With such stark contrasts a part of the local mix it is easy to be intimidated, yet the Hebrides also provides protected cruising grounds at the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
And while careful planning is essential up here, help and advice is plentiful with numerous guides and suggested itineraries to assist those who are visiting for the first time.
The bottom line is simple, sailing in Scotland is a must.
With most sailing visitors arriving from the south, the passage past the distinctive muffin shaped island of Ailsa Craig marks the entry into the Firth of Clyde. As if drawing the curtains back, each mile from here reveals a steady stream of hints as to the size and beauty of this cruising territory. And even then, this is just the beginning. As you head further north the scenery gets even more dramatic.
The most common first stop in Scotland is on the Firth of Clyde, either at Troon Marina, (convenient for Prestwick airport), or Largs Marina to the north.
Having said that, getting to the fabled west coast will still require a trip west around the Mull of Kintyre unless you can slip through the Crinan Canal (be sure to check against maximum channel dimensions where draft is generally the biggest issue. View the Crinan Canal Guide). If you can do this, the 9 mile long canal with its 15 locks, and all but two of them manually operated, is a very special trip. Most crucially it avoids the need to sail around the Mull of Kintyre and gets you straight into the heart of the Inner Hebrides, but it is also a fantastic and unusual slide through the Scottish countryside.
If not for it’s beauty, then at least for the many fine whisky distilleries, this is an island that has to be visited. Even though it is only 25 miles long it has nine active distilleries producing some of the finest single malts including; Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, Jura, Caol Isla, Ardbeg, Kilchoman and Bowmore. Visits to the distilleries are welcomed and encouraged and a variety of tours are available. The main harbour is Port Ellen, the base from which to explore this famous island. There are several anchorages along Islay’s south coast which can be considered if the prevailing winds and strong local tides are suitable on the day.
A short 20mile trip east from Islay delivers you to the tiny yet super-hospitable island of Gigha. The Michelin recommended Boathouse Restaurant is a must for fantastic five star food. The Island also has great walks, the spectacular Achamore Gardens, a golf course and is also well known for its milk & ice cream. Ardminish Bay is the most popular area to anchor with 22 moorings and a pontoon available.
More information can be found on the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust website.
Heading north via stops in either Coabh Haven and/or Oban marina on the island of Kerrera, Loch Aline is a well protected and tranquil loch. Set on the north side of the Sound of Mull it offers more stunning scenery, great walks and castles to explore. It is accessible through a narrow entrance. Care is required when it comes to checking your draft against the available depth. A 10 minute walk from the pontoons in Lochaline, The White House Restaurant comes highly recommended, although you have to plan your visit carefully as it is only open on Tuesdays and Saturdays for lunch and dinner. Visit the Loch Aline Harbour website for more information.
At the north west end of the island of Mull, Tobermory is famous for its picturesque seafront where the brightly painted cottages makes it one of the most photographed harbours in Scotland. The twin hammerhead pontoon can accommodate up to 50 boats in addition to the 38 visitor moorings in the harbour. Walking, golf, cycling, historic and cultural, scenery are among the main attractions. Wildlife watching is popular here including at Europe’s catch and release aquarium where creatures stay for a maximum of four weeks before being released. Aside from the variety of opportunities for eating and drinking, a visit to the Tobermory distillery that is located on the harbour seafront is a must. Among the many places to eat, Café Fish is a popular choice.
Set on the island of Erraid off the southwestern tip of Mull, Tinkers Hole is a snug but spectacular anchorage where mooring lines are run to strategically placed rings ashore to keep you in place. If you are heading around from Tobermory the passage around the western side of Mull takes you past Fingles Cave on the tiny island of Staffa, famous for its volcanic basalt columns. Here, the breath taking natural acoustics in Fingal's Cave are inspired Mendelssohn to compose his Hebrides Overture. The trip also takes you past the island of Iona and its restored medieval abbey. Beautiful beaches, wonderful walks and yet more stunning scenery.
Colin & Anne Mitchell – Oyster 565 'Bruadarach'
“The Inner Hebrides offer stunning landscapes, lochs, beaches anchorages, wildlife, walks, mountain climbing and if all of that exercise gives you an appetite then there’s world beating food, especially fish all washed down with a wee dram (Don’t miss the Distillery tours). The sailing can be sheltered if you wish and the tidal gates just require a wee bit planning.”
Oyster 72 'Luskentyre'
“Cruising in Scotland really opened our eyes to the fantastic destinations available on our doorstep in the UK, great sailing, quiet and protected lochs, and excellent local seafood provided a real adventure trip all from the comfort of an Oyster”
Read about Luskentyre’s Scotland cruise here.
The west coast of Scotland and it's surrounding islands cover a huge area to explore. Adfern Marina towards the head of Loch Craignish, or Craobh Marina, slightly further to the north, offer great places to base your boat for the season by placing you at the heart of this wild, varied and highly addictive region.
These cruise guides are intended as food for thought only based on the experiences of those who have been there and do not form a definitive guide. The locations should always be studied using the appropriate pilots and charts.
In most cases there are many useful pilot books and guides that are available and should be consulted before and during the trip. Among those that come highly recommended are:
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