinct personality and landscape. From the charming island of Skaaro, renowned for its delectable ice cream and idyllic thatched cottages, to the fairy-tale town of Ærøskøbing on the island of Ærø, where 18th-century architecture transports you to a bygone era. Embracing the power of the Baltic winds, this journey emphasises ecological consciousness, sustainability, and local experiences.While you indulge in delicious home-cooked meals using locally sourced produce, you can also relish the tranquility of the sea, the sound of wind-filled sails, and the gentle creaking of the wooden ship. Children of all ages are welcome aboard Aron, while it is advisable for younger children to have some prior experience at sea. The ship provides a safe and comfortable environment for families to create lasting memories together.
3.Swashbuckling Caribbean Family Holiday Ahoy, pirates! Prepare to set sail on a thrilling Caribbean holiday aboard the historic tall ship Florette. Here families, children, and teenagers will experience the adventure of a lifetime, just like in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Florette even has a voyage tailor-made for the Christmas holidays! Her Caribbean family sailing holidays offer a perfect blend of island hopping, exhilarating sailing, and endless opportunities for tropical exploration and relaxation. The experience of sailing on this magnificent vessel is certainly integral part of the adventure, allowing children and teenagers to witness the power of the wind as they hoist the sails and steer the ship.
Island hopping through the Windward Islands will unveil a world of natural wonders and thrilling activities. Discover secluded bays with crystal-clear waters, perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking. Meanwhile, paddle along the coastline, marvelling at natural rock formations, or relax on pristine sandy beaches that stretch for miles. Captain Ron, who grew up on the ship himself, and now sails with his two daughters, shares the ship’s fascinating history with guests, captivating young minds with tales of adventure and exploration.
Set sail on an extraordinary family sailing holiday with traditional Indonesian vessels Katharina and Ombak Putih for a once in a lifetime family adventure to the furthest corners of this island nation. Both vessels offer a range of experiences, from encountering the Orangutans of Borneo to witnessing the mighty dragons of Komodo and swimming alongside the legendary whale sharks. Indonesia’s endemic species, protected coral reefs, and ancient rainforests provide a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and adventure seekers. As you watch the sunrise over the stunning volcanic landscapes, you’ll breathe in the fresh ocean air and immerse yourself in the wonders of Indonesia.
On board both vessels, your family will experience the warmth of Indonesian culture and hospitality. Each ship offers kayaks, snorkeling gear, and SUPs for guests to enjoy, while the attentive crew can organize additional activities ashore. Indonesia’s pristine coral reefs, teeming with a rich variety of marine species, offer unparalleled snorkeling opportunities. Escape the tourist crowds and discover the untouched beauty of these remote areas, where the reefs have flourished undisturbed. Our family sailing holidays in Indonesia provide the perfect chance to explore these remarkable underwater worlds, ensuring a truly unforgettable experience for families, children, and teenagers alike.
5. Family sailing holiday to the breathtaking Faroe Islands
Join adventure yacht Cherokee to explore the Faroe Islands, nestled in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean. This unique sailing area boasts fantasy-like landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and breathtaking waterfalls. The Faroe Islands is a truly otherworldly setting that will leave families in awe. Exploring these enchanting isles by boat unveils otherwise inaccessible beauty spots. This ensures an extraordinary experience for families seeking to connect with nature and discover the wonders of this isolated paradise.
Families are warmly encouraged to actively participate in all aspects of sailing, guided by skipper Jouke’s relaxed expertise. Take the helm, lend a hand with winching the sails, anchor the yacht, and even learn basic chart navigation. Prepare for an unforgettable journey through this magical corner of the world aboard Cherokee, where family sailing and extraordinary natural beauty intertwine to create lifelong memories. View this voyage here >
If you have any questions about a skippered family sailing holiday or would like to find out more please contact [email protected] or call one of our friendly team on 01872 487288.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
For centuries, Scotland and the Hebrides have been known for their rugged coastline and breathtaking scenery, attracting travellers from all over the world. Now, more than ever before, it is also gaining recognition for the diverse range of wildlife species that call the Hebrides home.
With a wealth of ecosystems and wildlife habitats, there are species found nowhere else in the world, making this an extraordinary location for nature lovers. From majestic sea eagles soaring the skies to sea otters fishing for their dinner, the flora and fauna of the Hebrides is so unique that there’s no better way to experience it all than with a Scottish sailing holiday.
Scotland is home to an astounding array of wildlife on land, perhaps unsurprising considering the diverse range of ecosystems and habitats present in this corner of the world. One of the many benefits of a sailing holiday in the Hebrides is the opportunity to spend time experiencing so many different areas and islands in one holiday, maximising your chances of spotting Scottish wildlife on land.
The Scottish Wildcat
Britain’s last remaining large predator and only wild feline. The wildcat has evolved and adapted to the Scottish landscape and pre-dates even early human existence! Unfortunately, the Scottish Wildcat is currently considered endangered, although there are a number of projects working to save the species.
Where to see the Scottish Wildcat: Found throughout the mainland of Scotland. Most typically seen between dusk and dawn in clearings in woodland or grassland. Look out for them on a voyage along the Caledonian Canal with tall ship the Flying Dutchman or ketch Steady.
The Red Deer
The Red Deer is Scotland’s largest and most magnificent deer species. Red Deer are perhaps most known for their large antlers, visible during the autumn mating season. At this time of year, males attempt to claim their territories and ‘rut’ one another, making a magnificent sight on your wildlife holiday in Scotland.
Where to see Red Deer in Scotland: A common sight across the mainland andthe Hebrides. Keep an eye out for these majestic creatures across the Outer Hebrides, and the Small Isles. Red Deer are frequently seen on our Small Isles sailing voyages, particularly on the Isle of Rum.
The Mountain Hare
Native to Scotland, but also found across Scandinavia, the Mountain Hare is one of the sweetest Scottish wildlife sightings. They can often be found sitting perfectly still whilst eating, or bounding across the moors, although their seasonal camouflage can make them a rather tricky spot! With a grey-brown coat in the summer that changes to an arctic white in the winter, they are most recognisable by the tips of their ears which remain dark brown year round.
Where to see Mountain Hares in the Hebrides:Mountain hares are a frequent sightin less populated areas of the Hebrides. They are common across the Outer Hebrides as well as Eigg in the Small Isles.
In the Water – Scotland Marine Wildlife Guide
From the mighty humpback whale to the humble grey seal, the marine life in the Hebrides is truly a wonder to behold. The best way to maximise your chances of seeing the most Scottish marine wildlife is undoubtedly on a sailing holiday, where you’ll have the chance to sail amongst these animals in their natural habitats.
Dolphins and Porpoises
A common sight on sailing adventures around the world, dolphins are no less special when spotted in Scotland. Marvel as they glide along the bow, swimming in the wake of the boat and playfully dancing in the water. Bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and porpoises all call the waters of West Scotland and the Hebrides their home.
