We did not reach St Kilda on our latest 10 night St Kilda & Outer Hebrides Wildlife Adventure Cruise, but despite the occasionally strong winds we reached many intriguing islands including Mingulay, which is often called mini-Hirta because of the many resemblances.
Passage: Oban to Loch na Droma Buidhe
On our steam up the Sound of Mull we spotted plenty of bird sightings with the highlights being the flock of diving gannets as we passed Lismore lighthouse. Mouthwatering smells made their way to the deck and once we anchored we enjoyed a lovely first dinner cooked by Pip: watercress soup for starter; fillet of cod white wine and chive sauce for mains; and roasted plums with mascarpone and praline for dessert.
Passage: Loch na Droma Buidhe to Inverie
The day was off to a great start with a sighting of a golden eagle on the cliffs as we exited Loch na Droma Buidhe. As we rounded Ardnamurchan point we spotted plenty of sea birds but with a distinct lack of Manx shearwaters…where have they all gone? We steamed into Loch Nevis and up to Inverie, one of the most remote towns on mainland Britain. After a lovely walk we tucked into dinner: smoked mackerel pate; shin of beef stew with mashed tatties; and raspberry and pear trifle – yum!
Passage: Inverie to Loch Scavaig, Skye
We spotted harbour porpoises on leaving Loch Nevis and soon we also got the answer to yesterday’s question. We came across large flocks of Manx shearwaters north off the Small Isles. Flocks of Manxies are usually also a good indicator that there is something bigger lurking underneath the surface and soon enough we spotted our first Minke whale! We also spotted both a great skua and a pale morph arctic skua (great cheers coming from the guide!). Loch Scavaig is situated under the impressive massif of the Cuillins of Skye and it is also a common seal haul-out. After a long walk along the shores of Loch Coruisk we sat down for a well-earned dinner: haggis mushrooms; fish pie; and lemon posset with almond praline for dessert.
Passage: Loch Scavaig to Eriskay
We battened down the hatches and set out across the Minch. On our crossing we encountered two pods of bowriding-happy common dolphins. After a bumpy ride everyone was happy to go ashore to explore the lovely island of Eriskay. We admired the abundance of wild flowers on the machair and strolled along the white sands. On the hills visible from the boat, plump Eriskay ponies munched on the rich machair while we munched on a lovely dinner: roasted goats cheese salad; roast loin of pork with crispy tatties; and milk chocolate pot for dessert.
Eriskay to Vatersay
The winds were showing no signs of easing so we hopped a couple of islands south to Vatersay. The local bottlenose dolphins (the Barra boys) found us and bow-rode us all the way into the bay and as we anchored for lunch in Vatersay they kept swimming around the boat. After lunch we went ashore to explore east and west beach with company of Madam the Vatersay sheep dog. Back onboard we had smoked salmon with lovely bits (almost too pretty to eat!) for starter; chicken in tarragon sauce with roast crispy baby tatties for mains; and steamed chocolate cake for dessert.
Vatersay to Mingulay and back up to Eriskay
Saturday was looking to potentially be our only good weather window. Not enough to bring us to St Kilda but enough to get us to Mingulay. We steamed down and along the west side of the island and were soon surrounded by hundreds of seabirds! Thousands of guillemots, razorbills, puffins, kititwakes, shags and fulmars nest along and on top of the 200m tall and sheer cliffs. The great number of birds also brings the usual bullies – dark big bonxies in abundance! We rounded the south tip and steamed past beautiful Barra head lighthouse on Berneray and one of the guests even spotted an eagle perched on the wall to the lighthouse (too distant to ID). Curious grey seal heads popped up to inspect us as we anchored and got ready to explore the island. Everyone’s favourite is the puffin so we spend a good while sitting along the burrows as they whizzed past with beaks full of fish, ducking into their burrows in cover from hungry gulls and bonxies. Then we made the ascent up to the cliffs, with a stop to take in views of the abandoned village and to listen to a corncrakes rasping. At the top we marveled again at the cliffs but this time from an even more breathtaking angle. The iron rods that the Mingulay crags men used to attach their ropes to whilst they abseiled to collect birds were still in situ, showcasing the similarities between this island and St Kilda. While we were hiking up the cliffs, Rob took the three ladies still onboard for a dinghy ride to explore the sea caves and to get closer to the seals. They were also lucky enough to have a white-tailed eagle fly over the dinghy. All too soon we were all again aboard the Elizabeth G and steaming north up to Eriskay. On our way we spotted a big pod of common dolphins heading south, probably chasing their dinner. Soon enough we were also tucking into our dinner: fantastic lamb tagine followed by chocolate truffles.
