Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When mountains crumble to the sea.

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
"Thank You" Led Zeppelin

Finding an erratic pink rhyolite pebble on the beach at Inchmarnock took my mind to its source. It came from the mountain of Buachaille Etive Mor which sits between Glen Etive and GlenCoe nearly 100km away to the NNE. Its Gaelic name means great shepherd of Etive. It is composed mainly of rhyolite, a pink volcanic rock, which gives excellent scrambling and rock climbing.

This is the Rannoch Wall which has many popular climbing routes.

My friend, John, completes a climb up the face of the Rannoch Wall,

This is an old B&W print I took in 1973. I used an orange filter to darken the blue in the sky. It shows the King's House Hotel, which is situated at the Buachaille's feet. It was one of the old staging inns at which horse drawn carriages would stop after a day's travel. The next inn on the road north is the Clachaig, at the west end of Glen Coe, some 14km away and the next to the south is the Inveroran Hotel, 15km to the south over the Rannoch Moor, near the shores of Loch Tulla. It took a long time to travel in those days.

I wonder how long this pebble took on its journey south to Inchmarnock?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rounders and Luncheon on Inchmarnock

Tony said "What a day indeed- a classic. Dont forget.. as well as the glacial deposits we also found a complete bat and ball set on the beach!
Looking forward to the next time.."

Indeed we did, a spiffing time was had by all.

Games were followed by second luncheon, or was it third breakfast?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Inchmarnock's beach of treasures.

Our weekend trip to Inchmarnock in the Firth of Clyde was blessed with stunning light.

We landed on a lonely beach which was patrolled by a golden eagle.

We were not the only ones disturbing the eagle's domain. Herring gulls were mobbing it.

The beach was full of treasures. The pink pebble is rhyolite which was transported here from Buachaille Etive Mor, nearly 100km to the NNE, by glaciers in the last ice age.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Another fabulous day on the Clyde

Flat calm start to the day.

We took the ferry to Bute then headed over the West Kyle of Bute to Ardlamont Point on the mainland.

We then headed down pat the west side of Inchmarnock before heading back to Bute.

Of course it did not stay calm and we had a brisk paddle into the wind for the last 9km.

It does not end there. I got the car stuck in the mud just as it was getting dark and the rain started and we only had 30 mins to catch the last ferry! Fortunately a friendly farm lad came with a very large JCB and pulled me out with a huge chain. (I had my tow hitch on.) We made the ferry by the skin of our teeth.

What a day!

Rum rocks.

The north coast of Rum is a wild place.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Witch's Step, Arran

I recently posted about the sea level Bad Step on the Island of Skye but there are many more high level bad steps such as Ceum na Caillich (or the Witch's Step) on the north west Glen Sannox ridge in the Isle of Arran.

The view from this ridge is a simply stunning mixture of rock and sea scapes and makes for a scrambling paradise.

We recently paddled below Arran's lofty ridges and I have now posted the complete picture set over at the Scottish Seakayaking Photo Gallery.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mackerel sky.

"Mackerel sky, mackerel sky - never long wet, never long dry. "

Is there any truth in this piece of folklore?

A mackerel sky is composed of patches of altocumulus cloud. It represents a layer of unstable and humid air which often follows a ridge of high pressure and precedes a warm front by about 400km. As warm fronts move about 50km/hr you can expect a change in the weather in about 8 hours. This was taken at 11am on our trip from Loch Sunart to Mull on 18/2/07. The wind picked up to force four from the SE by 12:00. By 14:00 the wind had increased to force 5 and it clouded over by 14:30. It was raining by 23:00.

On Saturday 17th February, when we were planning our trip, Scotland was under a ridge of high pressure and there was no wind. Sunday 18th dawned clear and still but the BBC forecast for Tobermory and Mull was for 17mph SE winds. The met office inshore forecast issued at 0600 UTC on Sunday 18 February 2007 for Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan was:

Wind southeasterly 5 or 6, occasionally 7.
Precipitation: rain then showers.
Visibility: moderate or good.
Sea state: Moderate occasionally rough.

Although apparently sheltered, the Sound of Mull can be very rough especially in wind against tide conditions. LW Oban was at 12:35, 1 day before springs. Streams in the Sound of Mull change at HW and LW Oban. The flood flows to the NW and the ebb to the SE. When we crossed the Sound we had force 4 SE wind against the last hour of the ebb and it was rough in the middle. Although the wind was forecast to increase later, we enjoyed our stop at Tobermory as I knew that by that time the flood would have started and being with the wind, it would flatten the water. This is exactly what happened.

