Sunday, October 28, 2007

A sunbeam shines down on memory lane.

One of the great pleasures of paddling at the recent Stornoway Storm Gathering was to be able to paddle with Duncan Winning OBE. It was a nostalgic trip for Duncan as he had last visited Loch Roag over 40 years ago. He was very keen to find a particular shell sand beach which was hidden away in the fastnesses of Loch Roag. He and friends had been lucky to find shelter there and camped while a great storm blew over night. We stopped at many beautiful white sand Hebridean beaches but none was the right one. At last, just as the day was fading, we found Duncan's beach. It was a wonderful moment.

Jeff Allen and Duncan about to walk down a sandy memory lane.

I have known Duncan for four years. We have phoned, exchanged letters, visited each other's houses, attended symposia in Skye and Jersey but this was the first time I had had the great pleasure to actually paddle with him. He is a font of knowledge about KAY-ak-ing and as he has paddled in Greenland I suspect his is the right pronunciation.

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In 1965 Duncan surveyed and made drawings of a kayak that Ken Taylor brought back from Illorsuit (Igdlorssuit) in Greenland. It had been made for Ken by local kayak builder Emanuele Korniliussen. Geoff Blackford built a ply wood version from Duncan's drawing and called it the Anas Acuta. In 1972 Valley started to commercially build a GRP version of the Anas Acuta which is still in production today. By coincidence, I delivered a brand new all black Anas Acuta to Si (aka Sgian Dubh) on Harris on my journey to the Storm Gathering.

Ken Taylor in the Igdlorssuit kayak. Ken and Duncan were fellow members of Garnock Canoe Club.

Andy Spink's Valley Anas Acuta on Scarp.

Recently Duncan and Gordon Brown visited Greenland and managed to track down Emanuele's two sons, one of whom is still building kayaks. Unfortunately they are only scale models for tourists. Undoubtedly the current "British style" of sea kayak has its roots in the Igdlorssuit kayak drawings made by Duncan.

Duncan Winning OBE paddles a boat influenced by his drawings of 1965; an Island Kayaks Expedition. Listen to Duncan in one of Simon Willis's excellent podcasts.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pabaigh pour over

Jeff Allen is remarkable unconcerned about the approaching pour over on a reef to the west of Pabaigh Mor.

Stornoway Storm Gathering 20/10/2007.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dawn of the Storm Gathering

On the dawn of the storm gathering we awoke on the east coast of Skye. The distant mountains of Scotland were dark silhouettes against the pre-dawn sky.

"Red sky in the morning: shepherd's warning."

The Stornoway Storm Gathering lived up to this forecast with force five winds and big swell and surf conditions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tolastadh Surf at the Storm Gathering

Patrick Winterton does a forward and sets up for his roll in mid air.

Jordan Cree (age 14) shows the oldies some style.

Friday at the Stornoway Storm Gathering saw several groups on Tolastadh beach, Isle of Lewis. A force 5 southerly held the faces of the 5 foot NE swells.

Photos Richard Cree, (photomontage Douglas wilcox).


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Eye of the Storm Gathering

On the second day of the Stornoway Storm Gathering we left the shelter of Bhaltos and Caolas Pabaigh and emerged into the Atlantic swell. It was breaking over the rocks of the exposed point of Eala Sheadha and through its great arch. Murty Campbell from Stornoway Canoe Club(centre) and Jeff Allen from Sea Kayaking Cornwall (right) probed the white stuff at the entrance to the arch. Eleanor MacGregor (left) goes in for a good close look.

Murty wants some photos and calls for a photographer! Clark Fenton asks if anyone fancies going in but there seems to be some reluctance to volunteer as another huge swell pounds through the arch.

Photo Clark Fenton
At last, a reluctant photographer inched in towards the impact zone.

The photographer then turned his kayak to brave the surges within the arch. Jeff and Murty nonchalantly stood by in the worst of the breaking waters. Clark now moved forwards, waiting for his chance. More sensible kayakers hung well back. Note that big incoming roller behind Murty's head.....

After noting its approach, I calmly pressed the shutter then....

....fortunately I floated over unscathed.

Photo Clark Fenton
Seeing his chance, Clark now went past me through the arch to the outside and got his camera ready for a photo. Jeff went through next and again stood by while I attempted to turn my kayak between the sets crashing through the arch. Finally, I emerge and thankfully am still upright. I sprinted between the breakers surging into the wall of rock at the far side of the arch.

