Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The SSSI coastline of Culzean

The magnificent structure of the castle dominates the great Ayrshire estate of Culzean. The coastline extends for 5km from Maidens Bay in the south to Croy Bay in the north. The coast is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. It has many igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic geological features, which create varied environments within a short distance and as a result, it is rich in marine and terrestrial plant and animal life.

The whole estate is now managed as a Country Park by the National Trust of Scotland. I have a particular attachment to this place. In the early seventies I worked as a volunteer conservation worker when the Park was being established. I was then very fortunate in spending my summer holidays from university as a seasonal ranger naturalist. Happy days in a fantastic environment working with great colleagues!


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Misty Maidens morning

A cold thick mist lay low over the Ayrshire coastline on Sunday morning. As we arrived at Maidens the sun began to break through.

By the time we were on the water, the mist had all but dispersed and we were in for another glorious day.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

The sun beat down on a burnished sea.

The sun baked down from high in the azure vault of the sky. Last weekend in Scotland it was winter, this weekend it is spring! Tony and I were paddling ever more slowly on our passage NNE from Maidens to Ayr. In the intense heat, the sweat rolled down my burning forehead becoming ever more salty as the beads made their way through my salt encrusted eye brows before running into my bloodshot eyes, stinging and blinding as they went. For the hundredth time I wiped my eyes clear with my hat but the cotton was already saturated and the back of my neck burned as soon as it was exposed to the sun's rays. I could only imagine that Tony was in a similar state to myself. I was too weak to turn round but the gentle plip plop of his paddling reassured me that he was just behind.

High noon approached and our plight worsened. A faint voice quavered from behind.

"I need a drink."

I paddled slowly on without answering such a statement of the obvious. I had nothing left to drink either. Surrounded by water we were slowly but surely dehydrating and I could sense the approaching madness as our brain cells shrunk, stretching and straining their synapses.

The voice behind continued...

"Do ye think there might be somewhere we might stop for a wee drink?"

Well I am not exactly the world's greatest sea kayaking navigator but we were paddling with the Ayrshire coast on our right.

"If we keep paddling I think we might just pass the pub at Dunure?"

"Is it very far?"

I stopped paddling, leaned forward and pressed some buttons on my GPS. One of the stored way points was for the Anchorage Bar in Dunure, I pressed another button and was just able to read the distance before drops of sweat obscured the tiny screen.

"It's 5 kilometers."

"Sure but that's 5000 meters, it's too far."

The plip plop of paddling behind me stopped.

"Would you like a pint of Guinness?"

Just the thought had me drooling in a Pavlovian slaver, further exacerbating my desperate state of dehydration.

"Tony I would love one but we need to keep paddling."

I paddled on in silence. There was no sound from behind. I rested my paddle on my cockpit rim and drifted to a stop on the windless, burning sea. Slowly and stiffly I turned, fearing the worst.

At first I couldn't see anything, as I was squinting into the fierce glare of the sun. Then I saw Tony.......

"Sure now, would ye no' like a wee drink o' Guinness?"


Friday, April 25, 2008

Going Mobile on the Road to the Isles

"I don't care about pollution,
I'm an air conditioned gypsy, that's my solution"

Going Mobile, Pete Townshend

Lots of people think that sea kayaking is a green sport. However, getting to a paddling destination isn't exactly green, unless you limit yourself to local waters. Currently there is a fuel shortage in Scotland so I doubt I will be going far this weekend. This last year I have been paddling nearer at home but I mentioned Loch Hourn in a recent post. What a fantastic trip that was! A day trip in February with 380 miles there and back on the A82 and the A87. For those of you who do not know Scotland, these are not motorways, freeways or autobahns!

A. We left Glasgow in the darkness at 6am and by 07:38, just as dawn was breaking, we had reached Lochan na h-Achlaise on Rannoch Moor.

