Well not quite, we aren’t braving the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath but taking the chicken route through the Cali. However for a Thames barge it feels like we are heading to the top of the world.
Leith was a nice enough place to stay tucked in next to the decommissioned royal yacht Britannia. Though the harbour dues were eye wateringly high and the harbour was empty. The day before our guests arrived, we headed off to Asda to collect 100 ltr diesel at full price, there are no commercial fuelling facilities in this overpriced harbour. This was wheeled ½ mile on the sack trolley, not recommended for those with a dodgy back.
Day one is always spent provisioning and this time we found a fantastic local fish monger at New Haven and then did our normal trolley pick up from the nearest click and collect. Stocked up we finished making up the beds, cleaning bathrooms etc. and waited for our guests to arrive. Despite the vagaries of the national rail strikes at 4pm on the dot all six were with us, two couples and two single women, who collectively turned out to be a great group with fascinatingly diverse backgrounds.
We had sought permission to overnight in both Arbroath and Montrose and both had refused us a berth. So we did a 70 mile slog in light airs under power to Stonehaven, our longest day yet. We managed to get Arbroath smokies in Leith and large quantities of Cullen Skink were served on arrival. Stonehaven is delightful, a tiny pretty port with a helpful HM and very modest rates. There was plenty of time in the evening for a walk to the harbour front Ship Inn and a friendly welcome from the locals. In the morning the guests headed off to see the local castle and coastline while Q and I hit the shops for more beer! We walked back along the beautifully landscaped board walk decorated with the work of a local self-taught craftsman.
At mid-day we headed on up to Peterhead fish docks which are as noxious as Stonehaven is pretty. The rank smell of decaying fish and diesel emanated from the quayside and the town offered little for the visitor. However, we did fill up with the cheapest diesel of the trip so far and the port team were very helpful and well organised.
It was no loss to be heading out early the next morning to round Rattray Head and Fraserburgh into the Moray Firth. Somehow the grey dreich weather was not conducive to setting full sail so we motor sailed our way to Buckie and a clear quayside in what had once been a thriving fishing port. Like so many only a rump of its fleet is still operational and the loss to the economy is clear in the docks. After supper the guests headed off to ‘the friendliest pub in Buckie’ yes there is such a place and by all accounts it lived up to its billing. Snark was already the talk of the bar as she is in most small harbours we visit; where are you from? where are you going? how old? how many crew? etc. Lots of interest and good wishes.
By now the Windy map was looking decidedly worrying and a move further west was essential if we were to avoid getting storm bound in Buckie. An unwelcome prospect however friendly the locals. So the next morning we set off for the anchorage at Cromarty into a head wind and against the tide, not the preferred passage plan but needs must. Staying close inshore gave the guests a great view of the coast and the benefit of reduced or even favourable tide. Soon we were at our most northerly point off Lossiemouth, appropriately a north cardinal marking the Halliman Skerries at 57*44’30”N to be welcomed by the famous Moray dolphins who gave a fleeting swim past to the delight of our guests.
Cromarty Forth is a strange mixture of heavy industry making rigs and wind farm bases and beautiful scenery around a perfect natural harbour. The anchorage was a long tender ride from the Royal Hotel, the nearest watering hole ashore and a night aboard was in order. Each group seems to coalesce around a different core activity. The Northumbrian group were into books and storytelling, this group devoured the papers whenever they could get them and played parlour games, shrieking with laughter around the saloon table with a beer or two for lubrication.
Another grey morning broke but with the right wind and fair tide we raised the main, foresail and mizzen and were soon rushing down the Moray Forth, covering the ground at 9 knots. A few nervous moments as the air draft / bridge height calculations were put to the test and we were under the Kessock bridge into Kessock Roads and the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, the sea locks at Clachnaharry. Snark does not like locks and we signed this one with a small streak of green paint as we left to hurry through the railway swing bridge and up to the Seaport Marina and a comfortable berth on a non-tidal pontoon for a change, no high metal ladders here.
We were a day early into Inverness but this was to two guests advantage as the next day was another rail strike and they managed to get home by rail before it started The remaining four enjoyed a day in Inverness before a last supper aboard, a pint at the Clachnaharry Inn to watch England wipe the floor with Sweden in the Euro Cup semi final and then an early night before they headed of to the airport for their flights back south.