Sunday, 26 January 2014

A real boat trip ... Staffa and Lunga, Inner Hedrides

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I wanted to put the finishing touches to what I can only describe as the best and most interesting travel week that I will ever have in the UK with something really special.

Ok, I've done  Iona,  Tobermory,  Seal sanctuary  and  M.V. Isle of Mull  before also  Oban  many times on day rail charters, but the  plane trip and a bike ride  gave an extra dimension to it.  One of the difficulties with this week was working out a schedule and being able to book the following day without the appropriate office being closed for the night on return. As I said in an earlier post, I unsuccessfully wrestled with the idea of a trip to Coll, Colonsay or even Barra on board the MV Clansman or MV Lord of The Isles. However during the course of the week I did come up with a walking plan for the additional hours to fill in on the island of Coll for another occasion. The problem with Oban and what's available is so great that I stood gazing at the possibilities like a child in a sweet shop. I went into the tourist office in Oban near the end of the week to discuss what was on my mind about a real boat trip and the assistant  came up with the idea you are about to witness here (Turus Mara boat trips). After spending so much money in the week, this trip was a mixture of a huge thought (second most expensive trip of the week to the plane) and a no brainer (a trip of a lifetime to Fingals Cave on The Island of Staffa). Lastly it was the longest trip of the week and I would have to queue, choose and eat dinner in 46 minutes on the last ferry back into Oban !

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The journey started very similar to the Tobermory and Iona trip, on board The MV Isle of Mull ferry to Craignure. The tour company that was waiting for us was utilising a minibus (I was third last to book!) to navigate a different route across to the west of Mull along the torturous single track roads with passing places.

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Ben More, Isle of Mull (from the north or rather ... the minibus !! )
The passengers were given an opportunity to stretch the legs at the 3/4 way point to enjoy a 10 minute photographic stop, although a bit further on from this snap shot through a moving bus window !!

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Finally the bus arrived at the jetty on the west of Mull where the boat "Hoy Lass" was waiting for us. Two of the passengers opted to explore The Isle of Ulva opposite with The boathouse pub that seemed very welcoming ...  another time perhaps !

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Am I on the right trip ?? !!
The excitement started to build in more ways than one as we embarked onto the open sea. I had to remind myself that this journey was partially advertised to attract the birdwatchers. It has to be said though I was happy to be here.

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The Isle of Staffa
As Staffa and Fingals Cave came into view, as you can imagine from the previous image, it was difficult to get a vantage point to take photos without an elbow, head or camera in the way !!

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As the boat edged nearer to Fingals cave, the pilot decided to play the appropriate classical piece from Mendelssohn over the tannoy. It was a bit cheesy for the tourist as the amplification didn't give the right mood and it made me smile anyway.

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Then came the task of mooring the boat against the jetty avoiding the most amazing rock formation and the wave swell.

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It was at this point on landing and as I was making my way along the hexagonal shaped stones that I realised I was stepping back in the footsteps of history with the trailblazers and Victorian explorers. Firstly the discoverer and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks and the poet James McPherson who named it Fingal's Cave and inspired generations of tourism. The composer Mendelssohn, Author and ... explorer(?!) Jules Verne, Poets and writers William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Sir Walter Scott, Artist JMW Turner, and of course not to be outdone on The Grand Tour ... Queen Victoria herself !

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As the sea ripples in and out of the cave, the echo or reflection of sound from the walls and roof is meant to be like music. This may be inspiring to authors but personally I was just privileged to be able to witness this spectacle as the average person never gets the chance.

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I had a similar magical experience when I was visiting friends about 12 years ago who moved back to their home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. On one of my three visits, they took me to Giant's Causeway that consisted of the same geological structure. Legend has it that Finn the giant built it to cross between the celtic countries of Ireland and Scotland. As you can imagine I was thinking about my friends rather than Finn !

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Another boat arrives following the route of mine 30 minutes later. This is the service from Fionnphort that I photographed in the Iona post.

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There was time for a quick climb of the hill to enjoy the view ... err ... without standing too close to the edge of the sheer drop .... exploration indeed !!

