Thursday, January 31, 2008

And pretty maids all in a row.

"With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row."

Leaving the ancient stones of Turnberry Castle we made our way north past a series of rocky skerries called the Maidens. They were the ruin of many ships but also gave shelter if the sailors had sufficient local knowledge. In later years a sea wall was built that linked a series of the Maidens and a bell was hung at its end. It was rung to guide returning sailors to the safety of Maidens harbour.

We stopped at the delightful little cove called Carrick Bay which nestles in between the cliffs at the south end of Culzean estate. The sands of these bays are rich with cockles, scallops and Norwegian prawns many of which find their way to the restaurant tables in Spain.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

All the King's horses...

All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Turnberry together again.

Most people paddling past the crumbling remains of Turnberry Castle will hardly notice its existence. Their gaze will be drawn instead to the lighthouse which is built within the castle's ancient walls.

Yet in its day, it was a magnificent stronghold, which was built on a promontory, surrounded on three sides by the sea. On the seaward side, the castle was built over over an inlet with a cave at its rear. In times of siege the castle could be resupplied from the sea. Ships could enter the inlet beneath a great arch in the castle's walls. A portcullis could be lowered behind the ship and provisions could be carried up through the cave into the heart of the castle. A reconstruction of the castle in its heyday can be seen on the local town of Maybole's website.

Tony paddled right into the inlet which is now mostly filled with rubble from the collapsed walls of the castle. You can still see the lines of the arch from the carved stones which formed its foundations on either side of the inlet. The entrance to the cavern, which gave access to the castle, is also seen.

The castle dates from the 12th Century and was the seat of the Earls of Carrick. One of the Earls died leaving a young countess as a widow. One day she spied a handsome knight making his way past the castle. She became so infatuated with him that had him kidnapped upon his return. He turned out to be a Norman nobleman, Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale. She persuaded him to marry her and their son Robert the Bruce became Earl of Carrick. Later he became King Robert I of Scotland and defeated Edward II of England at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The Earldom of Carrick became part of the titles of the Scottish monarchs. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland became James I of Great Britain, the Earldom of Carrick passed into the linage of the British Royal Family. The current holder is Prince Charles whose full title is prince of Wales and earl of Chester, duke of Cornwall, duke of Rothesay, earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

The strategic position of Turnberry was again recognised in the two World wars when an RFC then RAF airfield was constructed here. Although mainly a training aerodrome, its Beaufort, Hampden, Venture, Beaufighter and Hudson torpedo planes and maritime bombers played a role in the defence of the Clyde's vital shipping routes in WW2.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Rockhopping in the wake of the Stevensons.

I have posted about Turnberry lighthouse before. This lighthouse will be a familiar sight to TV golf fans as the Open Championship has been held here in 1977, 1986 and 1994.

Turnberry lighthouse was built on the recommendation of the Receiver of Wrecks in the nearby town of Ayr. The reefs of Turnberry Point and nearby Brest (or Bristo) Rocks were notorious as the graveyard of many ships making their way to and from the busy ports in the Firth of Clyde. The lighthouse engineers, David and Thomas Stevenson, recommended construction on the point rather than on the offshore rocks and it was completed in 1873.

It is funny how we Scottish sea kayakers often find ourselves rockhopping in the wake of the Stevensons.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dunure, the birth place of one of the world's largest shipping lines.

I recently posted how the fishermen of the fishing hamlet of Dunure rescued all but two souls from the crews of the Valkyrian and the Iron Duke. Both ships were wrecked on the reefs of Dunure on the night of 11th December 1883. Who would have thought that the bravery of Buckie and his neighbours that night would have resulted in the birth of one of the World's largest shipping lines?

One of the lucky men to be rescued that night was Captain Peter Maersk Moller of the Valkyrian. She was a 381 ton Danish sailing barque bound for Glasgow from Virginia when she got caught in hurricane force winds in the Clyde. Her sails were torn away and she drifted towards the Ayrshire coast. She tried to put out her anchor but the cable broke before the steam paddle tug Iron Duke could reach her. The Iron Duke's engine failed and she was also driven onto the rocks at Dunure and wrecked shortly afterwards.

