GetOutside Champion: Alan Parkinson
Alan is an award-winning geography teacher, and author, Junior Vice President of the Geographical Association, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Chartered Geographer.
This summer James Forrest (aka Mountain Man) headed on a hiking and sailing trip where he explored the remote, wild and seldom-visited islands of the Inner Hebrides. We discovered what he got up to...
I was given the opportunity to try out the new Trek & Sail experience, a partnership between Venture Sail and Mammut Mountain School as I was already in Scotland.
I hiked the Munros to the east of Oban in the days leading up to the trip, before heading to the Oban docks to climb aboard Zuza, a beautiful sailing vessel, part of the Venture Sail fleet.
I was giddy with excitement as I flung my bag over and onto the deck, despite the weather forecast looking poor, with Storm Hannah destined to come right for us!
Not at all! After a short briefing from Skipper Helen, and a welcome brew with biscuits, we left the docks at Oban, skirting around the Island of Kerrera.
Within the first hour we were hands on, helping the crew to raise the sails. It was thrilling! First mate Rachel was working her way effortlessly through what looked like a maze of ropes, she was instructing me to pull the jammers on and off, allowed me to help to winch the sails high using the halyard, the line used to hoist the sails and then showed me the technique to coil the loose ropes neatly.
I learned so much in a short space of time and despite being sopping wet, I had the biggest smile on my face and a sense of achievement in my heart.
Yes, thank God. After a peaceful, quiet night’s sleep anchored in the corner of Loch Spelve, the following morning we awoke, went out on deck and the loch was as still as a millpond.
It was so still and quiet and by some miracle there were blue skies above us and we could see the mountain we were to climb that day in perfect clarity.
Where was Storm Hannah? She definitely wasn’t here!
Zuza tows a dinghy in her wake and this was used to transport us to the nearby beach on Mull to start the trek. Dougie, of Mammut Mountain School UK, explained a little about the route we’d be taking and then we were off.
I had a specific interest in the navigational techniques employed by guides on pathless terrain and Dougie was extremely helpful, pointing out flora and fauna that only grows at certain altitudes and helping us to spot features from the map in the landscape.
The beauty of the trip is that it can be tailored to the needs and desires of the group.
Our group was keen to summit a remote mountain, so Dougie plotted a route up Creach Beinn. As we set off uphill on a faint deer-stalker trod, we looked back and watched Zuza sail down the loch, with the intent of anchoring at our projected end point. The beauty of the trip is that Zuza can anchor pretty much anywhere we needed her to.
Thus making linear day walks a possibility, which allowed us to take in the wildest and most rugged surroundings, spotting herds of deer and eagles in their natural habitat, places where very few have ventured.
At 698m, Creach Beinn wasn’t the highest of mountains but it certainly packed a punch. After a short scramble to the summit ridge, the views from the top across to Ben More (Mull’s only Munro) were magnificent.
The descent was largely pathless across beautiful unspoilt terrain. We saw an abundance of wildlife and we didn’t see another human being for the whole walk.
The sense of isolation from the stresses and strains of regular society was uplifting, I was utterly immersed in the picturesque world off the beaten track. Our seven hour hike started to come to a close through a magical moss covered woodland alongside a river in the valley.
We emerged at the other end of Loch Spelve and Zuza’s dinghy was dispatched to come and collect us. By the end we were all excited at the prospect of another of Sergio’s outstanding dishes, this time Balmoral Chicken...oh and a hot shower, of course.
Next I was allowed 20 minutes at the helm of Zuza, steering us in towards our anchor for the night under the close supervision of our skipper, Helen. Before the trip was over, we also walked on the island of Lismore, visiting an iron age broch.
Tirefour broch is around 2,000 years old and overlooks the Firth of Lorn. Believed to have been in use up until the Middle Ages, it was a wonderful elevated spot to enjoy views across to the Scottish Mainland and the Munros I had climbed in the week leading up to the trip.
I enjoyed a moment of reflection before we headed back to Oban.
Published on 09/08/2019