Monday, December 31, 2007

Sea Kayaking Desktop Calendar January 2008

Since 2005, the Scottish Sea Kayaking Photo Gallery has produced a monthly desktop calendar. This year, due to the arrival of side bar and gadget calendars, I have left the date grid out but there is still an appeal in 12 monthly desktop backgrounds. If you would like to download the January desktop, it is available in sizes of 1920x1200, 1280x1024, 1024x768 and 800x600.

For best results, do not use the photos from this blogger site but visit the Scottish Sea Kayaking Photo Gallery and click on the size of your desk top. Most visitors to this site use 1280x1024 or 1024x768. You can check your desktop size by right clicking anywhere on it then left click properties then left click settings.

Other months to follow....

Have a great 2008! :o)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Carpe diem: a winter's day on the Clyde.

Our winter solstice paddle continued in the most beautiful light.

The problem with Scotland in the winter is that these days are few and far between. Carpe diem....

....let no one accuse the staff of of not doing so!

Happy paddling in 2008 :o)


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Melting glaciers, kayaks, interconnectors and ships.

On our journey south along Ayrshire's Atlantic coast, the volcanic cliffs are breached in only one place. The low winter sun played a warming light on Curarrie Port but the air was icy cold. The wooded glen follows the line of a geological fault but the tiny present day Shallochwreck Burn is not big enough to have cut the deep glen. However, at the end of the last ice age, it would have been a raging torrent carrying melt water from the glaciers of Galloway to the sea.

Currarie port is just about the only landing spot in 10km of this rocky coastline. Even so surf often breaks heavily on it and you need to be prepared for a cockpit full of water on launching or landing. I do love the fine lines of the Valley Nordkapp LV hull. I just wish it had a Rockpool cockpit!

Northern Ireland Energy Holdings.
In 2001/02 the construction of the Moyle Interconnector allowed the export of electricity from Scotland to Ireland. The route of the 500MW cables also took advantage of this breach in the cliffs. Fortunately there is no trace of the excavations.

Just offshore from Currarie Port this mystery ship loomed out of the sea mist. Her course was much closer inshore than the normal shipping channel. She was flying no flags to identify her origin. The large crane may be for lifting and lowering a submersible. Perhaps she is a cable inspection vessel?

One way or another, lots of things today are linked to a meting glacier 10,000 years ago!


P.S. Stuart A. has kindly identified the ship and her role:

"The ship is the MV PHAROS which belongs to the Northern Lighthouse Board. She is used for the maintenance of navigational marks - hence the crane for lifting large buoys, etc. and the reason why she was off the beaten track."

The NLV Pharos came into service in March 2007. She was built in Poland. Her smaller sister ship is the NLV Pole Star. She was commissioned in 2000 and was built by Ferguson's on the Clyde.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paddling past pillow lava at Downan Point

As we paddled past Downan Point, on the south Ayrshire coast, we came across ancient lava floes where the cliffs tumbled into the sea.

On closer inspection we found the basalt rocks to be in a form called pillow lava. These pillow lavas date from the Caradoc age of the late Ordovician period, some 450 million years ago. At that time sea levels were much higher than today and these lavas were formed when they oozed from a volcanic vent which was under water. Despite their great age, these pillows look as fresh as any contemporary pillow lavas found on Hawaii.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winter solstice on Ayrshire's Atlantic coast.

Leaving the great beach of Ballantrae, we paddled SW along Ayrshire's Atlantic coast. The volcanic rocks plunge into the swell that comes through the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland.

It is a wild place with few beaches and no road access to the shore. If you are lucky enough to catch it with slight swell there are innumerable caves and channels to explore.

As we made our way down the coast we left the swans, ducks, herons and oystercatchers of Ballantrae behind. We entered the realms of the cormorants and rock doves. Headland after headland disappeared into the hazy thin winter sunshine. Then we came to Dove Cove and a golden eagle swooped into a flock of unsuspecting rock doves as they emerged from a cave.

We paddled as far south as Brackness Hole but by then the winter solstice sun had begun to sink to the horizon and we knew we had to return.


Monday, December 24, 2007

"A weekend at the races." Ocean Paddler # 6.

