Friday, November 30, 2007

Uisken to Malcolm's Point

After our circumnavigation of Iona we were looking for a more restful day so we ran the kayaks by car along to Uisken on the south coast of the Ross of Mull. We were bound for Malcolm's Point a mere 11km along the coast to the east.

Making progress along the first part was somewhat difficult given that there were deserted white shell sand beaches round every corner.

When we rounded Rubha nam Braithrean the bay opened out and Malcolm's Point lay before us.

As we approached, we were dwarfed by the scale of the cliffs. Layer upon layer of volcanic ash alternating with basalt lava flow soared over 300m above us.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

End of a perfect day on Iona

After leaving Iona Abbey and Martyr's Bay Restaurant and Bar David and Mike headed straight back across the Sound of Iona for Fidden. Tony and I decided to do a little more paddling and found this amazing cave (complete with white sand beach) on the SE of Iona about 21:30hrs.

On finally leaving Iona, we took a last detour via Tinker's Hole. We eventually returned to Fidden at 22:30. We had covered a mere 34km but felt we deserved a rest.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Iona fishergirl

Leaving Market Bay on the Ross of Mull, we paddled back towards Iona in the still of a perfect summer evening. We passed the lovely hamlet of Kintra at the mouth of the Sound of Iona but the tide had now turned and we had to fight the increasing flood current which was flowing against us through the Bull Hole. This is a narrow channel between the Ross of Mull and Eilean Nam Ban. Ahead, some basking seals ignored us, they could see we were making almost no progress. We then ferried over to the island side and on across the Sound of Iona.

We landed below the village just as the last ferry departed with its load of tourists. A little local girl, sitting with her father in a beautiful white clinker built boat, asked “Is that a sea kayak?”

“Yes it is” I replied.

“I would love to do that” she said, wistfully.

“Well you very lucky, you are in the right place for it.”

Her dad then said “Aye, she likes the sea; she’s been helping with the lobster pots today.”


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Munching Mull mackerel in Market Bay

After Mike caught some mackerel, we needed to find somewhere to land. There can be no finer land fall than Market Bay (Traigh na Margaidh) on the Ross of Mull.

Straight out of the sea into the pan and fried with a little salt and dill; what a feast!

We also had time for a swim and some climbing on the granite torrs before heading back to Iona.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mountain biking Glen Trool Blue route and Bennan

The summit of wind swept Bennan in the Galloway Hills.

Jennifer with Bennan disappearing into the mist.

We have recently visited the Glen Trool Blue route a couple of times to increase our cardiovascular fitness and stamina to cope with winter paddling conditions in Scotland. The Blue route has some fantastic berms on its final decent and is certainly not blue at the speed we go down it. However, it is only 8km long, so on our first visit we went round it twice.

Today we decided to tack the gruelling ascent of Bennan (562m) on to make it a little longer.

Mike, Jennifer, Tony and Bob on the way up. The way back down to the blue route passed in a blur.

We rejoined the blue route for its final decent.

Glen Trool is down there in the mist.

One fantastic berm after another leads to...

...a final blast through a larch plantation.

19 km and 688m of ascent.

We deserved a pint of Guinness in the Black Bull (est 1766), Straiton on the way home. In case you think we have undone all the goodness of the exercise, here is a fascinating scientific fact which I gleaned from television last night. Imagine four pint glasses on a bar. The first is filled with milk, the second with freshly squeezed orange juice, the third with lager and the last with Guinness. Which one has fewest calories?

Well it's the Guinness of course. It's a health drink!


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Getting old

Turnberry lighthouse is surrounded by a seething sea kicked up by a force seven sou'westerly.

Yesterday we had no wind and full sunshine, I was looking forward to a calm paddle in crisp winter sunshine today.

It would have been good for windsurfing but it was only 7 degrees. I must be getting old, I went for a quiet walk round Culzean instead.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Five little fishies

Leaving Eilean Annraidh, we crossed the Sound of Iona and made our way east along the north coast of the Ross of Mull. We paused off the headland of Rubha nan Cearc while Mike got his trusty rod out. He quickly caught five fat mackerel and we looked for somewhere to land....


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Eilean Annraidh, Iona

This view from Eilean Annraidh, which lies to the north of Iona, has inspired artists for at least 200 years. In the distance lies Ulva and the Wilderness of Mull.

