This itinerary should give a real flavour of Scottish west coast cruising, taking in most of the Clyde islands and several of the villages on the Cowal and the Kintyre peninsulas.
Choose your route and direction of travel according to whim and the weather forecasts – the possible track we’ve sketched out here involves an anti-clockwise rounding of the islands of Bute, Arran and Great Cumbrae.
The Clyde offers great sailing and good shelter for small boats. The harbours mentioned below – Largs, Rothesay, Port Bannatyne, Portavadie, Tarbert and Campbeltown - plus others not mentioned – all offer excellent shelter in all wind directions. The very many local anchorages and mooring areas are - as with any other cruising area - more subject to the variations of local wind and weather.
Saturday afternoon: about 8-10 miles sailing (the distances we’ve quoted here, don’t allow for much tacking). After the handover briefing on your yacht, stow your gear and food then head across to Bute – we’ve shown here an overnight stop at Rothesay, the island’s only town, however you might equally choose the nearby Port Bannatyne village as a more tranquil alternative – each has a small marina and offers good access to local facilities. Bute has great scenery, beaches, walking & cycling and is a favourite haunt of ours.
Sunday: Distance sailed about 18-20 miles.
Start with a leisurely cruise through the beautiful Kyles of Bute. If the wind suits, maybe pick up a visitor mooring off the Colintraive Hotel, anchor in the secluded harbour behind Caladh island at the north end of the Kyles, or opt for a visitor mooring off the Kames Hotel - whether for lunch or an overnight stay. Unless you’re tempted to stay overnight (we often are!) then carry on through the West Kyle and then into Loch Fyne to perhaps spend the night at Portavadie, a new and very modern marina destination offering excellent dining, walking and shore-side facilities plus accommodation. The contrast with your last stop at say Kames or Port Bannatyne is we reckon, quite striking! Look out for the dolphin which this year took up residence around the navigation buoy off Ardlamont point – which you’ll pass to the south of, on your way out of the Kyles.
Monday: Distance sailed about 20-25 miles.
Cruise a little of the way up Loch Fyne, ending at the classic west coast haunt of Tarbert. You could easily spend a whole week cruising Loch Fyne itself, in a different anchorage each night. The Oyster Bar towards the head of the loch, for example, is renowned for its fish and shellfish. To get a flavour of the area – after leaving Otter Spit beacon well to starboard on the way north - you might visit the Oystercatcher pub at Otter Ferry for lunch, picking up a visitor mooring here; or head over to Loch Gair, a few miles further up the loch, and do the same. A traditional fishing village, Tarbert still has a working fleet, the boats supplying direct to local restaurants. Berth in the marina then take your pick of the bars and restaurants – one of our favourites is Scotts, across from the marina and behind the old fish quay. We reckon Tarbert is a great place to potter around, with a good number of slightly quirky shops and eateries.
Tuesday: Distance sailed about 12-18 miles.
South to Loch Ranza. If you don’t idle away too much of your morning in Tarbert, then perhaps stop on your way south to anchor off Inchmarnock island or in St Ninian’s Bay, opposite that island on the west side of Bute. Inchmarnock is usually uninhabited apart from livestock, and the whole area is rich in wildlife – we’ve often spotted basking sharks and puffins around here - and we once spotted a killer whale. The most northerly of Arran’s three main anchorages, Lochranza is a small village where you may well rub shoulders with some of the native deer herd, grazing the shoreline by the historic castle. Give the reef off the north end of the loch a suitably wide berth, then anchor or (preferably) pick up a visitor mooring. In addition to its hotel, restaurant, and shop – one of each at the last count - Lochranza’s main claims to fame are as a fantastic base from which to roam Arran’s northern mountain range; as the place to catch the ferry to Kintyre; and as home to the excellent Arran distillery – a visit to which is highly recommended, not just to sample the local produce but also to enjoy one of their excellent distillery tours.
Wednesday: Distance sailed about 20 miles.
Carradale and Campbeltown. Head down the Kilbrannan sound and if the weather suits, anchor off the tree-lined beach in the beautiful bay that lies about a mile South of the village of Carradale. A pleasant walk from here brings you to the old village itself and on to its tiny fishing boat harbour – not recommended for yacht berthing alongside but worth a look from the landward side. New in 2012 and not yet visited by us, we understand that a number of visitor moorings have been laid to the north of the fishing boat harbour. Continuing to Campbeltown, at the head of its famous loch you’ll find the town and visitor pontoons, both beside the harbour. Among its attractions, another distillery awaits here…
Thursday: Distance sailed about 25 miles.
South about Arran to Lamlash. Head east, sailing well off the southern coast of Arran and the Pladda lighthouse, then on up to Lamlash bay, which bounded by the Holy Isle is one of Scotland’s finest natural harbours. If time permits pick up a visitor mooring off Whiting Bay en route and go ashore for a stroll; or for the more energetic, take a few hours out to walk around and over the Holy Isle, enjoying fantastic views across Lamlash Bay, Arran and much of the Clyde – from above the Pillar Rock lighthouse, we once watched three 60-foot whales meander northwards with the tide – they made the nearby basking sharks look small! There are visitor moorings for hire in Lamlash – these are generally free elsewhere however in Lamlash the anchoring can be tricky so there’re well worth the modest fee.
Friday: Distance sailed about 15-18 miles.
Back to Largs, passing Brodick Castle, Goat Fell and the Little (aka Wee) Cumbrae lighthouse on the way. If time allows, stop off at Kilchattan bay on Bute or at Millport on Great Cumbrae island – the latter being ideal for a row ashore and an ice cream! Or anchor off the old castle keep on the eastern side of Wee Cumbrae island. Re-fuel the boat please on your return to Largs, then spend Friday night at your berth in the marina, perhaps booking dinner at “Scotts” restaurant there - or enjoy a stroll along the promenade to our favourite local eatery, “Lounge”, situated on Largs Main Street.
Clean and clear your boat, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the “Bosun’s Table” coffee shop, then return home to plan your next Sailaway cruise….
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