Issue six of the renowned sea kayaking organ, Ocean Paddler, carries an article entitled "A weekend at the races." It was composed by myself and carries a selection of photographs like the one above. In it Tony is contemplating on the view from Lunga across Eilean Dubh Mor to the distant mountains of Mull beyond. Rich Parkin and the editorial team chose several accompanying photographs. All depict scenes of calm waters and serenity amongst the islands of Lorn. Regular readers of Ocean Paddler will realize that my articles complement tales of great circumnavigations and crossings that some sea kayakers would rather only read about. My articles are designed to inspire average recreational paddlers to get out and explore their local waters. As a result, the choice of photos in the articles tend to show calm seas and blue skies!

However, these are the pictures that Rich, the editor, would rather you did not see! Do not be fooled by photographs like the above, the Grey Dogs can bite!

The Grey Dogs, two hours into a spring flood tide.

The race extends about two miles out to sea.

A 22m RIB shows the scale of the standing waves.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shingle and terns at Ballantrae.

Once we launched from Ballantrae we turned to the SSE and paddled parallel to the great cobble beach which stretches for almost 2km.

The beach is broken only by the mouth of the River Stinchar. We were last here in November 2006 and the river mouth is now 600m further north. This is a very dynamic part of the coast. Just behind the bank of cobbles there are various oxbow lakes and lagoons formed as the river changes course and its mouth is altered by winter storms.

The beach is a Site of Special Scientific (SSSI). In summer it is the nesting ground for countless Little Terns and Arctic Terns. Unfortunately the delicate balance of the beach is being threatened by contractors who are illegally removing hundreds of tons of shingle.


This is a view from the south end of the beach taken on our last visit on 03/11/2006

You might notice the Ocean Paddler magazine logo on the bow of Tony's boat. It reminds me that the December issue has just been published. Buy it! It is very good.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Surf's up at the village on the beach.

Yesterday the surf began to roll into the beach at Ballantrae in advance of today's depression. You can tell this is a surf beach, it's very steep and sand and shingle at the low water mark give way to large cobbles at the high water mark. It faces north west through the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland to the open Atlantic beyond.

I am sorry this photo is a bit squint, it was not very easy composing it. The dark brown appearance of the water is due to Galloway peat stained river water. The River Stinchar flows into the sea here.

The village of Ballantrae is built on a raised beach. This raised beach extends for many miles to the north and is broken only by occasional cliffs and headlands. Early cropping Ayrshire potatoes are grown in the fertile soil which is kept mild by the effects of the Gulf Stream.

The name Ballantrae is derived from the Gaelic "Baile an Traigh" or village on the beach. Fishing boats with the registration letters BA (for Ballantrae) are actually based in the shelter of Girvan harbour some 19km away to the NE. Ballantrae's inhabitants favoured farming rather than fishing. That should tell sea kayakers a little about what dumping surf conditions on Ballantrae beach might be like in inclement conditions. Beside the small car park, a simple sign says "Dangerous Bathing". Make sure you practice surf landings before launching at Ballantrae. If the surf gets up while you are out, expect a hard landing or face a long paddle to Lendalfoot which is the nearest sheltered bay, 9km away round Bennane Head and its tidal race.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Has the sun finally set on a fantastic 2007 paddling year?

Today, on the shortest day of the year, I left the house in darkness and freezing fog at 8am. The temperature was -10.5C . I returned in darkness at 6pm when the temperature was a heady -7C.

Despite the cold, David, Tony and I enjoyed a fantastic paddle, rockhopping along the wild and remote Ayrshire coast which lies to the SW of the huge shingle and cobble beach of Ballantrae.

The temperature dropped like a stone as the sun set.

Maybe this was the final paddle of the year, maybe not! :o)


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Galloway lanes and a bridge too far.

Last Sunday it was a bit windy, cold and rough for sea kayaking so Tony and continued our fitness regime by cycling along some Galloway lanes in the Galloway Hills near Loch Doon.

There was quite a lot of rough stuff to negotiate. We did 15km and 360m of ascent and descent and passed hills with wonderful names like Craigmawhannel and Coran of Portmark.

