The Oregon-pine deck was already warm when I emerged from my cabin at dawn. The sea lay becalmed, the anchor slack, the sky cloudless. I dropped over the side and then swam the short distance to the shore to explore the vast crescent of white sand cradling our anchorage. Anywhere else in the UK, such a beach would be completely overrun. Here on the island of Coll, on the outer fringes of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, it was just me and a smattering of insouciant sheep.
The aroma of homemade crumpets and fresh coffee drew me back on board and, under the gaze of a couple of comically watchful seals, we departed, setting a course for Lunga, the largest of the remote, uninhabited Treshnish Isles. Along its narrow cliff-edge path, scores of puffins – who seemed charmingly indifferent to our presence – fussed around their commandeered burrows, their bills stuffed with glinting herring.
A few miles east of here is the islet of Staffa, site of Fingal’s Cave. Painted by JMW Turner, and with astonishing acoustics that inspired the music of Felix Mendelssohn, this is Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway in cubbyhole form – hexagonal jointed columns that retreat nearly 80 metres into the cliffs. Two centuries ago, William Wordsworth lamented the plethora of visitors, but our late-afternoon arrival was timed to perfection. As the last of the tour boats gradually retreated into the distance, we swam in the clear waters at the sunlit mouth of the cave, before we ven-tured deep into the cool of this enthralling geological cathedral.