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The GOSSIP

Number 132 / April 2002

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Published by the Open Canoe Sailing Group

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From Clyde To Iona, 1874 (Part 2) (John Ferguson)

Readers may remember the first part of this article in December's edition of GOSSIP. It has been reprinted in 'Paddles Past', the journal of the HCKA. My thanks again to them. Acknowledgments also to the Clyde Canoe Club, now the Loch Lomond Sailing Club, who point out that the book "Over The Sea To Skye", contains an account of this and other adventures, as well as photos, etc.

Immediately on leaving the shelter of the land (the Isle of Seil) to make for the Sound of Kerrera, we were exposed to the full force of the Atlantic swell. It was a new and exhilarating sensation to feel oneself whizzing along before the wind, on top of a great roller 80 or 100ft. long, and the next moment to be down in the trough between the waves so that only the peak of your neighbour's sail could be seen. Danger there is none in a long rolling sea with a canoe except when it blows very hard and the big combers begin to rear their heads above you. We looked in vain for the entrance to Loch Feochan on our right, but we were going so fast that Dunolly Castle was seen and the white house of Oban peeped out from behind the rocky point ahead before the chart could be examined for its bearings.

I've added this map to show the location of their campsites - Ed.

After changing our clothes to be in keeping with the civilisation around, we ran straight into the beach in front of the hotel, having run up from Crinan in about 5 hours. Oban is much too public for canoeists to spend much time in, as the boats are sure to get some rough treatment from the crowd of idlers, which always gathers around them. An hour or two to dine and get rested was all we wanted but before leaving, which we did about 5 o'clock, a fresh stock of provisions was laid in, also a lot of candles for use in the tent at night.

The evening was tranquil and we slipped across the Firth of Lorn (he probably meant the Lynn of Lorn - Ed.) with a nice breeze astern to help us along. Half way across to the green isle of Lismore the Duke of Argyll's steam yacht 'Columbia' bore down on us and we could make out his Grace and the Duchess sitting together at the stern. Our colours were nailed to the mast but we dipped our paddles instead in response to their waving of handkerchiefs and hats. The first land we made on the Mull side was Duart Point with its grim old weather-beaten tower standing out in bold relief against the evening sky... Enough daylight remained for us to manage across to the other side of the bay at Duart where, in a sandy cove behind the point, we pulled our canoes up and got the tent pitched. The midges were fearfully voracious here and in the tent we found immense volumes of tobacco smoke the only cure. Every crevice was closed up and soon sleep overtook us for we had done a heavy day's work - all the way from Crinan.

Next day, [we] struck tent at 5 a.m. by the only watch which was going and packed everything in waterproofs as rain threatened. Our luck for fair winds had deserted us for it was dead in our teeth and a stiff paddle up the sound was the forenoon's work. We passed the grey old walls of Ardtornish Castle, made celebrated by Sir Walter Scott in the "Lord of the Isles", and the snug harbour of Loch Aline on our right - Salen and Aros being far away in a deep bay or elbow on the other side. The landlocked harbour of Tobermory was reached about 11.30 and we determined to have breakfast there, as a small quantity of biscuits and Liebig had been our only meal that day. What was our astonishment when we found that instead of the forenoon, it was 6 p.m. The watch had played us a fine trick by stopping through the night and we had slept through it all till about midday. Tea was ordered instead of breakfast and after it was over, we were ready to join in the laugh about our powers of sleeping 13 hours at a stretch.

A council of war was held after our tea to determine our future course. To take [a] steamer round Ardnamurchan [Point] to Skye was one way; to sail round Caliach Point to Staffa if possible, [then] to coast up Loch na Keal and, from its head, to cart across to Salen on the Sound of Mull was the other. The weather was settled, the wind nowhere and the moon near the full, so we determined to go round part of the way that same evening, leaving our decision till the morrow. The whole population seemed to have turned out to see us start and all the juveniles in the place escorted us out of the bay as far as the road went, where they gave three ringing cheers by way of farewell. It was the loveliest evening imaginable, everything seemed serene and at perfect rest. Close in beside the steep wooded banks we paddled on, the noise of the ripple from our bows and the light dipping of our blades being the only sounds to hear; while, if we looked down on the smooth surface of the water, the vivid reflection of every clump of heather and feathery bracken on the rocks above met the eye, almost like reality.

A mile or two from Tobermory a little white lighthouse built on some jutting out rocks marked the end of civilisation to us for beyond it everything was bare and wild. Not a tree, not even a whin bush or patch of brown heath to be seen, the shortest of short grass seemingly being the only vegetation that can exist on these weather-beaten hillsides. Still, as seen by the mellow rays of the setting sun, everything appeared inexpressibly beautiful. To the north were the ragged Ardnamurchan hills, their western sides all tinged with a golden glow of light, except where the torrent beds showed like deep dark sears, while their backs were all enveloped in a cold grey shadow. From information received at Tobermory, we were led to believe that six miles round there would be found a fine sandy bay where our boats could land safely. Six miles had been gone over

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