Where to see dolphins and Porpoises in the Hebrides:The waters between Oban, South Uist, North Uist, Eigg, and Skye are home to a wide array of dolphins, with bottlenose and common dolphins and porpoises a regular spot. To catch a glimpse of the more elusive Risso’s dolphin, head for the waters between Ullapool to Stornoway. All our Scottish voyages have a high likelihood of coming in to contact with dolphins. Head to the Inner Hebrides with Stravaigin for the best chances of seeing common and bottlenose dolphins.Or sail with Steady from Oban to Ullapool to spot the rare Risso’s Dolphin.
Whether it’s the star ‘West Coast Community’ pod of Orcas that call Scotland home, or the more commonly sighted Minke, whales have resided in Scotland for centuries. In fact, there were previously whaling stations across the Hebrides, although thankfully now the focus is on whale conservation. Our charity partners at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have a wide range of useful information available, including a live whale tracker!
Recent research has shown that humpback whales have made a comeback in Scotland, with more than 100 sightings now recorded. Humpback whales have a somewhat distinctive appearance with a predominantly black body and white patches on the underside.
Where to see humpback whales in Scotland:Although a rare sight, Humpback whales passthrough Scottish waters throughout the year. The best chance of spotting them is off the coast of the Hebrides during their migration seasons in autumn and spring as they travel between Africa and Norway.
Best spotted in the sailing season between April and October, Minke whales are the smallest whale found in the UK. They are common sights on our Scottish wildlife adventures, and incredibly inquisitive creatures, regularly coming to investigate our boats! We operate a wildlife code of conduct at sea, turning our engines off and letting animals approach as they wish.
Scotland’s West coast is home to the UK’s only resident pod of orcas, the aptly named ‘West Coast Community’. This small pod consists of just 8 killer whales, a quarter of the size of a usual pod, and far more difficult to spot! Nonetheless, these resident whales are undoubtedly the pinnacle of Scottish wildlife spots.
Where to see Orcas in Scotland: You’ll be incredibly lucky to catch a glimpse of these rare creatures, but there is a chance to spot them in the Hebrides! The West Coast Community are most likely to be seen around the Small Isles and Skye, so could be potential spots on our Hebridean sailing holidays with pilot cutterPellew and tall ship the Flying Dutchman.
In the Sky – Guide to Bird Watching in the Hebrides
The inner and outer Hebrides are home to an incredible variety of bird life, from charming puffin colonies to majestic golden eagles to nesting seabirds. No Scottish wildlife-watching holiday would be complete without a sighting of some incredible birdlife, and sailing holidays undoubtedly offer the best opportunity to see some of these creatures in their natural habitats.
Arguably one of the most iconic species of bird in Scotland, Puffins are undoubtedly one of our favourite Hebridean wildlife spots. Puffins have a distinct charm and appeal, and it is fascinating to watch them communicate with their brightly coloured bills. A visit to a friendly puffin colony is a must when hopping ashore, they are incredibly inquisitive and always come to say hello!
Where to see puffins in Scotland: Although they can be spotted across the inner and outer Hebrides, with large colonies on St Kilda, the most special place to visit them is the isle of Lunga in the Treshnish isles and the island of Staffa, where they can be found nesting during the breeding season between March and May. Head to the isle of Staffa with expedition yacht Zuza, or tall ship Bessie Ellen.
The golden eagle is truly a spectacular sight on a wildlife trip to the Hebrides. The eagle survives, and even thrives as a predator in the harsher environments in Scotland, being able to reach speeds of up to 200mph when diving for prey. Scotland is a stronghold for the Golden Eagle, with the highest population in Europe.
Where to see Golden Eagles in Scotland: The Outer Hebrides is home to the largest population of Golden Eagles in Scotland. The remote, untamed nature of these islands means that they reside surprisingly close to human settlements. Pay close attention on the Isle of Harris, where an eagle observatory is located.
Scotland is of high international importance for seabird colonies, and more than 5 million seabirds breed there each year. An incredible array of birds call the Hebrides home, from the closely related Shags and Cormorants to the Guillemots and Razorbills that nest on cliffs. Other common bird watching sights in the Hebrides include Osprey, Skua, Manx, Shearwater and Petrel birds. Most seabirds are common across the mainland of Scotland as well as the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and a sailing holiday means you’re never far away from some incredible spots.
Where to see seabirds in Scotland: One of the best places to spot seabirds is on a voyage to St Kilda, an epic dual world heritage site that is uninhabited aside from the hundreds of seabirds that call the towering cliffs home. The outer Hebrides and Shiants are also home to an incredible array of seabirds, often spotted on voyages with yacht Zuza, tall ship Bessie Ellen, and ketch Steady.
A sailing holiday in Scotland and The Hebrides is an unforgettable experience that provides visitors with a unique opportunity to witness some of Europe’s most spectacular wildlife up close while exploring diverse landscapes and ecosystems. None of our voyages require sailing experience, and our range of fleet offers something for every traveller. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Scottish wildlife adventure today!
Whether you’re an experienced sailor or you’re new to the nautical world and are wanting to try a sailing experience, our incredible range of skippered sailing holidays in the UK offer an adventure to suit everyone.
Why Choose a Skippered Sailing Holiday in the UK?
The benefits of a skippered sailing holiday, where you can book a berth, cabin, or even the whole boat, are extensive. Firstly, you’re able to truly relax, knowing that a fully qualified crew and skipper are taking care of all safety measures and planning the best sailing routes, whatever the weather. This gives you plenty of opportunity to learn the ropes and get hands on with sailing the boat or sit back take in the view – the choice is yours! Secondly, all meals are included in the ticket price of our skippered sailing holidays in the UK which are prepared fresh each day by a dedicated chef on board. Time on the water can certainly boost your appetite so you can be sure of good quality local produce and freshly baked treats with a warming cuppa along the way. With all other distractions of a busy life out of the way, you can truly relax and enjoy all the benefits that come with spending time out on the water, immersing yourself in the natural world whilst discovering new destinations.
1.Skippered sailing holidays in the Hebrides For many, the search for a skippered sailing holiday in the UK starts with the renowned Hebrides. This enchanting collection of Scottish islands are undoubtedly best explored by boat, with each isle different from the next. These world-class sailing waters are home to a fantastic array of wildlife; from whales to basking sharks, sea birds to seals, otters, deer and even the occasional orca pod! Our skippered sailing holidays in the Hebrides provide plenty of time to wildlife watch whilst soaking up the breathtaking scenery, anchoring in deep lochs and exploring the rich and varied landscape ashore.
