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Scottish anchorages

About the website

This site is primarily for anyone who cruises between the Mull of Kintyre and the Small Isles north of Ardnamurchan. It may even be useful for people who travel by land. It is not completely complete, there are still some 'official' anchorages in the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions missing, while I have added a few extras, and some photographs are still to be taken, but it is good enough for now. Anyway, websites are never 'finished', this one will certainly grow as I find out more, and hopefully get feedback. In fact, this website was originally supposed to be a book, my last remaining ambition being to appear at the Edinburgh Book Festival. But that was because when I had the idea it was so long ago that the internet hardly existed, and certainly internet access from the West Coast was nothing like as good as it is today (who had heard of  smart phones, ipads and dongles in the last century?).


This site is not about how to get to the anchorages which is well described in the Sailing Directions, but about what to see and do after you have anchored or, these days increasingly and rather boringly, tied up to a mooring buoy or a pontoon. So it is dedicated to those hardy folk who still leap forward to pull up the anchor while the skipper shouts encouragement, or abuse. Indeed, trying to combine sailing directions with what I am trying to do here is a mistake. These sorts of books tend to be too big and glossy, the rocks get obscured by the pubs as it were, and they are not at all easy to fold over  to the correct page, and weigh down with a winch handle in the cockpit where you can see them from the helm. So here we are, a website to plug the gap, at least from Kintyre to around the Small Isles.


The page for each anchorage can be accessed from the West coast map tab at the top of each page which provides links to the 21 main areas, each of which has links to the anchorages in that area — just three clicks and you are there — as well as a link to the relevant photo gallery.


I suppose it must have been in the mid 1990s that I realised there was a gap in the information for sailors on the West Coast of Scotland, and indeed in many other places as well. The admirable Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions tell you how to get to the anchorages, where the rocks are, where to anchor and so on. The tourist and travel books are all well and good, but tend to ignore the places you can only get to by boat, and anyway they are written largely for people in cars. The reference books are mostly too bulky to keep on board. In short, there was and amazingly still is, a gap in the middle — a concise and accessible account of what to see and do when you get to an anchorage (not just lounge about on board drinking and eating without even bothering to inflate the tender). Of course you can load your boat up with various books some of which are listed under useful books, but they take up space, some you wouldn't want to risk getting wet, and anyway there would be too much searching about to find what you wanted. And crucially these days, the internet provides connectivity to a whole host of useful websites — you will find links on many of the anchorage pages, and on some others. 


And to be sure, there is loads to see and do, unlike in the early 18th century when Daniel Defoe in his Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain wrote: “... we did not go over to those islands personally, neither was it likely any person whose business was mere curiosity and diversion, should either be at the expense, or run the risk of such a hazardous passage where there was so little worth observation to be found”. Not true! However, it was not until after Boswell and Johnson's famous tour in 1773 that people began to realise what treasures there were to be seen, followed by the explosion in rather up-market tourism in the 19th century inspired by Queen Victoria who made one of her homes in Balmoral Castle.


What are my credentials for this self-imposed task? Well, I was a neurologist all my professional life but that did include a lot of writing (of books and papers) and editing (of a scientific journal for 10 years). And I have sailed in the area since the 1960s when my father chartered an old wooden boat on the Clyde for a week, then at least annually from 1974 when I chartered myself, and in my own boat from 1988 when I moved from Oxford to Edinburgh for reasons which were not entirely unconnected with sailing in what is undoubtedly the best cruising area in the British Isles, probably in Europe, and maybe in the whole world.  


It is odd how sometimes when I was sitting aboard Calypso, our Contessa 32, and since 2010 Pickle our Rustler 36, I can catch myself imagining there is a time difference between the West Coast of Scotland and the rest of the country, so much so that I may wonder what the time is back at home in Edinburgh. This must be to do with the other worldness of the West Coast, or maybe because to me it has so often been associated with holidays in distant Scotland when I lived in land-locked Oxford. A weekend on the boat still feels like a holiday. Amazingly much of what I describe is physically connected to England by road and rail, you could walk it from London if you had the time.


Although I worry a bit, I doubt if this website will lead to loads of boats cluttering up small and obscure anchorages which happen to have something interesting about them. After all, there are so many of them, well over 200 in this area alone, and still counting. A lot of boats hardly leave their pontoons, and many of those that do — and the charter boats — tend to head for the honeypot anchorages like Tobermory, Arinagour on Coll, Canna, Loch Drumbuie, Loch Aline, Puilladobhrain and the Tinkers Hole.


Spelling of Gaelic place names.


This varies, even between contemporary sources such as the Sailing Directions, OS Maps and charts. This is a nightmare, particularly for me as a very bad speller, noted in my very first school report aged seven. The variation seems largely due to translation from Gaelic (which really does have difficult spelling) into English over the years. So is it mor, or mhor, or vhor meaning big? No, I believe it should be mòr, but if there is a Gaelic scholar out there get in touch and put me right. Sometimes the variation is just plain whimsical. But one should not be surprised. Scottish Gaelic, which probably developed from the Irish Gaelic, was not really a written language until the 17th century. As late as 1773 Samuel Johnson observed "Whoever therefore now writes in this language, spells according to his own perceptions of the sound, and his own idea of the power of the letters". So there you are, chaotic!






There are no commercial interests on this site, no payment has been made to anyone, there is no sponsorship — and no advertising. How can this be? Because writing it is pure fun, and I am lucky enough to be on a final salary pension, remember those? Charles Warlow, Edinburgh.

Pirate beach Canna

The 'pirate' beach on Canna, Rum in the background

Balnahard beach, net and boy Traigh nam Manach

Balnahard Bay, Colonsay


Some favourite beaches

"All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own, and if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it" Samuel Johnson reflecting during his tour of the Hebrides in 1773.


"In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers, such as we find in all the towns of Italy, and in some of the towns in England”. Boswell in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D, 1785.


Eilean Garbh on Gigha

Port na Fraing,  Iona

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