The Small Isles, Soay and party time

It always takes me a couple of days to get used to being social again when I have a visitor. Not so anyone else would notice (I hope) but I think it’s just a matter of adjusting the brain so as not to think in a selfish way for all my plans and actions. Likewise it takes a couple of days when I am alone again to adjust and remember that no one is listening. Once the adjustment is complete there isn’t any reduction in conversation, just a notable lack of responses. I don’t think any of this is a problem unless I do start to hear responses when I’m alone and as yet this hasn’t happened!
I didn’t really have a plan once Sarah left. I knew I was going to visit one of the Small Isles but in the end it turned into an all but one Small Isles tour with a bonus island thrown in for good measure.
Once again I left in the rain after a silent night tucked away in the little loch and headed towards Muck. Muck has two anchorages to choose from and because of the wind direction that was forecasted I chose Port Mor on the southeast corner. The pilot books that I have for Scotland provide small arial photos of the anchorages alongside schematics showing rocks, hazards both on the approach and inside these anchorages and give they guidance of where you should throw the hook over the side. This is essential because whilst these little inlets are shown on the main charts there is no detail so the pilot books fill in the blanks. The only thing that I find difficult to gauge using these is the scale. I found this out particularly with Port Mor. I approached, located the entrance markers and proceeded. What I discovered is that the anchorage is tiny. There is a ferry terminal and my plan was to anchor further in with the hope of getting some protection from the wind and waves behind the ferry pier. What I didn’t factor in is that a roll on roll off ferry for these islands is about a tenth of the size of a Dover roll on roll off ferry. So the ferry pier was tiny and once I discovered this, I realised that the scale of the entire anchorage was much smaller than I was expecting. I found myself at the point where I was going to anchor and I was very close to big rocks on two sides and the ferry terminal on the other. It wasn’t very pretty and the shelter wasn’t very good either so I turned around and went straight out again. This turned into a fantastic bit of luck because I headed round the corner to the other anchorage which was only three miles away and that anchorage, in Gallanach Bay, is beautiful. White sand, clear water, good space to anchor with sheep and horses on the beach! The forecast was for the wind to change the next day which might make the anchorage uncomfortable but for the time being, I was extremely happy to have chosen this place albeit by default. Apart from the forecasted wind direction the other reason that I had initially discounted this place was due to the rocks and reefs around the entrance and the instructions for entry given in the pilot book which I initially struggled to get my head around. Here are the instructions for entry as they appear in the book.
Quote. ‘From the East pass South of Godag Rock and head for the north end of Horse Island. The gap between Lamb Island and Lamb Point, immediately south of it, appears as a square notch in the skyline. When this closes, head for the south end of Lamb Island, keeping the gap well closed, to clear the reef on the east side of Gallanach Bay. A line which leads between Bohaund and the reef to the east, consists of a barn with a curved roof (now painted dark green) at the west side of the farm under the highest point of a stone wall on the left shoulder of the hill beyond; a new barn (which is not the one you want) has been built close west of the first one. About two cables south of Bohaund lies a rock awash. Anchor north or northwest of the tidal islet towards the head of the bay’. Unquote.
Sometimes I find these instructions hard to visualise but this was to be a lesson in just going for it and when I did, these instructions showed themselves to be perfect. The pictures below show the ‘Square notch in the skyline as it appears ‘open’ and by heading further in, the gap closes. Once it has closed you keep the gap closed and the heading that you are on leads safely past a jagged reef on the left and once at this point you can line up the curved roof and the stone wall and you are safely in. Brilliant instructions written in layman terms and without these books I wouldn’t be seeing half the beautiful places that I am, not without taking some pretty big risks / leaps of faith.
The square notch in the skyline
The next day the wind did start to swing as per the forecast so instead of being the calm pool of tranquility that it had been overnight, it would turn into a choppy uncomfortable place with waves running straight into the anchorage so I decided to move and find a new anchorage that suited the new wind direction.
I headed over to Eigg and once again put my trust in the pilot book in order to get to a protected little pool only accessible by boats with a shallow draft like Fiesta accessed by going over a reef that only has enough water covering it above half tide. The instructions were to proceed to the pool and anchor in sand clear of weed and rock that would be easy to see in the clear water. Perfect, job done and in I went and found myself in my own private little anchorage with the keel boats having to stay outside in deeper water.
