Paddling In the West Highlands
Friday 2nd May – 7.00am
Paddle Steamer Waverley was rudely awoken from her winter slumber to sail from Glasgow to Oban for her annual programme of sailings from the West Highland town.
After calls at Greenock, Largs and Campbeltown our little paddler left the River Clyde and rounded the Mull of Kintyre. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the scheduled call at Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay had to be cancelled so Waverley headed north for Oban berthing at Oban’s North Pier on time at approx 8.30pm.
Saturday 3rd May – 10.00am
The first cruise from Oban was to Armadale, Isle of Skye. Despite changeable weather a healthy crowd (photo above right) turned up at 9.30am ready to board the paddler. Unfortunately the weather report received from Armadale Pier around one hour later was not favourable and the cruise was quickly re-scheduled to give passengers either time ashore at Tobermorey or a scenic, sheltered water cruise. Whilst a few (myself included) disembarked at Tobermorey, a good number joined the already healthy numbers on board for this revised outing.
Sunday 4th May – 7.00am
Waverley quietly slips her moorings and departs Oban – destination Fort William. On arrival at 10.00am she boards the waiting passengers and sets sail for Oban where after boarding another healthy number she leaves at 12.15am – in the foulest of rain showers – for an afternoon cruise via three lochs and ultimately arriving at the notorious Corryvreckan Whirlpool. This whirlpool – located between the north end of Jura and south end of Scarba – can be heard many miles away when in full voice but Waverley is only permitted to sail through either side of slack tide. Even at these times there is usually much activity due to the underwater peaks causing strange currents and tidal races!
After disembarking her Oban passengers the paddler headed back to her temporary overnight berth of Fort William.
Monday 5th May – 11.15am
Around 10.30am saw a crowd gathering on North Pier for what is the jewel in the crown of Waverley’s Western Isles sailing programme – the annual Bank Holiday Monday cruise to the sacred Isle of Iona. The weather was looking good and forecast to be thus for the remainder of the day so spirits were high!
After an extremely pleasant passage from Oban Waverley arrived on time in the Sound of Iona and prepared to drop anchor in a favourable location. Steamers have always tendered their passengers ashore and this time was no exception.
The tendering process (see photo above) was somewhat slower this year due to the local company only being able to supply one boat but due to the usual slick organisation by Waverley’s purser Jim McFadzen, passengers were still afforded their full time ashore.
Once ashore a group us scurried off to climb to the highest point on Iona which is called Dun I. This point gives you the best views of Iona and across to the adjacent Isle of Mull. If the weather is very clear then views as far west as the Isle of Staffa are also possible.
If you look closely at the photo (above) which was taken from the top of Dun I you will see Iona Abbey to the left of centre and Waverley at anchor centre shot.
After a celebratory dram from our hip flasks we descended Dun I and headed for the hotel which is handily located near the tendering slip and also has an excellent outdoor area with views across the sound.
too soon is was time to return to Waverley and make our way back to Oban. As we weighed anchor there was time for one last photo of the Iona shore from the port paddle box steps – a great place to sit of an afternoon – before we set sail. A couple of us went below to the dining saloon and returned with cups of soup (Waverley’s soup is to die for!) and some chips as we dined alfresco enjoying the early evening sunshine. As we tied up for the last time at Oban North Pier we reflected on another great Western Isles weekend!
At 9.30 the following morning Waverley slipped her berth and headed back to the Clyde and ultimately Greenock where she arrived at 9.30pm. The following day she was due to head for Garvel Drydock and her annual overhaul and survey.
But that is another story………………