Category: Sail Scotland

Jump Aboard A Sailing Holiday In Scotland On The Bessie Ellen

Gin and tonic on board Bessie Ellen in Scotland

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. 

Bessie Ellen in Hebrides

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. 

Passage Plan

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. 

Oban marina
Oban marina

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.

Bessie Ellen full sail
Bessie Ellen

Take a look inside this classic tall ship, and be inspired to take your first sailing holiday in Scotland. 

Sailing adventures and foodie experiences in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland

Scotland Isle of Bute

The owner, Dónal Boyle, of Crofters’ Music Bar & Bistro on the Isle of Arran, has taken his bistro concept afloat on tall ship Lady of Avenel to offer guests a gourmet sailing holiday experience on the West coast of Scotland in the Hebrides.

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.

Lady of Avenel Donal Boyle Crofters
Dónal Boyle

“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.

Lady of Avenel anchored in Scotland

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.”

Lady of Avenel Crofters food table
Crofters’ Gourmet Sailing Holidays

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.

Lady of Avenel scotland sailing
Lady of Avenel tall ship
Lady of Avenel bunks
Lady of Avenel berths
Lady of Avenel saloon eating
Lady of Avenel saloon

Why A Sailing Holiday In The Hebrides Should Be On Your Bucket List For The Next Decade

Lady of Avenel Triagh Eais Scotland

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. 

Wildlife Watching

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.

Western Weather

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.

Lifelong Memories 

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.

Stop dreaming and start planning!

Take a look at our sailing schedule and start planning your sailing holiday in Scotland and the Hebrides today, and get one step closer to ticking it off your bucket list. 

Off-grid Sailing Holidays

Narwhal arctic sailing

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.

Norway Bodo Narwhal

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.

Read more here about what the Guardian has to recommend on Off Grid Holidays

My week on ZUZA

Puffin in Scotland

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.

Jura from colonsay

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.

Hebrides dolphins from Bessie Ellen

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 Coronsay 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.

As a 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!

Sailing around the Isle of Skye

Hiker on the Isle of Skye

Skye

Featured in many poems and folk songs (which you might get to know during your time on board), Skye is the largest island in the Hebrides and arguably one of the most beautiful. The Cullin Ridge constitutes 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 (slightly more relaxed) exploring to be done, from Viking ruins to sections of rocky coastal walking.

On that topic, Skye’s coastline, much like Mull’s, is peninsula-based and is large enough to have quite different levels of precipitation from one end to the other, making sure that there will be a sheltered anchorage somewhere close. 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 is rife here, and many native maritime invertebrate species are critical to other local fauna, which include salmon and sea otters, among other bird-life.

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.

Skye is one of those places where words simply don’t do it justice. You must visit, on, before or after your sailing adventure. 

Skye Old Man of Storr

Sailing to St. Kilda

Hirta and dun at St. Kilda

St Kilda

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.

welcome to st kilda

The island at the edge of the world

Wanderlust journalist, Phoebe Smith, earns her way with Bessie Ellen to the remote island of St Kilda. Read her full article about her adventure as she experiences first hand the elements that may, or may not, allow her passage to this magical place.

The Lure of Scotland

The Isle of Skye

Helen Walker and her love of the Scottish Isles.

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!

Minke whales in the Hebrides

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.

granite stacks in the Hebrides

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.

human inhabitation remains on St Kilda

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.

Hebridean Insight: The Small Isles

Hebrides coastline

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

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.

red Deer scotland small isles

Eigg

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

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.

Seals in the hebrides

Canna

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. 

 

The Hebrides: Mull, Iona, Staffa and Jura

Puffins on Staffa

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.

Mull

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.

Mull at Dusk

Iona

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. 

Bessie Ellen on Iona

 

Staffa

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.

Staffa from Bessie Ellen

Jura

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.