Eigg was fantastic. The island is not connected to the mainland power supply and until recently the inhabitants relied totally on diesel generators running 24/7 for their power. They are now totally green and have a small wind farm and each house has to ration their electricity consumption so there is enough power to go round. A lovey little Island with around 100 inhabitants and 19 kids at the local primary school! One shop which is also the post office and a small bar / cafe completes the commercial line up! Beautiful island with lovely walks, rides, camping and a very small ferry terminal to connect to the other islands.
Unfortunately at about 10pm the wind changed and my peaceful little pool turned into a choppy unpleasant bay of frustration! Fiesta is quite a noisy boat at anchor due to her shape underneath and that made for an uncomfortable night with a lot of water noise, wind noise, pitching and moving about. I got up early and despite my plan of staying on Eigg for a couple of days, I waited for the water to be deep enough over the reef and got out of there!
I headed north and and then northwest once I was passed the northern part of Eigg and sailed in to Loch Scresot on Rum.
I carried on towards the head of the loch and went right up as far into the shallows as I dared and anchored with a beautiful view of the sea to the east and a beautiful view of Kilnoch Castle on the ‘Forbidden Isle’ right in front of me.
This is a popular anchorage and there were six of us anchored in there that night. The sun was shining and the spectacular mountains of Rum made for a perfect couple of hours sitting on deck marvelling at the scenery.
I went ashore to give Max a comfort break and looked around Kilnoch Castle and the visitors centre which is just a shed containing leaflets with information on where to go and what to do.  I wandered off for a walk and managed to sneak up on and get a couple of photos of some of the islands’ red deer before heading back to Fiesta.
The anchorage provided a perfect calm silent night and I had planned on getting the bike ashore and going for a ride.  However, once again the wind god had other plans. At the moment the forecast around here is full of words like ‘cyclonic’ and variable’ which are basically terms for ‘Absolutely no idea what’s going on but it will definitely be either North, East, South or West’! In the morning, the wind had swung East and there was a confident forecast of strong winds nearing force 7 on the way.
You really can’t stay in an anchorage which is open to this sort of weather. One, it is very uncomfortable and two if your anchor loses it’s grip at night then you are headed straight for the rocks at the head of the loch so once again the decision was made for me and I searched the charts for a place nearby that would provide me with shelter from a strong easterly.
This is where fate lent a hand. I couldn’t find any place to shelter on any of the Small Isles but then I stumbled across a little island on the chart called Saoy with a tiny inlet on it’s West side. There was some information about Soay in one of my books and again, the entrance appeared to be a challenge due to there being a sand bar and a very narrow channel followed by an even narrower channel once inside. I decided to go for it and what a great decision that turned out to be.
I followed the instructions and in a building easterly wind I entered Soay Harbour and anchored in 8 feet of water right at the head of the inlet. The harbour provided so much protection that there wasn’t a ripple on the water and other than a fishing boat moored up in the middle, there was no one around.
Soay is where Gavin Maxwell established his shark fishing venture and whilst it was unsuccessful, the old shark processing buildings complete with rusting old steam engine are still there and are fascinating to have a look around.
Being totally alone, or thinking that I was, I was having a game of shouting random words, some beginning with C and listening to the echo all around the enclosed bay. About two minutes after my last outburst came a voice that made me jump.‘Welcome to Soay’ it said! He was the owner of the fishing boat and was rowing out to pump out all the rain water after the recent deluge. He was extremely welcoming and friendly despite undoubtedly having heard me and quiet correctly deciding that I was a complete twat!
Jim is one of less than ten residents of the island. He said that whilst a few people visit the harbour, not many go ashore but I told him that I wanted to go and have a look around and he immediately invited me to his place for a cup of tea! I must admit to being slightly concerned about being ‘fresh meat’ on the island but I decided to throw caution to the wind. I picked up my shoe horn and knee pads and followed Jim through the undergrowth along a very boggy path towards his place. Along the way I got a full talk on the history of the island and the names of the other residents as we past their houses along the way.