I first biked across this bridge in 1988. I told Tony it was all right then. Unfortunately it was not all right on Sunday. It had been carried away by a winter flood and its two ends were very much attached to the same piece of dry land with not a trace of even damp beneath its timbers. This was now only a bridge by name, its basic function was no more. In truth it had much in common with the Monty Python parrot.

There was another catch. In Galloway a lane is not some quiet country byway along which one can enjoy a gentle Sunday afternoon peddle. It is a deep, often slow moving, river which has cut down through the peat to the granite bed rock up to 12 feet below. We had an interesting dilemma. Should we risk falling into the icy water or turn back through miles of bog and hill? Fortunately the bridge had been built on the site of an ancient crossing and there were some slippy green stepping stones, which we gingerly balanced across. Tony's dog, Bob, was big enough to swim across...but Rory, the border terrier, was too small and so I carried him over.

Otherwise, Rory was well suited to the environment by being tough enough to keep up with us and being perfectly camouflaged. Unfortunately he saw no squirrels (grey).

Here he is near the end of the route on the shore of Loch Doon.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last supper on Mull

Mike had caught more mackerel and we enjoyed our last meal together on Mull here on the beautiful sands of Traigh Gheal, on Erraid. David demonstrates the size of the one that got away from his hook.

For the last time we carried the boats up Fidden beach. This was almost the first time that we had to carry boats from the low water mark. Up until now our daily schedule had been dictated by the tides and we tried to launch and land round high water. However, a new force was gradually reentering our lives, which was even greater than the force of the tide. Some know it as the "daily grind" and for us it was embodied by the Calmac ferry timetable...

The MV Isle of Mull docked punctually at Craignure and our expedition to Mull was all but over.


I have now been posting about our Mull trip since 20/7/2007. I hope you have enjoyed this virtual paddle with us and that, if you are able, you will one day paddle on these amazing waters yourself. :o)

Mysterious nocturnal "goings on" on Lady Isle.

The recent weekend weather in the West of Scotland has not been particularly conducive to sea kayaking. However, this week has been blessed with a high pressure system resulting in light winds, clear skies and hard frosts. Suffering withdrawal symptoms on one of the shortest days of the year, David, Gavin, Harvey, Tony and myself convened at the Ballast Bank in Troon on the Firth of Clyde. Our destination was Lady Isle which is only 4km away to the south west. Rumours were circulating of mysterious sounds, which locals had heard drifting over the bay from the direction of the island on still nights! We were set to investigate and report back to you, the reader, our findings.

How, may you ask, did we get caught out by darkness on such a short trip? Well we saw no daylight whatsoever. We set off at 8pm which was some four and a half hours after sunset! The temperature then was a reasonable -1.5C but when we returned at 10:30pm it had dropped to -5C.

Navigation was no problem due to the regular white flash (every two seconds) of the lighthouse which is situated in the middle of the island. This was built in 1903 in place of an unlit stone built tower. There is a smaller stone beacon nearby, which was built in 1776 at the same time as the stone tower. The Ayrshire ports were hazardous for sailing ships to enter in strong SW to NW winds. In these conditions ships could find safe anchorage in the lee of Lady Isle by lining up the two stone towers.

The night was clear with a near threequarter waxing gibbous moon. Mars, Orion, the Plough and Cassiopeia were prominent overhead but apart from the flash of the light, the island itself was just an indistinct shadow. As we approached we became aware of a curious bellowing and groaning coming from the island. The source of the mysterious sound was soon discovered. This is the mating season for grey seals and it proved to be in full swing. In the darkness we could see little of the actual events but the sounds were quite self explanatory. After a particularly prolonged roaring between two bulls, the defeated seal made off into the sea with a great splash. To Harvey's great concern he swam straight for us. To the recently defeated bull we might appear as slim and attractive newcomers that might succumb to his needs and desires (all 800lbs of them). We behaved as unseal like and as unfemale like as we could. Neither did we wish to rekindle his fighting spirit by giving more than a passing glance at the shadowy figures of the harem of females waiting for the master.

