Sunday, August 31, 2008

The bittersweet taste of salt and adrenaline.

We went for a pleasant bimble round the coast at the weekend.

Salt and adrenaline is a heady and addictive mixture.


Friday, August 29, 2008

The power of the sea.

We went off in exploration of the neat quiet streets of Port Ellen on Islay on a quest for essential supplies. We found the local Co-op store to be well stocked with portable Guinness dispensers.

On the way to the kayaks we stopped by the local coastguard station to pay our respects.

Inside we met Harold Hastie, a local boatman, who is one of the volunteer coastguards. It was his red boat we had seen rolling about in the tide race off the Mull of Oa the previous day. He was returning from inspecting a wave machine, which is situated on the far side of the Rhinns of Islay. He thought we were quite sensible to have turned back. "It was a wee bit bumpy out there yesterday and the forecast for the next few days is not good."

Behind Harold, amongst several photos of rescues, I noticed a boat I recognised. "Is that the Kartli?" I asked.

"Yes it is, in 1991 she was rounding the Rhinns of Islay, wind against tide, when a huge wave smashed into her and opened up her bridge like a sardine can. Four of her crew were killed and 15 were seriously injured. The water poured in flooding her engine room and generator. With no power or steerage, she was just rolling helplessly at the mercy of the wind and seas. Five helicopters were involved in rescuing about 50 of her surviving crew."

This was the final resting place of the Kartli on the west coast of Gigha.

Today this is all of the Kartli that remains.

Quite humbled by the power of the sea, we thanked Harold.

Our exploration of Islay continued, we were now on the look out for any distilleries which we might just come across.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Port Ellen's hidden haven.

The SW breeze blew us swiftly across Kilnaughton Bay towards Port Ellen. We planned to land to replenish supplies but did not fancy a long paddle back into the teeth of the wind afterwards.

We slipped down the south side of the Ard peninsula and made our way through some skerries into this lovely little hidden (and sheltered) haven. It was full of local boats and the shoreline had many fishing bothies hidden amongst the rocks.

A short walk over the Ard..

..took us to the south bay of Port Ellen.
Another Internet writer has described it as a " crappy little town" and "so ghetto it's hilarious". Well its neatly whitewashed houses with black painted windows and doors curved round its south bay in a most pleasing way. On our early impression of Port Ellen, we beg to differ.
We found it to be a delightful place and that is before we met the locals.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Return from Oa

After our return from the White Hart Bar to our camp on the SE of the Oa peninsula, there were tremendous rain storms during the night. We awoke to find the tents straining at their guy ropes in a force 4-5 offshore wind.

Scudding clouds hung low overhead but their greyness was broken by the dramatic contrast of the dark rocks and white shell sand. Low tide revealed a bit of a rock garden so we were relieved the offshore wind had flattened the swell.

Although the winds were only moderate to fresh, the forecast was for westerly winds up to force seven for most of the remainder of the week. Although we were tempted to push on round the Mull of Oa, we decided that it would be best to stay to the east given the westerly winds. Billy and Mair decided remain at camp and to explore Islay on foot and rented bicycle.

David, Tony and myself decided to pack the kayaks and head back east to explore a distillery or two.

We were soon on the water heading across Kilnaughton Bay under the shadow of Carraig Fhada lighthouse. We were bound for Port Ellen.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Los Petrificados, Madrid

Just occasionally the staff of escape furth the bounds of Auld Scotia. Madrid is quite warm at this time of year and there is much to see...

"¡Juro que un parpadeó!"


Saturday, August 23, 2008

The "Ship" lighthouse Sanda

As the mist swirled round we navigated round the SW corner of Sanda and found ourselves under the Ship lighthouse. It is so called because from a distance it looks like a funnel and the rock upon which it stands looks like a ship.

It is situated on the most amazing rock with a natural arch which from some angles looks like an elephant with trunk!

The light was established in 1850 by Alan Stevenson. It has a long white flash every 10 seconds.

Only when you enter the little bay behind the lighthouse do you appreciate what a unique structure it is. Two linked towers with a total of 210 steps like the lighthouse tower to the base of the cliff upon which it stands. The mist added to the surreal atmosphere.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Sonar and a snoring Sammy seal slumbering soundly on Sanda

After our rounding of the Mull we left the coastline of Kintyre the wind dropped to nothing..

and the the mist began to gather and it was difficult to saw where the see ended and the sky began.

