Three Nights in the Hebrides
Day 1 - Cruising the CoastLast week saw our first three-night cruise this season heading out of Stornoway on an afternoon sailing to allow the ferry passengers to reach us, taking our guests on a wildlife watching adventure in the Minch and down towards the Sea of the Hebrides and the Isle of Harris.
The first evening we cruised down the rugged east coast of the Isle of Lewis, enjoying the coastal scenery and the seabirds that kept us company along the way. Razorbills, guillemots and the occasional puffin bobbed on the waves whilst the fulmars, gannets and kittiwakes coasted overhead. Our destination was Loch Shell, a long sea loch that reaches far back into the wild hills surrounded by the 43,000 acre Eishken sporting estate. We took a trip ashore to check out a small waterfall and stretch our legs, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the area. In fact the only sound was that of a lone cuckoo calling that seemed strangely out of place. Dinner than night at anchor was steaming hot lasagne, with both tasty vegetarian and meat versions to cater for our various guests requirements. Ice cream and strawberries sealed the deal and everyone retired full and happy for a good nights sleep, watched by a couple of curious red deer from up on the hill and a lone white-tailed sea eagle that wheeled by, being harassed by terns and a lone hooded crow as is often their lot.
Day 2 - Off to the Shiant'sI was up early and the cuckoo was still calling before actually flying right over the boat in the dim morning light. Everyone else was up for breakfast around 8.30, and a warming bowl of porridge (what else in Scotland!) started us off before a cooked breakfast to boost our energy levels further for a day of scanning the oceans for wildlife. From Loch Shell it was a short cruise across to our favourite Shiant Isles where the seabird colonies are still in full swing. It was lovely watching the auk species in particular flying backwards and forwards with their delivery of fresh fish for their partners and young. If you are out on the boat with us, it is worth heading down to the main deck level to see the birds like this and others at nearly eye level floating around on the water - especially if you are a photographer like me - it's brilliant.
We again took the opportunity to go ashore, saying hello to a small group who were camping at the island's bothy for a week - now that's isolation for you! Here we found some handsome pairs of eider ducks around the shoreline as well as great skuas up on the hills where tiny orchids were blooming also, presumably stunted by the conditions but still as pretty nonetheless. Back on MV Monadhliath it was time to move on and head towards Tarbert on the Isle of Harris that was to be our night-time mooring. Along the way we took the boat around the Shiant's to see the seabird cliffs and to look for cetaceans out on the Burma Bank - a high spot in the Minch that can be a good place, but no-one was home this time. Still, we got great views of the islands from all angles and also the craggy pinnacles that point back towards the Hebrides, one of them reminding me of the 'sorting hat' from Harry Potter! Arriving in Tarbert we settled down for another warming meal before taking the chance again to take a walk out of the marina towards the Isle of Harris Gin distillery and the town.
Day 3 - Working north...Leaving Tarbert we headed out under the Scalpay bridge and soon had glimpses of a harbour porpoise followed shortly by a dolphin that appeared very quickly in another boat's wake beside us before vanishing just as fast. That woke us all up anyway and soon we were also admiring great views back to the Eilean Glas lighthouse (established in 1789) on the eastern tip of the Isle of Scalpay looking tremendous in the morning light with the sun just trying to poke through the clouds.
From there, our skipper Tony decided that we would investigate the myriad of little sea lochs and bays along the coast as we headed north, to see what we might find. With a westerly breeze this also gave us a little bit of protection in the lee of the land, something which the local populations of grey and common seals also seemed to be appreciating as we found several good haul out spots with snoozing seals that gave us great views. This eastern coast of Lewis in particular is also a great habitat for a thriving population of white-tailed sea eagles here, and we were lucky to see several over the course of the day. A few more scattered harbour porpoise gave us more sightings to log in the Whale Track app that we always fill in for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT). This gives them important information that is then shared wider with organisations such as Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC).
Home for the night was Loch Erisort, based on an old Norse name for 'Eric's fjord', and with the wind blowing a little you could just imagine those ancient vikings seeking a sheltered anchorage just as we were here on a wild and woolly night. We again had a great view of a white tailed sea eagle that flew low over the loch as we entered, a nice end to an interesting day.
Day 4 - Getting to the point. Up and away in the morning once more, we headed out and across the bay in front of Stornoway, to head up along the edge of point, the local name for the peninsula that ends at the famous Tiumpan Head, a well-known shore-watching spot for cetaceans in it's own right. There was signs of life with small flocks of diving gannets and again a couple of harbour porpoise making an appearance but the swell made spotting difficult and although we had a couple of potential glimpses at what might have been a minke whale, we couldn't be sure and so we turned around to head back down point and home to Stornoway. More gannets put on great displays by the boat and we found a couple of sea eagles perched up on the sea cliffs that we watched for a while - fantastic.
As we were passing the end of the airport runway we had a single common dolphin suddenly appear out of nowhere right by the boat before disappearing down and underneath us, it's bubble trail all that was left to show it was there. Luckily we were all looking in the right direction at the time so everyone got a view at least. As we got closer to the harbour entrance it is always worth keeping an eye out for divers which seem to like the area, and sure enough the last sighting was of a lovely great northern diver along with another sea eagle on one side and a buzzard on the other - what a finish to a great cruise!
Find out more about our wildlife cruises and day trips around the Outer Hebrides on our website at https://hebrideanadventures.com.
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