Sessions and Sail 2023 - Solstice Passage
June 18th - June 24th
Price: £1165 per person, including all food, accommodation, sessions and workshops.
Join us aboard the Lady of Avenel for this unique trip sailing round the far north of Scotland on the longest day of the year, experiencing the endless light known in Shetland as the 'Simmer Dim'.
This two-masted, Brigantine-rigged tall ship will be your home for six days as we step aboard in Stromness and sail from Orkney along the north coast of Scotland, rounding Cape Wrath and sailing down the Minch, visiting remote islands teeming with wildlife, and watching the landscape change from Orkney's lush farmland and rocky shores to the spectacular mountains of the west coast.
There is likely to be one night-time passage on the way to Mallaig. (Although in Orkney’s latitudes in late June, ‘night’ my be a misnomer!)
Watch the sun set in the north west, only to rise again four hours later with nothing darker than twilight in between. Enjoy tunes and sessions in isolated bays and islands; sail past Skye, Rona, Raasay.
The ship will be your base for a voyage of exploration and music with sessions, workshops, sailing and more; throughout the trip we will enjoy locally sourced food, beautifully prepared by our on-board chef.
In addition to the crew, we will carry two sail-with tutors, dedicated musicians who will be able to run workshops, help keep the sessions going, and give dedicated assistance with any new techniques, tunes, songs or more that you might like to learn.
Some of our likely destinations are outlined below.
We look forward to having you join us on this voyage!
Orkney’s second town has been a haven since Viking times, and had strong links with Canada and the Hudson Bay Company in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Stromness has a strong arts connection also – writer George Mackay Brown lived here for most of his life; and the town is now home to the 20th Century art gallery the Pier Arts Centre, and hosts the Orkney Folk Festival.
The wildlife protected island of Handa and the bay at Achmelvich have been popular anchorages for the Lady of Avenel.
Near the north-west tip of mainland Scotland, expect isolated beaches, tens of thousands of guillemots and kittiwakes, with spectacular mountains forming a backdrop to the coastline.
These uninhabited islands are a true gem in the Minch.
If weather conditions allow, we will visit them and may achor in the lagoon where the sheer number of puffins will dazzle you; here we may see golden and sea eagles, seals, skuas and a vast range of razorbills, guillemots and more.
In the stunning Loch Nevis, Inverie is considered the UK's most isolated village. On the Knoydart Peninsula, and reachable only by sea or by a long hike over the hills, we have enjoyed many good sessions in the famous Old Forge Inn or in the Knoydart Community Hall.
Who is this trip aimed at?
If you are a keen musician playing at any level - whether beginner, intermediate or expert - with an interest in the traditional and folk music of Scotland, this trip is for you. No sailing experience is necessary, but those keen to participate will be encouraged to join in the sailing of the ship should they wish to, whether steering, helping set and trim the sails, or even climbing the mast for the finest view of all.
Accommodation on board
You will be allocated a berth in one of our six double cabins. For solo travellers, cabins will be allocated on a same-sex basis; if two people travelling together wish to share a cabin, we recommend booking early to ensure availability.
There are two showers and three toilets in the accommodation; these are shared.
Meals are prepared in the modern upper deck galley; these are of a high standard and prepared by our own chef. Meals, tea and coffee are included in the price of the trip.
The upper deck saloon provides an ideal place to socialise and, with the tables cleared away, will be the perfect session space for the evenings we spend aboard. Should the weather be fair enough, we may be able to play sessions on deck.
The following itinerary is a suggestion of how the trip may take form; all destinations are subject to change, are weather dependant, and are at the discretion of the Captain. There is a chance that, if persistent westerlies set in, we may be forced to carry out this voyage through the Caledonian Canal instead.
You meet the ‘Lady of Avenel’ alongside the pier in Stromness harbour, where the crew will welcome you aboard; you are given a tour of the ship and a briefing from the Captain.
