Dancing in Kyle
Leaving Oban early on the fifth day of her 2002 Hebridean tour, Waverley traversed the Sound of Mull in near perfect conditions. A slight wind from the north ensured crystal sharp views but it was not enough to bring the chill that a northerly air in May can often bring a fine balance.
This was essentially a one way positioning run and, given the difficulty in returning from Kyle to Oban by public transport, such sailings are not well populated. On this sailing there were only 40 passengers and, in such circumstances, Waverley takes on the feeling of a special private yacht. Certainly the passengers on the paddle steamer that fine day felt privileged to have the exclusive use of the ship on such a magnificent occasion. However, we are thankful that such occasions are few and far between. By 10 am Waverley was approaching Ardnamurchan again. To the south there were fine views of Coll and the Treshnish Isles which we looked forward to visiting in a few days. It was to the north we were concerned at this time. However, our attention was diverted to the west as we realized that the far-flung islands of Barra and the Uists were visible that fine day. Some of us remembered that remarkable time when Waverley visited those islands during heat wave conditions twelve years ago an unique combination that may never be repeated, the memory of Waverley lying at anchor in Castle Bay, Barra in almost total silence and brilliant sunshine at 6am on 1st May 1990 is an experience we will never forget
As she had done 4 days earlier, Waverley headed north by the Sounds of Eigg and Rum and the five peaks of the latter island were as impressive that morning as we had ever seen them from Waverleys decks
Approaching the Isle of Rum
The peaks of Askeval and Halleval dominate Rum;
to the east the barren west coast of Eigg
Waverley was ahead of schedule as she headed north and Captain Steve Colledge, who had resumed command of the paddler at the start of the day, decided to continue a northerly course taking Waverley into new waters and ensuring that this sailing would stand out in Waverleys long and remarkable history. We maintained a course into Loch Scavaig, a remarkable sea-loch that penetrates the Black Cuillin mountain range on Skye. Skyes Gaelic name means Island of Mist but there was not a hint of mist on the Cuillin that day. The highest peak, Sgurr Alasdair, was as clear as it could be. In the loch lies the little island of Soay, famous for its sheep. However, that little island has a strong bond with the worlds last seagoing paddle steamer. It was on that island 99 years ago that a son was born to the farming Cameron family. However, life was hard on that island in those days and at the age of 7 the young lad, John Cameron, and his family came to live in the Jordanhill district of Glasgow. On leaving school John chose seafaring as his career and eventually became a master in the LNER fleet based at Craigendoran near Helensburgh. When war came in 1939 John and his command, the illustrious paddle steamer Waverley of 1899 one of the crack steamers of the Firth of Clyde in its Golden Years before the Great War, entered service under the White Ensign.
The story of Waverleys loss on the way back from Dunkirk is well known. Many young men were lost that sad day; thankfully John Cameron (a non-swimmer) survived. After the war he took command of the new Waverley when she emerged from Inglis Pointhouse shipyard in June 1947. John Cameron continued his involvement with the Clyde steamers until retirement in the late 1960s being closely associated with the Glasgow based turbine steamer Queen Mary II. In retirement John was a very active President of the West of Scotland Branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association and a strong supporter of the preservation of his former command. Memorably, in his late seventies John returned to the area off Dunkirk aboard Waverley in 1980 and cast a wreath on the waters of the English Channel in memory of his lost shipmates and that magnificent earlier Waverley. John passed away over 10 years ago but he is remembered with affection on Waverley. He would probably have been astonished at the thought of his second Waverley sailing close by the house in which he was born almost a century earlier but this is what happened one fine day in May 2002.