Here is an account in Captain Maersk Moller's own words:

"The "Valkyrian" sailed on 7th November 1883 from New Port Mews, Virginia, carrying walnut wood. The voyage was smooth, on Thursday 11th December, I passed close by Corsewall Point in a moderate southerly gale. When the watch was set at 8p.m. there was a strong gale, SW to SSW. We drifted along the coast with enough room to keep going throughout the night, but at about 10p.m. the wind veered to WNW and NW in a squall. The sails were blown away like paper. We were then off Turnberry and Ailsa Craig heading WNW and had signalled for a pilot. Land was a few miles to leeward. I called the men to the cabin and explained the situation. I read from the bible and we said a prayer. We could do no more then, but later given the chance, we had to try the best to save ourselves. The ship was driven onto the rocks at Dunure and brokeup. All but one poor sailor was saved, due to the bravery of the men of Dunure."

The Dunure fishermen had managed to save all but Henrie Jansen who was swept away by a giant wave in the darkness. The wooden Valkyrian was smashed to smithereens and just about all that was left was her bell. The bell remained in the possession of William Munro's descendents until they presented it to the descendants of Captain Maersk Moller in 1985.

Captain Maersk Moller returned to the sea and three years later on 16/12/1896 he bought a British built steamship, the SS Laura, from the DFDS line that operated her on the Faroe Island service.

This stamp was issued on 21 February 1983 when SS Laura still sailed under DFDS colours.

Under Captain Maersk Moller, SS Laura continued on the Copenhagen Faroe Island run with a stop each way at Granton near Edinburgh. This photograph was taken in 1908 a year before she was sold. She was subsequently wrecked on the coast of Iceland in 1910.

Captain Maersk Moller painted a light blue stripe on her funnel with a white star on it. He believed it was his lucky star. In 1904 he founded the "The Steamship Company Svendborg" with his son Arnold Peter Maersk Moller. AP did not always agree with his father and the other board members and eight years later went on to found the "Steamship Company of 1912". This has grown into AP Moller-Maersk which is one of the largest companies in the world. Maersk Line container ships such as the Emma Maersk are some of the largest ships afloat.

This is Arnold Maersk McKinney Moller. He was CEO of the company from 1965 until 1993. He is Captain Peter Maersk Moller's grandson.

In 1985, in exchange for the bell of the Valkyrian he presented Mr William Munro, who is a descendent of Buckie Munro, with a painting of the Valkyrian, which had hung in his office at AP Moller-Maersk for many years.

I wonder if Buckie's pipe was made of walnut!

Lastly, I hope that you, the reader, will now realize why we do not paddle from headland to headland!

Ayrshire roots.
Dansk Posthistorisk Selskab.
Faroese Stamps.
AP Moller-Maersk.
Mr William Munro 5/02/2008


Sea kayaking the four castles of Carrick.

Last week David, Tony and I set off from Turnberry beach on the Firth of Clyde on one of our favourite routes: "The four castles of Carrick".

Out in the bay we enjoyed the fresh cold air as we passed the famous golf links of Turnberry and its hotel.

With a misty Holy Island and Arran as a backdrop, we rockhopped our way round Turnberry Point. We were nearing the first castle on our route, the great maritime castle of Turnberry.

These four Ayrshire strongholds have a bloody past which belies the peace and tranquility of today's Carrick coast of Ayrshire.

We shall find out some more of the past on this sea kayaking journey.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brave Buckie and the wreck of the Valkyrian

Last week we stopped off at the Anchorage Bar in Dunure on the Firth of Clyde. While we were enjoying some Guinness I noticed the above faded photograph hanging in a corner. There was no annotation but it aroused my curiosity.

While we were warming ourselves by the pub fire we got talking to one of the locals. It turns out that he lives in the recently restored cottage in the photo above.

He told us that apart from the castle, it is the oldest building in Dunure and dates from 1640. More recently, it was inhabited in the late 19th century by one William "Buckie" Munro, the man in the photo! He was one of 31 fishermen of Dunure who went to the rescue of the Valkyrian a 381 ton Danish barque which was wrecked in hurricane force winds off the coast of Dunure during a frightful storm on the night of 11th December 1883.

They rescued 9 of her 10 crew including her master Peter Maersk Moller (above).

No sooner had the fishermen rescued the Danes than another ship was driven onto the rocks. She was the 32 ton steam paddle tug, Iron Duke, which had come to assist the doomed Valkyrian. Again Buckie and the men of Dunure threw themselves into the breaking seas and succeeded in rescuing five of the Iron Duke's crew. Her master, Captain McBride, was lost leaving a widow and five children.