2. Skippered Sailing Holidays to St Kilda Steeped in mystery and wonder, the uninhabited isles of St Kilda are known as ‘the islands at the edge of the world’ and for good reason. Now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site for both natural beauty and cultural significance, St Kilda has earned its place on many a bucket list. Only accessible by boat, these alluring isles are one of our top picks for a unique skippered sailing holiday in the UK. Approaching the islands, one can’t help but appreciate the wild beauty and sheer remoteness, marvelling at how the residents fared until their evacuation in 1930. Stepping ashore, you will uncover the eerie remnants of civilisations combined with sweeping vistas across the iconic sea stacks and rugged natural landscape, populated with an abundance of native flora and fauna that can’t be found elsewhere.
Sail here with tall ship Blue Clipper to immerse yourself in traditional sailing, or join expedition yacht Zuza for smooth and steady sailing to St Kilda. Make sure to read our journal to learn more about sailing with Zuza, or read more about sailing to St Kilda.
3. Skippered sailing holidays in Devon Fondly referred to as ‘the English Riviera’, pretty Devon offers some of our favourite skippered sailing holidays in the UK. And the good transports links available means Devon is the perfect place to while away a long weekend. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced sailor, Devon is a great choice for getting out on the water offering a fabulous combination of sheltered waters and exhilarating coastal sailing. Enjoy time exploring traditional fishing towns, sail through tranquil rivers, and soak in the magnificent views from deck.
4. Skippered Sailing Holidays in Cornwall The home of VentureSail, our list of skippered sailing holidays in the UK wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Cornwall. Sail and explore an incredibly diverse and ever-changing coastline, discover hidden coves and deep estuaries, marvel at the towering dramatic cliffs, and visit quaint traditional harbours to enjoy a pasty or Cornish ice-cream. Rich in maritime history, Cornwall is home to a treasure trove of local legends including tales of pirates, smugglers and even the odd mermaid or two!
5. Skippered sailing holidays in the Isles of Scilly If you’re looking for a skippered sailing holiday in the UK that feels just a touch more exotic, venture to the sub-tropical archipelago of the Isles of Scilly. The crossing from Cornwall is truly exhilarating, offering incredible sailing with majestic views of the west Cornish coast. A slower pace of life can be found on the Scilly Isles, allowing you to relax on deck and take in the view, swim or snorkel in incredibly crystal clear waters whilst basking in the warmer-than-average temperatures. Often described as ‘a place like nowhere else in England’ you would be easily forgiven for thinking you’re on a sailing holiday in the Caribbean. The remote nature of this archipelago means a sailing holiday is the only way to discover it all, with plenty of time to step ashore to roam the islands at will. From incredible walking trails, to archaeological sites, powder soft deserted beaches and tempting eateries, there is plenty to occupy every traveller. And after a heavenly day exploring, lie back to take in the star-filled skies – the Isles of Scilly are an official Dark Sky area proffering magnificent star-gazing opportunities.
If a skippered sailing holiday in the UK sounds like it might be for you, or would like to find out more please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can reach one of our friendly team on 01872 487288, or at [email protected].
At fifty miles in length, the Isle of Skye is the largest of the inner Hebrides and the second largest island in Scotland. Although connected to the north-west Scottish mainland by bridge, the island remains remote, rugged and seemingly untouched by the modern advances and with approximately 30% of the local population speaking Gaelic, it is easy to forget you are just moments from the British mainland. The best way to discover this part of Scotland certainly has to be a sailing holiday in Skye.
A sailing holiday in Scotland is an utter joy as we are among some of the finest sailing waters in the world. If weather permits, you may visit one of the lochs, in particular Loch Scavaig and Loch Coruisk deemed to be ‘the wildest scene in the Highlands’ Nestled on the southern half of the islands, at the foot of the often mist-shrouded Black and Skye Cuillin, the waters here are almost completely enclosed and said to be home to kelpies. Anchoring on Loch Scavaig, at the mouth of Loch Coruisk is utterly breath taking and perhaps one of the most awesome anchorages in the world. Step ashore to uncover another world, exploring foothills, untamed landscapes and the dark granite cliffs. Adding a little life to this often eerily quiet and still setting is the resident seal colony as well as the occasional playful dolphins who accompany vessels across the waters, dancing in and out of the bow waves.
IS THE ISLE OF SKYE GOOD FOR WILDLIFE WATCHING?
Wildlife watching in Scotland is exceptional and nature lovers will delight in the numerous opportunities to observe the plethora of animal species in their natural habitats on Skye. These who venture across the island may be rewarded with Red Deer, Otters, Sea Eagles, Hen Harriers and the Pine Marten. Out at sea, the waters almost throb with marine life with sea-farers often spotting seals, dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks and a variety of whales. On a sailing adventure in this wildlife haven it’s best to keep cameras at the ready to capture memorable moments, you won’t be disappointed.
THE HISTORY OF SKYE
The beauty and history of Skye has longed lured filmmakers with the island featuring in many a Hollywood film including King Arthur, Transformers and the Legend of the Sword. Its wide and varied history can be seen in the seven castles that are located across the island, some are ruined remains whilst others stand tall and statuesque but each point to Skye’s tumultuous past, one of clan feuds and violent battles. Each of our ventures to Skye allow time to explore the island so it is worth speaking with the crew who will be able to assist with any land arrangements to ensure your sailing holiday adventure is as you wish.
The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s most second visited destinations after Edinburgh and is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes. It is a land of fairy pools, velvet moors and towering sea cliffs. Of mist shrouded jagged mountains, folklore and wonder. Barren and windswept, sailing holidays to Skye are thrilling and there is no denying that this enchanting, majestic island will hold visitors under its spell long after departing.
Feel like getting away from it all but not excited about having to face long airport queues and flights? Then whisk yourself away for a Microcation, a shorter break in a place close to home. A much simpler option that allows travellers to hop in the car, on a train or bus to a chosen location where they can escape for a few days. Sound heavenly? Read on for our Microcation suggestions;
A Taste of Sailing in Devon
The sheltered south coast of Devon is the perfect place to learn the ropes and get to grips with life at sea whilst sailing along the stunning English Riviera. Climb aboard classic ships Pilgrim of Brixham or Escape and disconnect from life ashore. Discover sheltered coves, bustling harbours and peaceful anchorages on board these classic vessels, both offering comfortable sailing and the chance to totally switch off for a few days. Departing from Dartmouth or Brixham, join us for an exhilarating long weekend that guarantees guests return feeling refreshed, revived and relaxed after time spent on the water.
Beautiful, iconic Cornwall. Where better to while away a long weekend this spring. Sail away with one of our traditional sailing boats to unwind for a few days, exploring the gorgeous coastline and picture-perfect harbours from the water. Join Agnes, Unity or Maybe for some traditional hands-on sailing or gather up a couple of friends or loved ones to see Cornwall with your own private charter. With regular train links in to the county from all major cities, a short break to this sunny county is easier than you may think.
