Crossing the Firth of Lorn to Colonsay

We rose at 5.30 to prepare to set sail for Colonsay. Our friend Daphne had spent six weeks every summer there as a young girl and still returns as often as possible. When the old laird Donald Strachcona was dying in 1958 he had given Daphne’s mother the old farmhouse Ardskenish for her lifetime. With four days before we returned to Bristol, sailing to Colonsay was just the challenge we needed.   We set off in a thick mist and soon the promised rains set in.  It was cold and wet.  Ian set a course on the Autohelm and sheltered under the sprayhood while Ros stayed below reading.  When we reached our waypoint in the middle of the Firth of Lorn we put up the sails. NW force 3-4 winds were predicted so we hoisted a full mainsail.  The course to Colonsay put us on a beam reach with the wind blowing from the starboard side at right angles to the hull.  This is the fastest sailing position and we soon had the engine off and were reaching 6.5 knots (albeit with actual winds being higher than predicted at Force 4 gusting 5 to 6), whereas with the engine alone we were barely achieving 4 knots into the wind and waves.

Ros on the helm approaching Colonsay while Ian has 40 winked holding on to his nifty rope method of stopping the boom banging with the Atlantic swell.

But after an hour and a half of fantastic sailing, the wind suddenly disappeared and we had to put the engine on again. Where had it gone?  This was not predicted either.  After half an hour on the engine, the wind returned slowly and we motor sailed for the next two hours.  We were then able to turn the engine off at last and sail again (it’s so peaceful when it is sail-only) but the wind had veered WSW and so we were nearer tacking than reaching.  By the time we reached Colonsay the sun had started to greet us – we hoped this was a good omen as the next day promised to be sunny.


Taking advice from Warlow’s Scottish Anchorages we decided to anchor in Loch Stoasnaig, a sandy bay just South of Scalasaig where the Caledonian MacBride ferry lands. Fortified by a huge fry-up and forty-winks on deck  we decided to take the tender ashore and walk to Scalasaig. We followed the shore line, startling some oyster catchers who circled and shrieked above us. Being careful not to trample the wild flowers underfoot we just about managed to find a sheep’s track to Scalasaig. We had read about the book shop and in the distance seeing “OPEN” on the book shop’s wall, quickened our pace to arrive before 5.30.  We chatted to the bookshop owner and learned that the bookshop is linked to the publishing House of Lochar on the Isle of Colonsay. Ian was delighted to buy the ordnance survey map of Colonsay and Oronsay and a book “Lonely Colonsay” written by Kevin Byrne (who turned out to be the husband of the lady in the bookshop). Ros bought the last novel written by Neil Gunn, “The Other  Landscape”. Both books were published by the House of Lochar.

From the bookshop we strolled across to the Pantry café to study the menu and then decided to walk up the hill to see what the Colonsay Hotel had to offer. We had a drink in the bar where Ian sampled the local beer.


The local beers

We managed to book a table by the window for dinner and enjoyed a magnificent view over the water and watching the 7.00 Caledonian Macbray ferry landing.  Earlier Ian had order Langoustines as a starter, but had to change to herring pate when told they were coming over fresh from Oban on the ferry.  He was very envious of the table next to us when a plateful of delicious looking Langoustines arrived while we were enjoying our desert.  When we’d walked the road to the hotel, we’d met no cars and many walkers, so were amused when we saw the cars leave the ferry turning this isolated and normally deserted road into a slow moving nose-tail traffic jam – the number of cars surprised us but it was Saturday and maybe this was the change over time for holiday cottages.


View from our restaurant window with the ferry approaching.  Later cars filled the empty road seen in the distance.

We walked back to the boat over the top of the hill, following a track from the Ordnance Survey map , but even this petered out and we had to follow sheep tracks for the last bit, but at least we could see the boat  anchored in the bay and faithfully waiting for us.


We were beginning to feel the magic of Colonsay and decided that next day we would sail to Oronsay and explore what Daphne called her favourite strip of water in the world


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