Whilst visiting Tim’s cousins in Shieldaig, a lovely remote little village in the Northwest of Scotland, Tim took the chance to hike up the mountain that overshadowed the village and chase some different contours.
The hike up was about 550m on a windless day; the views stunning! He flew down on a small paraglider or speed wing that is ideal for “Hike & Fly” expeditions.
Bob had suggested that Tobermory was worth checking out, so that’s what we did. Tobermory is located at the north end of the Sound of Mull, and quite a popular destination for sailors, especially those with families. The harbour is run by the local community, and everything is injected back into the local economy. The harbour-side high street is composed of a colourful array of buildings that house very quirky local shops (and a Co-op). They even had a well-stocked chandlery, which Tim could not resist visiting.
We treated ourselves to a black pudding and cheddar toastie for lunch, and later on for a late dinner, we walked over to the Fish Café, which had a lot of good reviews. We were not disappointed!
We have met a lot of friendly, helpful people in the sailing community. In Tobermory, our neighbours had their boat moored at Ringhaddy, Strangford Lough and knew the people we had met while we were moored there.
The next morning, we headed for Rum, dropped anchor and went for a lovely mini-hike up a well-trodden path next to a mountain stream. The stream opened up to small pools, where I would imagine, on a hot day, would be great for a dip (this was not a particularly hot day though!). Rum was home to some interesting wildlife and a small community, where one could find craft shops and a village hall with tea, coffee, cake, and WIFI – all paid for via an honesty box. We walked past homes with their doors wide open, and fancied a life where there was zero crime and everyone trusted each other. We even saw a wild Red Stag munching on some undergrowth next to the hostel building…it did not seem too alarmed at us staring at him, he just raised his head, stared a bit, and then proceeded eating.
We met another pair of sailors, Tim and Owen. We found out that Tim’s boat was moored in Helensbrugh! What a coincidence, meeting people from the places we actually had been to. That said, it is becoming clear that the sailing up here is far more exciting than down south because of the variety of islands and lochs there are to explore – so it’s highly likely that sailors up north will explore the northern isles over weekends or short holidays.
The wind blew strong overnight, blowing the clouds away and a bright morning greeted us the next day, when we got up at 6am to make an early start. We were the first boat to leave Rum (there were 9 others anchored off by the end of the day), and sailed the 40 nautical miles across the Sea of the Hebrides with the spinnaker and main sails. I was feeling a bit queasy and Tim managed on his own until I rose from Queasy Kingdom!
We would just like to especially thank The Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club (RNCYC) and all the staff and members we met over the couple of weeks that we made the moorings by the club our home.
Thank you for your invitations to come and sail with you, join committee boats during club races, and for letting us join you for drinks and food.
For anyone cruising in the Clyde, Rhu and Helensbrugh are found on the Gareloch. It is a great stop to re-provision (lots of cafes and local shops in Helensbrugh as well as a couple of groceries), explore Glasgow (40 minutes by direct train from Helensbrugh Central), see Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, go on mini cycling adventures to Loch Lomond, or just go hill walking.
The RNCYC currently offers moorings at a good price, with a free launch service to take you from your boat to the pier. Rhu Marina is just around the corner but the fees are quite dear, although if you just want a quick stop, you can ask for a pontoon for an hour or so and they give it to you if you eat in the cafe. They serve great meals from breakfast through to 5pm and Friday fish n’ chips are worth a try!
Helensbrugh is about 10 minutes’ bus ride from Rhu (where the Club is currently located), and the town has a laundrette that can do a couple of big loads within 2-3 hours, enough time to grab a meal in one of the local restaurants or cafes or do some shopping. Rhu itslef has a small post office less than 5 minutes’ walk from the Club.
If you stay long enough, you will also see the submarines coming in and out of the Clyde, escorted by other Navy boats and the police.
Having been left to my own devices for a few days, it was necessary to avoid getting cabin fever and head for the hills. As a novice bikepacking* enthusiast, I discovered that this part of Scotland offered some very accessible yet ‘wild’ enough areas reachable within a few hours by bicycle.
I planned a 2-day trip through the hills from Rhu to Loch Lomond, the ‘long way round’. The whole journey by distance was not far at all, but it did involve a few long climbs. Having had a number of different route suggestions, I decided to take a mountain bike / hiking path up from behind Helensbrugh, into the hills, towards Glen Fruin, and onto an old military road further northwest towards Tarbet. The map looked straightforward, but I vastly underestimated the time and level of difficulty I was to encounter when I got lost – twice – in the pouring rain.
My route turned from well-formed tracks, to tarmac, to rough, rocky, gravelly and steep roads, only really accessible by 4×4 or mountain bike. By that time, it should have occurred to me that I was following the wrong road…but I stubbornly carried on, after all, I was going the right direction!
I then encountered dead-end roads terminating steep downhill tracks with dirty streams of water forming large puddles in the potholes. My bike, Elsie, was heavy. I had packed food for 2 days, a 2-man tent (the only tent we have on board), a change of clothes, a Trangia, some fuel, a book, watercolours, an inflatable camping mat, and sleeping bag. I had also booked a campsite at the far side (east) of Loch Lomond, thinking that I would get there on time, so I only had one small water bottle.