For pure escapism, head to Scilly. Set just a short flight from Exeter, Newquay or Land’s End airport, or a ferry ride across from Penzance they are easily accessible and offer an experience like nowhere else in England. Think crystal clear azure waters, powder soft white sands, fresh-off-the-boat seafood and out of this world star-gazing – the Isles of Scilly has it all. Sailing holidays in Scilly are simply magical and a blissful way to escape the everyday and you can enjoy a Microcation with your choice of vessel, from traditional tall ship Maybe to magnificent gaff ketch Pilgrim of Brixham.
Mircocations in Scotland
A few days away exploring the Hebrides and unplugging from technology or busy lives is an ideal way to recharge your batteries. The minute you set sail from Oban and head out through the Sound of Mull and the Isle of Kerrera, it’s instant relaxation, with the wind in your sails and an abundance of wildlife to look out for. Join yacht Straviagin for a 2-night swim & sail experience, where you can swim from the boat in some of the most idyllic locations in Scotland, with a warm shower waiting when you are back on board. Jump on board a tall ship taster trip with Bessie Ellen or Blue Clipper and try your hand at traditional sailing. These 4-day adventures give you a taste of life under sail of a bygone age, learn the ropes and meet like-minded people to explore with – perfect for the solo traveller.
Venture with us to the ancient uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides to discover the mesmerising Fingal’s Cave, located on the southern edge of the island. This incredible and fascinating sea cave towers 227ft over the ocean and is comprised of geometric volcanic basalt pillars, giving the impression that it’s been crafted by human hands instead of carved by mother nature and the elements.
These hexagonal columns, shaped in neat six-sided pillars that make up the interior walls and entering into this strange cavern is truly otherwordly. Aside from these incredible shapes, the acoustics are equally astonishing with the naturally formed arched roof providing the perfect amphitheatre as the ocean crashes in to create haunting symphonies. In fact, the cave was referred to as ‘Uamh-Binn’ – the Cave of Melodies in Celtic due to the harmonious sounds heard here which can be likened to those that resonate throughout a cathedral. It is something that must be experienced first-hand in order to truly understand how unique this is.
The Legend of Fingal’s Cave When sailing in the Hebrides it soon becomes obvious that these are lands of myths and legends and Fingal’s Cave is no exception. It is believed to have been formed some 60 million years ago by the very same ancient lava flow that created the Giant’s Causeway, across the sea in Ireland. Both are made of the same basalt columns and legend holds that they were the opposite ends of an ancient bridge built by the benevolent Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill who discovers that the Scottish giant Benandonner is coming to fight with him. Following a clever deception by Fionn’s wife, which frightens Benandonner to his very core, Benandonner returns to Scotland smashing the bridge behind him so Fionn cannot follow him.
WIldlife on the isle of Staffa However, it is not solely Fingal’s Cave that lures visitors here. The beautiful Isle of Staffa is home to one of the Hebrides largest puffin colonies, who congregate on the cliffs and spend their days diving into the water from where they return with a beak full of fish. Lucky visitors are able to while away the time observing these comical, curious and colourful little birds without disturbing their natural environment. For those wishing to see puffins, we recommend visiting during the breeding season, between the start of May and the start of August when the birds have their distinctive colourful beaks. Aside from puffins, there are numerous other seabirds that either nest or feed from the island including gannets, guillemots, razorbills, great northern divers, fulmars and great skuas.
With a staggering 10,250 miles of coastline, Scotland and its islands provide an unparalleled playground for every sailor – from complete novices to the most seasoned skippers. The wild west coast, in particular, boasts fjord-like sea lochs punctuated by mountainous promontories, providing both much-needed shelter and, at times, their very own weather systems.
A land of opportunity and unique experiences, with hosts as friendly as they are passionate about their sensational homeland, Scotland offers something for everyone – from music festivals, history and diverse wildlife to unrationed adrenaline, breath-taking vistas and the world’s finest whisky.
Arriving in Style
Stunning scenery is sure to dazzle visitors arriving by air, road, rail or sea – but catching one’s very first glimpses of Scotland’s enchanting landscapes from the water guarantees the most beautiful bypass to traffic, trains and tourist traps. Add to this an enormous sense of accomplishment for mastering some of the most challenging British waters and spine-tingling anticipation for the rich bounty awaiting you, and your arrival will be all the sweeter.
As the days grow longer, ‘A Sailor’s Voyage to Scotland’ on the Bessie Ellen offers a fantastic opportunity to arrive in Scotland under sail, taking in the country’s unrivalled beauty from a traditional ship. Departing from Fowey in Cornwall, sailors can soak up the gradual changes in landscape from the West Country all the way up to Scotland’s wonderful west coast while clocking up 11 days’ worth of nautical miles and an abundance of open water sailing experience, both by day and by night.
Beats a Bothy
Walkers in Scotland traditionally break for the night in a humble bothy – a simple shelter from the elements, often without any facilities whatsoever – but the crew of the Bessie Ellen can retreat to their cosy berths to recuperate after a day well spent. Those on night watch need not feel hard done by; navigating the wide-open sea by starlight provides the ultimate consolation prize. Better still, Bessie Ellen is fully catered at breakfast, lunch and dinner – and for snacks and drinks too.
Peel Harbour on the Isle of Man provides the first port of call (and an abundance of world famous smoked kippers) before Bessie Ellen sets sail once again through the North Channel, past the Isle of Islay and the narrow strait of Coryvrekkan and calling in on the islands of Colonsay or Jura (subject to the prevailing weather conditions, of course). Sailors can steady their sea legs once and for all at their destination, Oban, before soaking up all that mainland Scotland has to offer.
Oban itself makes for an unforgettable introduction to Scotland. Taking its name from the Gaelic for ‘little bay’, Oban is nestled within miles of dramatic coastline and scenic countryside, providing a gateway not only to the Hebrides but to castles, gardens, galleries, independent shops, a distillery and even a chocolate factory. Its coves and rich sea life provide the ultimate reward at the end of a lengthy voyage, with the most magical west-facing sunsets as the lengthening days draw to a close.
The First Visit of Many
Little wonder, then, that Scotland lies at every skipper’s heart. The weather might keep the masses at bay – but ensures that no sailor ever becomes a stranger to this instantly and reassuringly familiar nation.
Dónal moved from the North of England to the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde in 1986 at the age of 14. His father’s family being Irish, he quickly adapted to life on a Scottish Island and became immersed in the culture, which included smallholding, sailing and music; all of which, he developed a passion for. Read why Dónal loves to live, work and sail on the Firth of Clyde.
“A sailing holiday in the Firth of Clyde really does have a little bit of everything; stunning islands and lochs, with plenty of deep water anchorages and harbours, fishing villages & Victorian holiday towns.
There are breweries, famous distilleries and plenty of live music in pubs and festivals throughout the year. On my home island of Arran, situated in the Lochranza Bay, the Lochranza Distillery is famous for its Scottish whisky and is well worth a visit.
Along with sailing this beautiful part of Scotland, I love the music life here. Celtic music is in our roots and I really try to capture this within my Bistro on the Isle of Arran. I am really looking forward to bringing the hospitality and music of my Bistro onboard Lady of Avenel with my Crofters’ Cruises.
