Sunday, September 30, 2007

A nine metre tide in Little Ross Sound

This last weekend saw 9.1m spring tides in the Solway so Tony and I drove down to Dhoon shore on Kirkcudbright Bay in the Solway. The Valley Nordkapp RM was dwarfed by the Rockpool Menai 18.

The ebb tide began to pick up as we approached Little Ross Island. Tony enjoyed the Menai 18.

We ferry glided across to the island for a spot of lunch. The Little Ross light was built by Alan Stevenson in 1843. The light flashes white every 5 seconds. In 1960 there were two keepers on the island and one murdered the other. (Thanks to Andy for the link.)

After lunch we swapped boats and went for a play in the tide race in Little Ross Sound.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Holy Island of the fifth precept.

The sharp thinkers among you might wonder what on Earth thirsty kayakers like Tony and I got up to on the Holy Island of the fifth precept....

We ascended to a higher plane.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fair wind for crossing Whiting Bay.

After leaving Dippen Head we rounded Largybeg Point.

We then had the magnificent prospect of Whiting Bay backed by distant Goatfell and, nearer to hand, the dark outline of our next destination, Holy Island. We were headed for the inner lighthouse on Holy Island. It was built in 1877 by David and Thomas Stevenson. With a force 4 wind and the tide behind us our speed was usually between 8 and 10 km/hr. Perfect paddling conditions!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dippen Head, Arran

Leaving Kildonan we headed NE to Dippen Head. A raised beach runs round almost all of Arran.

At Dippen Head Tertiary basalt cliffs are broken by a waterfall and clothed by a beautiful, mixed deciduous woodland. Peregrine falcons swoop on their prey from ledges hidden by the tops of the trees. There is an ancient fort at Dippen. The centuries have eroded it so that it is all but indistinguishable from the surrounding rocks.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Tha pathadh searb orm!

Paddling round Pladda was hard work. The staff of are not hardened athletes, with the stamina for great ocean crossings or circumnavigations of continents. Tony and I are exponents of the gentler activity of "sea kayaking lite". It was now 1210 and I had been up since 4am to drive 85 miles from the Solway to Ardrossan to catch the 7am ferry to Arran.

I was feeling a bit tired. On the ferry I had intended to breakfast on porridge but the chap in front of me was cyclist with not a hint of excess flesh to strain his Lycra. He ordered porridge. I thought to myself, I am not a cyclist, I am a hardened sea kayaker! Sea kayakers eat big breakfasts, so I ordered the full trucker's special, all 4,500 calories of it.

I was just thinking that a little rest might be a good idea when all of a sudden Tony cried "Tha pathadh searb orm!" That took my mind off my black pudding which was still somewhere high above my diaphragm. I knew things must be pretty serious. Tony has little of the Gaelic and its use is limited to situations in extremis.

Seconds later we found ourselves ashore by the prominent white building, which we had been using as a transit mark to cross the seething tides of the Sound of Pladda.

No one could have been more surprised than we two, to discover it was the Kildonan Hotel, complete with pub and sea food restaurant. Our paddling wear proved no barrier to admission. The efficient and polite East European staff not only poured our pints of ice cold Guinness but invited us to be seated till the heads had settled. They then carried our refreshments to the table after the glasses had been topped up to the brim.

The hotel has recently been refurbished. The formal restaurant is within the modern timber and glass extension at the front of the hotel and is named "The Stone Garden" after this part of the hotel grounds.

Oh, in case you have less of the Gaelic than either Tony or myself, "Tha pathadh searb orm!" may be loosely translated as: "There is a bitter thirst on me!"

Health warning: in the UK, bags of peanuts now carry this message: "Warning this product may contain nuts." In the same vein, be warned that the consumption of alcohol while sea kayaking may seriously risk your own and others' well being and safety.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Of lighthouses and family trees.

Pladda lighthouse has two towers. It was built in the days before lighthouses had flashing lights to aid their identification. Its two towers helped to make it stand out from the other great lights at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde.

After leaving Bennan Head we turned eastwards again towards the little isle of Pladda which lies off the southern tip of Arran. It is often cut off from its larger neighbour by the strong tides and winds which accelerate round this corner of Arran. We were carried round the island by this race on its southern tip, below the lighthouse.

The light was built in 1790 by Thomas Smith. His apprentice was his stepson, Robert Stevenson, who also became his son in law. Robertson Stevenson was to be the first of a dynasty of seven Stevenson lighthouse engineers. An eighth male descendant was Robert Louis Stevenson, the author. RL Stevenson started training as an engineer but was forced to give up due to ill health.