Water, water everywhere and my mouth was dry as dust.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Bhacsaigh moment

Barry Shaw emerges from the white stuff on the north coast of Bhacsaigh at the Lewis Storm Gathering

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Storm Gathering, Lewis 2007

Traditional clinker built wooden fishing boats hauled up on the beach for the winter. Kyle of Scarp, Harris.

Just arrived on the blustery isles of Harris and Lewis. Stornoway Canoe Club are hosting the second UK Storm Gathering. I am just heading for the first evening events and looking forward to some fine sea kayaking over the next few days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Adventure begins at home!

At the weekend I got thinking about adventure on the water. In Scotland we have what must be some of the best paddling in the world, mostly within a day's drive/ferry trip from the main cities.

On Sunday we paddled past three ancient castles, old harbours, small coves, wide surf beaches, caves, stacks, headlands and waterfalls plunging off cliffs into the sea. We had great views of an ancient volcanic island rising sheer out of the sea and the western horizon was filled with another island's lofty granite ridges disappearing into the clouds. Seals followed us while the air was filled with flocks of oyster catchers and sandpipers. Curlews, herons, geese, mallard ducks and swans were feeding round the shoreline and rafts of eider duck were forming offshore.

The waters ranged from flat calm (where we were sheltered from the southerly winds of up to force 5) to quite interesting round the headlands. There was even a pub that serves dry suited thirsty paddlers at the half way point! All in all just about a perfect days paddling. Had we driven far? Had we flown to another land? Had we burned large amounts of precious hydrocarbons getting to this exotic location? Well the photo above is just 50km from my front door and our landing spot was 30 minutes drive from home.

I guess the message is that we do not always have to traverse the planet to look for adventure, sometimes its on your own doorstep. The other side of this coin is that you should never become complacent sea kayaking on your home waters. As soon as you leave the beach you enter another world and you should be prepared for adventure. All my unexpected "epics" have been on home waters on the Firth of Clyde.

Cailean and Michael have also written (more timely posts) on environmental themes, I meant to post this yesterday but was up all night preparing documents for work.

Blog Action Day was yesterday!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Introduce a friend to sea kayaking week.

Just in case you did not know, it is "introduce a friend to sea kayaking week"! David and I took Keith out. The first section of our favoured "Three Castles" route was from Maidens to Culzean Castle and was suitably flat to learn about paddling.

After a lunch stop in Croy Bay (with a wet relaunch in the surf) the section up to Dunure Castle was thirst inducingly bumpy. So we stopped for a pint at the Anchorage Bar in Dunure. Keith was beginning to like this sort of exercise.

In fact by the time we reached our last landfall at Bracken Bay, under the Heads of Ayr, he did not want to stop. Unfortunately after passing Greenan Castle, we were soon back at Ayr just as darkness began to fall. I hope he will come again.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

A day at the races, continued...

After we slipped through the gap to the north end of Lunga we turned north past the islets of Fiola Meadhonhach and Rubha Fiola. The spring ebb tide was running strongly south but we found ourselves in a counter eddy which propelled us northwards to Sgeir nan Gabhar. This is the sight that awaited us.... a harmless little tide rip.

The little loop on the map at the top end of Sgeir nan Gabhar must look so insignificant to you, the dear reader. However, to Tony and I it represents a mountain we could not climb, a torrent of defeat, the ebb of our dignity and a flood of retreat.

We left the shelter of the eddy and immediately were in the full force of the rip. Another big eddy was coming up the west side of Rhubha Fiola and curling round to join the main stream that was running to the SE. It prevented us finding an inside route and a wall of water pushed us further out. I was paddling as hard as I could, my paddles were flashing in the sunlight, my lungs were bursting, I seemed to be making progress. Tony came alongside and as I glanced towards him I saw we had made no forward progress at all! Teeth gritted, I started panting as I tried to increase my stoke rate. "I'm not going to last much longer!" The sparkling waves were speeding past faster than I had ever paddled before and my chest was bursting. A fulmar swept effortlessly into view, its teasing wing tip clipping the wave that was just about to pile into me and sap my last reserve. I could resist the streaming tide no longer. "Tony I've had it!"

I broke off and relief and spray swept over me as I bounced downstream at high speed through the wave chain. It seemed like an eternity of effort but the GPS later revealed that our premature ejection from the race had occured after a mere two minutes.

We now had a problem. We had set up camp on Lunga's west coast and now the powerful tides of the Firth of Lorn had cut us off. Our only chance was to try and return through the gap we had been playing in. Unfortunately the tide had dropped and a steep wall of rushing water lay ahead. Tony managed to get through at his second attempt. I made three unsuccessful attempts but was by now completely exhausted. We tried to set up my tow rope for Tony to pull me through but there was nowhere for him to stand far enough upstream and he lost leverage just as I approached the fastest section of the chute. Beaten back by the force of nature, I retired to lick my wounds and look for my split paddle that had come off in the struggle with the tow line.