Soon the Kintyre coastline was shrouded in mist and not long afterwards we were enclosed by thick fog again. In the background you can see Dunaverty rock upon which once stood Dunaverty Castle. It is has one of the most bloody histories of all Scottish castles, ending in the massacre of between 300 to 500 Royalists who in 1647 surrendered after a siege to the Parliamentarian Lieutenant General David Leslie.

Our crossing of the strong tides in the Sound of Sanda was guided by GPS and sonar.

The fog was so thick that we were only 30m from Sanda when we finally found it. Our final approach had been guided by a strange deep ZZZZ ZZZZZZ ZZZZ sound that penetrated the miasma.

Just on the rocks we found Sammy the seal cub fast asleep, snoring his head off and completely oblivious to our presence.

Altogether now.... Ahhhhhhh!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

A lack of Ardbeg in Islay's White Hart Hotel's public bar.

As we were searching for a place to camp on the west shore of Kilnaughton Bay on Islay we came across the square tower of the Carraig Fhada lighthouse. It was built by David Hamilton and Son in 1832. It was taken over by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924. From the SE, the correct approach shows a white sector which is flanked by red and green sectors. The light flashes every 3 seconds.

In the distance we spotted the White Hart Hotel a prominent 3 storey building at the left hand end of Charlotte street in Port Ellen which fronts onto the shore of Kildalton Bay. After making camp and eating, David, Tony and I decided to walk the 5km into the Port Ellen. Our path took us over rocks, dunes, heath then a track before crossing a beach, fording a river then climbing a steep stone staircase and through a spooky wood before emerging onto a road that eventually led to the hotel. Quite a tricky route in the daylight when sober.

We entered the White Hart Hotel's public bar to find it to be like a licensed version of the Marie Celeste. All the lights and the television were on and the bar appeared to be fully equipped and ready for serving but there were no staff or customers apart from ourselves. After several "halloos" had failed to even raise a shadow of a barman and after pangs of thirst were gripping our throats we realized it was a Sunday evening. But Islay is not like the northern Outer Hebrides which are in the grip of a stern Calvinism that frowns on the opening of bars on the Sabbath. Surely it must be possible to get a drink. I espied a ship's bell at the side of the bar, I gave the clapper a firm tug. DING.... was followed by silence. Another DING and we were still thirsty. DING ALING ALING ADING. The young barmaid seemed genuinely surprised to see us but efficiently poured a round of Guinness.

Each time our glasses required replenishing we rang the bell. Eventually some locals arrived. One 18 year old recounted a sad tale of how his overindulgence in drink had cost him his effing job, his effing house and his effing woman. We ordered another round and laughed at the TV as Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear told a funny story about a sat nav system afflicted by Tourette syndrome.

After enjoying some excellent Guinness we decided to finish the evening off with a nightcap or two of the local nectar: Ardbeg malt whisky. We were absolutely amazed to discover that not only was this particular libation unavailable but there were no other Scottish malts available either. The only "similar" liquor on sale was Jack Daniels and this in a Scottish bar on an island with nine distilleries and one which is less than 6km from the hallowed premises in which the Ardbeg is distilled!

The Tennessee distillation may go down well on the other side of the pond but it has only the most tenuous of Celtic connections (and Welsh at that) to the true Uisge Beatha. If this is what our young friend had been drinking, then we were not prepared to also loose everything by accepting it as a substitute. We remonstrated with the barmaid and she then told us we might get some Ardbeg through in the lounge bar. We asked directions and were told we would need to go out into the street along a bit then in the hotel's main door, some confusing directions within the building then followed but were not remembered. Our concern was that it was very close to closing time and would we be readmitted?

Fortunately the empty lounge bar was well staffed by two barmen and we were able to take a night cap or two of the Ardbeg. Afterwards, somewhat sated, we emerged into a moonless night. The only light came from the Port Ellen maltings which roasts the barley required of the whisky making process. We found the heady aroma of burning peat and roasting grains to be quite intoxicating.

Then we were in the dark, with a long way back to the tents through spooky wood and all....


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Retreat from the Mull of Oa

From Texa to the Mull of Oa is 14km and then another 10km from there to the camp site at Kintra on Laggan Bay. The wind was still light but by the time we got to the Mull of Oa, the ebb tide (SE going) would be at its maximum against us. Billy and Mair decided to stay on the east of the Mull and go and explore Port Ellen. Tony, David and I thought we might be able to eddy hop round the rocks before the forecast wind picked up... so off we went.

On the way to Rubha nan Leacan, the most SE point on the Oa, we passed this basalt dyke, evidence of past volcanic activity. Unfortunately the sky began to cloud over and the wind picked up with the approaching front. David's back was giving him problems and we had to land to give him a rest on a steep cleft in the rocks just before the point.