We are really lucky with the wildlife in the Firth of Clyde. It’s a nature lovers’ dream with massive diversity. From dolphins swimming in the wake of Lady of Avenel’s bow to common seals basking in the sun, we also have spottings of humpback and killer whales!
From a practical sailing point of view, there are very few tidal constraints in the Clyde and most importantly for novices, it is well sheltered from the Atlantic. There is always somewhere to explore and enjoy, amongst the islands and lochs, even in bad weather. Pilotage is straightforward and there’s relatively little commercial traffic, so it makes for a really relaxing, enjoyable cruising holiday.”
Crofters’ Cruises on the Lady of Avenel are the fulfilment of Dónal’s ambition to combine all three of his passions into an extraordinary project, made possible by Stefan Fritz, owner of Lady of Avenel, with whom Dónal has sailed extensively and run a very successful first Crofters’ Cruise from Oban to Donegal last summer.
At the dawn of a new decade, we cannot help but look forward to lighter evenings, fairer weather, longer passages and a whole year of opportunities to clock up our sailing miles.
Being so far north, the Hebrides enjoy the longest days in the summer months and freedom from light pollution on the darkest nights, providing an astronomical feast for the eyes with the most spectacular star-gazing and regular appearances from the Northern Lights. Our sailing schedule offers a wealth of opportunity to explore Scotland’s Western Isles, even venturing to the mysterious St Kilda, a world heritage site, nature reserve and outpost for the very edge of the world.
The sensational Scottish islands (all 750 of them!) are considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s immense coastline, with remote islets, secluded sea lochs and sheltered coves often entirely inaccessible by land. It certainly takes time and effort to reach these sparkling seascapes, but intrepid adventurers are rewarded for their efforts with an expanse of vivid azure and the whitest sand that really must be seen to be believed.
Binoculars are essential here; the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold waters of Scotland’s staggering mountains create an incredible marine microclimate brimming with plankton, laying rich foundations for a spectacular food chain. Resident orca, curious dolphin pods, friendly puffins, plunging gannets, basking sharks, humpback whales and even golden eagles make for the sea safari of a lifetime. Local seals are so familiar that islanders give them names; sailors have been known to dive in and join them!
Closer to land, wildlife spotters might catch sight of red deer, wild goats and ponies, rare flora, fauna and butterflies; we could go on for some time. A feast for the eyes awaits, and for the table too, as hungry sailors can refuel with fresh langoustines, scallops and crab. The catch, as some see it, is Scotland’s infamous midge population – but happily, they are very unlikely to join you aboard your vessel.
Often racing through four seasons in a day, the Western Isles may not be famed for consistently fair weather but reliably provide outstanding sailing conditions – and the magical light upon tranquil Hebridean waters when storms pass is a sight to behold. Atlantic gales can roll in year-round, but the lee of Scotland’s beautiful island chains and volcanic peaks provide protected waters and sheltered anchorages from almost all wind directions. Our crews know the secret spots and safe havens for reducing sail and regrouping – and come rain or shine, you will be immersed in the most spellbinding landscape with plenty to see.
On Dry Land
Stepping ashore, each enchanting island is steeped in individual history, culture, identity and charm. There are endless trekking opportunities for restless sea legs, climbing to the highest peaks or beachcombing on deserted powdery stretches of coastline. Inhabited islands offer colourful fishing ports, vibrant galleries, cafes, museums and shops, with culinary delights ranging from the world’s greatest black puddings to the very finest of fine dining. Uninhabited islands offer unparalleled nature reserves – and peace like nowhere else in the world.
After a busy day exploring the islands and their literary links (George Orwell completed 1984 on Jura), centuries-old distilleries (Islay alone is home to eight, creating some of the finest whiskies in the world) and dramatic rock formations (the mystical Fingal’s Cave inspired Mendelssohn’s overture), you can retreat to your cabin and compare notes with your shipmates; no two experiences of the Hebrides are ever the same.
The Queen is widely known to have adored her annual family holidays in the Western Isles aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia – so much so that she wept at the ship’s decommissioning. We understand entirely. These islands are a world away from hurried modern living; their beauty is universally moving and will forever hold a special place in the hearts of visitors.
Gone are the days where a holiday is a true holiday – away from everyday life, a break from modern technologies. Think back thirty years when contact was made through the hotel receptionist, mobile phones weren’t glued to our hands or held like radars to find the G’s and you begin to wonder just how we are supposed to take a break.
With the lure of the internet, working holidays, emails and phone calls are far too quickly packed into the suitcase and allowed to follow us on our worldwide travels. So begs the question – when do we really get a chance to truly switch off and how do we do it?
Off-grid holidays to remote places and awe-inspiring locations are fast becoming a popular choice with travellers and what better way than a sailing holiday. With offerings of fresh sea air, destinations off the beaten track and the chance to share the experience with select like-minded individuals, we can’t think of a better way to holiday. Sure, the phone will be there to take beautiful photos of amazing locations but by the time the first day is out and signal still evades, you’ll sink back into that cherished holiday mode and fall into the cycles of nature. You’ll be sailed away from the man-made constraints of time where the clock rarely gets checked, mealtimes structure the day and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can settle into off-grid life.
The best bit about being on a boat with full board is that the home comforts, hot meals and cosy beds are all still readily available. And did we mention the amazing locations that boats can get to? The off-the-beaten tracks little trodden by the tourist trade and perhaps not even walked by humans at all. Uninhabited islands free to roam and explore. Secluded coves and hidden bays where all you hear is the sound of the waves lapping the hull and birds circling above.
Wonderfully, truly wild wildlife that remains still intrigued by human contact and can even be known to come closer for inspection. Puffins in the Hebrides are fascinated by the arrival of our small sailing boats and look to investigate, ready to pose for photos. Some of our skippers even take the plunge and swim with the local marine life and if you’re brave enough, you can join too! The beauty about arriving under sail to these off-grid holiday locations means that there is little interruption to the local wildlife populations – no noisy ship engines and bustling crowds to spook them away.
So escape the every day, switch off and recharge your batteries. Choose an awe-inspiring location like Scotland and the Hebrides with off-grid locations like St Kilda, away from the crowds. With our boats Bessie Ellen, Zuza, Cherokee and Narwhal all offering sailing holidays off the beaten track. Perhaps try the breath-taking sailing grounds of Norway and Svalbard where you can really immerse yourself in off-grid holiday destinations that will leave you with stories to share, memories to savour and sea salt in your hair.
Emma Jamieson, food blogger and first-timesailor, shares her experience of a week aboard Bessie Ellen in the Hebrides – it was love at first sight!
“Dolphins!” came the shout from Skipper Nikki at the bow of Bessie Ellen. We were whipping along at a nifty 7.6 knots – a cracking pace as she sliced through the waves on her merry way to the Hebridean Isle of Canna. Over in the distance we spotted them, jumping and diving in their hundreds towards us to play under our bowsprit.
