Loch Laxford - Blog
Kirkwall to Loch Laxford
I think we have arrived in heaven. We have just dropped our anchor in a sheltered pool, enclosed by ring of low jumbled hills, a tapestry of green and pink, with the misty outline of taller mountains in the distance. The sky is blue, the water is sparkling in the sunshine, there is a gentle, warm breeze keeping the midges away. Suddenly there are splashes all around the boat and we see flashes of silver, small whitebait being chased by predators. Out comes the rod and within minutes we are lifting out half a dozen mackerel, one on each hook.
We have just arrived at the head of Loch Laxford, which not only feels like heaven, but is also a place of childhood memories for John. As a child he spent many an idyllic summer camping here, tramping over the hills to the myriad lochs, fishing rod in hand, feet squelching in water-filled wellington boots. The tales of ‘monster trout’ caught and lost are many and legendary. My photos unfortunately don’t do justice to the scene, but to give you an idea of the colours, here is a picture of the rocks.
Our journey has brought us from Kirkwall, Orkney, where we left the boat for the month of July. Our plan is to spend August bringing the boat back to Largs where she is due to spend another winter tucked away in the big shed at Fairley Marine. The weather pattern was such that we needed to make a speedy exit from Orkney if we were not to get stuck there with strong south westerly winds. Having sailed to Orkney by coming through the Caledonian Canal in May, we wanted to journey South by going round Cape Wrath and we were pretty determined to make this passage in as flat a sea as possible. Our last rounding of Cape Wrath, from south to north was negotiated only two years after we took delivery of the boat and was memorable for the worst event at sea that we have experienced. We were still sailing the boat like a dinghy and would set off under almost any conditions, under the impression that this was what sailing was all about. On this occasion, the forecast was for the wind to build to about force 6 and for safety we routed ourselves a good 7 miles off Cape Wrath. As we approached the Cape, however, we were hand steering through increasingly steep waves when we were suddenly faced with a wall of water that reached half way up the mast. John steered the boat straight into it, and the lump of water dumped itself on the boat, filling the cockpit and ripping the sprayhood from its fixings. ‘Suilven’ bless her, stopped in her tracks, shuddered, picked herself up and sailed right on. She was alright, but we were considerably shaken. With night falling and now no protection from wind and waves, we took refuge in Loch Eribol for the night before continuing our passage through the Pentand Firth and on down to Edinburgh. We had demons to lay to rest!
In order to break the journey down into manageable chunks, we decided to sail from Kirkwall round to Stromness. This meant negotiating the Eynhallow Sound again. Old hands now, we calculated just the right time to arrive as the white water disappeared at slack tide and sailed through with no problems. Going round the west of Orkney, the wind was offshore on this occasion and we raced down towards our turning point at the southern end of Mainland, keeping a sharp eye open for the lobster pots that had caused us a moment of alarm on our previous passage down this coast. Stromness was a charming as ever although persistent rain precluded further exploring. We treated ourselves to an excellent fish meal at the Hamnavoe Restaurant. We awoke the next morning to no wind and a fog so thick that we could barely see the end of the pontoon. In order to avoid the strong south westerly wind that was forecast for the following day, we decided to set off, nevertheless. We were not the only boat leaving that morning. Another yacht ghosted out of the marina, skippered unusually by a lady single-hander who was on her way to Shetland, ‘If I can find it!’. The fog didn’t last for long and we got some spectacular views of Hoy, with the hills appearing through low banks of fog.
We had an excellent passage down to Cape Wrath. We hoisted the cruising chute and reached our way point in just 8 hours.
As soon as we turned into the Minch however, the picture changed. The wind decided to blow from dead ahead and a swell quickly picked up which made for a long and tedious passage for the short distance to Kinlochbervie.
This is a marvelously well protected port, still home to a now much diminished fishing fleet, but a good place to sit out the strong south westerly winds that blew for the next two days. On Sunday, we were awoken to the sound of fish boxes being dragged up the pontoon. A small boat had come in with its catch of crabs and lobsters which were being loaded onto a lorry. John asked casually whether he could buy any, and arrived back on the boat triumphant with a bucket full of crabs and a small lobster. We are still eating our way through the crabs’ claws and are looking forward to seafood risotto made from the crab-shell broth.
Despite the wind, we managed a couple of walks, one to the beautiful white sandy beach at Oldshoremore, a couple of miles north of Kinlochbervie and another into the hills behind the village, from where we got a spectacular view of the mountains Foinaven and Arkle, and there, right in the distance, the unmistakable outline of Suilven itself.
Tuesday dawned bright and sunny with virtually no wind, and we made our way under motor the eight miles around the coast to our present idyllic anchorage in Loch Laxford. Others have also decided that this is a little bit of heaven, including sailor and explorer John Ridgeway, for it is here that he set up his outward bound centre in the 1960’s. This is now run by his daughter and her partner, who were very welcoming. For old times’ sake, we tramped over the ‘Monster Loch’ where John cast a hopeful fly, but luck was not on our side today. ‘There used to be otters here,’ he reminisced, ‘I wonder if they’re still here?’. To our delight, we found the evidence that they were still around with an unmistakable otter footprint in the sandy beach at the head of the loch.
Arriving back at Loch Laxford, we found that we had seriously underestimated the rise in the tide. Our anchor, which we had marched high up the shore, was covered by several feet of water and we had to borrow one of the outward bound centre’s boats to retrieve the dinghy and get back on board. We then experienced a delightful, windless evening, with more crab’s claws for supper, which for almost the first time this season we were able to eat in the cockpit.
A Happy Skipper!