Walking, Hiking & Trail Running

Walking On Water | Exploring West Scotland’s Remote Isle Of Mull By Land And Sea

Discovering the true beauty of the Inner Hebrides with a little help from a sailing boat

Featured Image: Paul Terry

“You can’t see Mull, it’s away for cleaning at the moment”, said Dougie, pointing to the cloud-cloaked horizon. And if it was being cleaned, Mother Nature must’ve put it on an intensive wash. With a high spin speed. Because the rain lashed down and a bitterly cold wind howled, as we set sail from Oban towards the remote Loch Spelve on the Isle of Mull. Ahead of us was a weekend of sailing and hiking in a remote, wild, seldom-visited part of western Scotland, courtesy of VentureSail Holidays and Mammut Mountain School. I just hoped Mother Nature’s washing chores would be over soon.

Rachel, the ship mate, pointed at a tangle of ropes. “James, can you pull that red rope, loop it around the winch, pull that jammer down and turn the handle clockwise please?” “Erm, yes boss”, I replied, clueless as to what I was doing, but thrilled at the prospect of getting stuck in and helping out the crew. My sailing experience was zero; yet in my mind I was now an intrepid, rugged seaman setting sail in the storm-battered Inner Hebrides.

“You can’t see Mull, it’s away for cleaning at the moment”

The following morning, after a surprisingly luxurious evening featuring a hot shower, an indulgent nap in my comfy double bed, and a three-course meal courtesy of Sergio our on-board chef, I woke and peered out of the window. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Storm Hannah had passed us by, skirting south to batter western England instead, and now it felt like we’d woken up in paradise.

Blue skies dazzled above a backdrop of handsome, rocky mountains; bright sunshine poured down onto the deck of Zuza, our boat; and, best of all, the western end of Loch Spelve was perfectly still, its surface glazed like a sheet of glass, reflecting clouds, coast and mountains in a pristine mirror-image. Mother Nature had put the Isle of Mull in the wash – and it had come out looking sparkling.

Credit: Paul Terry

Over breakfast I quizzed Dougie, our humble mountain guide (that’s guide with a ‘small g’, he reminded me), and Helen, our skipper, about the trip. They are the husband and wife partnership who came up with the concept for this fusion of sailing and hiking, pooling their skills and expertise. “There’s just something so special about starting a walk after being dropped off by dinghy on a remote beach”, said Helen. “And it’s a joy to be able to walk a linear route”, added Dougie, “because Zuza can set sail and pick us up from wherever we need.”

I nodded along, forking mouthfuls of fresh pancakes into my mouth, and began to feel excited about the day ahead. “We can get off the beaten track, explore remote countryside and then set sail to quiet lochs and hidden coves”, continued Helen, “so, in my opinion, hiking and sailing go together perfectly”.

Three hours later, six of us were scrambling up a rocky gully and tramping over a pathless, rugged mountainside towards the 698m summit of Creach Beinn, led by Dougie. “I have absolutely no way of confirming this”, he said, “but I’d hazard a guess that more people summit Everest every year than this mountain”. Whether this statement was fact or fiction, it didn’t really matter. The point was that we were truly off the beaten track and far from the tourist trail, indulging in an authentic, wild, remote Scottish mountain experience.

From the summit, we descended steeply, watching herds of red deer scatter in the valley below, and feasted on expansive views across the Hebrides. Dougie, whose dark stubble, ear-ring and bandana made him look more like a pirate of the high seas than a mountain expert of the land, broke up the walk with a series of interesting mini-lectures. He gave us navigation tips, spoke about the history of western Scotland (his favourite topic was ‘brochs’, pre-historic circular stone towers found only in northern Scotland), and pointed out interesting flora. Pretty knowledgeable for a pirate.

Back aboard Zuza, after a hot cup of fresh coffee and freshly baked cupcake, we sailed north-east across the Firth of Lorn towards the lighthouses near Lady’s Rock – and Helen, perhaps foolishly, even let me take control of the wheel. At the helm, I carefully turned the wheel left and right, trying to read the waves as well as follow Helen’s instructions. I peered out of the hatch above me.

“I have absolutely no way of confirming this but I’d hazard a guess that more people summit Everest every year than this mountain”

A fresh sea breeze ruffled my hair; the sun warmed my face; I felt the gentle rocking of the boat below my feet; and Zuza’s white and yellow sails bulged, powering us forward. I knew there was so much more to enjoy on my weekend – freshly-caught scallops for dinner, a gentle coastal walk on the island of Lismore, and an evening anchorage at the quiet Bernera Bay – but this was my moment.

From the helm of this very handsome sailing boat, the scenery of the Inner Hebrides filled my heart with happiness – and I’d bet my bottom dollar it’d make you feel the same. Just as long as Mother Nature has done her washing before you set sail.

Do It Yourself

To experience the Isle of Mull like this, pay a visit to the VentureSail website.

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