Three days before, I had never set foot on a boat, and suddenly there I was, wind in my hair, wildlife surrounding me, helming a traditional tall ship on a trip round the Hebrides!
When I’d boarded – three days before – with eleven other travellers looking for adventure, I had very little idea the lasting impact this trip would have on me. From all walks of life and ages all of us bonded immediately as we gathered on deck for warming whisky macs and our first briefing. Within an hour of leaving Oban, we had hoisted the sails, learned to make fast, got our first taste at the helm and practiced knots! Anyone joining Bessie Ellen can get involved as much or as little as they want, but there is always something to do and see and learn, so few of us ever sat still.
Each day brought a new surprise. The sun rose and we were straight at it, scrubbing the deck, plotting our course for the day and taking turns on watch. Paddle-boarding surrounded by dolphins was a clear highlight, as was spotting minke whales and seals, wild swimming in remote coves or being surrounded by puffins and razorbills on the Treshnish Isles.
Our huge appetites from all the sea air were handsomely rewarded. We ate like royalty throughout the trip, with stellar meals apparating like Hogwarts feasts from a galley kitchen the size of a broom cupboard – from fresh baked bread to haunch of venison, Thai curries and homemade sorbet! Over evening meals by candlelight we played games, swapped anecdotes and even had a “pub quiz”.
All the fusses of terrestrial life seemed to melt away on board. Whilst there is no scrimping on comfort – from a spacious shower room and the cosiest bunks, I didn’t wash my hair or wear make-up once, spent most of my time with what looked like a tea cosy on my head, wearing ten layers and I couldn’t have given a monkey’s less.
When the final night arrived I could barely remember the day I came on board. Numbers were exchanged and all of us revelled in the lifetime’s worth of stories collected in even such a short time. A sail on Bessie Ellen is no mere holiday. It is a moment of spirit-filling, pure, unadulterated happiness and adventure suspended in time.
It is with a flutter of nervous excitement that I walk from Oban train station to Zuza, a double-hulled purpose built adventure vessel that is to be my home for the next week. Having never sailed before I am not too sure what to expect but skipper Helen and her all female crew greet me with a warm welcome, helping me on board and showing me to my very comfortable cabin before introducing me to my fellow passengers.
Making the most of the warm light, we set sail mid
afternoon, down past Easdale Island and through the spectacular Cuan Sound,
which reminds me of a narrow street except the tall buildings are dramatically
high cliffs and whirlpools swirl where a road would run. I am surprised to see
seals lazily bobbing about in this ever-moving water but Helen explains that they
are a frequent sight here.
After a spot of beachcombing on Seil Island, we climb back on board and I am surprised to find how hungry I am, my tummy grumbling as delicious smells entice me back below deck. As we all tuck into the freshly prepared meal I find that the food far surpasses my expectations and I make a mental note to let go of any preconceived notions I clearly have. The crew then take care of all the washing up, leaving us to sit back and relax, whiling away the evening with wine and good chat, getting to know each other a little more. Some were single travellers like me, and many were just pairs of friends seeking a unique adventure together. We bedded down for the night at a decent time, satisfied and excited for the week ahead.
The next morning we set sail for Gigha, stopping en route to visit some of the islands dotted along the way. On our return journey to the yacht we were incredibly fortunate to spot Minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and seals, Helen was also pleasantly taken aback at this sight and hopeful that we would be able to get a closer view once we were back at sea. I felt like a kid at Christmas at this prospect, my love of marine wildlife has been with me since I was little and I couldn’t believe I might be so lucky as to see a Minke in close quarters, and in the UK! Once back on board we set off towards Gigha where we were indeed treated to a closer viewing of these incredible mammals. A hushed silence fell as we marvelled at these huge giants effortlessly gliding through the water. This was a wonderful experience and is a moment that will stay with me forever.
Continuing on I decided to try my hand on the helm and see how it felt to ‘control’ this fast yacht. I had initially been nervous but under Helen’s capable tuition, I soon discovered it was in fact completely exhilarating and actually made me fall a little for Zuza. On she raced to Gigha where we were greeted with sweeping sandy bays, crystal clear waters and a lush botanical garden. We idled away the rest of the day beachcombing and meandering, soaking up the warm sun – we had been forewarned that the weather tomorrow may not be so summery – such is sailing in the Hebrides! Waking the next morning to thick fog we took our time over breakfast, enjoying the stillness that always arrives with such weather before setting off to Jura where the weather lifted, rewarding our efforts with a breath taking sunset which I enjoyed with a gin and tonic in hand.
From Jura we made for Oransay, through the incredibly narrow sound of Isla where we spotted stags silhouetted on the high mountains, to Nave Island. The plan had been to go ashore and stretch legs but on anchoring we noticed that the beach was completely covered in seals and Helen was itching to snorkel with them. We set off in the dinghy and watched her slip into the water and swim about with these sea dogs before making for land and exploring this now derelict island.
By now I had almost lost sense of what day it was,
thoroughly enjoying the simplicity of boat life – waking, eating and then
journeying where the weather allowed. Our next day was spent exploring Colonsay,
which has a magic of it’s own. I learn that there are no cars on the island,
bikes are the preferred form of transport, and that the local bookshop can be
opened by anyone who visits the post office to request the key. They are then
free to browse at leisure and pay honestly for anything they wish to keep. The
remoteness and lack of humanisation in this part of the world makes it very easy
to feel like you have stepped back in time, completely detached from the modern
world when in fact, we were only ever a few hours way.
Departing Colonsay with a sigh, Zuza effortlessly sails through the Strait of Coryveckan, notorious we are told for its strong tidal currents, standing waves and the third largest whirlpool in the world. With my mind focused on the potentially precarious waters ahead, I am astounded to hear the crew cry Minke whales once again. Fizzing with excitement I remind myself I must move carefully around to the other side of the deck to watch these whales. When another crew member spies a basking shark, almost in disbelief, there is a hush that falls amongst us all as we sit quietly, admiring the sights on display. Even Helen is amazed at our luck but explains that this is one of the many reasons Scotland continues to lure her back year after year. As the whales move away we continue on for Croabh Haven marina, our mooring for the night and home to Princess Anne’s boat – well, if it’s good enough for royalty…
For our final evening Helen has organised a real treat for
us all on Kerrera Island in a simple, no frills shed where we are treated to
huge, freshly caught and prepared seafood platters which we eagerly tuck into
whilst watching the sky fade to black over Oban.
busy individual, I had forgotten what it was like to be truly calm – but not in
a ‘crashed out next to the pool’ kind of way. This was a different calm; a more
mindful, tranquil calm. Our days were comprised of optional tasks like setting
the sails and helming, mixed in with exploring little islands, and swimming off
white sandy beaches. Each day held such rewards, and life outside of Zuza now seemed
irrelevant. Feeling her race along the white-topped waves, doing what she was
designed to is as peaceful as it is exhilarating.
