Friday, March 06, 2015

Glenuig expedition cut short after last sunset over Ardnamurchan.

 From Moidart we still had 4km to go till we got back to our setting off point at Samalan Bay near Glenuig. It would have been lovely to watch the sunset over Ardnamurchan from the beach at Port Achadh an Aonaich but it was getting cold and I began to feel rather unwell. I thought it was because I was feeling sick about my camera not working but...

There are many skerries and submerged reefs on the coast up to Smirisary but the swell and wind had both died away and we reached the headland at...

 ...Rubha Ghead a' Leighe without incident. To the east, the peaks of Rois-Bheinn, 882m, rose into a cold winter sky above Samalaman Island. It was a lovely sight but I turned back...

...to get this view of Ian and the setting sun which was heading for  the open Atlantic, beyond the tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

We arrived at Samalaman in the gathering darkness to find the ladies of the Mallaig and District Canoe Club loading up after their outing in these beautiful waters. They were also staying at the Glenuig Inn and told Steve Macfarlane of our arrival. Steve kindly drove along with his trailer which was much easier to load than our cars!

Unfortunately I became very ill that night and was not even able to finish a delicious plate of prawns. I had developed 'flu which is still hanging over me 4 weeks later! Unfortunately I was not able to join Ian and Allan on the next two days paddling so you will need to read about them over on Ian's blog.

I was actually too ill to be upset at missing more paddling, anyway I had just enjoyed one of the most varied and best winter days ever! We might only have covered 26.5km but the scenery was stunning.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Maritime conditions moderated but the 5D mainboard didn't much like the Moidart moisture.

It was not possible to take photos for some time after we left Ardtoe but as we paddled north we came into the lee of Eigg (some 18km away to the NW) and...

 ...the seas gradually became calmer. We took it slowly and steadily as submerged reefs were creating unexpected breaking boomers.

On several occasions we had to divert round particularly disturbed areas of water but as we passed the...

...south entrance to Loch Moidart the conditions moderated. You can  just see the sands of Shoe Bay hiding behind the skerries. Beyond Moidart, some seventeen kilometres to the SE, the snow flecked slopes of Beinn Resipol, 845m, rose above the lands of Sunart .

A watery sun appeared over Ardnamurchan when we were in the lee of Eilean a' Choire. I got a couple of nice photos of Alan...

...but I got caught out by a boomer coming over the reef and had to put my Canon 5D mk3 away very quickly. I did not have time to do my deck bag zip up before bracing and unfortunately sea water got in without me noticing. The next time I took the camera out it was dead. We stopped not long afterwards and I took the card and battery out. When I got home I sent the 5D off to Canon UK and they replaced a corroded main board for £256. I thought this was pretty reasonable.

The following photos are taken with my 2mp Sony U60 (2004 vintage!).

The wild west cost of Eilean Shona is always an enjoyable place to paddle especially as...

...there is a great place to stop just beyond the North Channel of Loch Moidart. The beach at Port Achadh an Aonaich is so nice that we were not going to pass it twice in one day without stopping.

The stop at Ardtoe could not really have been described as a luncheon as no malt whisky was consumed. So...

 ...this was our second luncheon and Alan dug deep into his bag  to find a most excellent Highland Park!

After a variety of home made soups and a dram were consumed, we stretched our legs and...

 ...enjoyed the view from the machair above the beach. The low sun was now slipping quickly towards the Ardnamurchan peninsula. All too soon, it was time to go.




Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A rough ride to Ardtoe.

West from Castle Tiorum, the south channel of Loch Moidart opens up but the loch is still...

...sheltered by a group of rocky islets at its mouth. A calm patch encouraged Ian to get his DSLR out and photograph some...

 ...seals that were all around us.

Soon the castle slipped astern and we found ourselves weaving...

...through the skerries and islands at the mouth of the loch. As we approached to open sea the wind increased to the top end of a F4 from the NW. It was a spring tide and the ebb from the loch was creating some wonderful wind over tide conditions. We went from the calm of the skerries straight into...
 
 ...a truly wonderful winter playground. Unfortunately I had not brought sails for Ian and myself as Allan didn't have one. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a wonderful 2km down wind blast through somewhat confused waters to the shelter of...

 ...the Ardtoe skerries where we...

 ...caught our breath for the 8km upwind slog back to the Sound of Arisaig

Ardtoe was a lovely spot to shelter from the wind, have a quick snack and rehydrate with water!