The white horses disappeared and the water flattened as the flood built up speed. We had a trouble free paddle back to the shelter of Loch Sunart.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Decapitation at Camas nan Liath!

On our recent paddle in Loch Sunart and the Sound of Mull we enjoyed an idyllic stop at Camas nan Liath. From a distance the cobbles on the beach looked grey and I thought that was the explanation of the Gaelic name which I took to be "beach of the grey" though I though just Camas Liath would have done.

The water was crystal clear and beckoned us in to the beach which, nestled under the steep wooded slopes of Tor nan Con. Even in winter, the colour of the birch and aspen branches contrasted with the grey of the cobbles and invited a return in spring.

To the north west, the beach is exposed to the full force of Atlantic storms and the bed rock had been worn into mounds, hollows and channels by the action of countless wave tossed cobbles.

In the deeper hollows, at the bottom of each crystal clear pool of water, there was a mixture of cobbles and pebbles of different sizes and rock types.

As we left, we paddled past great grey "heads" of rock whose necks had been worn away by the wave action. Some of the older heads had been decapitated and fallen as boulders. Suddenly, the full and subtle meaning of the Gaelic "Camus nan Liath" hit me: Beach of the Grey Heads.

What a place, what a language.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mishnish mission via Morven to Mull from Ard na Murchan

We started in the shelter of Port na Croisg, Loch Sunart with the grentle hills of Morven receeding in the distance.

Our route was 28km. Coming back over the Sound of Mull the tide was strongest towards the Morven shore.

Tobermory was founded in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society to service the herring fleet. It is named after tobar Mhoire or Mary's well. In 1588 the Almirante di Florencia, a galleon of the Spanish Armada blew up in the bay. She was reputedto be carrying thirty million gold ducats.

At low tide the beach is sand and shingle. At high tide there are a couple of slipways. There is a small one conveniently situated beside a blue fish and chip kiosk at the pier in the middle of the bay (beside the distant red house in the upper photo.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mishnish Hotel

This is part of an occasional series of sea kayaking pubs. Ideally a sea kayaking pub should be able to be seen from where you park your boat. It should not involve an onerous hike. It should be open on your arrival. It should serve ice cold Guinness and a variety of malted amber liquids. It should not be snooty about kayaking attire dripping on the floor. The Mishnish fits the bill perfectly.

The Mishnish is situated right on the front of Tobermory, capital of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. Tobermory is more commonly known to millions of children as Balamory in the synonymous BBC series. I have never watched the programme but I have drunk the Guinness.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Bad Step

Mike said "isn,t that the beach you reach after traversing the bad step?"

Absolutely right Mike. The Bad Step is the slanting crack over the great slab of gabbro. The first time I came across it, it was getting dark, the wind was howling and it was pouring. Not only that, we had huge, top heavy rucksacks on our backs. It is just about unavoidable on the shore path from Camasunary into Loch Coruisk. There is supposed to be a high level alternative but I have never met any one who has found it.

Here is another shot with a lone scrambler to give scale. It is a fantastic spot.

Friday, February 16, 2007

An Clarsach

An Clarsach, "the harp", is a lovely natural arch at the NE corner of Eileach an Naoimh in the Garvellach Isles at the mouth of the Firth of Lorn. It is composed of tillite which is a metamorphosed glacial boulder clay.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Port Sgaile, Loch nan Leachd, Skye

Many casual visitors to Skye are disappointed by the lack of white sand beaches which are common in other parts of the Hebrides. However, there are hidden gems like Port Sgaile which nestles in a corner of Loch nan Leachd, an arm of Loch Scavaig, to the west of Sgurr na Stri in the Cuillin.

This is a view of Port Sgaile from the summit of Sgurr na Stri. The boat is Bella Jane in which Donald MacKinnon runs trips in from Elgol.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dunvegan Castle, Skye

Dunvegan Castle is unique in Scotland in that it has been inhabited nearly continuously by the one family, the MacLeods, for over 850 years. It was abandoned for only 80 years after the potato famine in the mid 19th century. It is situated in a sheltered inlet in Loch Dunvegan, which is a deep sea loch on the otherwise exposed north west coast of the Isle of Skye. The rocky knoll upon which it is built was originally an island but now it is linked to the mainland.

During the famine, many Highland chiefs led the good life while evicting their tenants and giving them "free passage" to far off places places such as Nova Scotia. In the case of the MacLeods, the 25th Chief also had had to abandon the ancestral home and lands and took his family to London where he found work as a clerk. It was not until 1929 that his second son returned, as an old man, to Dunvegan.