The day was getting on, and by 18:30, after having encountered the second dead-end road (no mobile reception), I decided to back track to some huts I found along the way. Thankfully, one of them had no door. I believe this was probably used as an eating or gathering place if it was raining. Finally, some sense kicked in and I decided there was no chance I was going to get to the correct road and my campsite before dark. I was not going to risk taking a wrong route again in the rain, when this shelter was so lovely and dry!
By 20:30, I managed to set up camp, find a stream, cook my dinner, and even draw a little bit. The sky cleared and the sun said farewell for the day. It was quiet; I had not encountered another soul for at least 5 hours but I knew I was safe. I felt warm and secure, and had enough sleep for the next day.
In the morning, after enjoying some sun and breakfast, I packed up and started to back track further, hoping to find a linking road. I encountered some Dutch army officers in their 4×4 vehicle. I waved them down and told them I was a bit lost, and wondered if there might be a track across the valley. The officer was very kind, and told me that I was in an MOD (Ministry of Defence) practice area, but was unsure if there was a track that cut across.
After I waved goodbye, I heard some gun fire close by. The last thing I wanted to encounter were some soldiers shooting each other, even if I was assured they were just firing blanks! I cycled on, and took a chance on a road that eventually lead back up to the original track I needed to follow through to Loch Lomond. After crossing the valley through some boggy ground and forest, I finally climbed up onto the road! This time, it was a straightforward downhill dirt road route that linked to a narrow, quiet and winding tarmac road. Relieved and excited, I was smiling ear to ear…the fun was only hindered temporarily by some cattle creating a road block.
I was able to cycle right along Loch Lomond on the West Lomond Cycle Way and head back towards Helensbrugh on the John Muir Way.
The trip felt epic, even if it was just a couple of days. Getting lost thrown into the mix somehow stretched time. The stress and challenges it created while travelling solo also added to the excitement. Although I regretted the weight of the tent, I was glad I had it, if I had not found those huts, I would have needed it.
Throughout the difficult moments, when I had to hike Elsie up some really long, steep hills, with my feet slipping on the gravel at times, thoughts of ‘warm hotel’ and ‘B&B’ kept on playing in my head. But when I found my shelter, all those thoughts melted away, because the view was breathtaking and besides, I carried all this gear! The discomfort the day brought ended up being very rewarding, but I was looking forward to a warm shower.
From now on, we will do our best to post on Fridays! Watch out for our YouTube Channel (search for Chasing Contours) and on Facebook and Instagram for more real-time updates! @chasingcontours.
*Bikepacking – on and off-road style of cycle touring, usually done on cross country or mountain routes on mountain bikes or all-terrain tourers. Elsie the bike is built as a cyclocross bike and has no suspension.
The relatively brief crossing from Ireland to the southwestern isles of Scotland was quite smooth sailing, with the wind behind us, putting Shadowfax on a dead run all the way through Kilbranan Sound.
Dead runs are great as long as the wind is consistent and not gusty; the boat stays relatively level, and we are actually able to relax, or do work on the boat without the things flying off when it heels over.
Tim busied himself with polishing the cockpit’s gelcoat, restoring it from a dirty, smudgy surface to one that was clean, creamy, and almost lick-able. I busied myself with making Japanese-style ‘sushi’, answering to a very persistent craving. With the sun out, sushi seemed like an appropriate lunchtime choice!
Setting foot on Scottish Soil
We landed for first time on Scottish soil by sail! Sanda Island is a privately owned island, but the ‘right to roam’ laws in Scotland allow visitors to come and walk along the paths. Ideally, visitors should check-in with the caretaker if someone is in. We needed to stretch our legs, so a quick hike up to the summit on the island was on the cards.
As we motored in using Dinglehopper, our outboard dinghy, little brown globes-like shapes popped up through the water and we were greeted by curious, round eyes. We were surrounded by seals! They peered out of the water a few meters from us, staring. Isn’t it funny how, if another human stares at us, we think it is rude…but if a seal stares at us, it is curiously cute!?
The hike had its own surprises along the way. We were crossing a small valley, and when I looked up, a red stag stood there, less than 15 meters away, with his glorious antlers. Our eyes locked for a split second and then, he was gone in a heartbeat – galloping down the valley. We heared his powerful hooves echo as we climbed the hill. As we reached the summit, we spotted a doe and her fawn in the plain below. We watched the drama unfold as she became aware of our presence and started to run, jumping over a fence and leaving her fawn behind. We saw the little one struggle to get past, we held our breath as we saw it try and try again…fearing its injury from the wire. Thankfully, it got past and was reunited with its mother.
We hiked back down and lost the path briefly in the bracken. We headed back to Shadowfax and set sail for Campbeltown. We passed by some small islands overgrown with rhododendron and inhabited by grey heron, perched on top of the pine trees and anchored in a quiet bay just to the west of Bute.
We love the way the Scots say ‘mooring’ – rather than the English ‘more-ring’ pronunciation, the Scots actually say MOO!