This is the sort of sea kayaking I really enjoy. Essentially it is the combination of a remote location, decent "conditions" in winter and being with a small group of trusted friends. We had not seen a soul or another boat since we left Glenuig.  North of Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point of mainland Britain, the western horizon stretched away across the Atlantic for some 3,300km until Orton Island, off the coast of Labrador. We were dependent on our own resources. Indeed some years ago, Ian and I self rescued after a winter capsize on this very coast. Afterwards we carried on as if nothing had happened. When I started kayaking I joined a club but soon left because weekend after weekend all people wanted to do was practice "skills". Skills for what? I much preferred getting out and going sea kayaking!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Birlin about Castle Tioram with Julius Caesar in Loch Moidart.



When we rounded the north end of Shona Beag there was very little water left in Inner Loch Moidart. We had hoped to paddle round the east side of Eilean an Fheidh (deer island) but there were only inches of water left so...

...we paddled down its north side then...

...followed the deeper water along the south shore. It was here that we caught sight of Tioram (pron. cheerum) Castle. I always associate Tioram Castle with the birl of the bagpipes because on my first visit,  there was a piper playing at the foot of the castle wall. He was not a local, in fact he was on holiday from Nova Scotia! The sound of the pipes echoing from the castle walls and the misty cliffs round lonely Loch Moidart was spine tingling. I nearly expected to see the Young Pretender himself being carried up the loch in a birlinn.

Back to the present, the scenery was amazing which was just as well as our energy levels were seriously ebbing. This was unsurprising since we had replaced first luncheon with a stiff paddle against the tide.

The ebb tide pulled us steadily through the gap...

 ...between the shore and Sgeir Srath Luinga. It did birl us about a bit but in the most gentle way.

The ebb then carried us under the grey walls of Castle Tioram, which sits on a tidal island on the south shore of Loch Moidart. It was the ancestral home of  Clan Ranald from the 14th century. The family owned the castle until the early 20th century, though it has been a ruin since  the early 18th century. The castle currently belongs to a Scottish businessman, Lex Brown, who has been in a long battle with Historic Scotland to restore the building to a habitable state.

Unfortunately a 300 year battle with the elements means that the castle will need a bit of doing up!

We landed on a little beach to the NW of the castle island. No doubt it was from here that Clan Ranald birlinns set off to raid neighbouring clans. Celtic birlinns are similar to Viking longships but predate them by about 800 years. Julius Caeser described Celtic birlinns in detail and reported them as being superior to Roman galleys in his book the Gallic Wars Book 3 (56 B.C.E.).

Namque ipsorum naves ad hunc modum factae armataeque erant: carinae aliquanto planiores quam nostrarum navium, quo facilius vada ac decessum aestus excipere possent; prorae admodum erectae atque item puppes, ad magnitudinem fluctuum tempestatumque accommodatae; naves totae factae ex robore ad quamvis vim et contumeliam perferendam; transtra ex pedalibus in altitudinem trabibus, confixa clavis ferreis digiti pollicis crassitudine; ancorae pro funibus ferreis catenis revinctae; pelles pro velis alutaeque tenuiter confectae, [hae] sive propter inopiam lini atque eius usus inscientiam, sive eo, quod est magis veri simile, quod tantas tempestates Oceani tantosque impetus ventorum sustineri ac tanta onera navium regi velis non satis commode posse arbitrabantur. Cum his navibus nostrae classi eius modi congressus erat ut una celeritate et pulsu remorum praestaret, reliqua pro loci natura, pro vi tempestatum illis essent aptiora et accommodatiora. Neque enim iis nostrae rostro nocere poterant (tanta in iis erat firmitudo), neque propter altitudinem facile telum adigebatur, et eadem de causa minus commode copulis continebautur. Accedebat ut, cum [saevire ventus coepisset et] se vento dedissent, et tempestatem ferrent facilius et in vadis consisterent tutius et ab aestu relictae nihil saxa et cautes timerent; quarum rerum omnium nostris navibus casus erat extimescendus.

"For their ships were built and equipped after this manner. The keels were somewhat flatter than those of our ships, whereby they could more easily encounter the shallows and the ebbing of the tide: the prows were raised very high, and, in like manner the sterns were adapted to the force of the waves and storms [which they were formed to sustain]. The ships were built wholly of oak, and designed to endure any force and violence whatever; the benches which were made of planks a foot in breadth, were fastened by iron spikes of the thickness of a man's thumb; the anchors were secured fast by iron chains instead of cables, and for sails they used skins and thin dressed leather. These [were used] either through their want of canvas and their ignorance of its application, or for this reason, which is more probable, that they thought that such storms of the ocean, and such violent gales of wind could not be resisted by sails, nor ships of such great burden be conveniently enough managed by them. The encounter of our fleet with these ships' was of such a nature that our fleet excelled in speed alone, and the plying of the oars; other things, considering the nature of the place [and] the violence of the storms, were more suitable and better adapted on their side; for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength), nor on account of their height was a weapon easily cast up to them; and for the same reason they were less readily locked in by rocks. To this was added, that whenever a storm began to rage and they ran before the wind, they both could weather the storm more easily and heave to securely in the shallows, and when left by the tide feared nothing from rocks and shelves: the risk of all which things was much to be dreaded by our ships."


