Visiting the Puffins

July 19, 2016 - Oban, United Kingdom

Well, well, well! What a difference a day makes. Today dawned misty but fine and looked like a good day from the start. We had to get to the Craignure Ferry by 7:25am and that meant a 20 minute walk. We had arranged to get an early continental breakfast at 6:30 and met the Night Manager, David who had everything sorted for us and two other groups. We had packed fruit, chocolate bars and drinks in our backpack as there would be nowhere to get food on the trip. To that little supply we added a couple of croissants from the breakfast supplies and then walked to the Ferry Terminal. We were there with time to spare, joined the queue and slowly filed on board.

We sat up top for a while as we left Oban but later moved inside to a lounge area and I caught a few winks while we made our way to Craignure. There was a bus for Tobermory waiting when we arrived and we were soon on our way. It was a trip down memory lane for us as we brought the hire car over from Oban to Tobermory in 2013. A bus, even a single decker, must be great to drive on the narrow roads and at one time we pulled over to let an empty log truck pass.

When we purchased the tickets for the trip the agent at the tours office told us that they could not erect signs at the marina but explained where to meet the boat. As it turned out the boat didn't arrive for another 15 minutes but we felt confident that we were in the right place. When the boat arrived we joined about thirty other people boarding but there was plenty of room. We found ourselves a seat and settled in for the trip. The sea was glassy smooth with a very low, long swell so a very relaxing ride. We first motored over the sound to Kilchoan to collect another family of five before setting off around the north of the Isle of Mull and heading to the Treshnish Isles.

This is a string of uninhabited islands from tide washed rocks to ones that are large, grassy and steep. Some of them have been settled at times and there are the ruins of some low stone cottages. Our first diversion was to the Island of Fladda (named by the Vikings for the flat shape) where we chugged slowly through a narrow channel and surprised several grey seals basking on the rocks. Our course then took us past many smaller islands and shoals before reaching Lunga which is the largest of the Treshnish Islands at over two and a half kilometres long and half a kilometre wide at the widest point.

There is no landing place as such but the tour group has organised a couple of pontoons that they moor in the lee of the islands. The boat ties up to the pontoon, unhitches it from the mooring and pushes the pontoon up to the shore to form a makeshift landing bridge to disembark the passengers on a boulder beach. Tough going for some but we all managed to stumble up to a path where they have moved aside some of the larger rocks, and then follow the hordes up the hill to look for puffins.

The groups spread out in all directions and we made our way slowly along a path on the north-east coast checking for likely spots. There were plenty of burrows but few puffins in sight, well, except for those flying over the sea or below the cliffs. While we stood at the edge looking around a puffin emerged almost beneath our feet and quickly took off out to sea before lenses could be swung around. Would they all be this shy? Maybe we had been spoiled by our trip to Skellig Michael.

We slid, slipped and slithered our way along the path where we could hear the little pufflings calling out and in one case even see one tucked up under a rock but the puffins we saw were all keeping their distance. When we were disembarking the boat the skipper, who had been giving a commentary on the way, told us that the puffins are glad to see people come to the island as our presence would keep the skuas and gulls from harrassing them and their chicks and the puffins could take the opportunity to come in and feed the pufflings. So much for that idea we thought to ourselves. We eventually did find a spot where we could sit on a rock and photograph puffins at several nest burrows. Of course that elusive photo of an adult returning with a beak full of fish was not to be but we were reasonably happy to have some photos.

With a longish walk back along a slippery path we retraced our steps toward the landing area. The temperature, the walk and the sunshine meant we were both shedding outer layers to stuff into our backpack. When we reached the flat, grassy area near the descent to the cove we found several groups of people sitting around having their lunch while puffins came and went to burrows all around them. Mmmm. Maybe we were too quick and too intrepid in setting off to the farther reaches. We took some more photos here before going down to wait for our boat to set up and take on their passengers.

From Lunga we sailed about 15 minutes south to Staffa (from the Viking word for staves, a reference to the basalt columns) where we could visit Fingals Cave. The sea was so calm today that we could reverse right into the cave entrance before continuing on to Clamshell Cove landing where we were dropped off to join a throng of other tourists following the path to the cave and others climbing the steps to the top of the island. We did both. The walk to the cave was easy today but with a bit of a sea and spray the handrail may have been very useful. After several photographs of the cave and the basalt we headed back to the steps and climbed to the top of the island for a look at the view of the surrounding islands and of the geology. The tide today meant our skipper wanted to leave by 5 to three so we made sure we were there to meet it for the two hour sail back to Tobermory via Kilchoan.

Our bus to meet the ferry at Craignure didn't leave until 6:10pm so we had time to have a beer and dinner near the quay at Tobermory. We fancied just a light meal or a sandwich but the kitchen would only make sandwiches until 5pm and it was already 5 to so I got a waitress to get some beers and check about sandwiches. The beers came along with the bad news that it was too busy tonight to make sandwiches now so we settled for a chicken burger for me and a pork and apple burger for Margaret. The waitress said we would like them as they were the very best burgers. I remarked that Australian Burgers are the world's best so they had a real challenge to match them.

The burgers were served as a meal with chips, salad and coleslaw with a token bit of lettuce and tomato on the burger but after the addition of sauce from the usual British selection of sachets (vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, tomato, brown, HP etc.) they were almost up to the mark except lacking in beetroot and extra dribbles.

With our thirst quenched and appetite appeased we took a little stroll along the waterfront at Tobermory before heading back to catch our bus. This time it was a double decker and quite full. Upstairs near the front we thought but that was not to be. We were upstairs but near the very back. A double decker on these narrow roads seemed a bit of a problem but we breezed along. Well more like rock and rolled along. On the top deck the bumping and swaying was very obvious although some passengers managed to sleep even with their heads banging against the window and window frames.

We had to wait for the ferry to dock and disembark so while I watched the hands tie up the ferry and open the bow doors for the car deck Margaret went for a walk to confirm the strongly cerise coloured flowers were Rose Bay Willow Herb as she thought. This has become her favourite flower of the trip as it seems to be at the peak of it's flowering about now.

Once aboard the ferry we found a seat outside on the port side and enjoyed the sunshine and warmth, both of which have been lacking since we left Glascow. The ferry journey slipped by while I dozed and Margaret wandered around to get more photos. When we arrived back in Oban we walked our weary path back to the Queens Hotel very pleased with our day with the puffins and the remarkably sunny day that followed such depressing weather.

Our room had been closed up all day with the heater and the heated towel rail both adding to the sun streaming in the windows and was stifling hot when we came in so we opened everything we could, turned off all the heat, and removed the impossibly heavy quilt from the cover before we headed back to the bar where we had another beer and downloaded the day's photographs.


Pictures

A new day dawns
Oban Lifeboat
A perfect day in the Treshnish Isles
Puffins!
 
 
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