B. By 08:42 we had reached the Commando Memorial above Spean Bridge with this view over the ridges of Carn Mor Dearg to Ben Nevis beyond.

C. High above Loch Garry the morning mist was lifting at 09:06. We were headed for Loch Hourn which lies to the north (right) of the distant mountains of Knoydart.

D. This view of the Five Sisters of Kintail was taken at 09:41 near the summit of the Mam Ratagan pass... was this view of a calm Loch Duich.

E. At 10:06 we arrived at beautiful Loch Hourn. Not a very green way to spend a day but it was a wonderful drive, not to mention the sea kayaking!

The rapidity with which Scottish fuel supplies have run low illustrates how reliant we are on fossil fuels. What will my grandchildren think when I tell them that one winter day, I drove 380 miles, just to go sea kayaking?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Remnants of Scotland's ancient forests of oak.

This view, of Beinn Sgritheall from Loch Hourn, is most people's idea of the scenery of Scotland: a wild landscape of bare mountains tumbling into deep sea lochs. It is, however, not natural. It is man made and is a result of deforestation. After the retreat of the last ice age, a beautiful sessile oak forest grew on much of the western sea board of Scotland. It was cut down over the centuries to clear the land for agriculture, to build ships, provide charcoal for the iron industry and tannin for the leather industry.

There are a few surviving pockets of the natural oak forest such as this one at the head of Glen Trool in Galloway.

The forest floor is carpeted with mosses, lichens, ferns and holly.

Another surviving pocket is on the north shore of Fleet Bay on the Solway Firth. Here the oaks grow right down to near the high water mark.

The great western sessile oak forest of Scotland must have been indescribably beautiful.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Home to roost.

I like staying on the water till well after sunset. This April evening was so calm that the only movement was that of a colony of common gulls returning to their noisy roosts on Murray's Isles. I paddled back to the distant Galloway shore and the gulls' calls grew ever more distant as I left their world and returned to mine.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The mystery of the first of the seven stanes.

On the watershed between Glen Trool and the Dee valley we crested a hill and paused to take in the view of Loch Dee. Rory, the Border terrier, spotted something in the heather.

It was an amazing giant's axe head, carved out of granite and highly polished. Rory looked perfectly at home, in this, his natural environment.

Its surface was inscribed by runic symbols. It was peaceful to sit there, surrounded by the Galloway hills, glens and lochs, wondering what it meant.

It is one of seven stanes. Each is located in one of Southern Scotland's 7 Stanes mountain bike areas.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MacLellan's Castle, Kirkcudbright

If you kayak with the tide up Kirkcudbright Bay and land at the slipway in Kirkcudbright, you can walk into the old part of town past the Harbour Cottage.

You will soon come to MacLennan's castle. This was completed in 1582 as a grand town house, although it was modelled in the style of a traditional Scottish L shaped tower house. It was owned by the provost of Kirkcudbright, Sir Thomas MacLennan. It never suffered siege damage and Sir Thomas's heirs ran out of money so it was never extended. As a result it is pretty much as it was originally built. It is open to the public.

The memorial carries the names of the local dead from WW1 and WW2.


Monday, April 14, 2008

The hill tracks of Galloway and the harvest of the sea

From a distance it looks like the hill tracks of Galloway have a dusting of snow.

But as you walk or ride on the tracks, the crunch of this white covering is like no snow.

It is composed of tons of scallop shells which are a by product of the Kirkcudbright scallop fishing industry. There is no more space to dump them at the back of local farmers' fields, so they are now brought up here and dumped on the hill tracks. As the shells break down, the calcium carbonate might do something to reduce the effects of acid rain which has damaged the Galloway hill lochs.

Seeing the sheer number of scallop shells scattered on these hills, you realize just how big the scallop industry is. I know the Irish Sea is a big place but I do hope this proves to be a sustainable fishery.