This is a photo a a small, modern recreation of a birlinn. We saw it at Corrie in Arran in March 2008.


We enjoyed a combination of first and second luncheons under the castle walls and so we birled out an extra generous dram of Jura...

... before we birled our way...

...back to the boats.



Monday, March 02, 2015

A missed luncheon and a close call in the North Channel.

From the Sound of Arisaig we turned south past the abandoned village of Smirisary  and along the wild Moidart coast.

We were thoroughly enjoying the more lively waters which we found out with the shelter of the Sound.

We paddled past the magnificent...


 ...white shell sand tombola beach, backed by machair, at Port Achadh an Aonaich. The Gaelic means "port of the field of the steep place". It would have been a magnificent place to stop for first luncheon, whatever were we playing at?

Well the steep profile of Eilean Shona should give a clue. We hoped to circumnavigate this bold and rocky island, which sits in the mouth of Loch Moidart. However, we faced a slight impediment. It is a tidal island and the narrow north channel of Loch Moidart dries to reveal 1.7km of soft, glutinous, stinking mud. HW had been at 07:45 and it was already 10:45, three hours after HW! Not only that it would take nearly another hour to paddle the North Channel up to the causeway at its shallowest part!

So we passed by the delightful sands and machair and set off on a stiff paddle, trying to beat a falling tide in an emptying channel! You will note that Ian is looking resplendent in mango in his new Kokatat Expedition drysuit. There was not a hint of perspiration on his brow. Despite our exertions, his suit was so breathable he hardly noticed he was wearing it.

This brings me to a sad story about my own Kokatat dry suit. It was lying on my couch at home, some 150 miles away. I had not being feeling very well when I packed and I had clean forgot it. Fortunately Ian still had his old dry suit in his car and he kindly lent me it. What a difference  though, it was a true boil in the bag experience!

At least there was still water as far as we could see.

We kept out of the main ebb by sticking close to the rocky walls of the channel, almost as close as the limpets and barnacles!

Amazingly we were able to paddle right up to the causeway. where we arrived at 11:25. Water was pouring through the rocks of the causeway towards us but we were not out of the woods yet. The water east of the causeway disappears faster than snaw aff a dyke especially at springs (which it was).

After a short portage over the causeway, we had to walk the kayaks through the shallows for 120 metres on the far side. Fortunately,the ebb tide was with us and we escaped the clutches of the evil mud with minutes to spare.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Return to the Sound of Arisaig.

On the 6th of February, Alison and I drove north to meet Ian and Allan at the Glenuig Inn. We stopped for a break in some late afternoon winter sunshine on the shore of Loch Linnhe at Fort William.

There was not a breath of wind and FV Holly Rose OB158 was lying at her mooring perfectly motionless.

We arrived at the excellent Glenuig Inn just before dark but by the time we walked the dogs the sun was well set. We returned to the welcoming lights of the inn and enjoyed a tasty meal with Ian and Alan.

 The following morning we left Alison with my car and the dogs then drove for a short distance through the morning rush hour to...

...Samalaman Bay on the south shore of the Sound of Arisaig. It was not long after HW and the beautiful...

 ...white shell sands were not yet fully exposed.

A light smirr of rain was falling, the sort that soaks everything despite the small size of its droplets. To the NW there was a little brightness on the horizon but to the..

 ...east the clouds were well down on the hills. The branches and lichens on the sessile oak trees were dripping wet.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Alan and I had just set off when a gap appeared in the clouds...

 ...and we got a great view across to Eigg and...

...the snow streaked mountains of Rum behind.
 
 The north side of the Sound of Arisaig was still hidden by low cloud but...

 ..ever so gradually the clouds began to lift. As we approached...

 ...Rubha Ghead a' Leighe, the headland at the southern entrance to the Sound of Aisaig, the wind and swell..

 ...began to pick up and we enjoyed some fun in close proximity to the rocks by Ian's Inlet.

Having said that we did not inspect the rocks quite so closely as Ian had done on one of our previous visits and we all remained relatively dry!