The magnificent view of southern Skye from Waverley. To port the low-lying Isle of Soay, birthplace of Capt J E Cameron is backed by the Black Cuillin and its highest peak Sgurr Alasdair. Off the starboard bow is Bla Bheinn (pronounced Blaven) the distinctive southern peak of the Red Cuillin
Waverley continued almost to the head of Loch Scavaig, which last echoed the beat of the paddle wheel in the days of MacBraynes venerable Glencoe, a remarkable little paddle steamer that served the Hebrides for 85 years from her building in Springfield Shipyard, which occupied a site immediately opposite Waverleys current Glasgow base, in 1846.
Rounding the southern point of Sleat Waverley headed north to Armadale for another short visit then continued up the Sound of Sleat towards her ultimate destination at Kyle but we had not strayed far into the Sound when Capt Colledge diverted the ship on another unscheduled treat for the fortunate few aboard that day. Waverley steamed into Loch Hourn which penetrates deep into the mountains of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart a name that only partly conveys the striking natural beauty and stark barrenness of this area virtually inaccessible by road one of Europes last truly wild and natural areas. Its name means Loch of Hell and in the depths of winter when storms funnel along its length through the high, steep mountain, it must seem aptly named. On that lovely day, however, it was difficult to justify the term to describe such natural beauty. Waverley continued deep into the loch eventually turning off the little hamlet of Arnisdale, a feat that she had first performed 13 years earlier.
Waverley turning in Loch Hourn, the white building on the shore is Arnisdale Hotel
On reaching the mouth of Loch Hourn Waverley headed north again passing the Sandaig Islands where Gavin Maxwell carried out his pioneering work with otters. Slightly further north we passed the palindrome named village of Glenelg, site of a now derelict Hanoverian barracks, established after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion to suppress the unruly highland clans. At this point vessels leave the Sound of Sleat to enter the fast tide race of Kylerhea, the narrowest seaway between the Isle of Skye and the mainland. It is here that the oldest ferry to Skye still plies. The Glenelg Kylerhea at the end of the magnificent road over the Mam Ratagan pass can be traced back to the mid 17th Century. The vessel that operates the service today is rather newer than that. Named Glenahullish, she is an emigrant from the once famous Ballahullish ferry service. Replaced by the bridge there, and after a spell at Corran, this little vessel replaced an older similar ferry at Glenelg over a decade ago. Such is the tide race here it take a skilled boat handler to operate the ferry here and its former owner spent a long time in finding someone up to the task. In fact her skilled skipper makes the operation look easy to the layman. According to the ferrys publicity the vessel is now thought to be the only manual swing deck ferry boat in operation anywhere in the world. Such craft were once common on the west coast of Scotland
The sailing in narrow Kylerhea is always memorable it was good to be back in these waters after a gap of seven years. Soon Waverley had reached the confluence of Kylerhea, Loch Duich and the Kyle of Loch Alsh and, with the village of Balmacara almost dead ahead her bow swung sharply to port. Our destination was now in sight and within minutes the steam engine of the ships capstan, aft was been warmed through in preparation for its work in bonding, temporarily, the paddle steamer and the historic old Railway Pier at Kyle (of Lochalsh), the terminus of the magnificent Skye railway (which is not on Skye it runs west through the mountains from Inverness to Kyle.
Waverleys capstan engine warming through
As Waverley rested at Kyle her passengers found their various accommodations some in Kyle itself, others across the water in Kyleakin sadly, they had to use the bus over Skyes umbilical bridge rather than the ferry that had existed here on earlier Waverley visits. After dinner there was time for some Dancing in Kyle but wearied by the fresh air on that days memorable sailing, some of us settled for a good chat on the lounge of the Lochalsh hotel during which we witnessed the arrival of the Royal Navy minehunter HMS Walney at the side berth of the Railway pier. This berth had been used in the heyday of Kyle as an important transport interchange between the Skye Railway and the MacBrayne mail steamers.
The mail steamer Sheila - a product of the same Glasgow shipyard as Waverley at the side berth at Kyle
Despite her modest dimensions this sturdy little ship was seldom disrupted from her duties across the often-stormy Minch to Stornoway.