We landed here for a rest after making our way up the west coast of Iona.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bay at the Back of the Ocean, Iona

This incredible cove is at the north end of Camas Cuil an t-Saimh (Bay at the Back of the Ocean) on the west coast of Iona. It is near to Port Bhan. This view is more reminiscent of the Outer Hebrides than the Inner Hebrides. The rock here is ancient grey gneiss unlike the relatively young, red granite of the Ross of Mull which is only a few kilometres away.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spouting cave, Iona

We circumnavigated Iona in an anticlockwise direction. We rounded its south west headland to discover a wonderland of stacks, islands, tidal channels hidden bays and caves.

This cave was deep and had amazing colours in the walls. There was white shell sand below its turquoise water...

...and a little sandy beach right at the back of the cave.

The next cave is called "spouting cave". In the gentle swell it was more like a kettle than a cave but you can imagine what it would be like in an Atlantic storm.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Japanese whale killers

It is with horror that, in this morning's Independent, I read of the Japanese whaling fleet setting sail to kill humpback whales. These magnificent wild creatures are some of the largest organisms ever to have lived on Earth.

Bottlenose dolphins playing free in the Sound of Gigha.

I have been blessed by frequent sitings of cetaceans off Scotland's west coast. Bottlenose dolphins have come to us and displayed highly inquisitive and recreational behavior. Off Gigha three of them brought rocks up from the bottom on their beaks, tossed them in the air and then whacked them for six with their tails. I have also witnessed minke whales breaching off the west of Harris and narrowly missed seeing the humpback whale off Arisaig a few years ago.

In Scotland we used to kill whales. I am glad to say we no longer do so. Where would you rather see a whale, in the sea or on a plate? Despite writing this on a Japanese computer, I have decided not to buy Japanese goods this Christmas.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The foundation of St Oran's Chapel and voices of ancient saints

The oldest building in the grounds of Iona Abbey is St Oran’s chapel. It stands on the site of Reilig Odhrain, or St Oran’s shrine, around which is an ancient burial ground containing the remains of many kings from Scotland Norway, Ireland, Northumberland and Man. The early Christians in Ireland and Scotland did not practice their religion in the same way as that of Rome. Indeed Iona had been a sacred place to the Druids for generations before St Columba’s time. There is a grim legend attatched to the building of the original Reilig Odhrain which hints that there was perhaps a long and drawn out transition between Druidism and Christianity.

The following account was quoted by Macleod Banks in 1931. Her source was a Dr Maclagan of Clachan, Kintyre in 1894.

“When this chapel was in the course of erection, no matter what they would do or how well the work was done, every morning all that had been built the previous day was found thrown down. At last a voice came to St Columba, telling him that the only way to get the chapel completed was to bury a living man under its foundation; without that, the voice said the chapel could never be finished. Columba decided that no one could be better to put under the foundation than his own son, and accordingly got him buried at once and proceeded to build on his top. One day, however, Odhran raised his head, and pushing it through the wall, said, - “There is no Hell as you suppose, nor Heaven that people talk about.” This alarmed St Columba, in case Odhran should communicate more secrets of the other world, and he had the body removed at once and buried in consecrated ground, and St Odhran never again troubled anyone.”

We looked through the door into the darkness within. Only the glint of a gilded Celtic cross on the altar was visible. A light breeze rustled round the door and we thought we heard whispering voices echoing round the dark walls of the chapel's interior. It sounded like it might have been only a house martin's nest but we decided that we did not want to hear what St Oran might have to say to us. We chose not enter and instead paid our respects to St Oran in the light of the summer evening. Then, in the gathering dusk, we left Reilig Odhrain for Martyr's Bay where our sea kayaks lay waiting to carry us back across the Sound of Iona. Our visit had been undistubed by the sound of the voices of either day visitors or ancient saints.


A Hebridean Version of Colum Cille and St. Oran [Mrs.] M. Macleod Banks, Folklore, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Mar. 31, 1931), pp. 55-60

Friday, November 16, 2007

Iona Abbey

The current day Iona Abbey is the reconstructed ruin of a Benedictine Abbey which dates from about the 13th century. St Columba had established a monastery here in 563AD but his buildings were of wood. At one time the monastery was one of the largest Christian centres in Europe. The Abbey was sacked in 1560 during the Scottish Reformation. It lay derelict until its restoration started in 1938.

