I needed luck for this solo early winter trip to our cottage in North Uist to be successful - and I got it in abundance!
A gorgeous drive with stunning clear blue skies to the Oban ferry was prelude to a fine crossing on flat calm sea to the Uist's. In winter, this route from Oban to Lochboisdale is courtesy of the "Isle of Arran" - a charming elderly lady of the sea whose usual intimate charm felt even more special with just a dozen or so vehicles on board. "Isle of Arran" has outside passenger viewing deck areas both at the front and rear of the ship and so allows photography through 360 degrees. With just one other passenger out on deck taking photos of the sunset as we sailed through the Sound of Mull accompanied by a school of dolphins, I felt like Royalty on board my own private cruise ship. The snow covered mountains on the mainland turned pink in the setting sun and looked alpine in stature. It was dark by 5pm and I gave in to the temptation of fish and chips, having been thoroughly seduced by the sensational aroma pervading the decks since we set sail. Wonderful!
I arrived at the cottage at 10pm ready for bed, but set to work immediately and spent the next four hours preparing the lounge ready for the tradesmen (scheduled to arrive before sunrise) to deliver and fit the new custom made French doors. All too soon it was dawn, with a fiery red sun on the horizon in the east and clear skies which I hoped would continue. The lads (Matthew and Gavin) arrived on time and worked like Trojans all day until 19.30 hrs, well after dark. As well as being superb joiners, they were good company and a delight to have around. Astonishingly for the time of year, the weather remained dry all day allowing full completion of the installation (they can't apply silicone sealant if it rains). Lady luck chose to shine on us that day. The following morning I awoke to rain!
Amidst the week of almost non stop internal decorating that followed, I managed a couple of 5km beach runs and a brief (non wetsuit) swim in the bay in beautiful clear still weather with views of St Kilda on the northwest horizon. The sea is cold in November, but so revitalising after spending all day indoors working with paint and masking tape with just the garden birds on the other side of the window for company. For me, this is without doubt the best wild swimming area in the UK.
Maintaining a beachside property on the relatively remote edge of northern Europe is always challenging. However for us, the benefits always outweigh the difficulties. The ever-changing views of the ocean, the birds and other wildlife, the purest of air to breath and the freshest of fish to eat are just a few of the highlights, even in winter. During this week long visit, I also had more than my fair share of "out of this world" sunsets and sensational starry nights which are unique to "official dark sky" areas such as North Uist.
All too soon it was "job done" and I was back on the "Isle of Arran", heading for the mainland again. As the ship hauled anchor and prepared to sail I stood on deck at the front and watched the crew go about their work. Once we were underway, one of the crew members was happy to answer all my questions about the ship and her equipment. Later, as I relaxed in the lounge enjoying the glow of satisfaction that follows a successful mission, I saw several members of the crew looking with interest over the starboard bow. I went out on deck to join them and saw that they were watching a large school of dolphins jumping so close to the ship that anyone falling overboard would land on a dolphins back. A crew member told me that whilst dolphins are almost always seen on this route, its unusual for them to come so close to the ship. Lucky indeed!