As we docked back in Oban I was filled with
sadness. We all said our heartfelt goodbyes and emails were exchanged before
going our separate ways. As the train wound its way through those spectacular
views once more, I couldn’t help but wish I’d stayed longer. So, I turned my 3G
on for the first time in a week and booked my next voyage, there and then. See
you next year Helen and Zuza!
Situated on the West coast of Scotland, the Isle of Skye is a popular island destination for the nature-loving traveller. From rolling hill hikes, mountain climbs, sea-shore wanders and wonderful wildlife spotting, it’s easy to see why visitors return year on year.
Featured in many poems and folk songs, Skye is the largest island in the Hebrides and arguably one of the most beautiful. The Cullin Ridge makes the backbone of the island; 12 km of dramatic peaks and troughs that only the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts should attempt to traverse. There is however, plenty more exploring to be done, from Viking ruins to sections of dramatic coastal walking.
A sailing holiday in Scotland is a great way to explore Skye’s diverse coastline. Its peninsula-based shape is large enough to have different levels of precipitation from one end to the other, making sure that there will be a sheltered anchorage somewhere nearby. There is always something to see from the water too, so grab a pair of binoculars when you take a break from rope-work.
Wildlife watching on Skye
Wildlife in Skye is rife, and many native maritime invertebrate species are critical to other local fauna, which include salmon and sea otters, among other bird-life. Red deer stroll the hills while Sea Eagles soar the coast catching Salmon in race with the seals. Dolphins are often seen in wonder swimming in the wake of the bow and the North part of the coast has been known to be part of a whale migratory route so keep your binoculars to hand.
Skye is home around 10% of the 100,000 or so island inhabitants in Scotland, making it one of the more populous islands. Crofters still work the land here, an ancient way of living which is no longer as profitable as working for tertiary industry, hence the rapid decline in croft numbers– yet a bold few still persevere. However, ancient fishing trade continues to thrive and is based in Portree, Skye’s main port. Your skipper might decide to pick up something delicious for dinner, fresh off the boats that come in each day. Despite the larger population of the island, exploring the coast by boat takes you far away from the busy ports and main towns. Discover tranquil bays only accessible by boat and walk through sleepy villages with artists studios and local farm shops.
Shrouded in mystery and legend, the real tale of St Kilda is, in reality, more melancholic. The small population of this group of islands was evacuated in 1930 due to multiple reasons such as crop failure, famine, disease, war and simply being at the mercy of the weather for months on end. A ghost town remains. However, every cloud is lined with silver, and today St Kilda is a huge nature reserve, home to a diverse fauna and flora including some endemic species such as the St Kilda Field mouse and the St Kilda Wren.
The islands lie about 40 miles from North Uist and are thence the most westerly archipelago in the Hebrides. VentureSail runs many trips to this nature reserve over the summer. We think the perfect way to take in the hopelessly beautiful scenery and spot the best wildlife, both terrestrial and maritime, is by boat. Take a look at our sailing schedule to see when you can climb aboard.
At VentureSail Holidays we pride ourselves on offering experiential holidays on board classic ships and adventure vessels in remote and often lesser-travelled locations. Each vessel is skippered by a passionate individual, all of whom hold a strong affinity for the locations in which they sail, often hand picking ‘secret’ spots along the way to share with guests. And ex-marine research vessel Zuza is no exception, her crew has Helen Walker at the helm and here she explains why she returns to the Scottish western isles year after year.
“Having sailed all over the world, I can say with conviction that the west coast of Scotland is where my heart lies. Each departure from Oban offers so many diverse opportunities to explore this stunning part of the UK. In total, there are 790 islands in Scotland and each one varies in culture, language, music and whisky. These islands are home to some of the finest distilleries in the world, producing malt and peak whiskies, many dating back hundreds of years, and we offer some specialist whisky tours – which always make for a popular voyage!
However, it is often the spectacular wildlife which leaves me spellbound. In a single day we can experience otters, basking sharks, various dolphin species and world class bird life. The Shiant Islands and St. Kilda boast colonies of tens of thousands of gannets, puffins, fulmars, guillemots and more. Just a short cruise from Oban, continues Helen, lie the Treshnish islands where guests are often able to sit and observe puffins in very close quarters, watching their comical movements as they go about their day to day life. A voyage to Rum proffers Manx shearwaters whilst keen eyes will invariably spot the magnificent golden and white tailed eagles. Our crew are some what of enthusiasts and will generally be found perched on the deck, binoculars in hand!
It’s not just the fantastic wildlife that continues to lure Zuza and her crew back, the breath taking scenery never ceases to amaze. Mountainous green peaks cascade into the ocean, lush green islands are dotted in the ocean, each fringed by white sandy beaches; dramatic rock formations, that appear to have been sculpted by hand, rise up from seemingly nowhere whilst huge sea lochs enable guests to step ashore and follow trails along some of the most wild and extraordinary scenery in Europe. And as the days draw to a close with picturesque sunsets, eyes are drawn heavenwards to the dark skies, scattered with starts and occasionally the dancing iridescence of the Northern Lights.
If the smaller more accessible islands have captured Helen’s heart, then is it the far flung volcanic St. Kilda archipelago that has latched onto her soul. Shrouded in mystery and legend, the isles lie approximately 40 miles from North Uist, and are the most westerly archipelago in the Hebrides. Serving as a World Heritage Site, they have lain uninhabited since 1930 and the remains of human civilisation, which dates back more than 2,000, can still be seen today. The impossibly breath taking scenery boasts some of the highest cliffs in Europe, perched somewhat precariously on which are large colonies of rare and endangered bird species – nearly one million seabirds are thought to be present at the height of the breeding season. Their isolation, naturally gives the islands a vulnerable feel, with the Atlantic swell crashing on the shores and historic remains nodding to what once was. These storm swept islands are a powerful reminder of just how small we, as humans are, and visiting here them is a particularly humbling experience for me.
Due to their remoteness, the St. Kilda isles can be tricky to visit yet Zuza has been custom built using the latest modern materials that modern technology can offer and this means she is able to take guests to precisely these remote destinations, day after day. And this is one of the many reasons I so enjoy being her skipper, concludes Helen. The comfort she offers whether under sail or motor combines comfortable living with fast sailing and that is so satisfying [as a skipper]. As a qualified sailing teacher, I am always on hand to offer some big yacht sailing experience and Zuza is perfect for those wishing to learn. She really embraces my passion for sailing alongside the knowledge that my guests are safe and comfortable. I am able to share some of my favourite spots on each voyage, delighting in the wonder and awe on their faces. The weather always has the final say but my aim is to be flexible and plan the day together with my guests each morning. For me, there really is no place like western Scotland, the magic, mystery, scenery and wildlife are never lost on me and as each season draws to a close I feel the longing for the next one to begin.
