Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge - Season 3, Episode 1

The Continuing Adventures of Hjalmar Bjorge
Exploring the Isles of the West Cruise    June 2-11, 2018

After a year (and three days) absence, it was good to be back aboard Hjalmar Bjorge on my third annual guide trip. This one would be a bit different from the previous two, as we would be heading south from Oban, instead of north. On board were ten guests looking forward to seeing some of the islands of the Southern Hebrides.

Nigel & Clare, Liz, Hazel, Wolfgang, Dave & Jane, Mike, Debbie, and Michael

The crew this trip was skipper Mark, his wife Anna, and chef Karen. This would be my 12th cruise with Mark on Hjalmar Bjorge; a voyage on this fine ship has become something I look forward to every year.

Hjalmar Bjorge (on a sunny day)
The weather the week prior to our cruise had been fantastic, and the forecast was for more of the same. But as we cast off on Saturday (June 2) the sky was a bit overcast. A two-hour transit took us over to a foggy Loch Buie on the south coast of Mull, where we could see the dark tower of Moy Castle standing at the foot of a misty Ben Buie. We did know it at the time, but we'd end the cruise in nine days with a long walk from Moy Castle.

With everyone now well acquainted we enjoyed a delicious Salmon dinner prepared by Karen, and then settled in for the first night.

Moy Castle - Loch Buie
Sunday morning saw us motoring out of Loch Buie through a heavy sea-fog to set a course to Eileach an Naoimh, one of the Isles of the Sea, also known as Aileach. The fog was still lingering as we went ashore at the traditional landing spot, one used since the monastery was active in the sixth century.

From the head of the narrow inlet where we landed (Geodha Bhride - St Bridget's Cove), we walked past the stone-lined St Columba's Well before making our way up to the massive double beehive cell, the largest of these fascinating structures in Scotland.

Columba's Well

The beehive (on a sunnier day)
A stroll through the monastic ruins was followed by a climb to a burial cairn overlooking the site – the traditional grave of Eithne, St Columba’s mother.

The whole group: Michael, Jane, Clare, Hazel, Liz, Mike, Nigel, Dave, Wolfgang, and Debbie 

Aileach is one of my favorite islands; a beautiful set of ruins on an island rarely visited by tourists. When I first visited in the late 90s it was covered with sheep. But the tall grass (and lack of poo), was a sign they no longer use the island for grazing.

A few of us crawled into the underground prison. It is a tiny beautiful stone-lined cell below ground level. I doubt if it was a prison; the name probably invented in the 19th century by early visitors. It was more than likely a place of refuge, or where food could have been kept cool. 

The "Prison"
While we were ashore the sea-fog had lifted slightly - but it was still a bit gloomy when we got back aboard Hjalmar Bjorge.

Leaving Aileach astern we set a course to our next destination; an island that has been devoured by man over the past three centuries: Belnahua of the Slate Isles.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Back from the Hebrides

I am just back home from an amazing three weeks in the Hebrides. Ten of those days were spent aboard the good ship Hjalmar Bjorge, during which we visited 16 islands. A summary trip report will appear shortly on the Northern Lights website. Then, over the coming weeks, I will post more detailed descriptions, and photos, about what we did on each island. It was an amazing trip; we were blessed with great weather, and several days where the sea was as smooth as glass.

The Brownie's Chair - Isle of Cara