A pair of black throated divers in Loch Shell
Monday 19th Aug: Our August 3-night cruise started well with splendid weather as we left Stornoway behind and headed down the coast to the favourite overnight anchoring spot of the beautiful Loch Shell, as usual spotting several white-tailed eagles and porpoise along the way, capped by a pair of wonderful black-throated divers as we arrived at the end of the loch. Once settled we unloaded the RIB and took our guests ashore for a walk up to visit a waterfall, and to take in the mountain and sea loch scenery with views back to MV Monadhliath anchored up all safe and sound in the calm waters. We had dinner and chatted over the excitement of visiting the Shiant Isles the next day and the prospects for seeing some wildlife.
Hiking up the path to the waterfall amidst stunning Scottish scenery
The morning broke to a clear sky and a beautiful sunrise over the hills. Two of our well-travelled guests with great spotting skills soon found a white-tailed eagle sitting on the hillside behind the boat giving good views. Anchor up and we were on our way over the stretch of water known as the 'stream of the blue men' to the Shiants.
Almost immediately our skipper Tony announced he was seeing large schools of fish on the sounder as we left Loch Shell, and we could see flocks of seabirds in many directions obviously feeding - a good sign! This was soon followed by porpoise sightings including a mother and her calf, and then not long after the first pod of common short-beaked dolphins was seen heading in our general direction towards all the activity. They soon arrived and came straight over to us, milling around the boat to check us out and bow riding, often flipping on to their sides to see who was watching them from above. If you've never made eye contact with a wild dolphin it is quite a special experience!
Common dolphins silhouetted against the Galtas at the Shiants
Our lead guide Jon has plenty of experience in these seas and could feel conditions were right for a possible whale sighing and told us all to keep an eye out. Sure enough he spotted the distinctive back of a minke whale break the surface and we all got good views as it resurfaced several times before sliding away to who knows where.
Once we had our fill of all the cetaceans it was back on our journey to the Shiants. Because of the conditions we made a rare anhorage on the south side of the islands, just off of the bothy and landed on the shingle beach. With no occupants at the bothy we were free to have a look inside and then continue up to the top of the hill to take in the views, with only the meadow pipits, wheatears and great skuas for company.
Monadhliath anchored in front of the Shiant Isles
Our wanderlust sated, we returned to Monadhliath and made our way towards Tarbert on the Isle of Harris which was to be our home for the night. We had a quick look around Loch Bhrollum which we are glad we did as Jon found a single little gull amongst a flock of kittiwakes sitting on the water. Heading under the road bridge that leads from Harris to the small island of Scalpay, we heard that a weather system was starting to build which was likely to build the wind and seas the next day and that evening we could see it starting to arrive.
A little gull was a nice surprise amongst all the kittiwakes.
By Wednesday morning it was a very different day we woke up to from the previous one. Grey skies, showers and increasing winds meant we had to put our 'Plan B' into operation! We also have a land-based tour bus on the island so we arranged for that to come down and pick us up while the boat crew made way quickly in the rising seas to get back to Stornoway while they could - even then they shared video of the waves breaking over the deck but made it home safe and sound.
Driving over the mountains that separate Harris from Lewis we had heavy rain but this only served to make the mountain scenery more dramatic. A merlin dashing over the moorland was a great sight and we made some visits to Luskentyre and Callanish along the way, had a very typical British summer picnic in the driving rain in the van, but still had a great time, laughing and joking about how quickly things change. We spotted ravens and buzzards, but perhaps the best was saved for last in the form of an adult and young red throated diver just outside Stornoway and near to the roadside giving great superb views of the beautiful adult plumage.
The lighthouse at Tiumpan Head outside Stornoway
That evening after dinner on the boat, the skies cleared and so we took everyone to Tiumpan Head to watch sunset and have a look for any cetacean action. It was a lovely calm evening and even though nothing was seen this time, it was still a great end to an interesting day.
Our final morning saw us pile back into the van for a trip up the coast towards Tolsta, taking in some more of the coastal scenery while looking for birdlife. This found us some lovely whooper swans that had probably spent the summer. A great way to finish our trip before heading back ready to catch the afternoon ferry back to Ullapool.
If you are ready to join us for one of our amazing 3-night cruises, or any of our other options for this year or next summer, please do get in touch with us. Our 2020 calendar will be available soon for booking but we are taking advance interest now so please make sure you are at the head of the queue and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check the website.