St Columba was not the first saint to bring Christianity to Scotland. St Ninian established a mission at Whithorn in Galloway in 397AD.

The magnificent carved Celtic cross at the Abbey door is a replica of St John's cross, the broken remains of which are displayed in the Infirmary Museum at the rear of the Abbey.

Nearby St Martin's cross still stands. It dates from the eighth century.

By arriving late in the day by sea kayak, we were the only visitors . As we wandered round these ancient stones we experienced the peace of Iona.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

An evening alternative to the Abbey on Iona

After an arduous day sea kayaking round Iona and the Ross of Mull we landed on Iona just as the MV Loch Buie was making her last crossing of the evening. The last of the many day trippers were waiting on the jetty to return to the mainland. The crowded isle of the day was about to return to the peace of the evening and its past. (With the useful addition of our good selves of course.)

It had been a long hot day and we were in need of some sustenance as there was still to be a final eight long Scotch kilometers until our keels would be hauled up on the white sand of our chosen camp for the night. We spotted an unprepossessing building at the top of the slip. Closer inspection revealed it to be the Martyr's Bay Restaurant and Bar.... the only bar on the island no less.

Despite the undoubted attractions of the nearby Abbey, which is one of Scotland's most historic and venerated sites, we felt a duty, to you the reader, to further investigate and report upon this outwardly unassuming hostelry, situated as it is on this most Holy of the Isles.

Leaving a sandy trail on the plush carpet, we made our way to a well upholstered seating area with a fine view over the Sound of Iona. We ordered some pints of Guinness to assist our perusal of the menu. On hearing of our desire to dine, the friendly staff asked if we would prefer to move to the formal dining room. We declined as we wished to cause no loss of appetite to other diners. We were accompanied by a certain odour which was evidence of several days' activity in the great outdoors.

Despite an extensive selection of freshly caught seafood, we chose steaks. After all, we had already enjoyed a luncheon of freshly caught and cooked mackerel on a deserted white sand beach. An excellent meal deserved to be washed down with some more refreshments which were served at just the right temperature. My only minor criticism was that a rare steak was served medium. This however, is something that is quite common in Scotland. Scots as a race like to make sure that their food is quite dead before they eat it. Some (though not this restuarant) even do the same with vegetables.

Boswell and Johnson also visited Iona on their tour of the Hebrides. Although Boswell did not drink alcohol he quoted Johnson "....No, Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn." I think Johnson would have been well pleased with this one.

After a farewell to the attentive staff, we made our way back to the boats and our day on the water continued. The Martyr's Bay Restaurant and Bar proved to be a truly excellent sea kayaking pub, with first class food as a bonus! It is highly recommended.

Safety Notice. Sea kayaking is already a risky activity. Alcohol and water do not mix. This bar offered a wide selection of hot and cold non alcoholic beverages.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Expedition planning

We are so lucky here in the west coast of Scotland, we have fantastic sea kayaking right on our doorstep. We do not have to embark on lengthy expeditions to get our fix of paddling. However, the staff of do go on little mini expeditions of a week to 10 days or so. The depths of winter seems to be a good time to make plans with like minded friends.

I have been blessed to paddle with some of the nicest people you could meet anywhere. Here are two of them, Tony and David. As you can see there is a commonality of purpose, indeed single mindedness, in the pursuit of the expedition's objectives.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Guiding light of Turnberry

Turnberry lighthouse has guided generations of travellers on this rocky part of the Ayrshire coastline at Maidens. It was completed in 1873 by David and Thomas Stevenson. It flashes a white light every 15 seconds.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Holy Island and Arran's rocky ridges

The cold, clear air at the weekend gave a great view of Holy Island and Arran's rocky ridges. This view across the Firth of Clyde was taken from just above Dunure. The low winter sun gave a lovely light to the underside of the clouds. Holy Island is 25km from Dunure and Arran's highest summit, Goatfell (874m), is 37km distant.

Watch out for an article about Holy Island and Arran in Issue 5 of Ocean Paddler magazine.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

I can see for miles and miles

"The Eiffel tower and the Taj Mahal are mine to see on clear days
You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze"

The Who

Winter arrived in Scotland today with a blast of cold, clear Arctic air. The distant coast of Ireland could be seen from the Ayrshire coast, behind the great bulk of Ailsa Craig, which rises like a sentinel at the entrance to the Firth of Clyde.