A few minutes later Tony appeared on foot, over the rocks and kindly paddled my boat speedily up the chute. That's what younger, fitter friends are for!

We returned to our camp on Lunga's west coast. The golden eagle was circling overhead. It was great to rest our weary bones round the camp fire and slake our substantial thirst as the sun went down behind the mountains of Mull.

What would the morning hold? Before then, the eagle's hungry chick squawked all night.


Friday, October 12, 2007

A day at the races

After a pleasant second luncheon, we paddled round the SW corner of Lunga. The tide and swell made for great paddling conditions.

We continued up the west coast of Lunga looking for the entrance to the channel between the maze of islands at its north end.

There was about a metre diffence in level in the channel and the ebb tide was now running strongly.

So we stopped for a play.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Peak of the Eagles, Lunga

After passing through the Grey Dogs tidal race, which lies to the south of Lunga, the skies cleared. We took a break in the magnificent bay of Camas a'Mhor-Fhir which nestles under Bidean na h-Iolaire or peak of the eagles.

What a great place to go sea kayaking!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Clauchland's peninsula, Arran

Clauchlands Point, Arran.

After we left Holy Island, we headed north across Lamlash bay to Clauchlands Point on Arran. This is the view from the point back towards Holy Island and the distant Ayrshire coast on the other side of the Firth of Clyde.

This is the final headland before the return to Brodick. It is known as Corriegills Point. The rain clouds are gathering over the hills on the west side of Glen Rosa. Cir Mhor is the peak on the right. Brodick Castle can just be seen in the trees at the right of the picture.

It started to rain as I was waiting for the ferry back to the mainland. (Thirsty) Tony went off to the Co-op shop and came back with two ice cold cans of Guinness. We had come a long way from our last refreshment at the Kildonnan Hotel and the drought on Holy Island. The dark brew was like nectar as it slid down our throats and the soft summer rain dripped from our noses. MV Caledonian Isles' approaching horn sounded in the gathering mist and signalled the end of our Arran adventure.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

East Holy Island: a geologist's paradise.

Paddling north we passed old red sandstone cliffs capped by tertiary lava floes. Nimble wild goats were cropping grass right at the edge of the cliff.

Further north we looked back to the south. The rock here was a lighter and younger sandstone.

Arriving at the north end of Holy Island, the rocky granite ridges of Arran came into view.


Monday, October 08, 2007

The Outer Light of Holy Island: Scotland's Forbidden Island.

The Outer Light of Holy Island was built by David A and Charles Stevenson in 1905. Its white light flashes twice every 20 seconds and was a familiar night time sight to me some 50 years ago when I grew up in Ayrshire, on the other side of the Firth of Clyde. However, its apparent constancy is but a transient flash compared to the ancient rocks upon which it is built.

This view of the lighthouse is one the monks at the Samye Ling Buddhist community on the island would prefer pelagic sea kayakers not to see. They post NO LANDING signs and expect you to to report to them at one landing spot on the north of the island so that you can be instructed on how to behave on your visit.

Tony and I were fortunate to meet no monks and went on our way undisturbed. We paddled on below the eastern cliffs of Holy Island, which bear witness to the geological forces that created the Earth. The old red sandstone at the base of the cliffs is 400 million years old and was formed when Holy Island was part of the Old Red continent, which was then situated on the equator. In comparison our own species is a mere 200,000 years old yet we think we own the Earth. We pondered on the nature of it all. We wondered why the monks seem so possessive of this wonderful island, which was a Holy Island to Christians for 1200 years before they bought it. What is their intention or motivation for wishing to close the island? What is the nature of their attachment to the land? Are they aware that whatever their motive they are not above the Scottish Land Reform Act?

Whatever, Tony and I concluded that the way to enlightenment through sea kayaking was for us closer to the truth than the way of any organised religion that seeks ownership and control. The ancient rocks of Holy Island will outlast mankind and then all of human enlightenment will be less substantive than a single grain of old red sandstone.

We paddled on and for the rest of our trip observed Scotland's Forbidden Island of Holy Island only from the sanctuary of the sea. This blog is the only (transient) evidence of our visit and passing.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Solway sea fog and sunshine

We were right on the edge of Solway sea fog and sunshine on Saturday.

We headed west from Fleet Bay towards Ravenshall point.

There was an amazing orange glow on the horizon.

