“It’s a beautiful day,” a man says as we pull up to the dock. “Feels like California!” I beam. “I’m from California!” I cry, throwing my hands in the air in celebration. And it really does feel like home. Which surprises me, since I’m in Scotland and I didn’t expect to spend a week sailing in the Scottish Hebrides without seeing a single cloud in the sky.
Week Sailing in the Scottish Hebrides
But I’ve lucked out. My skipper says he hasn’t seen a weather forecast like this in four years, and I settle in for a gorgeous week. I’ve come with friends for a sailing trip in Scotland’s isles, and although we’d been told that the last week of May holds the best chance of sun, we’d braced ourselves for worse.
Clear sky overhead, we depart Dunstaffnage marina near Oban on Monday morning after a night’s sleep on board our boat. The area is considered the gateway to the Hebrides, with lots of sailboats and ferries taking passengers everywhere from the nearby Isle of Mull to the famous Isle of Skye.
Our itinerary depends on weather and wind, the latter of which picks up to a hefty gale and doesn’t stop blowing until the last day of our trip.
On our first morning at sea, the wind takes us up the Sound of Mull to Dorlin, which is actually on the mainland. It’s a remote corner of the west coast, and has a secluded mooring near the shore. Once on land, we hike along the coves of the coast and up to the top of a hill for views of the islands in the distance. It gives us a great taste of what’s ahead, and we head back to the boat eager for the next day’s sail.
A beautiful sky takes us out of Dorlin and over to Coll, an island off the northwest coast of Mull.
Coll is sparsely inhabited and amazingly desolate, and our mooring in a bay with a castle is as romantic as anything I’ve seen on my travels.
Once on shore, we hitchhike into town in search of seafood and WiFi (we had no idea how little mobile data there would be out here), availing ourselves of both at a hotel on the coast.
Afterwards we make our way back to the south of the island, where we find sweeping views of a beach from a sheep-studded hilltop. It’s a breathtaking sight, and the perfect way to end our day on Coll.
The next morning we’re off to Lunga, a place I’ve been excited to visit since my boyfriend regaled me with tales of puffins and bluebells from his last trip sailing in the Hebrides. Lunga is one of the Treshnish Isles, and is famous for its puffins and guillemots, among other birds.
It’s easy to explore Lunga in an hour, but we linger as long as we can to take in the magical spectacle of the puffins. They’re so small and sweet and completely unfazed by humans watching them from a surprisingly close distance.
We lie on our stomachs on the cliffs, observing at eye-level as they waddle about and fly in from the sea, their mouths full of fish. Between them and the bluebells, Lunga is so beautiful I can hardly believe it’s real.
Tearing ourselves away before the tide strands us, we board the boat and continue our week sailing in the Hebrides with a stop on the Isle of Ulva. Just off the west coast of Mull, it has a gorgeous bay of islands where we anchor for the evening.
A walk along the shore takes us past an old mill and up a hill with gorgeous views of the rocks in the sea. It’s my favorite view of the trip, and I could stay all night—I really could, as it stays light so late at this time of year that darkness hardly touches the shores. But we return to the boat in time for sunset, which lights up the sky magenta and orange for hours. Even as I turn in for bed, the rugged hills are fringed with pink.
The next morning we’re off to one of the most legendary islands in the Hebrides. After a quick stop to see the famous cave on Staffa, we sail to Iona, known for its connections with Saint Columba and his 6th-century monastery.
We anchor beside the row of houses and buildings on the busy eastern side of the island, then hike across to the western side. It’s relatively deserted here, and we soak up the Caribbean-blue water of the beaches as the sheep graze in flowery pastures behind us. Once again I feel I’m in a different world, and I want to stay forever.
Hiking back over the hills to the busier side of Iona, we hit the tourist trail. There are sweet little shops, the ruins of a nunnery, and the famous Iona Abbey that so many have come by ferry to see. But the highlight for me is the walk to the northern beaches, which have fine white sand and turquoise water. It’s so unexpected I have to keep reminding myself I’m in Scotland.
Isle of Mull
We stay so long on Iona that we barely make it to Mull before the sun starts to sink in the sky. We anchor in a bay along the Ross of Mull, the long arm of the island that reaches out into the sea. In the morning we sail along the southern side of the island, making our way to Loch Spelve where there’s a mooring at a mussel farm.
We spend the afternoon and evening walking along a beautiful wooded stream and up into the hills, then make our way into the port town of Craignure. We walk along the waterfront there, soaking up the beautiful flowers and foraging for wild garlic. Eventually we hitchhike back to the loch, where a dinner of mussels from just outside the boat goes down a treat.
The next morning we’re up and out early, spying on sea eagles in the trees as we make our way out of the loch and back to the marina in Dunstaffnage. It’s the first cloudy day of the trip, which helps alleviate the sadness that our Hebridean adventure has come to an end.
Back on the mainland, we wave good-bye to the boat and start our journey home. But the trip sticks with us as we drive away, both in the sensation of our bodies swaying as if we’re still at sea and in the sound of our recaps of all the things we’ve done and seen during our week sailing in the Scottish Hebrides.
It’s been a truly magical trip, and if it wasn’t for the feelings and stories, I might wonder if I dreamed it. Regardless, I know I’ll travel back again to prove to myself that this unbelievably beautiful part of the world is real, and to see a lot more of it.
Have you been to the Hebrides? What was the highlight of your trip?