Like Eigg, there is no power on the island at all but unlike Eigg, no big diesel generators or wind farm so each person has their own method of generating power and making life on the island work. There are two wind turbines but these are only there to power the telephone exchange although there is actually only one telephone on the island.
Jim lives in a ruin. He bought the land, gave up his tecnology teaching job and bought a fishing boat and that is how he makes his living. His plans are to rebuild the house but at the moment it is a one story stone building about 10ft x 8ft with a metal roof and within is the kitchen, living room and bedroom all in one room.  A small shed about 100 feet away houses the ‘bucket and chuck it’ toilet system. Lighting is provided by 12 volt batteries charged by solar power although he does have a generator so he can run a washing machine and also a gas powered fridge. We sat down outside his house, had cup of tea and talked shite whilst looking out across the bay to the mainland. Absolutely beautiful.
The next day I was walking Max and bumped into Jim again who was on his way to see his neighbour Oliver and asked me if I wanted to join him. I was concerned about turning up uninvited but Jim assured me that they all like to have visitors so I would be more than welcome. Ten minutes later I was sitting with Jim and Oliver in Oliver’s kitchen talking fishing, island survival, electricity generation, the weekly postal boat and trips to the mainland to purchase supplies.
Oliver has an old Lister diesel generator in a shed so he does in effect have a 240 volt supply to power his lights and he also has an Arga that was totally dismantled and transported to the island in a rubber dinghy which is obviously for cooking but also provides hot water. The only thing he has to do is to ensure he has enough kerosene to run it.
I have met some pretty impressive and successful people over the years but I’m glad I didn’t meet these two before now because I have to say that in many ways they are two of the most impressive and successful people I have ever met. They both own land so could farm but both choose to make their living from the sea, most of their produce being exported straight to Spain whilst still alive.
They asked me what I was doing, where I had come from and what I did when I was employed. Once I had answered those three questions, not many more followed. Why should they? They had they needed to know about me. Nothing else mattered and thereafter we just shot the breeze and I was suddenly aware that I was sitting with two very intelligent, totally calm, relaxed individuals not even slightly concerned with the b*llshit of the outside world or politics. Instead they concentrated on making their existence work and living their lives. Jim told me ‘When it’s dark, I sleep, when it’s light I get up and when the tide and weather allow, I fish’.
Anything more that I say here will just sound like I believe I have embarked on some weird mission of discovering the greater meaning of life, being at one with nature and turning my nose up at unnecessary material possessions like I’m some kind of gap year prick exploring new and far flung places and then lecturing people ‘Honestly, it changed my life maaan’. Ok, better move on at this point! I will finish by saying that this was one of the most fascinating conversations with a couple of the most fascinating people that I have ever met and all this, just up the coast in Scotland on a tiny island off the mainland.
Once I dragged Max away from his new best mate (Oliver’s dog) we made our way back to Fiesta and on the way I met a lady called Anne Cholawo who wrote a book called ‘Island on the Edge. A life of Soay’.
That wasn’t bad was it. I had met a substantial proportion of the island population and I had even been sociable. What a pleasure it had been.
That night was a special occasion. It had been a long time coming but I decided to host a party although I didn’t actually invite anyone. It was to be a party for Fiesta and her crew. A guest list was drawn up and there was food, plenty of drink, loud music, nakedness and dancing into the small hours.  DJ’s were provided courtesy of Radio 1 in Ibiza. Ok so it wasn’t 35 degrees and nor was it sunny but in my calm, protected anchorage the party was in full swing while the easterly force 7 blew above the tree tops almost unnoticed by the revellers below. It was a cracking night, great company, fantastic music and good food.  We all had a great time although I paid for it with a sore head in the morning. Yep, I sure know how to live….
Point of Ardnamurchan – The most westerly point of Great Britain, my anchorage on Muck and a view of Rum shrouded in cloud
Red deer on Rum, my anchorage and views around Rum
Leaving Rum to escape the coming easterly force 7!
Tucked away in the inlet on the island of Soay – perfect shelter
Remains of the old steam engine for the shark processing facility, the old fisherman’s refuge and the party guest list….
New video in ‘Other bits’

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