The Pladda light is white and has three flashes every 30s.

From the south of Pladda you can see volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig on the horizon. Its lighthouse was built nearly 100 years later, in 1886, by Robert's son Thomas Stevenson and Thomas's nephew David A Stevenson. That's quite a family tree, you might need to be a geneticist to understand it.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Black Cave of Bennan Head, Arran

Leaving Kildonan on the south of Arran, Tony and I were actually headed for Brodick on the east coast. We decided to take a little detour first.

We paddled 3km to the west into a stiff force 4 wind. We were rewarded by the magnificent sight of the Black Cave of Bennan Head and its attendant waterfall. Some call it the Monster Cave. We saw no monsters.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Sea dogs #2

At Kildonan on the south coast of Arran, a number of rocky dykes run at right angles to the coast out into the Sound of Pladda. They are composed of volcanic intrusions which forced their way through the bed rock of older sandstones and shales. Over time these softer rocks have eroded leaving long fingers of volcanic rock which are known as the Arran tertiary dyke swarm.

You an also see the little island of Pladda and the more distant Ailsa Craig. Both have fine lighthouses built by the Livingstone dynasty.

Bob is Tony's dog and is a very powerful swimmer. As Tony and I paddled out past the end of one of the dykes, Bob came racing along and leaped into the water from the very end. He clearly preferred the look of my Nordkapp LV to Tony's Rockpool Alaw Bach. He made straight for my back deck and managed to climb on as I braced madly.

Bob is a very clever dog but he knows nothing about geology and plutonic activity.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sea dogs #1

Rory, the Border terrier, likes the Aleut Sea II. He can come along.

He keeps a sharp lookout. He barks 3 times if he spots a picnic beach to port and 4 times for one to starboard. If he spots a sea kayaking pub he barks seven times, regardless whether it lies to port or starboard. He enjoys a small bowl of Guinness with his biscuits. So far he likes the Solway but has not been through the Grey Dogs yet.

31/07/07 one of the many faces of sea kayaking!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Red rock sunset on Erraid

As the sun slowly moved towards the northwest, the granite rocks of Erraid glowed red above the white shell sand beaches.

Finally the sun sank behind the grey gneiss of Iona and the sky above turned to fire. Far below, in the gathering darkness, our boats gently kissed the sands of Fidden and the Ross of Mull.

Friday, September 14, 2007

David Balfour's Bay Erraid

We set off from Fidden on the Ross of Mull to circumnavigate the island of Erraid. It was late evening in July and the thunder clouds of earlier in the day had moved SW over the distant Scottish mainland. After the rain, the sky was clear and bright as we wended our way through the skerries.

We stopped at Traigh Gheal on the island's SW coast. The white shell sand and red granite contrasted with the turquoise of the shallow waters. Robert Louis Stevenson, the author, spent time here while his father was constructing the remote lighthouses at Skerryvore and Dubh Artach (which lie far to the west and south west). In his novel "Kidnapped" the hero, David Balfour, was shipwrecked on this beach.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Ross of Mull

On leaving Ulva Ferry, we drove to Fidden at the end of the Ross of Mull. Unlike the dark volcanic basalt found round Loch na Keal, the rock here was a red granite.

This beautiful red rock has been quarried for building such structures as the Skerryvore lighthouse, Iona Cathedral and further afield, Blackfriars Bridge, Holburn Viaduct and the Albert Memorial in London.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The leaving of Inch Kenneth

When the tide finally reached our boats, we reluctantly left the peace of Inch Kenneth. We followed its western shore under weathered conglomerate cliffs. In places they were undercut or penetrated by caves. Elsewhere, the elements had sculptured weird shapes from the rock. A great face of stone looked out over the calm waters of Loch na Keal

As we paddled past little Eorsa, the thunder clouds gathered again. They towered high over the foothills of Ben More on Mull, much as clouds of ash would have done when it was last an active volcano. We were soaked in a torrential downpour before we got back to the cars at Ulva Ferry.

This brought the first chapter of our seakayking trip on Mull's west coast to a close. We may only have paddled 85km over 3 full days but what sights we had seen. We would now follow Johnson and Boswell on to Iona and the Ross of Mull.

Postscript added 14/09/07.

Rob asked about the Grey Man of the Merrick. Here it is:

Rock "faces" such as these are called mimetoliths.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Waiting for the tide on Inch Kenneth.

