A Fast Boat to Soay

We had a really mixed bag of weather on our trip, from drenching freezing rain to bright spring sunshine. Somehow the day we decided to go out on a boat turned out to be one of the bright and sunny ones. As we have a nine year old boy who’s a bit of a speed freak – he skied a black run without batting an eyelid when he was six – we had to think about what kind of boat trip he’d enjoy – wallowing about on an ex fishing boat, or zooming around a loch on a bright orange speedboat type vessel? It wasn’t that hard to choose, really.

We went out with AquaXplore from Elgol, on their RIB trip  round the Isle of Soay, to see the seals, the island and most importantly to ride in this amazing orange boat. We arrived after a long drive across the moor – our friend and thier oldest daughter had come along too, so we had a ‘Skye driving lesson’. This involves going at no more than 50 mph  mostly along single track road, and trying to guess who will let who past as the passing places. We had to stop a couple of times due to queasiness (yes, we hadn’t even go on the water yet!) then when we arrived I had to drive back *up* the hill from the harbour, to go to the loo – such hardships are part of island life!

Suited up in massive waterproofs and life jackets, we got on board the RIB. It’s pretty much like being on one of those little rides for 3 year olds in the supermarket, you sit on seat a bit like a saddle, with a handrail to hang on to.  If I needed to hang on, I thought,  just how fast would we be going? This was when I first began to wonder if this was actually a thing I should be doing, but I can’t allow myself to be shown up in front of a nine and four year old, so I acted like sitting astride a seat on a bright orange boat in fisherman’s garb was a thing I did every day. Off we went.

Sailor boy

I have never travelled so fast over water in my life. I have no idea exactly how fast we were going, so fast it was impossible to get the camera or phone out to make a little video, so you’ll have to take my word for it. There was a lot of sea water arriving in my face, we were all very glad of the fisherman’s garb.


In fact we hadn’t even started our actual trip yet, because the first thing the captain had to do was rescue a party from Loch Coruish who’d gone out on an earlier cruise. We were, as I mentioned, entirely clothed in waterproof kit and ready for the regular ingress of seawater,  these poor souls were not – but they did get life jackets of course. I guess in the long run it’s better to be wet and near your car, than to be stuck on an island. We then had a fairly long wait while the cruiser was cajoled into harbour by the RIB, I’m sure it didn’t feel as long for us as it did for the people stuck ON the cruiser, I’d have been pretty green by the time I got off. The guys running the tours were coping brilliantly though, and there was ice cream, chocolate and tea available (though I didn’t have the tea, did I mention the loos are a hill away).

Eventually we did get out on the trip we’d booked. We zoomed off out almost into the open sea, we saw the cave Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in for a bit when he was being helped by Flora MacDonald, who disguised him in a servant’s dress, he was eventually smuggled to France and one of the most famous folk songs in the world was born.  I can’t say I’d have liked to have spent any time in it, but then I suppose my opinion may be different if I were being hunted down by government troops. Here are Flora and Charlie in happier times:

Johnston, Alexander; The Introduction of Flora Macdonald to Prince Charles Edward Stuart after the Battle of Culloden; Walker Art Gallery; Photo:  http://www.artuk.org/artworks/

We set off again through some really choppy water, with our boy shouting ‘MAKE IT JUMP HIGHER, I WANT TO JUMP HIGHER!!” much to the amusement of the crew, and the folk sat behind us. It was really amazing being out ‘at sea’ on a pretty small boat, you’re really near the water – as I mentioned, you’re sometimes covered in the water – and you get a seal’s eye view of things.

The seals are the main draw for this trip of course, we saw quite a few harbour seals lounging on the rocks. I say ‘lounging’ but they do this thing where they lay on their sides with tails and head in the air, it looks like one of the more challenging yoga positions to me, but they appear to be quite content (apologies for the blurred picture, the boat would bob about so):

We had more of that amazing Hebridean light, and I tried to get some pictures of birds, but they had always flown away by the time I’d got them in shot.

We stopped by Soay, an island which is home to three people, and heard the excellent story of Anne Cholawo. Anne moved there in 1990 from a busy life as a graphic designer in London. She had her piano airlifted in by the Royal Marines, and married one of them. This is the kind of story guaranteed to make me think about doing the same thing, but maybe only as far as Devon or Dorset, and without the piano – I can cope with only a certain amount of rugged, and can’t play the piano (accordions are at least portable).

The island was also once home to the basking shark fishery and processing station run by Joseph ‘Tex’ Geddes and Gavin Maxwell (yes, that Gavin Maxwell) in the 1940s. Shark oil was used in aviation instruments and the like, but was soon superseded by synthetic oils. So it was a venture which never really took off, though this hunting had terrible long-term repercussions on the shark population which is still recovering. I have found it really hard to reconcile that the man who wrote ‘Ring of Bright Water’ could have been involved in this kind of enterprise at all, something to read up on I think.

However, moving on from that sobering thought,  Soay is also home to an ancient breed of sheep – they have the very original name of ‘Soay Sheep’ – and are nimble, tiny, and grow lovely fleeces. Decended from feral sheep, they have remained pretty much unchanged since the Iron Age. This ticks so many boxes for me, I really hoped we’d see some, but we didn’t, so there’s a really good  excuse to come back  (I will travel quite far for wool and wool related activities!).

This was nearly the end of our trip, we turned around. jumped and splashed, almost flew, our way back to Ergol, which waited for us in the sunshine. I would do this trip again at the drop of a hat, it was absolutely exhilarating. We were well looked after on what was a challenging day for the trip organisers, and we all had an excellent afternoon.


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