The following is an extract from SEPA View, issue 17 Autumn 2003 the magazine of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

Evaluate use of waste scallop shells as road dressing to improve acidity in watercourses

Manager: Stuart Coy

Of 500km of fishless waters in Scotland, Galloway has 400km. Much of this relates to the extensive forest coverage in the area, which exacerbates acid rain. The trees filter out the acid and concentrate it, so when it rains the acidified water runs into the nearby watercourses. In many countries, lime has been successfully used to counteract acidity either by direct addition to water or application over the catchment land. However, this is an expensive and perhaps unsustainable procedure. As scallop shells are 95 per cent limestone in composition and the country’s largest processor of waste scallop shells, West Coast Sea Products, is situated in Galloway, an action plan was established to determine whether the shells could be used as a viable means of reducing levels of acidity in local watercourses. As waste, the shells must be disposed of in a manner that conforms with the exemptions laid out in the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994 which permits them to be used in road construction. Two methods are currently being employed. In the first, clean, crushed shells are incorporated into the sub-base aggregates, effectively burying them. The second, more appropriate use, is as a road surface dressing. In theory, the passage of vehicles will speed up the release of calcium.

SEPA Galloway team leader, Stuart Coy said: “This experimental use of shells is still very new to Galloway and the logistics of getting them from the factory to the forest in an acceptable condition are continuing to develop. If it can be made to work then it seems there will be benefits all round. “Should there be a reduction in the quarried aggregate required for road construction, the use of the shells in this way means that they will not be going to licensed landfill which would have cost around £100,000 for disposal. Ultimately, much-needed calcium will be released into acidified surface waters.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Merrick and the Galloway hills.

A mountain bike is a great way to get round the Galloway Hills in SW Scotland. The Merrick is the highest hill on the Scottish mainland south of Ben Lomond. Its summit is still iced in the last of the winter snows.

Starting from the car park at the Bruce's stone above Loch Trool, we covered 28km and 900 metres of ascent and decent.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wreck of the Schooner Monreith

There are no harbours accessible at all states of the tide on the whole stretch of the Scottish Solway coast from Gretna in the East to the Mull of Galloway in the west. Following the many indentations of the coast, this is a distance of over 270km. Danger to ships is confounded by the large tidal range of nearly 10m at springs and the extensive sand and mud banks which are exposed at low tide. The whole coast is exposed to southerly winds and swells and if ships were caught out by a storm at low tide they had to try and find shelter at the entrances to the firths. Only when the tide was high could they make their way up the river channels to the shelter of the wharves in such towns as Kirkcudbright.

On the 12th November 1900, the two masted sailing schooner Monreith, from the Galloway port of Wigton, was carrying a load of granite kerb stones from Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland to Silloth in England. A storm blew up and she attempted to take shelter in the mouth of Kirkudbright Bay (behind Little Ross Island, the island with the lighthouse on the horizon.) The bay was not yet deep enough and grounded and was driven onto the sand banks of Goat Well Bay where her timbers were pounded by the surf until she sank. Her crew were able to launch a boat in her lee and made their way safely ashore just as the Kirkcudbright lifeboat arrived. Monreith's sturdy timbers can still be seen reflecting in the wet sands at low tide.


If you launch or land at Dhoon Bay near high water, you will miss this part of the Bay's history.

Goat Well Bay, Nun Mill Bay and Dhoon Bay are pretty much synonymous. Although not used on the map, Dhoon Bay is the current local name.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Kircudbright slipway

Downstream of the Kirkcudbright fishing fleet moorings, there is a small slipway which gives access to the tidal River Dee. It is very near the main public car park in Kirkcudbright and if you launch here shortly before high tide, you can explore the upper tidal reaches of the Dee to Tongland. You can then follow the ebb out to Dhoon shore and pick up a shuttle car there. Once a spring ebb starts to run it belts along about 9 knots so you want to get the timing right. Alternatively you can continue out of Kirkcudbright Bay, through the tidal races of Little Ross Sound and paddle round to Brighouse Bay.

