We welcomed our first guests for the season with sparkling wine, canapés and grandma Mary’s famous scones. Once everyone was settled into their cabins and had been given a safety briefing by Skipper Rob and Bosun Sarah we set off up across the Firth of Lorn and up into the Sound of Mull. We were surrounded by glorious views of snowy hills with views as far as the Nevis range. Birdlife was plentiful and included sightings of black and common (including a bridled) guillemot, great northern diver common tern and diving gannets in the Sound of Mull. As we dipped in to Loch Sunart we spotted our first cetacean – one lone porpoise! We anchored in Loch na Droma Buidhe and feasted on Chef Pip’s grapefruit and mozzarella salad; cod fillet with white wine cream and chive sauce; and lemon posset for desert – Yum!!
Sunday was off to a great start with the Skipper spotting an otter fishing near the boat and everyone rushing out on deck to get a glimpse. The weather forecast for Sunday evening was for strong winds so we took the opportunity to pop out of the sound while we had a chance. Out west we were immediately surrounded by great numbers of offshore birds: kittiwakes, gannets, guillemots, razorbills and large flocks of Manx shearwaters. Unfortunately the swell was too big so we had to turn around and head back into the Sound. Once in the calmer waters of the Sound we spotted three porpoises and in Bloody Bay we were very lucky to spot a white-tailed eagle. As we were watching this older female, she took off and passed right over the boat with everyone on deck getting a great view of her enormous wingspan. We headed in to picturesque Tobermory harbour to shelter from the coming weather and rounded off the day with a walk to see the waterfalls in Aros park and a fantastic dinner consisting of asparagus in hollandaise sauce on a bed of wild garlic which I had foraged. For mains, Pip served up roast loin of pork and we topped it all off with pear and whisky trifle.
As the weather showed no sign of easing off we decided to stay in Tobermory and explore the island by land. We hopped on the local bus to Calgary and took in the amazing scenery on the way, spotting buzzards, a kestrel and a barn owl on the way. In Calgary we walked along the beach and explored the Art in Nature trail. We marvelled at the art in the local gallery and sheltered from the rain in the tea room before it was time to hop on the bus back. Luckily the bus stops for an hour in the small quaint village of Dervaig as we had time to both enjoy a pint in the local pub and views of a golden eagle! Back in Tobermory the Skipper had arranged a tour of the distillery for us. Those not keen on whisky visited the Mull catch-and-release aquarium instead. Pip had once again cooked up a storm: braised beef shin marinated in ginger and garlic and for desert a birthday cake for one of the guests with all the crew and guests singing Happy Birthday!
The weather was still misbehaving so we hopped back into Loch Sunart and visited Ardnamurchan Nature Centre. In the fields in front of the Centre we spotted an abundance of birds: total tally included meadow pipit, wheatear, greylag goose, Canada goose, common sandpiper, house martin, oystercatcher, house sparrows, pied wagtail and common gull, and even a flock of golden plover – all together in one field! After a scrumptious lunch we headed further down the Loch to the small village of Salen. The guests went ashore for a pint while Pip prepared dinner and back on the boat we all tucked in to her scrumptious fish pie with everyone having seconds. After dinner I tried calling for tawny owls with a faint reply in the distance. One owl flew in and landed close to the boat, but was reluctant to make any noise. Maybe the bad weather was putting it off?
On Wednesday we went ashore for a walk along Laudal House estate. We spotted more golden plovers in a field and ringed plovers and common sandpipers scurrying around along the shore. In a field we counted 7 deer with some of them starting to sprout antlers (deer drop their antlers over the winter). After lunch on the boat we headed across to Salen on Mull where Guy Grieves of the Ethical Shellfish company had invited us to come and take a look at his scallops. Hand-dived scallops are landed on the pier and within hours of being landed they are being served in restaurants all over the country. We got ourselves a load which we shucked on deck with some of the guests even having a go at the shucking. Pip served up the freshest scallops with black pudding and pea puré. While enjoying our dinner we spotted common seals in the bay. It is not unusual for dinner onboard to be interrupted by wildlife displays.
We woke up to a beautiful morning with a good improvement to the weather. We steamed down the Sound of Mull and visited a common seal colony before hopping over to the Morvern side. A white-tailed eagle nest is clearly visible from the water and just as we approached one of the eagles came in for landing. As she settled onto the egg(s?) the male took off. Both eagles share incubating and chick-rearing duties equally – maybe there’s a lesson in there for us humans? We hopped back over to the Mull side and in to Loch Spelve, the home of Inverlussa mussels. We went ashore for a walk along the shore and while enjoying the sunshine we couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted four bottlenose dolphins from the shore! We watched them for almost an hour as they swam up and down the loch probably hunting fish. We lost sight of the dolphins and assumed that they had left, but as Rob the Skipper started up the engine to move further down the loch the dolphins came shooting over to bowride. We were treated to a fantastic display of sideways breaching and full body out-of-the-water jumps. After a weak of bad weather we felt so privileged to be watching dolphins in the sunshine. And as if that wasn’t enough one of the guests also spotted a golden eagle soaring above the hills. We sat down to enjoy dinner while admiring eagle and dolphin pictures. As a last evening treat Pip had cooked as a roast lamb and she had even made us her very special brown bread and whiskey ice cream. A perfect finish to a perfect day!
Friday morning one of the early bird guests and Sarah the Bosun spotting an otter only a few miles off the stern, whilst watching the sunrise! Leaving Loch Spelve we spotted black-throated divers in full breeding plumage. And then we couldn’t believe our eyes as we spotted the bottlenose dolphins, seven of them, breaching out of the water. We were again treated to some amazing bow riding. We enjoyed brunch onboard whilst steaming past the common seal colony at Kerrera. Then much earlier than we would have liked, we were saying our goodbyes in Oban with many hugs and kisses with many guests promising to return!
It was a great cruise for bird species - here is the list
Golden eagle; white-tailed eagle; barn owl; kestrel; raven; great northern diver; Manx shearwaters
Kittiwake; great back backed gull; lesser black backed gull; black headed gull; herring gull; common gull;
Black guillemot (tystie); common guillemot; common tern; gannet; oystercatcher; shag; cormorant; razorbill
Rock pipit; curlew; common sandpiper; golden plover; ringed plover; heron
Chaffinch; blue tit; song thrush; goldcrest; goldfinch; meadow pipit; bullfinch; wren; willow warbler; house sparrow
Swallow, hoodie crow; buzzard; wheatear; collared dove; pied wagtail; house martin; greylag goose; canada goose