Nowadays a travel to one of the Hebridean islands is relatively simple. You pick a method of travel, book a ticket and, when the weather is favourable, you’re on your island in a relatively short time. What a difference with the 1700s when steam ships had yet to be invented. In fact it was Scotsman James Watt who, in 1769, patented an improved version of the steam engine which was the basis of the idea to use steam power to propel boats. It took many years though before steam engines were used in Scotland. It was in August 1812 that the very first successful commercial steamboat service started in Europe. Henry Bell’s Comet began a passenger service on the River Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock and the era of the Clyde Steamer had started. It was a huge success and many holiday makers found their way to parts of Scotland which were almost inaccessible for them earlier.
Previous to the holiday makers there were people like Samuel Johnson and James Boswell who travelled parts of Scotland and the Hebrides in the year 1773, with quite different transportation methods I might add, and wrote vivid accounts of their journeys. They met with the locals, both lairds and crofters, and through their writings you can read about Hebridean life in the late 18th century. The book “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides” is written by James Boswell and describes a journey that starts in Edinburgh and via the Highlands they arrive in Armadale. From there they visit the Hebridean islands of Skye, Raasay, Coll, Mull, Inch Kenneth and Iona before they return to Oban. Below are a few quotes from Tobermory and Ulva:
Tobermory: Between six and seven we hauled our anchor, and set sail with a fair breeze; and, after a pleasant voyage, we got safely and agreeably into the harbour of Tobermorie, before the wind rose, which it always has done, for some days, about noon. Tobermorie is an excellent harbour. An island lies before it, and it is surrounded by a hilly theatre. The island is too low, otherwise this would be quite a secure port; but, the island not being a sufficient protection, some storms blow very hard here. Not long ago, fifteen vessels were blown from their moorings. There are sometimes sixty or seventy sail here: to-day there were twelve or fourteen vessels. To see such a fleet was the next thing to seeing a town.
To Ulva: We were in hopes to get to Sir Allan Maclean’s at Inchkenneth, to-night; but the eight miles, of which our road was said to consist, were so very long, that we did not reach the opposite coast of Mull till seven at night, though we had set out about eleven in the forenoon; and when we did arrive there, we found the wind strong against us. Col determined that we should pass the night at M’Quarrie’s, in the island of Ulva, which lies between Mull and Inchkenneth; and a servant was sent forward to the ferry, to secure the boat for us: but the boat was gone to the Ulva side, and the wind was so high that the people could not hear him call; and the night so dark that they could not see a signal. We should have been in a very bad situation, had there not fortunately been lying in the little sound of Ulva an Irish vessel, the Bonnetta, of Londonderry, Captain M’Lure, master. He himself was at M’Quarrie’s; but his men obligingly came with their long-boat, and ferried us over.
The book is most pleasant to read and there are various ways to read it, both on paper if you buy via Amazon or other bookshops or you can read the entire book online or download it since there is no more copyright on this book. In both cases I wish you a pleasant read!