Ailsa Craig is also known as Paddy's Milestone as it is half way between Belfast and Glasgow. This was a boat journey taken by many Irish people who sought work in Scotland following the potato famine.

It is the plug of a huge volcano that was active about 500 million years ago. The ash and lava of its cone have been eroded away by glaciers during successive Ice Ages.

In 1772 Thomas Pennant visited Ailsa Craig during a spell of calm, hot weather while he was en route from Brodick to Campbeltown. He wrote "and what is wonderful, throstles (thrushes) exerted the same melody in this scene of horror as they do in the groves of Hertfordshire".

Every four seconds a flash of white light, quite insignificant against the sunset, betrayed the position of the Ailsa lighthouse. It was built in 1886 by Thomas and David A Stevenson.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ardeer duck

As the watery sun set over the Garnock estuary, a flight of wigeon flew high overhead. Below, hidden amongst the trees, is the ICI Nobel division factory at Ardeer which was founded by the Swede Alfred Nobel (of prize fame) in 1873. It manufactures nitroglycerin and dynamite....

On September the 8th 2007 there was a huge explosion and fire. It was started by three local boys, two 14 year olds and a 10 year old. They have been reported to the children's panel. Maybe their pocket money will be stopped for a week.

All was quiet as we left in the twilight.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Harnessing the power of the wind.

The City of Adelaide was not the only wind powered craft to be found high and dry at Irvine. Not far from her decaying timbers lies another wooden sailing vessel. She is the Falcon, a converted 18' Blackwater sloop.

Instead of a mast she has a 16 foot twin bladed turbine mounted to a helicopter tail rotor hub. This transmitted the power to a large 3 bladed propeller. She was built as a post doctoral project run from 1983 to 1986 by Dr Neil Bose of the University of Glasgow.

She was able to sail in all directions to the wind, including directly into the wind. In 15 knots of wind she could do about 5 knots. I could just about keep up with her for a short (very) distance.

The Falcon's turbine is unlikely to turn again. In contrast, the rotors of the Busby Muir wind farm to the north of Irvine were turning steadily. It was commissioned in 2004 and its twelve towers each stand 100m high. It has a capacity of 24MW and is shortly to have 3 additional turbines added.

In the future great wind powered ships may again sail the seas. I wonder if they will have sails or turbines?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The sad hulk and glorious past of the City of Adelaide

The sad hulk of the once proud City of Adelaide sailing clipper lies high above the flotsam and jetsam of Irvine inner harbour. She was built in Sunderland in 1864 and at one time held the record for the fastest sailing voyage between London and Australia. She has wooden planking over an iron frame and was built to carry both passengers and cargo. Two of the passengers, making a new life on her maiden voyage, were George and Annie Wilcox. (I am not sure if there is any family link.) Her first master was a Scot Captain David Bruce. Two of his sons were later to succeed him as master. All together she made 23 return voyages to Australia until she was sold in 1887 during the Australian depression.

In later life she spent nearly 50 years moored on the Clyde, in the centre of Glasgow, as the RNVR ship SV Carrick. She sank in 1991 and was later transferred to the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine. Unfortunately funds have never been found to restore her. A ray of hope exists as an Australian charity "Save the clipper ship City of Adelaide" is raising money for her restoration. The Australians recognize her crucial importance to the history of their country. It is estimated that 1.1 million Australians are descended from immigrants who made the long voyage to the other side of the world in the City of Adelaide.

Many people in Scotland have links with Australia. My brother emigrated to Melbourne and my wife's brother emigrated to Brisbane. We must go, probably in a Boeing 747. I wonder if any of them will still be around in 143 years?

Added 07/04/2009
Please see an update about the City of Adelaide here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Swanning about on the river

The estuary of the River Garnock which flows into the Firth of Clyde at Irvine was teeming with bird life. In addition to these mute swans there were also whooper swans just in from Iceland. Flocks of peewits filled the skies with their effortless swirling and fluttering flight.

In comparison to the peewits, the swan's flight is like a miracle of heavy engineering.

What a magnificent sight!