The Beaches of Canna

Mike Melia, architectural director at Ryder, discusses his sailing sabbatical.

Following almost four years of intense bidding, design and construction my ageing mind and body suggested some rejuvenation was required.  Ryder were incredibly understanding and agreed to my request for an extended sabbatical, allowing me to indulge in my passion for sailing.  Sailing is a wonderful way to exercise the mind and body, providing a focus and distraction from my usual environment.  I am normally a weekend yachtsman so the opportunity to sail uninterrupted for three months in a beautiful landscape was hugely appreciated.  

With my wife, we sailed our own yacht Affinity around the west coast of Scotland, visiting new locations from the Isle of Skye and the Small Isles in the north to Gigha and the whisky filled Islay in the south then on to Northern Ireland and the Antrim coastline.  We had a fantastic time and have stored away many great memories.

On the first leg of our journey to Tobermory, three nights were spent in Oban due to worsening weather, giving us the chance to explore our surroundings.  From there, we sailed the short passage to Loch Aline and then the Sound of Mull, before being greeted by the colourful Tobermory, always a treat with good bars, restaurants and new and old friends.

The next part of the trip was to Plockton, somewhere we had wanted to visit for years.  Seeking new scenery and fewer tourists, we battled through the Scotch mist to reach Canna island, the most northerly and westerly of the Small Isles.  We stayed there for two nights before sailing to Mallaig which remains a traditional active harbour with a significant fishing fleet, a ferry terminal for the islands and a safe haven for 50 or so yachts.   

We forged onto Portree on the Isle of Skye, sailing across the Sound of Raasay.  During our stay we utilised the island bus service to visit the Talisker Distillery at Carbost and the dramatic north east peninsula.  Despite being a large village, Portree clearly struggled to cope with the influx of so many visitors, it was chaotic and surreal.

We docked Affinity in Arisaig harbour and returned home to Durham for a brief restock and returned to Arisaig a few weeks later, spending two days exploring the white sand beaches at Morar and Camusdarach in brilliant sunshine.  After refuelling, we left for the short sail to Glenuig Bay and then to Arinagour on Coll.  Coll, a low lying rock with a grass covering and no trees, is mostly inhabited by English migrants, back packers and sheep.  Arinagour boasts a lovely community centre and bunkhouse, An Cridhe, designed by Anderson Bell Christie, awarded a commendation in the 2013 Civic Trust Awards. 

 We left for the shelter of Tobermory Harbour on Mull passing close by the Treshnish Islands and enjoyed a great array of smoked salmon, trout, smoked mussels, fresh scallops and smoked venison during our stay.

In the following three weeks, we headed south from Loch Melfort through the Sound of Jura to the islands of Jura, Gigha and Islay.  Craighouse in Jura was a friendly village and boasted a great and welcoming distillery, less commercially aware than those on its neighbour Islay.  The views arriving in Gigha were beautiful, an open, shallow bay with white sand and turquoise sea with people swimming in it, albeit in wet suits.  We also enjoyed visiting Islay’s eight working distilleries, seven with history and a ninth to follow, and the wild windswept beaches.

Our next stop was Ballycastle, the quirky seaside town on the Antrim coastline where Game of Thrones is apparently filmed.  During our stay, we crammed in visits to the Giants Causeway, Portrush (host to the 2019 Open golf tournament), Bushmills, Belfast and Dublin.

All good things do come to an end and the final leg of our journey was a relaxing sail in a constant 10 knots of wind back to Inverkip.  Throughout our journey we landed on 13 islands and sailed into 18 harbours or anchorages that we hadn’t visited previously and in doing so Affinity travelled through 530 nautical miles.  We have met many people on our travels - all have helped to keep us informed, amused and safe.  Some have become good friends.

Ryder have been magnificent in their support and encouragement towards me and I consider myself to be extremely fortunate.  I remain exceedingly grateful and refreshed.