Cruising Scotland’s craggy coastline
Scotland might not be the most obvious superyachting destination, but as Fair Lady’s recent charter trip proves, it should be.
If you think Scotland is only a place to be explored by land, you’d be sadly mistaken. Its world-class whisky, historic castles and championship golf courses make for exceptional shore excursions, but to encounter what this dramatic coastline has to offer, Scotland should be experienced by boat. For the charter guests of vintage 1920s yacht Fair Lady, an eight-day charter this summer from Oban up into the Outer Hebrides led them to towering mountains, deep glistening lochs, an abundance of native wildlife and even a wizard’s pool.
Fair Lady’s charters typically begin in the horseshoe town of Oban, where the yacht stocks up on lobster, crayfish and other local produce fresh off the boats. A short cruise down the south side of the Isle of Mull reveals a green and fertile land, also home to a nine-hole golf course that has only been parred twice in its history. Before long, the rugged terrain of Jura enters into view. Its raised beaches are ideal for kids to scrabble across, while those looking for something more testing tackle the famed Paps of Jura, three quartzite mountains on the western side of the island soaring as high as 2,575 feet.
Jura also boasts two of Captain David Richardson’s favourite anchorages. “There’s a big inlet called Loch Tarbert, which when explored by tender takes you right up into the middle of the island,” he says. “The access up through three separate narrows brings you out into a sort of magical fairyland.”
Further south on Islay, guests sampled some of Scotland’s finest malt whisky at three distilleries that sit in a row – Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig – and are collectively known as the Kildalton Distilleries. Whisky connoisseurs appreciate these medium-bodied malts for their peat-smoke, brine and iodine notes. For Fair Lady’s guests, however, it was the golden sandy beaches found on the Small Islands in the Outer Hebrides that fast became a favourite spot.
The island of Barra, the most southerly of the inhabited islands, offers the unusual spectacle of an airport on its sand beach where twice-daily flights only land once the tide has gone out. “Cruising Barra’s anchorages on a sunny day gives you really shallow waters over golden sands, so it was almost like being in the Bahamas,” enthuses Captain Richardson.
Some days delivered the perfect Scottish summer with long, drawn-out evenings blessed with magnificent light. But even on days where the weather was a little less fortunate, Scotland’s many cosy inlets and lochs offered the perfect solution to hunker down in comfort and explore the craggy shoreline. As a family with kids, a daily swim in the frigid Scottish waters or water-skiing off the back of Fair Lady’s sailing dinghies were also high on the agenda.
“We weren’t looking for the breeze to go sailing on Fair Lady, but there were a few nice sail boats that we bumped into that would have had a lovely time sailing between the islands,” says Captain Richardson.
Two such sailing yachts were Athos and Ngoni. As a friend of Ngoni’s skipper, Captain Richardson advised him to use Laudale Estate as a place to land their Boston Whaler. Nestled on the southern shores of the picturesque Loch Sunart on the unspoiled Morven Peninsula, Laudale Estate is owned by Jonathan Turner, owner of Fair Lady. Charter guests can bolt a stay at the 17th century Laudale House onto their itinerary, as well as the use of Spirit of Laudale, Turner’s Cessna 208 Seaplane.
Scotland is home to a wealth of diverse wildlife from red deer to mountain hares and otters to some of the world’s top salmon fishing rivers. The Shiant Islands, a small collection of Outer Hebridean islands between the north of Skye and the Island of Lewis are particularly well-known for sighting the Atlantic puffin, a once common but now endangered seabird. Captain Richardson recommends visiting early on in the summer season before the migrations have begun.
“On every trip we did this year, with charter guests and with the owner, we had fantastic dolphin displays and quite a few humpback whale sightings. We went to two places that are well known for puffin colonies, and although they’re only little birds, when you see them in great numbers it’s magical.”
A few surprise treats for the charter family included Fingals Cave, a sea cave on the small, uninhabited island of Staffa, which is formed from hexagonally jointed basalt and known for its incredible natural acoustics. And Sligachan bay, with its roaring waterfalls cascading down a rock face. “It’s really dramatic in terms of the mountain scenery, and the waterfalls come skating down into the bay where seals just lounge around,” says Captain Richardson.
But the highlight was tucking 37m Fair Lady into the Wizard Pool in Lochskipport on Isle of South Uist. “This was a place that I hadn’t known about before, but the family were keen to go. I looked it up and it was tight, but we got in, and the water is absolutely flat. There’s a little island in there and it was almost like being in a witch’s cauldron with the mist coming up. It really was quite special.”