Passage: Eriskay to Lochboisdale
As promised, the weather turned again and we ducked in for cover at Lochboisdale. Most of the guests were still brave enough to venture out so we strolled in the rain up along the marina to look for otters. Naturally we had to then warm ourselves in the hotel by the lovely warm fire before heading back to the boat. Not much else to do on a wet and windy day other than to enjoy a nice cup of tea and a good book onboard while waiting for dinner to be served. Pip spoiled us again with her amazing twiced baked cheese soufflé with apple and walnut salad; crab cakes with summer coleslaw; and cranachan for dessert.
Passage: Loch Boisdale to Canna
Admitting defeat to the weather we steamed back across the Minch. To cheer us up we had two pods of common dolphins taking advantage of our bow wake. We anchored in Canna with the usual welcome of grey seals and common seals at the mouth of the bay. Ashore we explored the three churches and watched as eiders defended their ducklings from big hungry black-backed gulls. While we were walking, Rob dived for scallops. Back onboard the guests assisted in shucking, but leaving the cooking to Pip we gorged on scallops a lá Barlow; venison casserole for mains; and crème Brûlée for dessert.
Passage: Canna to Rum
We often feed excess toast to local hungry gulls, but this time the gulls had to give way to a big hungry bonxie that scoffed down the toast as if it was a puffin. We waved goodbye to the bonxie and Canna and hopped over to Rum. The guests visited Kinloch Castle, the summer residence of the extremely wealthy and extravagant Lord Bullough. We also visited the otter hide (unfortunately no otters, but a pair of red-throated divers instead) and a heronry before heading back to the boat. Our dinner that evening showed how multi-talented the crew truly is. In between starter (broad bean salad with mint ricotta and crispy parma ham) and main course (salmon fillet with puy lentils) Pip spotted a white-tailed eagle swooping down for something in the bay! It could potentially have been going for the eider ducklings of which there were plenty about. It is not unusual that dinner onboard is interrupted by wildlife! And then, as if the dinner couldn’t get any better, we had Pip’s amazing whisky and brown bread ice cream for dessert!
Passage: Rum to Tobermory
Our last day we steamed to the Cairns of Coll to see what wildlife we could spot on the way. We had luck with a good sighting of a big Minke whale. We anchored for lunch at the cairns with our lunch spot providing good views of hauled out grey seals who also provide lunch time music with their eerie singing. After lunch we steamed into the Sound of Mull with a stopover at Bloody Bay to take a look at the white-tailed eagle before steaming in to Tobermory. The guests went ashore to stretch the legs before dinner and returned to be welcomed by the amazing smells coming from the galley. Pip served up a fantastic last dinner: black pudding with poached eggs for starter, roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings and brownie for dessert.
It is almost tradition now that on the last day we stop over by the white-tailed eagles on Morven before heading back to Oban. We had a good view of the female watching over her chick who already looked big and healthy. Just as we thought things couldn’t get any better, a male hen harrier flew past the eagle!! Too soon we were steaming in to Oban and saying goodbye to guests who, despite not reaching St Kilda were amazed at what the abundance of Hebridean islands can offer.