Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The low brace.

Photo Clark Fenton.

Every sea kayaker should practice the low brace. (I used to work in an A&E department and seeing dislocated shoulders has sort of dampened my enthusiasm for the high variety but the low one is a really useful stroke.

Here we were playing in big Atlantic surf crashing onto the western edge of Cearstaigh off the north coast of Scarp in the Outer Hebrides. There was a big undercut hole which John had backed into, you can just see his yellow bow. A much bigger set came through and I thought I might get a good shot of John battling out with my Sony U60. Then a huge one came in, everyone out shouted Murty. I got ready for the shot. Then Allan, in his rush to leave the premises at closing time, ran right over my foredeck. I felt myself going over, I dropped my camera and grabbed my paddle and whacked a cracking low brace as far out as I could. Amazingly I stayed upright so yes, I am very fond of the low brace.


Monday, October 27, 2008

The east coast of Scarba

After camping overnight on Scarba we were attacked by billions of midges. Although they feasted on what was left by the ticks, we had no breakfast, went hungry and hurriedly packed. We launched without delay and made our way west into the Corryvreckan again. We paddled as far as we could into the east going ebb tide. It was a good warm up and the wind blew the midges away!

We then retreated and made our way up the Sound of Luing along the east coast of Scarba.

Scarba has a lot of red deer and initially I thought these were red deer fawns because of their white patches (though I did think they were quite large fawns!) I am indebted to Lucy who correctly identified them as fallow deer. There is a small herd of fallow deer on Scarba and also on Mull and Islay. Fallow deer were present in Scotland before the last ice age but became extinct during it. They were probably reintroduced by the Normans. The herds on these Scottish islands will have been introduced by owners of deer estates.

The east coast has beautiful mixed deciduous woodlands which make their way right down to the rocky shore. It is quite a contrast to the exposed west coast. High above the shore and the trees stands lonely Kilmory Lodge, a shooting lodge. Watch out Bambi!

We eddy hopped up the Sound of Luing against the south going ebb tide. In the distance we could see Fladda lighthouse.

The Scarba pier provides a good place to stop. We went right to the end of the pier to escape the midges and enjoyed a bacon roll.

We could not resist paddling right through to the west of the Grey Dogs tide race then running back east with the tide again. It was much calmer than the previous day.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Another evening by the Corryvreckan.

On our trip through the Corryvreckan we set up camp on the wild isle of Scarba. Its rough crags tumble straight into restless waters of the tidal gulf below. After setting up camp, we trekked into the hills by following the valley of this little burn.

Even from the heights we could hear the roar of the east going tide.

We contoured along the edge of some cliffs until we could see right through the Gulf of Corryvreckan to the Atlantic beyond.

One by one, the grey hills and ridges of Jura receded until they were lost in the distant mists of the horizon. We looked down on the waters of the Corryvreckan by which we had come. These are what pull us back here, time after time. This is world class sea kayaking, it's on our doorstep and we had it to ourselves.

It was twilight by the time we made our way through tick infested brascken back to the shore and got the fire going. A sleeping seal snored, coughed and grunted in the bay. The fire crackled and sparked in the cool breeze. Some Guinness and Isle of Jura malt whisky saw the night steal around us as we recounted this year's fantastic adventures and plotted those yet to come....

I am grateful to Rebecca from My Kayaking Buddies blog for linking to this post and being inspired to write her own piece on thewonderful Corryvreckan.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leaving the "Angel's Share" on Islay.

As we continued up the Sound of Islay, the Carraig Mor light announced our imminent arrival at Port Askaig.

The Eilean Dhura ferry was in port. This ferry connects Islay to Jura. Vehicular traffic for Jura needs to arrive on Islay first then transfer to Jura.

Our ferry had not yet arrived so we decided to let the now north going tide carry us on past Port Askaig to the Caol Isla distillery. It was very enjoyable sitting there in the offshore wind savouring the "Angel's Share!"

It was a short paddle against the tide back to Port Askaig.

There is a very convenient beach and slipway by the conveniently situated Port Askaig Hotel which boasts the oldest bar on Islay! Unfortunately a full review will need to wait for another visit....

..as our boat, the Isle of Arran, had come in!

Sadly this brought our visit to the island of Islay to an end but we had made lots of new friends and we will return!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Broad Bay House, Lewis

Exactly a year ago, my wife Alison, our friend Clark and myself stayed at Broad Bay House on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In your dreams you might chance upon another place like Broad Bay House. You might hope that one day there will be accommodation like this throughout Scotland. In reality there is only one Broad Bay House and Ian and Marion have raised the standard far above other establishments. Every detail of the design, construction, materials, furnishings and fittings has been thought out with the visitor's comfort taking priority over expense. The bedrooms and bathrooms were simply superb.

The washing machine, drier and wifi Internet access for weather forecasts were particularly suitable for those that like outdoor adventures in this wonderful land and sea. All this might have been in vain if Ian and Marion were not such perfect hosts. Nothing was too much bother for them. Their approach epitomised what customer service should be about. They clearly enjoyed helping visiting sea kayakers whose hours and needs were far from those of standard guests. They achieved this without being obtrusive.

Unfortunately we were attending evening events in the An Lantair Centre and could not enjoy an evening meal at Broad Bay House. The breakfasts were truly excellent and fuelled our paddles in the surf well into the day. We will just need to return to appreciate dinner! An overall 12/10 then!

