Angus MacPhail: From St Kilda to Stuttgart – part one

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It has been a long time since I travelled through and to so many varying locations in one week.

From the remote and rugged cliffs of St Kilda to the emerald glens of Antrim, to the golden wheat fields of East Yorkshire, to the bustling streets of Stuttgart, through the oyster, raw herring and champagne bars of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I got back to where I started under the majesty of Ben Nevis in Fort William – and all in six days.

The first three days were wonderful, the fourth a mixed bag, the fifth an array of the worst travel experiences I have ever had, and the sixth a wonderfully tranquil and relaxing journey home.

Since bringing the St Olave back down the Caledonian Canal to the sea in May, we have been waiting for the right weather conditions to coincide with a suitable time to take a voyage out to St Kilda. The forecast for last Tuesday and Wednesday was good and schedules were flexible enough to free up the time, so off we went.

On the way out to Eriskay, where we were going to fuel up and spend Tuesday night, we stopped off in Tobermory to deliver a few birthday presents for Alasdair ‘Steptoe’ Mac­Lean. He was out fishing but we left the loot with his wife Iona. With all the writing about scallops over the past month I had built up quite an appetite for them so couldn’t miss the chance of a good feed in MacGochans. With its close proximity and association with Isle of Mull scallops, the quality of product served here is consistently better than any top restaurant.

Scallops are in my top three favourite foods, but in too many restaurants what you get is a tasteless mouthful of disappointment. Not so in MacGochans and a good plate full locally landed succulent, sweet amazingness was enjoyed immensely by myself and my able shipmate, Duncan Kennedy from Knoydart.

Good company and good food – a never failing combination.
As we were steaming out of the Sound we spied Steptoe himself hauling creels just to the south of us, so we swung by to wish him a happy birthday.

Twenty years ago to the day, I was out on the Dawn Treader with Steptoe. I was 18 and was just having a day out before playing the box in MacGochans that night. Life is full of an infinite range of parallel time-lines simultaneously moving with different perceptions of speed, length and changes of self within each. It does not feel very long at all since that day in 1997 and neither do I feel very different.

Contrastingly, we filmed the Alive video shots of the Dawn Treader in almost the same location but much poorer weather only in September last year and that feels like a lifetime ago. More importantly than all that theoretical pondering was the fact that when came round on Steptoe’s port side he passed over a basket of prawns. Prawns are in the same region as scallops on my favourite food list, so a feast was going to be had when we were tied up later on.

The sea was calm as we passed the Cairns of Coll then sailed onward across the Sea of the Hebrides and as we neared Eriskay, a few harbour dolphins accompanied the slowly increasing north-west wind.

The Acairsaid Mhòr in Eriskay was once home to one of the most renowned small fleets of herring ring-netters in the country, operated by the esteemed MacKinnon family and it was the history and the once thriving bustle that filled my thoughts as we tied up at the now quiet harbour.

After refuelling, we settled down to a feast of prawns and waited for the rest of the gang to arrive off the ferry from Mallaig.
To be continued …