On relaunching, the MSI weather forecast came over the VHF: force 5-6 SW winds tonight and 6-7 SW winds for the following day with similar for the next few days. The west coast of the Oa is not a place you can easily escape from if you have several days of winds of that strength. Not only that, as we rounded Rubha nan Leacan, it was obvious that the race was much closer to the rocks than we had hoped for. A red and white workboat was rolling wildly as it came round the Mull with the tide race. Tony and I looked at one another and shook our heads. We turned back towards Port Ellen, the Mull would always be there another day.

In the meantime, the wind and waves had picked up so we made very rapid progress back along the Oa peninsula. David had got a new lease of life and forged ahead. We had warned him about landing on the attractive, steep little beach but the back of the surf looked so innocent.... Here he is recovering his things after a good trashing and a bail out landing. Tony and I were not going to risk the same, so we stayed out beyond the surf zone shouting instructions on how to do a surf launch. Determined not to be left on the beach, David proved to be a quick learner, well after another five or so trashings, he learned!

All safely at sea again, we approached another sandy beach which was sheltered by some offshore stacks and reefs.

This proved to be a good spot to land and more importantly to be able to launch again in the following day's predicted strong SW winds. Billy and Mair had already found the same spot and had set up camp on the machair behind the beach. Tony, David and I reckoned we were thirsty enough to warrant a cross country jaunt into Port Ellen to seek some refreshment....


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

White tailed sea eagles, a swim and a can of Guinness

After rounding the Mull of Kintyre and entering the Firth of Clyde we came across a pair of sea eagles soaring with their offspring.

We needed a break and the sight of the sands of Carskey Bay proved most welcome.

We were by now rather hot.

I went for a very quick swim while Tony sensibly cracked open a can of Guinness.

We lazed in the sun while we looked back at the line of cliffs leading to the Mull of Kintyre, home of mists and sea eagles..... days like these.....


Monday, August 18, 2008

The State of Texa

The island of Texa lies just a kilometer off the SE coast of Islay in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. While we were cruising down Texa's west coast we spied two gable ends high on the hill above us.

We landed at a little quay below the building. Famished and quite exhausted by our exertions since second breakfast, we decided to partake of a long and leisurely third breakfast prior to any exploration of the isle.

Pushing our way through shoulder high bracken, we made our way up to the ancient lichen encrusted walls. It turned out to be a chapel which was built in the 14th century. St Kenneth(whose chapel we visited last year on lovely Inch Kenneth) was a friend of St Columba and stopped off on Texa while travelling between Iona and Ireland. It is likely that the current chapel was built on the site of an earlier chapel dating from St Kenneth's time.

Texa remained inhabited until the 19th century and its population were known as Texans. Not many people know that St Kenneth was a Texan.

Tony, David and myself decided we would try and head out west round Islay's Mull of Oa. Billy and Mair decided to explore Kilnaughton Bay and Port Ellen. Given how long we had dallied, the approaching weather front and how the tide was running, the latter option was to prove eminently more sensible.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Amiralty warning: "Rollers break on the beach".

Once we had rounded Rubha na Lice, to the south of the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, the fog started to lift. Sadly an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed here in thick fog in 1994. All 29 people on board were killed.
Photo Tony Page.

The wild landscape, which we had paddled past without seeing, was at last revealed.

The coast was littered with the wreckage of ships.

We approached the final major headland of Sron Uamha at 13:46. If we had arrived at 11:40 then we would have met what the Admiralty Pilot gives grave warnings of: a delightful tidal phenomenon of "rollers break on the beach".

As it was, we passed Sron Uamha (Point of the Cave) while all was quiet.

Our mood lifted as we left the scene of so many wrecks and such loss of life. The sun now burned strongly in the mid summer sky.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mulling it over with a dram of malt on Islay

From Eilean Imersay we were now bound for the Isle of Texa on Islay's SE coast. To the east, the distant mountains of Arran rose above the long peninsula of Kintyre.

Note how Tony is looking wistfully at the distant Mull of Kintyre!

On our way to Texa we passed two of the three whisky distilleries that grace this part of Islay's coastline. The first was Ardbeg, a superb peaty malt.

The second was Lagavulin, producers of another fine malt whisky. Sadly we decided to pass them by as we had thoughts of rounding the still distant Mull of Oa later in the day.

I am now off on my own holiday to the Solway, so posting on our Islay trip may be irregular. If you want to read more of Islay I can recommend two blogs by other visitors to this fantastic island: Armin's Islay Blog and Ron's Islay Weblog.