The attractive harbour cottage was due to be demolished in 1957 but was reprieved and converted into a gallery.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

The fishermen of Kirkcudbright Harbour

The fishing fleet is in, bringing colour to Kirkcudbright Harbour.

Like Maidens, Kirkcudbright's fishing fleet declined during the first half of the 20th century. Then in the late 1950's a revival started after local man, John King, started lobster and scallop fishing. Gradually the number and size of the boats increased and construction changed from wood to steel. Today there is only one traditional wooden Scottish boat left. She is the "Fredwood" on the extreme right of the photograph. Most of the boats are scallop dredgers but "Argo", the small boat in the foreground, is a cockle dredger. One of the biggest boats is the blue boat, third from the right. She is the "King Explorer" and is part of the John King fleet.

A local economy has built round the fishing fleet; fish processing, dredging gear manufacturers, suppliers etc.. Local restaurants serve fresh scallops which make an excellent starter before a succulent grass fed Galloway fillet steak.

All this has come at a cost, in 1985 the "Mhari-L" was lost with all 5 hands. Then in 2000 the "Solway Harvester" was lost with all 7 hands. Both vessels were lost in the Irish sea between Galloway and the Isle of Man. On their way to the boats, fishermen walk past a memorial dedicated to the women and children of this and other Galloway fishing communities who have lost their menfolk.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Maidens Harbour

Maidens Harbour wall was originally built to allow commericial fishing boats to remain at mooring rather than be dragged up out of the water onto the foreshore.

It does a really good job of protecting the enclosed harbour on what is a relatively exposed piece of coast.

Behind the wall the sea remains calm but over the years the harbour has silted up with sand.

The harbour has been taken over by the Maidens Community Harbour Trust. With the aid of a local authority grant, they bought a dredging barge and a dump truck. Volunteers are dredging the harbour but this time for recreational use.


Monday, April 07, 2008

A rest day on the Clyde.

As we drove south along the road above the cliffs south of Ayr the snow clouds that had gathered round parts of central Scotland cleared leaving a beautiful sunny afternoon. From a height of 125 meters, the sea below Balchriston Farm and Culzean Castle looked quite flat. Nontheless it looked a bit breezy for a crossing to Ailsa Craig! On the way south we had followed a 4x4 with 2 sea kayaks on the roof. It turned down the road to Dunure. Not an easy launch at high spring tide, I thought.

When we got to Maidens launching looked slightly problematical.

The cold north wind had generated some surprising waves, even in the confines of the Firth of Clyde. Surprisingly the hills of Arran had escaped the morning snowstorm which had hit Glasgow.

Even the sea birds were resting. I realized why I had left the kayaks at home.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

A maritime climate

Scotland has a maritime climate. Although it stretches from 54 degrees North at the Mull of Galloway in the SW to 60 degrees North at Muckle Flugga in Shetland in the NE, we do not get a great deal of snow. This is because the prevailing wind comes from the SW as does the warm sea current, the Gulf stream. Otherwise we would be frozen solid in winter and not enjoy our winter sea kayaking.

However, if the wind swings to the north we get snow, like this morning!

This was the 31st of May in 1978 at Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms. As you would expect from the time of year, children are paddling in the loch. However, the previous weekend the wind had come in from the north and resulted in a huge dump of snow. We skied late that year!

One model of Global warming is that the Gulf stream might switch off, in which case we will be, paradoxically, frozen in winter in a warmer world.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sannox sunset

After getting off the ferry at Ardrossan, we returned to our departure point at Portencross as the sun was setting.

The winter sky turned to gold..

... as it set to the north of the Sannox mountains on Arran.

The setting sun's last rays had left the mountain tops in the gathering cold and darkness of night. But even after the sun had sunk well below the horizon, the tops of high clouds still caught the last of the fleeting winter day.

A perfect winter's day.