Oban is a proper boating place. Its other marina is on the island of Kerrara, about a mile away and which shelters the town in virtually every direction. It has ferries, small cruise liners, trawlers and fishing boats and the most leisure boat activity that we have seen since leaving the Solent. It is obviously the principal hub for boating in western Scotland and the perfect place to explore the Inner Hebrides.
Our cruise to Port Ellen on the island of Islay, some 64 miles away, is mostly in sheltered waters and in any event the forecast is good. Having left the Sound of Kerrara we continue to have shelter from the southern end of Mull, then Colonsay until we enter the quite narrow Sound of Jura which is the sea that divides Jura from the Island of Islay. We spot one distillery and then another and then another. Islay with a population of just 3,500 has 11 distilleries and is now making its own unique gin with 22 botanicals called The Botanist.
Once we leave the Sound of Jura its round the rocky bottom of Islay into Port Ellen and claim a visitors berth in the small council run marina. In the distance we can see the Mull of Kintyre.
There were only a few spots left of the 30 available in this unbookable marina, and only one with functioning electricity, which we claimed. The marina manager came round and told us to register ourselves in the office, pay the berthing fee in cash and leave it in the envelope provided, which we should put in the box labeled ‘Marina charges’. Yet again all of our neighbours, bar one oldish 37ft Sealine were sailing boats.
There were two restaurants and one pub. We tried to book a restaurant but it was already fully booked, the other one was first come first served. The manager suggested we called in to see if there were any cancellations at the time we want to eat. We headed off for the pub some 400 yards away.
The pub was a proper pub, no food and a dozen or so local people. We got talking to the distinguished looking older guy in the corner bar seat who turned out to be the owner of the local Spar, where you could also pay your marina fee by card if you didn’t want to pay cash in the office?
We had arrived on our scooters and a couple of younger locals glanced envious eyes over our magnificent toys.
We started talking malts and were soon introduced to the pubs consensus view of the best, a Bunahabhain 17 year old. Served neat and at room temperature it slipped down without hint of a wince, it was delicious. Try some water, said our new friend, with the next one. There was an amazingly impressive brass water tap right in the middle of the bar where the local water could be added to taste. It would change the character and complexity of the malt, we would experience a different taste. We did. It slipped down again without any hint of a wince, it was double delicious.
Time to take our leave whilst we still could, and go back up the road to the first restaurant which was an Italian/pizza place, but not before the local lads were allowed to give our electric scooters a try on the car free road. ‘Sick’ they said , which is apparently the local gaelic for very good indeed. The Pizza place was full so we tried our luck at the very posh hotel/restaurant , the restaurant was full but we could take a table in the bar and have the same menu there.
Hotel Kinlochbervie, please take note, a hotel where they are happy to serve you food in the bar even if their restaurant is fully booked!!
The food and the service was excellent. We made our way back to the tiny marina and Nigel noticed a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35, the same sailing boat as his own but a few feet longer. He wanted a chat. They were from Essex, were also circumnavigating Britain and wanted to break out a guitar and have a sing song. Come back to our boat, says Nigel, and Phil will get out his Pig Nose travel guitar, which is a battery powered electric guitar that sounds ( with its tiny in built amp) like Jimi Hendrix. This they did and another guy with his guitar joined in as well and Start Me Up had her first rock and roll party in her cockpit along with other dancing crew from other boats on the pontoons, right there, right then. Whisky in The Jar by Thin Lizzie was easily the most popular tune of the evening.
Being sensible boating folk and with due respect to our neighbours, who were no doubt catching very early tides, the party ended before midnight and the Pig Nose was returned to its own special locker where it broods in darkness awaiting its next guitar hero moment.