Last night we fortunately returned to shore as mere observers of, rather than as participants in, the ancient rituals which have been acted for countless generations under the winter moon on Lady Isle. Kayako intacto as they say.


This photo shows Troon South Beach on 20/10/02. Last night we launched from the distant point. You can just see the lighthouse on Lady Isle at the left of the photo. There is a yacht to its left.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Moa of Mull

Unlike the moai of Rapa Nui, which all turn their backs to the sea, the great moa of Mull faces resolutely towards the west and the open sea. This mimetolith can be found on the pink granite rocks on the coast of Eilean Dubh which lies to the west of Erraid.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

The right shade of white.

Our last day on Mull was spent investigating the many stunning white shell sand beaches on the south coast of the Ross of Mull and Erraid.

Both these beaches are called Traigh Gheal. This is not particularly surprising since most Gaelic place names are simple descriptions. In this case, the English would be "white beach". Of course, the Gaelic is much more precise than the English. There are several Gaelic words for white that are commonly applied to places: gheal (geal), bhan (ban) and fionn. It's got to be the right shade of white.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The bonfire of Fidden.

A driftwood fire on the Fidden foreshore.

At the end of a long day to the Carsaig arches, which are evidence of Mull’s volcanic and fiery past, we made a bonfire with driftwood, which we had collected from one of the beaches on the Ross of Mull. It was one of the best bonfires, ever. The well seasoned wood was dry and it produced only a little, pleasantly aromatic, smoke. We were untroubled by that frequent bonfire scourge of Scotland, the midge. Our last night on Mull was spent swapping kayaking tales and malt whiskies with a German sea kayaker.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A tale of lamb chops, coal, caesium, sand, fog, wind mills, government and the environment.

One of my favourite launch spots on the Solway Firth is Dhoon shore on Goat Well Bay. Today I learned from BBC News that SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) are investigating the sands for any evidence of radioactive contamination from the Sellafield nuclear plant on the other side of the Solway.

I have no strong feelings against nuclear power but I do expect the operators to run a tight ship and there have been lots of careless lapses both in the UK and elsewhere. There are areas of the Ayrshire and Galloway hills (north of the Solway) where sheep and lambs are still not fit for human consumption due to radioactive caesium fall out from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Elsewhere today, 5,000 Shetland sheep have been slaughtered and buried. They were intended for export to England in the autumn for lamb chops but a government research lab leaked foot and mouth virus. The resulting restrictions on animal movement meant they had to stay on Shetland and now there is no pasture left to feed them.

Now it is not sheep but the wind that is farmed in these hills. Despite the government's recent enthusiasm for wind turbines (and there is a huge offshore development currently being constructed in the Solway) I cannot see that these will meet all our energy needs. Monday dawned in Scotland under clear cold and windless skies.

Cycling through the wind farm in the foggy but clean air of Sunday brought back memories of the smogs of the 1950's caused by burning coal for our energy needs. Of course all the cheap Chinese manufactured goods that are flooding into western Christmas stockings have been made by burning coal but that's on the other side of the world. Isn't it?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fidden sunset

After returning to Uisken we loaded up the kayaks and drove back to Fidden on the Ross of Mull. We arrived just as the sun was setting.

One of the cottages in Fidden was momentarily bathed in this beautiful warm light...

... until the orb of the Sun sank below the distant rocks of Iona and the gathering darkness of night wrapped around us.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Wind turbines on Windy Standard

The weather has not been particularly conducive to sea paddling this weekend so Tony and I decided to go for a little bike run in Galloway instead. We planned to cycle over Windy Standard, a 698m hill in the Carsphairn Forest.

The clear sky of the morning gave way to mist and sleety rain. As we climbed through the clouds we heard a "whoosh whoosh whoosh" long before we saw the wind farm. It was quite surreal cycling along at above 600m in height with 36 turbines all round us. Windy Standard currently generates up to 21.6 megawatts but another 30 turbines are planned. My legs could have done with some of that power.

We got up to 685m which was above the snowline. Bob the dog had never seen snow before.

We needed to stop for a breather, below the cloud line, after a white knuckle descent.

We did 31km and ascended a total of 940m in just under 4 hours. I was quite pleased with that!