Scotland: Highland hiking and a wee bit of history

Scotland may not have the warmest weather, but as far as hiking goes, there is an abundance of trails and paths crisscrossed over the islands and coastline. Staying fit while living on a boat isn’t as easy as some make out, particularly the sort of exercise that gets the blood pumping. So for me, the chance to jump ship and head for the nearest trail is something I enjoy.

From Stornoway, we returned to Portree to fill up with diesel. We had wanted to hike some of the trails on Skye, but transport to and from trailheads without a car is not easy, and requires catching the intermittent bus service or hitchhiking. Ideally a walk from an anchorage to a trailhead is much easier. So we stayed aboard that night to enjoy the calmer warmer weather with the Cobb cooking some ribs on the aft deck.

Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh

The next morning, from Portree we continued on the familiar route motoring under the Skye bridge and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Through the mist we took a side trip to Eilean Donan Castle for some photos before heading south along the fast flow of the Kylerhea strait. We anchored for the night at Loch Na Dal before heading to Mallaig the following day, again making good use of the south flowing tide.

Mallaig Harbour


View of Loch Nevis

Mallaig is a touristy town filled with exuberant kids that’ve taken a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig (famous from the Harry Potter movies). I looked into doing this trip, but it was fully booked at this time of year. There are short walking trails around Mallaig so we hoofed along a track for a couple of hours with views of Loch Nevis, finishing off our exercise routine with a pint of ale at the pub!

The next few days produced no wind and warmer than usual weather – around 20degC. Not particularly good for sailing, but great for walking. Heading west we motored 15nm to reach the island of Rum, located to the east of Canna in the Small Isles. I’d discovered a good hike on Rum and the weather was perfect for the walk.

Rum mooring field – Blue Heeler all alone…

Rum has ten moorings – relatively new – so at 10 pound a night we grabbed one for a couple of nights. Payment is easily paid online, or you can walk to the Rum Bunkhouse to make payment.  There isn’t a dedicated dinghy dock, but the nearby floating pontoon which belongs to the MOWA company can be used.

On shore is the small community of Kinloch. Kinloch has a post office/shop/community centre, plus a camping area and a couple of ‘glamping’ cabins. A most impressive building is the Kinloch Castle. Built from red sandstone, the building is open for public tours in the afternoon but our timing was off and we didn’t make it for the tour, but I did peek inside the windows. Nonetheless, the views from the castle out into the bay across to mainland Scotland are quite impressive. Apparently Queen Victoria’s kids used to come here for holiday shenanigans.

Kinloch Castle, Rum Island

The island of Rum is a native sanctuary to many seabirds; the most abundant are the Manx Shearwater. The estimates vary, but they say over one third of the world’s Manx Shearwaters return to Rum each year to breed and raise their chicks. Red deer and goats also inhabit the island, plus the oldest Highland Pony stud in the world are located here on Rum.

Sturdy, sure-footed Highland Pony

To get our legs warmed up for the next day’s hike, we took the trail north off the town which took around an hour. Following a series of painted ‘wellies’, you will find yourself at Croft 3 – a local croft which offers a variety of local produce and crafts.

To help us identify walks throughout the highlands is the website Walk Highlands. Used in conjunction with the app ‘Viewranger’, I can import GPX files and have the route and tracking displayed on a topographical map on my iPad. The website also provides descriptions of each walk plus other useful information, such as walk difficulty, terrain, plus ‘bog factor’ (many walks are very boggy!).

Example from the Viewranger app

The Hallival and Barkival hike is 13.5km long and takes us up two peaks – Hallival (750m) and Barkival (590m). We left the boat at 9.30am then walked towards the village and headed along the Coire Dubh walk – a 2.9km trek. From the end of the Coire Dubh walk we continued southeast towards the ridge of Hallival.

We are boat fit which generally means that we can sit for days as ballast as we cross oceans, but on land things get a little shaky as our dormant tendons and muscles are flexed back to life. The initial part of the hike is a good trail which slowly ascends to 200m. The next stage is across boggy, rocky ground following a narrow goat trail. Up on the ridge at around 550m, we looked up at Hallival, still shrouded in an impenetrable mist at the top, so we headed west to the clearer peak of Barkival at 590m. The views of the Rum Cuillin were amazing, although the cloud floated around the peaks, the highest is Askival at 810m (2,659 feet).

