If you’re looking for peace and solitude, Norman Kean suggests a visit to this enchanting anchorage between the islands of Gighay and Hellisay
To the north-east of Barra and a couple of miles out in the Sound lie the rock-and-heather islands of Gighay and Hellisay. With a combined area of less than 500 acres, and rising to a height of 95 metres at Mullach a’Charnain on Gighay, the two, like a pair of cupped hands, enclose one of the most enchanting anchorages in Scotland. According to Hamish Haswell- Smith in The Scottish Islands, Hellisay had a population of 108 in 1841, but has been uninhabited since 1890. The ruins of the village at Bualavore, at the north end of the island, can still be seen. There is also a ruined settlement on Gighay.
The entrances to south-east and north- west are narrow and shallow, and there are many drying and underwater rocks in the pool, but these show up clearly against the white sand bottom. For a manoeuvrable boat with modest draught, the pilotage is fascinating and rewarding. But forget about the chartplotter – the pool is blank on the Admiralty chart. The Clyde Cruising Club’s Outer Hebrides Sailing Directions are essential, and Antares charts have it well covered. But the most important pilotage device is a good pair of eyes, deployed from the pulpit rail.
‘It is hard to convey the sense of solitude and peace that this place exudes’
The approach to the islands from the south-east is free of dangers, but entry to the pool should be attempted only above half flood in swell-free conditions. The south-east entrance is restricted by a rock which seldom covers, and the tiny islet of Colla, with reefs extending eastwards. The channel leads close north-east of both.
Immediately inside the entrance the sand bottom just dries at LAT, which equates to a depth of 2.4m at half tide, and then the pool deepens to almost 7m. Safe anchorage with good swinging room is available here or in a cove on the shore of Gighay to the north- east. The north-west entrance is even more narrow and intricate, but carries a least depth of 1.5m, and it is possible, in settled weather, to make the passage right through. There are two more feasible anchorages in the narrower part of the channel here, but swinging room is more restricted.
It is hard to convey the sense of solitude and peace that this place exudes. At the end of a fine day’s sailing, a walk to the summit of Gighay, with golden eagles overhead and the stunning views of the Outer Hebrides, followed by a good malt whisky in the cockpit as the sun goes down, is about as good as it gets.
Speaking of the malt, it was only five miles from here, off Rosinish Point on Eriskay, that the Harrison liner Politician ran aground on a misty February morning in 1941. As a fast ship, she had been routed independently from Liverpool to New Orleans via the Butt of Lewis to evade the lurking U-boats. Her cargo included bicycle spares, Jamaican banknotes and 250,000 bottles of Scotch whisky. The rest is history, and a best-selling novel, and a classic Ealing comedy.