Mulling it over

Immerse yourself in the Inner Hebrides on a weeklong trip, starting in Oban on the west coast of the mainland, which is three hours by direct train from Glasgow, so you donít need to think about cars at all. Your skipper will choose the best route depending on conditions but also, because there are so few passengers, he can also chat to you about whether you want to anchor at a waterside village with great pub, or a remote beach with no one around. Most choose their first stopover on the Isle of Mull, with the lively but traditional island port town of Tobermory. Another alternative is to continue up through the narrow Sound of Mull, where you feel like you could almost reach out and touch both the Highlands and the islands. And then anchor at Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan coast and enjoy the stillness and starry skies. Yes, these trips are full of tough dilemmas like that.
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Small Isles

The next island group to anchor or look on in awe at are the Small Isles, also part of the Inner Hebrides, and all boasting beautiful names like Rým, Eigg, Canna and Muck. These are all wildlife gems, and Eigg is interesting in that the community bought out their whole island in order to protect its natural heritage into the future. One such feature is the Singing Sands beach, a quartz beach that makes squeaky noises as you walk across it. They also have the first totally renewable energy powered electricity in the world. Now thatís a good Eigg. And Muck, (which is Gaelic for 'Pig') has wonderful coastal walks and easy ones too, given that it is only 4km long and 2km wide.
Remembering that as this is the west coast, you can get some spectacular sunsets sailing up through these islands, especially with the dramatic peaks of Skyeís Cuillin Mountains adding even more beauty to the picture in the distance.

Isle of Skye

There are so many different ways to enjoy Skye, the largest Inner Hebridean island which is connected by bridge to the mainland, meaning that it does gets a lot of daytrippers. Accessing it by boat means that you can stay clear of crowds in peak season and choose your anchorage according to whether you want to enjoy the coastal village of Broadford, the wild and remote Loch Scavaig overlooking the Cuillins or its famous Talisker malt whisky distillery. A wee dram watching the sun set and the dark skies of Skye explode with stars; life doesnít get much better.

Mainland magnificence

The wonderful thing about taking a small ship cruise of the Inner Hebrides is that the mainland coast is never far, and although some island lovers may twitch at the notion of heading back, there is no need. Because this part of Scotlandís west coast is so rich in peninsulas, sea lochs and idyllic inlets, you still feel as if you are miles away from anything that could be described as mainland. Or indeed real land. because it all feels sublimely surreal. So, as you cruise back from Skye, you can stop at Loch Hourn or Loch Nevis for Highland heaven. Or for a spectacular finale to your trip, anchor up overlooking Eilean Donan Castle on its own island at the point where Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh meet.
Photo credits: [Small Isles - Singing Sands beach: Claire Driffield] [Sunset over Skye's Cuillin Mountains: Oliver Clarke] [Isle of Skye: Oliver Clarke] [Mainland magnificence - Eilean Donan Castle: Syxaxis Photography ]
Written by Catherine Mack
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