Sailing to Lochaline

Date published: 18 February 2020

Sailing ‘Into the mystic’ and ‘Can you feel the Silence?’, as with much of Van Morrison’s music, explores mysticism and tranquility -  a perfect backdrop to a summer discovering some hidden gems around the waters of Mull.

The harbours of Ulva Ferry, Salen Jetty and Lochaline show why small is beautiful. Visitors can sense the calm and unwind as the rigours of sailing wash away. With the larger harbours nearby, such as the vibrant and colourful Tobermory that complement and contrast with these shelters, sailing from Iona with its mysticism and history of Christianity, round to Lochaline’s magical shorelines, the smaller harbours offer an alternative pace.

My first stop was at the eight berth community-run Ulva Ferry pontoon. It’s located in the National Scenic Area of Loch na Keal, next to the islands of Ulva and Gometra. The approach through the Sound of Ulva, at MLWS, is less than 2m in places, so navigating using pilot directions is advised. Steeped in history, the area has evidence of life dating back to over 5000 BC, through to Viking times (when Ulva got its name meaning “Wolf Island”), followed by the dark era of the clearances. Seals, whales, dolphins, porpoises, and basking sharks can all be spotted here, and the iconic puffins can be seen in large numbers at the Treshnish Isles where some 46 other bird species have been recorded. A stone’s throw from the pontoon is the Boathouse Restaurant, famous for its Ulva Soriby Bay oysters and other seafood caught by the restaurant’s own boat. This was a stunning place to just sit and look out to the west to catch a sunset, or back over to Ben More, the only island Munro out with the Cuillins of Skye. 

The destination next morning was Loch Sunart and an overnight stop at the picturesque Salen Jetty, with its 8 finger berths and 4 moorings. Up from the jetty there is a shop, cafe, showers and fuel which allowed me to take on a few provisions. The jetty is of architectural interest, as it was built around 1820 under the supervision of Thomas Telford, and nearby lies Glenborrodale Castle and the ruins of Mingary Castle. In the evening, I walked through the village of Salen and along the road that follows the contours of the small bay, stopping for a drink at the popular hotel and bar. Car and bike hire is available nearby, though the next day I opted for a short walk through the ancient oak woodlands around the banks of Loch Sunart. The early morning mist was breaking up and, along with the dappled sun, it gave the scene quite a mystical feel.

As I sailed back out, looking back over the loch and down through the clear water with brightly coloured jelly fish, there was a real sense of wonder.  As the longest sea loch in the Highlands, it offers plenty to discover; secluded inlets, bays, lochs and banks with a wide variety of trees. Loch Teacuis is a beautifully remote loch (if a little difficult to navigate into) and is known for its very rare underwater life and flame shell beds. Heading out and further west is the entrance to Loch Na Droma Buidhe, or better known as Loch Drambuie, which is a stunning anchoring spot.

It was time to head back into the Sound of Mull and down to Lochaline for my last port of call. Established by the community, Lochaline has 32 berths and 10 new swinging moorings, and the community feeling of warmth and goodwill pervades to the harbour. Lochaline locals and workers from the quartz sand mine gave up their time and equipment to help build and develop the area next to the shore facilities for the Morvern Sailing Club. In the village, there is also a cafe and dive centre, a snack bar, social club and hotel, and the shop offered all essentials, including gas. Next to the shop is the 24/7 community owned fuel pumps.

At the head of the loch, Adonis House and its gardens provides a backdrop for the natural beauty of Loch Aline and an amphitheatre of tranquility and nature. As one visitor to the area said: ’’it healed my heart and my spirit, one of the most beautiful and magical places’’

A woodland walk from the harbour took me to the estate, with its gardens and new kitchen garden, where you can buy vegetables dug out of the ground in front of you. The harbour also had information on plenty of other local walks.

In the village, the Whitehouse restaurant is reason alone to make the harbour a destination point. The taster menu allowed me to a range of wonderfully created dishes, including locally caught mussels, scallops and estate reared lamb. No wonder the Whitehouse won the Highlands and Islands best restaurant of the year award for 2017.

Another visitor encapsulates some of my experiences on this magical trip to the small but beautiful harbours around Mull.

’’I have the feeling that this vast expanse of islands and seas is an alternative world, an innocent, half-forgotten place, blessed by its remoteness and silence…’’

They clearly ‘felt the silence’.

John Powell sailed to:

Lochaline Harbour


Sailing to Lochaline