Collectively known as the Small Isles, this pretty little archipelago plays host to a vast amount of wildlife – and each island in this collection is very different from the next. Just 153 people live on these islands and transport links are tenuous, making them quite isolated. They’re perfect territory for boat exploration; many of our cruises will show you around by water and you’ll also be able to explore on foot.
Rum is the largest of the Small Isles, which should make it a Medium Isle, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring. Rum is 40 square miles in area, and conceals the main village of Kinloch to the east, where just over 30 people reside and a small primary school educates the handful of island children.
The rest of the island is uninhabited by humans but a huge population of red deer are free to roam, studied intensely by field ecologists in various areas of academia. Watch out for them (the deer, not the field ecologists) and the wandering wild goats and ponies too.
One of Eigg’s greatest qualities is its eco-friendliness: it generates all of its power from reusable sources and has a traffic light system of power usage, so its 105 inhabitants know when the reusable power is at its most abundant (think windy days or blazing sunshine) and when its at its most scarce.
This clean energy powers a microbrewery, producing 7 distinct ales and lagers, and a restaurant, bar and several craft shops – quite remarkable for an island of relatively small inhabitancy and stature. It’s just 12 miles square.
Historically, Eigg has been tossed and tumbled through the hands of various clans, religious sects, invaders and wealthy landlords – relics from these eras including churches and chapels can still be found dotted all over the island. Eigg’s tumulus history makes for some fascinating reading. At present, Eigg belongs to its own heritage trust, but political murmurings still cause the occasional tremor, as natives feel they are unfairly treated in comparison to the friends and family of the trustees.
Muck is the baby in the family of the Small Isles. It’s just 2.2 square miles; less than the distance from the Houses of Parliament to the British Museum! She’s famous for her porpoises and seals – even the name ‘muck’ is derived from ‘mouch,’ meaning ‘swine’. The ancient word for porpoise was ‘mereswine,’ so the island was likely to have been named after its first maritime inhabitants – a rarity in terms of ancient place names, which normally derive from geographic features.
Muck has a permanent population of 27 people, and has several holiday cottages and a hotel. It’s the only inhabited island without a post box.
Canna’s population could easily double if a couple of small tourist boats arrived on the island at once; she’s home to just 18 people! Being mile across and 4 miles wide means Canna is long and thin, which makes for an amazing coastline habitat for a plethora of wild birds, including peregrine falcons and merlins. Rare butterflies reside inland, which benefits from relatively little human footfall.
Canna harbours some of the best-preserved Bronze Age relics such as huts, walls and pottery – a perfect place for archaeology lovers to engage in some of their own detective work.
She’s linked by land to the isle of Sanday, which is walkable when the tide permits.
We mention plenty of island names in our voyage descriptions and blogs, but what is each hebridian island really like? Who lives there? How big is it? How do culture, language and history combine to produce such differences island to island?
This guide will give you a rough idea of the individual character of each of the larger islands surrounding Mull – but you’ll have to visit them all yourself to experience the true Scottish magic that surrounds them. It’s a feeling that’s hard to replicate in words.
Many of our VentureSail voyages explore Mull and her surrounding smaller islands, and for good reason: she’s really rather beautiful. Mull is just a short passage from Oban and relatively large – 338 square miles inhabited permanently by just under 3,000 people. The island has an undulating coastline; 300 miles of rocky moorland peninsulae make for stunning coastal views and fantastic wildlife spotting. Sandy beaches and dramatic rock formations add further interest to Mull’s rich geography. Additionally, her epicentre hosts several large peaks, the highest of which is a very climbable munro, at over 900 meters high.
Mull’s patchwork history has been woven through centuries of invasion by everyone from the Vikings to the Irish. Bitterly fought over by rival Scottish clans throughout the 12th – 16th centauries, home to legendary shipwrecks and used a WWII naval base, Mull’s history is deep and varied – and discoverable for yourself at the Mull Museum.
The brightly coloured fishing port of Tobermory is Mull’s capital, made famous by the UK children’s TV programme ‘Balamory’ in the early 2000s. Tobermory boasts a distillery (this goes unmentioned in ‘Balamory’, perhaps unsurprisingly) and several bars and restaurants, in addition to a theatre and cinema. Guests on our VentureSail cruises often get the opportunity to explore this enchanting town, as the harbour provides a sheltered anchorage at the start of the sound of Mull.
The name ‘Iona’ has Gaelic connotations meaning ‘blessed’ and this sandy little island has retained its deep spiritual feeling, perhaps due to its far-reaching religious history – Iona’s famous Abbey dates back to 563AD, making it one of the oldest places of worship in the UK.
Iona itself is tiny, lying like a little pebble next to the great boulder of Mull. She’s just a mile wide and four across, making a half day of exploration wholly doable, unless you’d rather relax on the wide sweeping beaches, or search for elusive green serpentine stones among the shoreline.
She’s home to just 125 permanent residents and in the summer it’s hard to see why that’s so – what with her cloudless skies and sparkling sea – but Iona is exposed and windswept during the harsh Scottish winters. But worry not – our voyages are seasonal, and we aim for the good weather in the summer so you can experience Iona’s beauty at its very finest.
Puffins are perhaps the friendliest of all seabirds, and the sea cliffs of Staffa and the surrounding Treshnish Isles are rammed with them during the breeding season. These little guys get up close and personal when you visit them, making for some awesome photo opportunities. Watch out for other seabirds such as kittiwakes and shags too.
Staffa’s rock formation looks like a very well made soufflé – it just pops vertically up, with very straight walls and a nice, rounded top. Unlike a soufflé, however, Staffa is entirely volcanic. The different rates of cooling of the rock make for incredible pillars, caves and stacks, explorable in the dinghies all of our ships possess.
Staffa is completely uninhabited, even by grazing livestock, which makes way for local flora such as wildflowers to thrive.
George Orwell finished writing ‘1984’ in isolation on the Isle of Jura, in a cottage that still stands in a remote location to the north. Legend has it that he and his adopted son nearly died on a rowing trip, after being trapped in the famous whirlpool at the northern tip. The whirlpool is still just as dangerous today, but our skippers know the tides and times to avoid it!
Besides being a literary pilgrimage for dystopia fans, Jura also offers a distillery, producing the famous Jura Single Malt, and a small settlement called Craighouse on the western coast where you’ll find a hotel and a few shops.
In terms of size and geography, she’s a relatively large island at 142 square miles but very sparsely populated thanks to the enormous area covered by peat bogs. Jura is mountainous, defined by the three ‘paps’ – peaks that all reach well over 2,300 feet and are formed of quartzite, contributing to their jagged appearance. They’ll be the first things you spot from the water when you sail there.
Like many hebredian islands, culture, music and language are celebrated here too. Jura hosts a music festival every September, which celebrates traditional Scottish song and poetry, attracting visitors from around the globe.