At spring low water, shallow reefs extend far from the east shore of Inch Kenneth. Some say there is a hidden, submerged path from the mainland of Mull to the island.

Our boats were some distance from the tide. We saw no point in straining our limbs, by carrying such heavy boats, when the exercise of some little patience would bring the tide to us. We decided to explore Inch Kenneth on foot.

The fertile ground of Inch Kenneth contrasts with the rough, thin soil of distant Ulva.

This view, from near the graveyard, is looking southwest from Inch Kenneth to the Wilderness and distant Ross of Mull peninsula (at the end of which lies Iona). In the middle distance is the little rocky islet of Erisgeir. This had just enough pasture for 6 sheep!

In the graveyard we also found the burial place of Lachlan MacQuarrie, the last chieftain of his clan, who died on 14/1/1818 at the age of 103. Johnson and Boswell had been entertained by MacQuarrie when they visited Ulva. They were unimpressed with his mean dwelling but Boswell found their host to be “intelligent, polite and much a man of the world.” Sadly MacQuarrie had to sell his ancestral lands shortly afterwards. Even his dying wish, to be interred among his ancestors on the Holy isle of Iona, was confounded by bad weather. He was laid to rest on this sheltered isle instead. For MacQuarrie the tide came in for the last time on Inch Kenneth. Looking around, we saw that there were much worse places to spend eternity.

We did not have eternity on our side but were able to leave with the flood tide.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The leaning chapel of Inch Kenneth.

The little chapel on Inch Kenneth dates from the 13th century. Its leaning east wall was supported by buttresses added in the 16th or 17th centuries. Inch Kenneth had been an important ecclesiastical site since St Cainnech, who was a friend of St Columba, established a outpost from Iona here in the 6th century.

The chapel must have been a site of some importance. Its 700 year old windows, which face to the east, are really rather fine.

Nowadays the interior of the west wall supports 8 upended mediaeval family grave slabs which are from the Iona school of sculpture which existed in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The chapel was roofless even in Johnson and Boswell’s time and the open interior has long been used as a burial place. On a similar morning to ours, Boswell discovered several human bones within its walls. “I this morning got a spade and dug a little grave in the floor of the chapel, in which I buried what loose bones were there.” He must have done a thorough job as we found none, not even a metatarsal.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The graveyard on Inch Kenneth

As we roved among the isles of Mull's west coast, we found ourselves following in the wake of Johnson and Boswell. Like them, we ended up on the idyllic isle of Inch Kenneth. Unlike the other isles in this area, which have thin poor soils over basalt, Inch Kenneth is fertile as a result of differing geology. The cliffs on its western edge are composed of conglomerate but there is a dip in the land towards the east and the rocks here seem to be limestone (I hope Clark will be able to correct this). Whatever, the result is that the island is covered with deep fertile soil. In the past this island exported food to Iona. It is named after Kenneth who was one of St Columba's followers.

The depth of the soil also meant that it made a suitable burial ground. Like Johnson and Boswell we wandered through the gravestones enjoying a sense of peace and timelessness.

They had admired this beautiful 15th century Celtic cross and our hands felt the warmth of its stone in just the same way as theirs.

Since there time there have been further internments. This is the grave of Margaret Boulton, who died in 1938. She was the widow of Sir Harold Boulton who owned Inch Kenneth and who wrote "The Skye Boat Song"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Inch Kenneth

Regular visitors to this blog have expressed some concern for our livers and our ability to continue to find oases of refreshment in the wilderness. I thought it wise to post about a day in which we did not manage to find such an establishment. Despite this, we still had an enjoyable paddle, though we all felt the effects of a drouth which came upon us as an unexpected Scottish sun beat mercilessly down on us. (There was no thirst the following day due to the truly torrential nature of the precipitation.)

Let me continue with our summer adventure. After paddling the Wilderness coast of Mull we headed across Loch na Keal for Inch Kenneth ,which in great contrast to the Wilderness, is a remarkably fertile island. Indeed, but for the lack of a pub, some might say it is as near to Paradise as you can get to on this Earth.

Nearly there..

Inch Kenneth at last, after a long and fantastic day's paddling.

On Inch Kenneth we met up with Mike again. He had chosen to have an easy day there as his arm was very stiff after having been bitten on the hand by a venomous snake during a South African adventure. Despite an easy day, he caught a 5lb pollock and spent the rest of the day in the hot sun cooking and eating it! It's a tough life when you are on location for!