The gate at the bottom of the garden leads straight onto Traigh Ghriais, the large beach which borders Broad Bay.

Of course Lewis and Harris are simply wonderful places to visit. We sea kayaked on the west coast of Lewis at Loch Roag.

Lewis and Harris make up the third largest land mass in the British Isles but it is one of the least populated.

People have been visiting here for quite a long time now.....

.... though I doubt the views over the Harris hills have changed much.

We do have an advantage over our ancestors though......

They didn't get to stay at Broad Bay House!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paddle 08, Perth

Paddle 08, the Scottish Canoe and Kayak exhibition is on this weekend, 25th and 26th October, at the Bells Sports Centre, Perth. It runs from Saturday 09:00 - 17:00 to Sunday 10:00 - 16:00. In addition to the trade stands, there is a really interesting progamme of presentations. I will be giving a slide show and Q&A session on Sunday from 13:00 to 14:30. It would be really great to see some of you there.

Red sky at night does not always promise...

The swell in Fleet Bay was much bigger than a force 5 wind would suggest.

I decided to paddle out to the mouth of the bay and go round the Garvellan rocks at its entrance.

As the spring ebb tide was assisting me, I made good progress, despite the head wind. There is a good little tide race off the Garvellan rocks and in the wind against tide conditions I found the it quite exciting. The low brace proved to be most useful.

The evening sky turned blood red as the sun sank below the western horizon.


The red sky had not foretold a fine day. The wind was averaging 34 knots and gusting to 55 knots. Not a day for sea kayaking but ideal for windsurfing! At least I now knew where the previous day's swell had come from! This photo shows the flood tide. Later on when the spring ebb started the swell steepened up in a most satisfactory way!

Sadly that was our last weekend on the Solway until next spring.


Monday, October 20, 2008

A castle, a port, a mill and a canal, all on the Fleet.

Under the ancient walls of Cardoness Castle, the river Fleet was bank full due to the combination of a high spring tide and the recent rains. The castle was built by the McCullochs in 1470. At that time the sea came right up to the base of the rock upon which it is built. In 1690 Sir Godfrey MCulloch shot dead a Gordon rival. He was executed in 1697 and the castle was then abandoned.

As the houses of Gatehouse of Fleet came into view, I passed the site of Port Macadam, the old harbour of Gatehouse. At one time it handled 150 ships per year to carry the trade of this planned industrial town. It produced cotton, leather, beer and copper. Much of its power came from a series of water lades that still run through the town.

This view of Port Macadam dates from the mid 19th century. Port Macadam was established after canalisation of the River Fleet in 1828. The original of this photo can be seen in the Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright.

This is the limit of the tidal Fleet, approaching the bridge over the river. It is just to the left of the church tower. It was built in 1730 but has been extensively updated since then.

Once under the bridge, you come to the Mill on the Fleet. This is a restored cotton mill dating from 1788. It was built by James Birtwhistle from Yorkshire and is powered by a large waterwheel, which you can just see behind the bush on the gable end. It is now a visitor and information centre. Exactly a week before this photo was taken, the river in spate breached the wall at the base of the mill!

I carried on for another 500m until the river steepened over some gravel rapids. It was very pleasant drifting back downstream to the mill.

My passage was not unnoticed.

The canalised section of the river Fleet was created rather ingeniously. A long narrow ditch was dug then the river was diverted into it. The combination of river and tide cut the new channel. The old pier supports are built on two rocks which form a natural narrowing, which was crossed by a swing bridge. In the distance is the new A75 bridge which carries the Gatehouse bypass road. Beyond it are three pillars for yachts to moor between as they are now prevented from reaching Port Macadam. On a spring ebb tide with a SW wind you can get some good standing waves downstream of the piers.

The swing bridge in the early 20th century. It had been built in 1824 following the construction of the canal but collapsed in the 1930's. It was temporarily reinstated during the construction of the bypass. The original of this photo can be seen in the Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright.

The fresh wind had not dropped and I had some hard paddling back to my launch spot.

Out in the bay there were some really enjoyable wind against tide conditions. It was nearly dark by the time I got home for a nice hot shower!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

From sea to river.

There was a definite autumn chill in the air on the Solway Firth. I set off from Fleet Bay through which the peaty waters of the River Fleet make their way to the Irish Sea.

About half of my paddling is done here but I tend not to post about it much. I enjoy the familiarity of the location but the conditions are always different. 9 meter tides and winds that whistle down from the mountains see to that! I usually paddle on my own here and that does tend to sharpen the senses with respect to changing conditions. On this day I thought I would try something different. The rivers were full with recent rain and a big spring tide gave the opportunity for some river exploration. I decided to paddle up the River Fleet.

On the way up Fleet Bay, I passed the last of the salmon stake nets that are characteristic of this part of the Solway. At one time there were six nets on this side of the estuary.

A little further on little Cardoness chapel is tucked away in a little sheltered bay behind a wooded headland.

A low autumn sun, with dark clouds inland, gave a wonderful rich light to show off the autumn colours. The SW wind picked up and was fair pushing me on up the firth.

Two swans made their way inland up the narrowing firth. On the salt marshes below, curlews, oyster catchers gulls and herons were waiting for the tide to turn and reveal their feeding grounds on the Solway mud and sand flats.