The Valkyrian's bell was salvaged by Buckie after the storm. It remained in the cottage at 1 Habour View, Dunure for many years before being passed to Buckie's descendants.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Till a' the seas gang dry

"Till a' the seas gang dry." R. Burns

Leaving Bute we headed for the north tip of Great Cumbrae. The full spring tide of about 3km/hr was ebbing down the channel and the wind had swung round to the north. It was thirsty work what with the pub having closed some time before our arrival on Bute.

We eventually made landfall on the west of Great Cumbrae as sun sank towards the horizon behind an approaching front.

We took another break on the north east of Great Cumbrae before the final crossing to Largs marina. We had a small break as we let the MV Alainn past on her way to Largs

By the time we got back to the slipway at the marina it was nearly dark.

32km is not bad for a short winter day. Pity the pub was closed!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

The dry red rocks of Bute

We worked our way up the east coast of Bute towards Kilchattan Bay. One may obtain a refreshment within the portals of St Blanes Hotel in Kilchattan village. Unfortunately the tide was now against us and the sun was setting in the south west. We knew it would be dark before we returned to Largs, even if we left now. Three thirsty paddlers turned their backs on Kilchattan Bay and paddled for the west coast of Great Cumbrae instead.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No room at the inn of Rubh an Eun

From Little Cumbrae we paddled across to Glencallum Bay on Bute. It is marked by the lighthouse on Rubha an Eun. There was a settlement with a famous inn here. It served mariners who sought shelter from westerly gales in the bay.

Feeling thirsty after the crossing we were saddened to discover that the inn had closed. Final closing time was in 1800 and all that now remains is a pile of stones. The Glen Callum Inn is therefor the first sea kayaking pub to score a humble zero after a visit from the thirsty staff.

We accept it has a scenic location. Yes, it is accessible from the sea, being situated as it is on a raised beach. We can make allowances for the quadruped bar staff who wore woolly jumpers and had neither English nor the Gaelic. We can even forgive the lack of a roof but what is completely unforgivable is the lack of a decent pint of Guinness.

I repeat nil point.

We paddled on past the lighthouse feeling very thirsty.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Out with the old in with the new.

Crossing from the Little Cumbrae to Bute, we looked back upon the two Little Cumbrae lighthouses. The modern square concrete block just doesn't compare with the beauty of the original which has a green copper dome above its lantern house. Both lights are built on a raised beach which is found on other many other Clyde islands such as Arran and also on the mainland.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Little Cumbrae: a touch of the Hebridean Wild West.

Little Cumbrae lies deep within the protective arms of the Firth of Clyde and so is not strictly speaking one of the Hebridean Islands. These lie off the remote Atlantic coast of Scotland from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to Cape Wrath in the north.

The highest point of the Little Cumbrae is only 47km from George Square in the heart of Glasgow, which with its commuter belt has a population of 2.3 million people.

Despite this proximity to so many people, we found ourselves completely alone on a winter Saturday lunch time. Of course in the summer there will be innumerable yachts, motor cruisers, speed boats and jet skis on the horizon.

We can now enjoy the solitude of this wonderful place, which in winter is as quiet as any remote Hebridean Island. As Billy, Tony and myself paddled round Little Cumbrae, it rekindled memories of a truly memorable trip, which was only the second time that we three had paddled together.


Scarp, Outer Hebrides.

We had gone on a trawler supported trip arranged by Andy Spink of Hebridean Pursuits to the "Wild West". Andy has been organising these trips (for six years now) with the aim of getting to the remoter parts of the Hebrides, including when possible St Kilda. This year, the week long trip leaves from Oban on 16th May. It occurs to me that it would be an ideal introductory trip for some of the regular visitors to this blog who have not yet paddled in the Hebrides. Of course when I say introductory, what I mean is to the area not to sea kayaking! You would need to be used to paddling in exposed rough water conditions. Full details are available from Andy tel. 44(0)1631 710317 and email


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Comfortably numb!

It was a cold grey day down on the Ayrshire coast today. Our hands were so cold.

We just happened upon a hostelery, with the attraction of a warming fire. Some say the timing and location of our trips depend more on pub opening times than on tide tables. This is a quite scurrilous accusation, which we totally refute .

