Thursday 16th September
It’s 4.30am and we reluctantly get up and slowly get moving. By 5.40am, we leave the campsite, that’s still covered in darkness, and head towards Lochboisdale harbour for the ferry to take us to Mallaig on the mainland. It’s easy to get confused which harbour to head for as there are at least two!
We arrive at 6am, 5 minutes before check-in closes, and collect our ticket from the port office. The ferry, aptly named ‘Lord of The Isles’ has already docked and awaits its cargo as the light slowly begins to appear from the East.
Anticipating and anxious passengers stand around but soon it’s time to board with cyclists heading first. After all the vehicles have trundled on board, the crew cast off a few minutes early and as the sun rises higher over a cumulus and cirrus cloudscape, we pass the island of Canna to the south. It’s unusual in that its western outline looks like a low lying factory, with great slabs of geometric rocks strutting out to sea and a cap of green grass on the main top.
Then Canna becomes even more dramatic. Huge craggy cliffs dominate the shoreline, sun-kissed in light of the morning rays with lines of rock strata easily depicted above giant triangular piles of tumbled scree.
Then a tiny, whitewashed lighthouse appears against the darkened, moody mists and the vast looming backdrop of the Isle of Rum appears. This is a much larger, brooding island with mountains cloaked in low cloud, the low sun picking out every bump, outcrop and contour of its northern, windswept edge.
On the northern side of ‘Lord of the Isles’ stands the commanding presence of Skye, in all its glory. Peculiar outlines dominate its western edge. Lightened mist attaches itself to the unknown peaks, as white specks of sea birds circle, contrasted against its darkened cliff lines. This is the morning repetition of countless previous mornings, for thousands of years, unchanged, in the mists of time.
A lone, small trawler man is at work on the starboard side, searching for that elusive shoal. We pass by at a greater rate of knots, as the next island of Eigg reveals itself. This is when the OS map app is really useful, as your position is still relayed to the app, even on board the ferry (denoted by a small red arrowhead), enabling you to easily identify the surrounding islands. Eigg is formed of two large lumps of rock, but what is spotlighted today is a flat-topped hill called Rubha Nan Tri Chlach.
We now pass Sgurr Nan Caorach on the Isle of Skye and enter the mouth of the Sound of Sleat, just 40 minutes away from Mallaig, with Eigg retreating into the distance. Six resting passengers and two dogs lie flat and curled in the lower curved confines of Deck 4’s seating, oblivious to nature’s splendour.
Mallaig is a small port town, lying on the western edge of the mainland, north of Oban. We quickly arrive back on dry land and notice a small boatyard within the harbour. Two small fishing vessels are being worked on, amidst a confusion of metal girders, wooden pallets, rusty sheet plate and a profusion of paint cans.
But it’s now time to ‘make tracks’ and head south. After stopping at Fort William for lunch, we continue on heading south and arrive at Ballachulish which has a large disused slate quarry.
Then we travel down the spectacular Glencoe valley. This is a series of imposing mountains that follow the River Coe, many being over 3,000 ft high. Whatever the weather, this scenery never fails to inspire its visitors, not only in this area, but for most of Scotland.
Our next campsite is just north of Crianlarich, at Auchtertyre, on the West Highland Way. Solitary walkers and groups of people pass through, some having walked from the outskirts of Glasgow and heading to Fort William, a distance of 96 miles!
We park up on an available patch of field, which turns out to give a grandstand view of the local shepherd farmer and his hundreds of sheep. His loyal collies were helping him to systematically round up large swathes of animals, so that they could be duly dipped. It was a sight to be seen, with the commanding farmer giving strange noises and whistles to his working dogs which were only eager to help.