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Back on the boat after an easier exit at a lower tide from the jetty (first photo)  as we rounded the southern tip of the island for a last goodbye to the Cave and other similar structures to the south west of the island.

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Stranded ... for 2 hours ! Watching the boat retreat after arrival
Lunga, the next island destination, was a bit of a mystery to me as I had never heard of it before. I realised from the poster adverts and during the course of the trip that it was a place where bird watchers come to visit. As the ethereal shapes of the group of islands gradually materialised, I had a feeling that this was going to be something special. The boat slowed to a standstill on the sheltered east side of the island as the pilot announced "I'm sure you can guess what's going to happen next". There was no jetty and the bosun got out and attached the boat to a massive pontoon structure which the pilot drove onto the rocks. There were a few poignant safety announcements about disembarking and getting onto the footpath. As I had been advised by the tourist office, this was a place where the visitor needed to wear full mountain gear even on a sunny day like today ! It was quite a spectacle to see people who had no mountain skills clambering over rocks from the shoreline.

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Due to my patient wait on the rocks for the boat to slip back into the bay and drop anchor, I was last to climb the hill to the cliff tops. The above shot was the first thing I saw when the path levelled out at the top of the cliffs. At first I wondered what was going on ... and then I joined in ....

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We were told by the pilot on the boat that the Puffins would come and pose for us for a small fee :-)

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"Yawn ... How many pictures are you going to show of my family and me ? "  "OK, I'll stop there !"

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There's only so many photos that one can take of Puffins (I took 200 !) so as I was fully dressed with all my hillwalking gear on, I decided to climb to the top of the hill and view the lesser islands in the group of The Treshnish Isles. The unusual geological formation of the middle one is known commonly as the Dutchman's Hat.

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Time to get back on board as the pilot waits to depart. There were many possible worrying moments for the pilot. This one was wondering whether all the passengers would be back on board in time to make all the connections for the last ferry of the night into Oban.

Leaving and looking back on Lunga, it gave me time to reflect that this was my best day out in 2013..

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12 comments:

  1. What a trip! The shape of the stones is just magical and then I happened upon the puffins! What a lovely day you must have had.

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  2. Amazing photos J Love the puffins :)

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  3. Stunning photos, I have very much enjoyed the virtual journey you have shared with us :-)

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  4. I can't really say what I would prefer-to admire the birds or the amazing rocks:)

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  5. Superb weather, brilliant photographs of a couple of stunning places. Tis trip will take some beating.

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  6. Amazing places, J_on_tour! Those cliffs at the shore of Staffa Island are fantastic! Never seen photos of that area. Puffins? What can I say? Cute birds, nice colored, and your photos are just perfect. All in all, a delightful post.

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  7. Pretty awesome trip you had there. Wicked sights. Have you contemplated the idea of buying a private boat? That should allow you to go on this trip again, even without signing up for a formal tour or something. Should be a cool thing to consider.

    NWRLI

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  8. J, these are breathtaking sceneries and how nice it is to see that the puffins didn't make a fuss about posing. It's easy to understand that number of photos you took. :)

    I love the photo of the people on the boat looking upwards through their cameras and binoculars, that made me smile. And I also like how you captured the people watching and photographing the birds at the top of the cliffs. It must have been a great day and I thoroughly enjoyed what you shared.

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  9. Third to last to book? You were lucky! :-) Anyway, the cave photos are just spectacular. Sorta looks like a sudden cataclysmic event caused the strata of rock to stand on end like that. It is Fascinating! And of course, not much is cuter than a Puffin, unless it's a German Shepherd puppy. Beautiful photos! That looks like an amazing place to visit.

    Wow. Word verification now wants us to type in 10 digits! Isn't that crazy.

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  10. BTW, I can certainly see why this trip was such a thrill. And the photography is stunning, J. I also wanted to mention that your photo of the birdwatchers reminds me of a Doc Martin episode 'On The Edge' which we recently watched. I think it's my favorite.

    Thank you for all the wonderful photos.

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  11. I have lived in the Outer Hebrides for 4 decades and have never set foot on Staffa and had never heard of Lunga. I think that you have spurred me into action. Well when I return to Scottish shores anyway.

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