The 29th Chief, John Macleod died a few days ago. During his life he was criticised for attempting to sell the magnificent Cuillin mountains for £10 million pounds in order to repair the crumbling castle. I thought this rather unfair as, during his stewardship of the Cuillin, mountaineers had enjoyed unrestricted access when many other owners of Scottish mountains had done their best to impede access.

He is succeeded by his son, Hugh Magnus, who is the 30th Chief and now guardian of the Castle and its ancient relic, the Fairy Flag. This is a silk banner of Middle Eastern origin which dates from about 500 AD. Legend has it that it may be waved 3 times to save the Clan in times of trouble. So far it has been waved twice.

The magnificent Cuillin with salt water Loch Scavaig and fresh water Loch Coruisk at its feet. Skye is sea kayaking heaven.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Turnberry: tourneys, tees, castle and lighthouse.

The steady wink of a lighthouse beacon as the winter sun slips into the west is a reassuring sight. The great light of Turnberry stands on a rocky headland that juts into the Firth of Clyde. It is built upon the sad ruins of Turnberry Castle, which dates from the 12th century.

Only the stump of the castle, seen here in front of the lighthouse, now remains. In its day, it was a magnificent stronghold which was built over an inlet of the sea. A portcullis could be lowered after a ship had entered this sea gate. A reconstruction of the castle in its heyday can be seen on the local town of Maybole's website. The castle was probably the birth place of Scotland's King Robert the Bruce in 1274. He was of Norman decent and it is thought that the name Turnberry has Norman French origins: "Tourney Berg" or castle of the tournaments. Nowadays there is not a great deal of jousting but great golf tournaments are held here during the Open Championship. This will next be held at Turnberry in 2009. The lighthouse is situated just behind the 17th tee and, in previous Open Championships, it has featured in a favoured TV vantage point that beams the view of tee and also distant Ailsa Craig to a worldwide audience of golf fans.

Although spring tidal flows in the lower Firth of Clyde are generally less than 1 knot, the waters off Turnberry Point can be quite lively, even in otherwise calm conditions.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Culzean Castle

I have mentioned this before, but a particular pleasure of Scottish paddling is seeing her great maritime castles from a new perspective. The romantic cliff top Culzean Castle was built between 1777 and 1792 by Robert Adam for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis. It is built round the original keep walls and the famous oval staircase occupies almost all of the interior of the keep.

The top floor of the round tower forms part of the Eisenhower Suite. This was gifted to General Eisenhower by the Scottish people after WW2. He visited the suite 4 times.

Culzean estate is literally littered with interesting buildings. This is the Dolphin House which was originally the castle laundry. It is built right on the high water mark, on a raised beach at the foot of a cliff. It is now an outdoor education centre.

This is the Gazebo, which is perched at the north east end of the cliffs. Like many buildings at Culzean, such as the Ruined Arch at the main entrance, it was built as a ruin.

Not all the buildings were decorative. Below the Gazebo lies the gas house. Coal gas (or town gas) was discovered by William Murdoch a prolific Scottish inventor, chemist and engineer. Murdoch was born in Ayrshire, not very far from Culzean. The gas house at Culzean was the first in Scotland and lit the castle until 1940. Coal was brought in to the little jetty below the gas house and, even today, you can still find occasional pieces of coal at low tide. Another Scottish inventor, "Tar" John McAdam, invented metalled roads and laid the first stretch of tarmac on the Carrick Hills just north of Culzean.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday afternoon tea and surf at Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle is perched precariously on the edge of cliffs.

It poured all morning but at 12 midday Tony and I decided to head for Maidens on the Ayrshire coast of the Firth of Clyde. The clouds and rain hung over Ayr on the journey down but the sun came out when we launched. The WWW is working well these days, Tony was most impressed.

We headed south from Maidens, past Turnberry light house then headed out into about 1m of swell off Turnberry Point. Then we ran with the swell all the way up to Carrick Bay, to the south of Culzean (pron. Culane). Most of the swell was about 1m but there were occasional biggies and on one of these I got a real good surf up to 20.3km/hr.

GPS screen dump.

Approaching Turnberry Point from the south.

Turnberry lighthouse.

Carrick Bay.

We had a very pleasant cup of tea in the magnificent sandy cove of Carrick which lies under the cliffs of Culzean. After exploring the sheltered shoreline beneath the Castle, we made our way home in the sunset. We got back to Maidens before dark.

Another fantastic day draws to a close.