Gorgeous views

There were pockets of midges in the air, but nothing too bothersome, although there is rumour that a second wave of these notorious bitey beasties will appear before summer’s end. Walking through the soft terrain at the top, small holes are dug into the hillside – the nests of the shearwater. After a rest and a bite to eat, including a sweet bite of whisky tablet, we trudged downhill and returned to our dinghy by 4.30pm.

The next day a slight northwest wind was ideal for a trip to Tobermory, 27nm away, on the Isle of Mull.

Baby spinny!

Under the shadow of the Rum Cuillin, we motored an hour before we could turn off the engine and get the sails out. Not enough wind to keep the foresail billowing, so with wind less than 10kn, we dragged out our secret weapon – Baby Spinny! With our small spinnaker we can sail in 5-12kn of wind and sail along at an acceptable speed.  Over the course of the warm day, in seven hours we travelled 27nm – not fast, but at least we had a lovely day on the water and weren’t wasting diesel.

Tobermory harbour is filled with many moorings with virtually no anchoring room close to town, and it’s very deep, we decided to grab a mooring. As part of Highland Week, a sailing regatta was taking place offshore as we approached, but we beat the fleet and managed to snag a mooring ahead of the competitors. Already 4.30pm, we decided to stay aboard in the warm weather and would go ashore the following day. At 8pm, the Tobermory marina guys came to us by dinghy and asked for payment of 17 pound per night for the mooring.

The next morning after walking around Tobermory for a couple of hours, with nothing attracting our attention except window shopping along the charming colourful waterfront buildings and visiting the Coop to buy some supplies, we threw off the mooring line (a long heavy chain in fact) and motored to Oban, 26nm to the east.

Lismore lighthouse

Approaching the Firth of Lorn, the water began swirling and white tips ‘roosts’ spread across the water. The tide was strong and a current of up to 3.5kn against us had us struggling to keep 2.5kn of speed over ground.

Once we’d passed the Lismore lighthouse on Eilean Musdile to our port side, the current eased and we continued on to Oban with a CalMac ferry bearing down on us from behind as we entered the north channel. Heaps of room though and we continued on the starboard side of the channel and headed into the Oban Marina located at Kerrera Island. As usual, first things first – laundry, showers, and a beer with friend Brian who was berthed at the marina. We took advantage of the marina’s weekly mooring rate and stay a week, which gave us time to order in a part for our outboard and do a few small jobs aboard.

Oban Marina with Oban town in the background

Oban Marina is a ferry ride away from Oban town and the ride is complementary for boats staying at the marina. Kerrera Island is a popular place for tourists to visit – walking trails around the island, a Farm Shop which sells fresh farm products, plus a newish restaurant at the marina itself. At the farm I bought half a dozen duck eggs and some pork and apple sausages. Looking over the marina is Hutcheson’s Monument which is a short walk from the marina. Erected in 1883 the obelisk is dedicated to David Hutcheson, a ship-owner who operated services to the islands. The Caledonian MacBrayne shipping company (CalMac) still runs ferries to the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

There are a few trails around Oban. A nice walk is south of town up to Pulpit Hill and onto Gallanach, which is around 8kms.

Kerrera Island, Oban

A short walk north along the waterfront takes you to Dunollie Castle with nice views of Kerrera. The castle is quite dilapidated to say the least, but the museum was nicely presented and on Sundays a pipe band puts on a show. Over the past 1000 years, Clan Chiefs and Lords of Lorn ruled large areas of Argyll & the Isles from Dunollie. Nowadays, Dunollie remains the ancestral home of the Clan MacDougall and this week was the annual gathering of the clan where MacDougall’s from around the world come together for a variety of activities.

After a week at Kerrera, it was time for us to move on. Already the season is changing and it won’t be long before autumn is upon us. We’ve chosen Blue Heeler’s home for winter so now we begin our slow journey south.

Until then…


About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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2 Responses to Scotland: Highland hiking and a wee bit of history

  1. Jenny Wilmshurst-Smith says:

    Another great blog! We’ll be heading up towards Scotland next season. Will you spend winter in UK or somewhere warmer?


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