We leave the pier and sail out before sunset, seeing Scapa Flow open up on our port side. A passage through Fara Sound takes us to Kirkhope Bay, a gorgeous, isolated spot where we anchor; a drink before dinner, then we get together in the Lady’s saloon and get to know each other over a few tunes.
After breakfast, we raise anchor and sail out into the Pentland Firth, making sail for Cape Wrath, the viking ‘turning point’. Depending on weather, we may make this 62-mile passage in one hit, rounding the Cape during the night and arriving at our first west coast anchorage in the early hours; or we may pause for the night in one of numerous anchorages near Balnakiel, Erriboul or Tongue.
If we have reached the west coast today, we make a slow start, with breakfast, perhaps a tune or two onboard; then we run boats to the shore to walk on the beach or climb a hill and stretch our legs.
If we have paused on the north coast, we raise anchor in the morning, rounding Cape Wrath in the afternoon and finding a bay anchorage to explore. Handa Island makes an ideal first stop on the West Coast.
In the afternoon, our sail-with tutors run a workshop or a tune session onboard; we enjoy the anchorage or play tunes into the evening.
In the morning we have breakfast, then raise anchor and sail on. Today we will cross the Minch; if conditions are suitable for the anchorages there, our destination is the Shiant Islands, 38 miles to the south-west.
We get some tunes going as we cross the Minch, playing on deck if it is dry! After lunch, our onboard tutors run a workshop and session in the saloon as we sail along.
We arrive at the Shiants late afternoon; there is time for a walk and a climb ashore before dinner. In the evening we play some tunes round the table and have the chance to play over some of the tunes or songs we learned this afternoon.
We sail from the Shiants, down the east coast of Skye, passing Rona, Raasay, and the mountainous west coast; watching the land grow closer on either side, we sail in to Loch Carron and anchor of the gorgeous village of Plockton.
Ashore after a sound days sail, we play tunes in one of Plockton's cosy pubs.
Timing our departure to take advantage of the following tide, we make for Kyle of Lochalsh, passing under the Skye road bridge, and through the Kyle Rhea, where currents flow at up to 8 knots with a spring tide.
Passing Loch Hourn, we sail on down to Loch Nevis, tying up at the Inverie Pier; we enjoy some last-night tunes in the famous Old Forge Pub.
It’s the last morning; we depart Inverie and head across the loch to to Mallaig, having breakfast together on the way. A last tune or a farewell before leaving the Lady and setting off on the next adventure!
Orkney can be reached by aeroplane, with flights from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Shetland – see www.loganair.co.uk
Northlink Ferries have sailings up to three times a day from Scrabster to Stromness, evening sailings four times a week from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, and evening sailings three times a week from Lerwick. See www.northlinkferries.com
Pentland Ferries have sailings three times a day from Gill’s Bay to St Margaret’s Hope, see www.pentlandferries.co.uk
The nearest train connections to either Gill’s Bay or Scrabster is Thurso; for train services to Thurso see https://www.scotrail.co.uk/
Bus connections between Thurso and the ferry terminals in Scrabster and Gill’s Bay can be limited and have been restricted recently; Northlink advise train passengers to prebook Scrabster taxi travel for ferry connections.
Stagecoach Buses run one daily connection from Inverness to Scrabster and Gills Bay. See https://www.stagecoachbus.com/ for more information.
Bus travel within Orkney, and from the airport and ferry terminals is frequent; timetables are available at https://www.orkney.gov.uk/Service-Directory/B/Bus-Services.htm
Mallaig is connected by bus via Fort William http://www.citylink.co.uk, one of the world's most scenic rail journeys can take you there direct from Glasgow Queen Street Station www.thetrainline.com/www.scotrail.co.uk or, if you feel like adding to the experience, you could take the Jacobite steam train to http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite-steam-train-details.cfmFort William. http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite-steam-train-details.cfm
We recommend confirming flights and travel arrangements as early as possible to avoid price rises and availability problems.