We decided to turn back at Ravenshall arch as the tide was getting low and we did not fancy a 3km carry back over the Solway sands!

We returned via Murray's Isles where we stopped for lunch and to compare notes about the Rockpool Menai 18 and the Valley Nordkapp LV.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Scottish Access problem, is Holy Island closed?


Following my post of yesterday about our pleasant visit to Holy Island Chris has replied as follows with details of a very different experience:

Hi Douglas,

interesting, as always, to read of your adventures-especially Holy Island as Barbara and I had a very disappointing experience there a few weeks ago while padding with two friends.

We had opted to camp (very, very discretely) at the north tip of the island - arriving quite late. Being aware of the island and it's community, we were continually careful to do nothing to offend anyone. One of our party even collected four bags of rubbish from our vicinity to take away and dispose of.

We were aware that several young people - probably attending one of the commercial courses held at the monastry - had seen us and so were not surprised to be visited by one of the monks who spoke to one of our group. Unfortunately, I was busy with our meal and so didn't hear the exchange until the monk had left.

Assuming this had been of the nature of asking where we had come from, where we were going, had we had a good day etc I was dismayed to discover that my friend was quite upset at the aggressive and unpleasant manner in which he had been informed that we were unwelcome and, had it still been light, we would have been ordered off the island then and there.

Initially saddened at this contradiction to my assumed understanding of the monk's Buddhist philosophy; my thoughts turned to our rights to actually be there and to wild camp and whether we had inadvertently failed to honour the responsibilities that go with that right.

I could find no reason to support this.

We had kept well clear to avoid intrusion into the community there; had tried to leave the place better than we had found it; had refrained from building a fire and had behaved with respect for the island, it's community and it's wildlife.

Upon arriving home, I immediately emailed the monastry via their commercial email address and put our case explaining our disappointment and wondering whether, had we been prepared to pay the B&B fee to stay, we would have been treated in a similar way.

I also questioned the legality of their stand outlawing our right to camp and especially their signs banning access to the area below the high water mark.

I have had no reply to my email - again disappointing as I would dearly have liked to try and explain our philosophy of peaceful co-existance to them.

Long response - I apologise, but thought I'd share this experience on Holy Island as a thankfully rare example and so different to many other, welcoming people we've met on our sea-kayaking adventures.

Be warned if you choose to camp on Holy Island - we were also "threatened" with the possibility of wild ponies attacking us!

Thanks for an interesting and informative Blog.

Kind regards


My reply to Chris is as follows:

Chris thanks very much for this reply.

When Tony and I visited and saw the NO LANDING sign our first comment was "this lot haven't heard of the Land Reform Act." We landed just about 100m along the coast from the sign and as we saw no monks and enjoyed unrestricted access to the hill, we relaxed.

However, your experience has rekindled our worst fears.

I assume that you were not camping in the immediate area of the buildings or on enclosed cultivated land and so under the land reform act you have a legal right to wild camp providing you do so in small numbers and do not stay for more than three nights.

The religious beliefs of the landowners have nothing to do with this right under Scottish law.

I would strongly suggest that you report the aggressive and illegal behaviour of this so called monk to both the local authority:

"Local authority powers: Local authorities have been given new powers within the Act to assert access rights."

and to Scottish Natural Heritage

and to your MSP

and to the Scottish Canoe Association

I have a good mind to head for Holy Island on our next camping trip.

I also believe that landowners now have a responsibility about allowing threatening and dangerous animals to roam free. What I can say is that Tony and I wandered through a very laid back and peaceful herd of Eriskay ponies who had clearly reached a higher state of Buddhist consciousness than this particular monk!

Chris go for your rights! I will help in any way I can.


The current owners of Holy Island are the Ropka Trust


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Holy Island of two faiths, Arran

From the SW tip of Holy Island we looked across Lamlash Bay to Lamlash village backed by the distant hills of Arran.

When we arrived at the Holy Island Inner Lighthouse the "No landing closed retreat" notice did not bode well for our visit to the island. It has a rich tradition of peaceful meditation dating from the the time of the hermit monk St Molais in the sixth century to the Samye Ling monks of today.

However, the closed area was just the immediate vicinity of the lighthouse buildings.

Good paths, followed by a mild scramble, allowed exploration to the highpoint of the island. If you are looking for the Inn of the Sixth Happiness you will not find it on Holy Island. Those seeking that sort of enlightenment would be better to head for Lamlash.

We enjoyed our visit to this stunningly beautiful and peaceful island.

NB please see the comments for a very different experience of visiting Holy Island.