Charmian Entwistle recommends a visit to the Isle of Canna, a handy stop-off en route to or from Skye or the Outer Hebrides, but also an alluring destination in its own right
Heading north from the spectacular Ardnamurchan Point, or south from the Point of Sleat, puts the charming group of islands known as the Small Isles at the top of your list as potential stopping-off places, writes Charmian Entwistle.
All the islands in the group are interesting and have their own attractions, but Canna’s anchorage is the most sheltered and has moorings for visiting yachts.
Options are divided on whether the moorings are a benefit, but it certainly gives the less confident sailor some assurance of a relaxing night when they are there. The harbour at Canna lies between Canna and the tidal island of Sanday.
Approaching from most directions takes you close to the island of Rum, which is easily visible in fine weather because of its spectacular Cuillin.
Unless you are approaching from the west you will also have a view of the isle of Eigg with its magnificent Sgurr, which changes shape continuously as you sail past. Once you are into the Sound of Canna, some careful navigation is required to get into the harbour past the Sgeir a Phuirt reef.
There is still space for anchoring if you prefer – or if you arrive to find the moorings are already taken. The moorings are likely to be busy in midsummer, so plan to arrive reasonably early if you are keen to pick one up.
When planning a passage to Canna and the other Small Isles, although they are delightful in good weather, you always need to plan your passage carefully and keep in mind the remoteness of the area.
Once you are securely moored or anchored, a walk ashore is essential to experience the island’s delights and its friendly welcome. It will also enable you to put the £10 mooring fee in the honesty box.
For a small island with a population of around 20 people (including the neighbouring island of Sanday), Canna has a lot to offer to various visitor tastes.
From a historical point of view there are three church buildings to look at; Canna House, with opening hours limited to Wednesdays and Saturdays, although walkers can access the walled gardens at any time; and the Old Laundry at the farm, which is open all the time and which houses a small museum giving the history of the island.
There are several walks between Canna and Sanday to appeal to all tastes, and specialist rock climbing can be undertaken if you have suitable equipment. For a moderate walk to build up an appetite for dinner at the café, a stroll up to the Celtic cross and the ‘cursing stone’ give a stunning view out to the sentinel of the Stevenson-designed Hyskeir Light standing only a few miles away.
Well worth a visit
If you are staying for the night do try to reserve a table at Café Canna, which is open for lunch and dinner and offers a variety of delicacies including lobster when available. Rabbit often features on the menu, which makes a tasty change. There isn’t a food shop on the island, but there is a small community shop on the ferry pier which offers tea and coffee on a self-service basis plus a selection of local produce and crafts.
Although you could spend two or three days enjoying this beautiful island and the anchorage, the chances are you’d be there because you were going on somewhere else, and Canna makes a wonderful central location for stopping at en route to or from Skye or the Outer Hebrides, where there are now pontoon facilities at Lochboisdale and Lochmaddy.
The other Small Isles – Rum, Muck and Eigg – are also all well worth a visit if time permits, and each has very separate charms to offer.
Canna is renowned for its bird life, including sea eagles, golden eagles and puffins. Recently, peregrine falcons and merlins have also been sighted in the area. In the waters around the area, dolphins are a common sight, with minke whales and basking sharks (in season) regularly reported around the island.
Sometimes described as ‘the garden of the Hebrides’ because of its fertile soil, Canna is an island with many interesting features.
Full navigation details can be found in the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions and Anchorages: Ardnamurchan to Cape Wrath and in the Admiralty Chart folio 5616, Point of Ardnamurchan to Shiant Islands.
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