Summer Sailings with Archibald Young

I recently came upon a delightful book, Summer Sailings by an Old Yachtsman.It was published in 1898 by David Douglas, Edinburgh, and it contains accounts of several voyages, mostly around Scotland, but one crossing over the North Sea to Norway. The book has a number of illustrations, some in black and white, and 16 in colour, all from the author's sketches. Remarkably, the colour images have all been handcoloured, apparently by Messrs. RS and W Forest, Brandon Street Studio, Edinburgh. The image above is found on the title page. It is a view of "Ben More Coigach and Stack Polly", taken I suspect from the road that runs beneath Knockan Crag. An early view, therefore, of a district still rarely visited by oursiders at the end of the 19th century. The yachtsman's name is "Archibald Young, Advocate"

The voyage on which I shall concentrate is the first in the book, headed "North About - Cruise from Forth to Clyde." Much of the early part of the chapter consists of descriptions of the Orkneys, but "early on a fine July day...[he] left the Bay of Stromness, bound for Loch Eriboll, on the north coast of Scotland." Eriboll was of course well known as a safe anchorage along a coast that offers little protection to shipping in poor weather.

Young admires the "magnificent promontory", Hoy Head as they steer south, and  notes the Old Man of Hoy. As they approach the mainland, he writes: "The entrance to the Kyle of Tongue, to the eastward of Loch Eriboll, is very picturesque. In the opening of this arm of the sea lie numerous small islands, behind which is a safe anchorage, and beyond tower the lofty and serated peaks of Ben Laoghal, the most conspicuous object in the landscape." Young is here describing a scenery that few would have seen.

He also admires "the grandeurof the white cliffs on our left as we entered Loch Eriboll; lofty, pointed, and precipitous, they form an admirable landmark for the storm-tossed mariner, and point out the entrance to a quiet haven." He anchors somewhere to the south of Heilim, on which he points out the "solitary house, called Heilim Inn, then occupied by a canny Celt named Hector McLean, exercising the joint trades of ferryman and innkeeper, whose hereditary caution and shrewdness in driving a bargain had been wonderfully sharpened by many years of traffic with the crews of numerous storm-bound vessels that find refuge in Loch Eriboll." At Hope, he decides to fish without a permit "as there was no means of procuring permission without sending a long distance for it." He escapes censure from the gamekeeper, but after catching two fine sea-trout in Loch Hope, his tackle is broken by a fine salmon in the River Hope. However, he manages to make do with what he has with him, and returns to his boat with "a weighty basketful of sea-trout." Meanwhile, his companion on the voyage had managed to get lost when exploring the vicinity, returning eventually "disgusted with the state of the footpaths in this part of Sutherland."

Loch Eriboll from Hailaim(sic) Inn, by Charles Langham Smith, who visited the area in 1836.

The boat is moored near to the small church on the east side of the loch. "The gables only remain entire, and the interior is choked up with a thick growth of ferns." Built in 1804, the church has recently been fully restored by the man who now owns the estate, Mr Anders Povlsen.

Archibald Young at this point reminds the reader of the clearances: "All over Sutherlandshire the ruins of small hamlets and scattered cottages are to be found; and a melancholy sight it is, to meet in the recesses of the mountain valleys with shattered walls and green patches here and there appearing amongst the heather, showing that cultivation and life had once existed where now are only the grouse and the red-deer."

They are detained at Eriboll for five days. Their food supplies running low, they purchase "half a sheep from Mr Clarke of Eriboll, who possesses an extensive sheep farm, and is deservedly famed for his hospitality to strangers - a virtue almost universal in Sutherlandshire." The family had been famed for its hospitality since the early 19th century: William Daniell wrote of the welcome he received from Mr Clarke at Glendhu in 1815, and later the geologists Sir Roderick Impey Murchison and James Nicol enjoyed the company of the Clake family at the farm on Eriboll in 1855. Young also buy eggs at 4d a dozen, and cream at 4d a pint - "prices that would rather astonish a Londoner."

The voyagers fill their time with a trip to Tongue, fishing in Loch Maddy, and a visit to Smoo Cave. They then set off to round Cape Wrath, which proves to be problematical when they encounter a "light and Baffling" wind that sees them "tossing on the long swell....The coast-line of cliffs near Whiten Head, Far-out Head, and Cape Wrath is magnificent. Many of the precipices are two hundred feet perpendicular, and some of them as much as seven hundred. From the Kyle of Durness an iron face of rugged rock overhangs the sea, gradually increasing in height and grandeur until it attains its culminating point in the bold headland of Cape Wrath, whose stern aspect we had ample opportunities for admiring; as however, we lay within sight of it for nearly a whole day, our admiration was merged in disgust, and we heartily wished ourselves out of sight of this cape of storms."

Once round the Cape, they were able to make good progress down to Loch Ewe, where they anchored off the village of Poolewe. Young remarks on the chain of mountains stretching south from Cape Wrath "more varied in outline, and more striking than any other in Great Britain." He is particularly struck by Suilven:

Young is keen to visit Loch Maree, but their boat is too large to navigate the approaches to the Loch from the sea, so they hire a boat from a Mr McLean, and with him they set off. " Both man and boat were of the same build, the former broad in the beam as a Dutchman, and the latter a heavy, clumsy affair, strong enough to navigate the Pentland Firth instead of the calm waters of an inland sea." The sight of the Loch excites them, and after noticing an islet on which "the wood..has nearly disappeared, owing to some excisemen having set fire to it whilst engaged in destroying an illicit still", they land on the island of St Maree. "In the centre of a thicket are a few mossed and mouldering tombstones, bearing the symbol of the cross; under one of these slumber the ashes of a Duke of Norway."

Loch Maree, an original watercolour painting by "C.T.E.C." - possibly C.T Erlin Clarke, a solicitor from Worcester.

From Loch Awe, the voyagers headed for Skye, returning a few days later with the intention of visiting Loch Duich. They found Eilean Donan Castle to be ruined (it was restored c.1930), and admired the Falls of Glomack. They then continued southwards, exploring more of the inlets such as Loch Hourn, Loch Nevis, and Loch Sunart. From here, they left their yacht and headed inland to explore Loch Shiel. "Of late years it has been a good deal frequented by anglers, who find comfortable accommodation and boats and boatmen at Ardshellach, about two miles from the lower end of the loch; but it has not yet met with the attention it deserves from artists; though, from Eilean Finnan four miles above Ardshellach, to the head of the loch at Glenfinnan, there is not a more beautiful sheet of water in Scotland."

Looking up Loch Shiel, from the Skirts of Ben Resipol.

From here, they continued their journey south from Mull, eventually terminating the adventure at Glasgow. They had sailed all the way round the coast of Scotland, taking a month in which to make the journey.

Other chapters in the book are of interest so far as the Highlands are concerned: a cruise through the Caledonian Canal,  and to the head of Loch Etive, and to Loch Hourn. There are also voyages further afield, to the Shetland Islands, and to Norway, all accompanied by his delightful sketches.

A Highland Cottage.