Islands in the Sun

(or messing about in boats)

Midsummer weekend, grey skies in Glasgow – so what’s new?

But – what was this?

As we bowled up Lomondside we shot out under blue skies, and thereafter we counted the weekend’s clouds on the fingers of a joiners hand.

Everyone arrived at intervals at Glenuig Hotel on Ailort-side after a superb drive thro’ crystal views of snow-flecked hills into a gorgeous sunset over the Inner Hebrides, uttering cries of ‘magic’, ‘it can’t last’, ‘phew, gimme a beer’.
Euphoria faded when Eric announced that (a) the farmer at Roshven wouldn’t reply to requests for a camp-site, and (b) hippies had squatted on the alternative fixed up by the landlord at Glenuig ‘close to all facilities’ – i.e. the pub.

But all was not lost; said landlord suggested a site just up the road, up a wee track. ‘It’s just a bit rough, but it’s just been done up’ Well it had been made manageable for tractors in dry weather, and while the midges were in full cry, it did have a few square feet of grass.

After Liz and Eric, who had executed fifty-three point turns, had extricated themselves, we finally established ourselves by the main road on solid rock surrounded by caravans. What matter we couldn’t get a peg in more than an inch - we had a midnight view to the silhouettes of Rum and Skye, against the afterglow. At least, that was Eric’s philosophy to excuse the organizational chaos.
Faith, however was restored next morning, when we secured permission to not only launch our fleet of eight canoes, Mirror Dingy, and inflatable-power-boat off Roshven beach, but also to camp there in an idyllic spot. This permission was coupled with an odd request ‘please don’t use the graveyard for your toilet’. The mystery was cleared up by Margaret who found ancient and modern gravestones on the wooded knoll at the end of the beach, She was a bit worried, though, that the rabbits were tunneling the whole area.

Mention of our fleet brings us to the acknowledgements to ‘Our Sponsors’.
O.B. Loch Eil had very kindly loaned us 8 canoes and equipment, all ready loaded on a trailer for Andy to hitch up as we passed by, and Jim Murray brought his Mirror dingy and an outboard inflatable. ‘It’s handy to have a safety boat’ he said. ‘Ah, you mean the canoes’ replied Elizabeth, ungrateful wench.
The more experienced canoeists covered themselves in sun-tan lotion, Jim put his fishing gear in the inflatable with orders taken for sea-trout dinners, and off they went to explore the outer part of Loch Ailort. It later transpired that they had visited the vitrified fort on Eilean nan Gobhar, and led by Bill had circumnavigated every skerry and island they could find, ever if it meant abandoning paddles and hauling along on the seaweed. They returned full of tales of immaculate beaches on Ardnish across the loch, and with only one single cod no miracles could be worked, so it sufficed only for Jim and Margaret.
The rest, who comprised more bodies than canoes, worked a complex series of stages alternating between a car on the lochside road and canoes on the inner part of the loch. The manoeuvers of some who shall remain nameless were even more complex; their canoes progressed up the loch in a series of figures of eight before steering improved. Those waiting on the shore for this erratic progress to reach them were entertained by Seamus’ propensity for savaging rocks. He had plenty to keep him amused. This party also did its share of island hopping. The little isles were home to herring gulls’ nests and incredibly camouflaged fluffy chicks, in veritable rock gardens. Ragged Robin was a profuse decoration.
All this activity took place in blazing sunshine in West Highland scenery at its best – peacock blue and aquamarine sea, the Hebrides sharp and clear out to sea, and rocky hills all around. When all re-gathered back at the camp-site in the late afternoon there were some sun burnt bodies on display. The temperature must have been in the 80’s, but only Bob was brave enough to cool off by swimming. The sea was icy. The Martini set produced the ultimate in luxury for a club camp to effect their cooling off – drinks with ice and lemon, no less.
The evening was idyllic – midsummer sun winking over the Hebrides, sailing a dinghy at 10.30pm in T-shirts, riding the tide-rips between the islands in the canoes, and eventually inventing a new club game – ‘how long can 3 ride a canoe before falling in’. So 3 more went in for a cooler.
The red sails came in from the sunset, a fire was built on the beach, the organiser imperiously called ‘put another tree on’ – John M duly obliged (the embers were still hot a mid-day the next day), and as the rocks of Roshven glowed pink behind us we settled round in the gloaming to see midsummer midnight through. David’s face was glowing to match the western sky, but we were not too sure whether it was due to sunburn or the 50 gallon cask of home made red wine he was generously passing around. Bob was made of sterner stuff, and set of up Roshven. He had a magic night, lit by the northern sky and a full moon, he surveyed the world from the Outer Hebrides to Ben Nevis at midnight. What struck him was the that the only signs of mankind were the street lights of Arisaig and somewhere on Tiree, and our fire below.

Eventually Elizabeth reminded John H that it was well past his bedtime, and we hit our sacks.
There wasn’t much hope of a lazy lie in on Sunday morning. Once again the sun came up like thunder out of Moidart ‘across the bay’ and the heat in the tents was insufferable at a ludicrously early hour. Bill came down from the water hole with nostrils a-twitching scenting frying bacon from a ¼ mile range. By the time breakfast was over, people were actually heard to complain that the sun was becoming too much of a good thing; certainly hill-walking wasn’t even considered. Dave, Liz and Seamus went off to inspect the white sands of Morar – they’d never been, and today could have not been more perfect for it. Thus with our fleet we could all get afloat, and headed off down the sparkling loch in search of beaches. The first port of call was Peanmeanach across in Arnish, of which Bill had written so eloquently in volume 8 of the journal. The big beach was backed by an old ruinous crofting community, one house being a well occupied 5 star MBA bothy. (Four of the occupants had carried in a mind boggling load of 60 cans of beer).

The setting was idyllic in this weather, but it was crowded with all those 8 or 9 people, so round the corner we went to a quite immaculate strand.
Idle hours slipped by in sun-bathing, swimming (John M only) and paddling around the emerald sea, islands and cliff bases. To return, Eric and Bob as novices would learn the art of sailing with Mistress Mariner Elizabeth. Guess what? A hundred yards off-shore the gentle breeze died – totally. Sitting and baking in the sun, all we needed was the albatross to look like the Ancient Mariner. The safety boat became a tug boat to tow us ignominiously back to base.
At 5 o’clock we reluctantly left for home; a lot of converts to canoeing, after what must be the most sun-blessed weekend we’ve ever had. Who needs the Mediterranean? (the swimmers I guess)

Eric Scott

Cast in order of sun-burnt appearance

David Skinner                     Red Biddie Vintners Ltd

John Hastie                         Ailort Rope Trick Enterprises

Margaret MacDonald         Best Western BBQ’s

Jim Murray                          Cod Walloper

Jack Maxwell                      Complete Camper

Bill Gray                               Caol Creeper

John Mykura                       Chief Pyromaniac

Bob McFarlane                  Midnight Corbett bagger

Liz Skinner                         Motor cross Champion

Eric Scott                           Haunted by Hippies

Andy Ligethy
Elizabeth Holgate              }The Martini Set
Graham Duff

‘Seamus’                            Rock Hound


blueskyscotland said...

Good to see you lot are still getting out and about..! I went away with you on a few trips in the 80`s.One memorable sunkissed trip to Barrisdale springs to mind :)
Bob McFarlane is still getting out and about.You can catch up with him on our blog.

Moray Club said...

Hi Alex, good to hear from you. Yes we had some cracking days out.
As time allows we'll post more articles from the old jounals. Tell Bob we were asking after him..... BTW that's a great blog you've got!
Cheers Bill.