Lochaline – a welcome staging post
November 11, 2016
With its sheltered waters and good holding ground for anchoring, ‘the loch of the ford of the pool’ has always been an important natural harbour on the Morvern Peninsula.
The Vikings valued its strategic importance and found it a perfect haven for building and beaching their long-ships during their long occupancy of the West Highlands and Islands that once formed part of the Sea Kingdom of Norway.
It was in Morvern that Somerled, a Hebridean warrior prince, started his long campaign to drive the Vikings out of the Hebrides. His descendants created the MacDonald Lordship of the Isles and built the nearby Ardtornish Castle whose ruined 13th century walls still stand guard over the Sound of Mull and the entrance to Loch Aline. The strength of the MacDonalds lay in their supremacy of the sea, which they controlled using small galleys, called birlinns, that were faster and more manoeuvrable than other vessels of the period. It is recorded that, in the 15th century, Donald, Lord of the Isles mustered over 800 of these birlinns in Loch Aline in preparation for the Battle of Harlaw.
Beside the Mull ferry terminal there is a large stone pier, known locally as the ‘Relief Pier’. Construction began in 1843 by John Sinclair, a local landowner who founded the Village of Lochaline. It was financed by The Highland Relief Board to provide work for thirty-one families who were victims of the Potato Famine and the infamous Highland Clearances. The men, women and children who built it were paid in oats and wheatmeal instead of money.
In 1930 the last remaining inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated to the mainland of Scotland. Of the 36 St Kildans that left the island, 27 stepped ashore at Lochaline. The Forestry Commission had arranged accommodation for the group and all the men of working age were given forestry jobs. There were no trees on St Kilda, so one can only imagine what the trauma of such relocation was like for these poor people.
Nowadays, Loch Aline retains its strategic importance, albeit to the yachting and diving fraternity instead of the warriors of old. A passage through the Sound of Mull will always be enhanced with a pit-stop in its sheltered waters. The village of Lochaline is a thriving wee community with interesting pubs, a great snack bar on the old pier and, of course, the famous White House Restaurant.
The Cala Loch Àlainn visitor pontoons provide around 24 visitor berths within a short walking distance of the village of Lochaline. Shore facilities now include the harbour office, showers, toilets, laundry facilities and WiFi. New visitor’s moorings have also been laid near the pontoons. These moorings are suitable for boats up to 12m and cost £15 per night on a first come first serve basis. Further up the loch, the mud bottom provides excellent holding for those who prefer to use their own ground tackle.