We continued on our way feeling comfortably numb.

Usual health warnings apply!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Little Cumbrae: strategic island of the Clyde.

Approaching Little Cumbrae the view is dominated by its 14th century castle, which is built on Castle Island, a tidal islet lying off the east shore. The Little Cumbrae lies in a strategic position in the middle of the narrow entrance to the upper Firth of Clyde which is the seaway to the heartland of Central Scotland. It is no accident that the Scots fought the Vikings nearby at the Battle of Largs and that the Royal Navy nuclear submarines still pass this little island.

It was constructed by Walter Stewart who was King Robert the Bruce's son in law .

Like many Scottish keeps, its single entrance is on the first floor.

A similar keep can be seen standing on a rocky promontory at Portencross on the other side of the Fairlie Roads.


Friday, January 18, 2008

RFA Fort George: "Toys out of the pram!"

RFA Fort George

As we rounded the south west of the Little Cumbrae, we were disappointed that the mist had rolled back across the mountains of Arran. Then this fine vessel steamed into view. She is the RFA Fort George and passed us at 14.4 knots. Her wake was breaking white rollers and gave us some good fun!

She was launched in 1991 and, with her sister ships, supplies the Royal Navy warships with supplies such as food, stores, fuel and ammunition.

Although RFA (Royal Fleet Auxilary) ships are not front line warships, who can forget the bravery and tragic loss of life of the crews and troops aboard RFA Sir Galahad and RFA Sir Tristram? They were both lost after being bombed at Fitzroy during the Falklands War.

Anyway it is great to get the following message from Ian, who is currently on board the Fort George:

"Hi Douglas,

I'm on RFA Fort George, and was on the bridge when we passed you. I hope our bow-wave didn't cause you any inconvenience - might even have been good surfing?! I did sort of wonder whether it might be you in the kayak. By the way, we give the "boats" a wide berth too, there's only one guy with his head stuck up out of the hatch over there!"

Apparently the unofficial motto of the RFA is "Toys out of the pram!" I think I will let Ian explain that one...


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snowy, misty mountain top.

So I've decided what I'm gonna do now.
So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now,
Over the hills where the spirits fly, ooh.

Led Zeppelin

Just for a moment, as we paddled down the east coast of Little Cumbrae, the mists rolled back to reveal a stunning glimpse of the soaring, snow covered, granite ridges of Arran rising above its lesser neighbour. Almost as soon as the vision appeared, the mist closed in again and remained for the rest of the day.

But we were there to see it!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lions, geology and elves.

At the south east corner of the island of Great Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde, there is a peculiar rock formation (mimetolith) known as Lion Rock. It is composed of a very hard and fine-grained type of basalt only found on the island and is known as cumbraite. It is a volcanic dyke that dates from the relatively recent Eocene period. The dyke reappears on the other side of the Fairlie Roads near Hunterston power station. The deep water channel in the Fairlie Roads, which allows huge ore carriers access close to the shore, was cut by glaciers in the Ice Ages.

Of course the locals do not believe a word of this. Apparently the Lion was made by the bad elves. Elves are not known for their good sense and apparently they are terrified of lions. To this day, no elves can be found on the east side of Great Cumbrae though, if you know where to look, they are still quite populous on the west side.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wonderful winter light on Fairlie Roads

The sun rises through the mist on the Fairlie hills.

Crossing Fairlie Roads to Great Cumbrae.

Hunterston B nuclear powerstation steams gently in the sunrise.

Fairlie Roads.

Portencross Castle stands on the end of the distant headland.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Of pencils, blossoms and atoms.

Saturday dawned fine behind the priapic pencil of Largs. A small ridge of high pressure intervened between two massive low pressure systems to give us a small weather window for a 30 km paddle on the Firth of Clyde.

We set off just as banks of fog were lifting. It started very cold but warmed as the day progressed. I suffered a very heavy fall when I slipped on ice just outside my front door.

We set off from the industry of the Ayrshire coast. The Panamanian bulk carrier, Lotus Blossom, was unloading the last of her cargo at the Hunterston ore terminal. In the background the twin magnox reactor towers of Hunterston A nuclear power station have produced no electricity since 1990. They generated electricity for 25 years but their decommissioning will take much longer than that.