Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of Kintyre buzzards and giants.

We lazed on the sands of Skipness for some time but finally, a dipping sun told us it was time to depart.

The Kintyre peninsula north of Skipness is a road-less wilderness, which tumbles from the hills into the sea. This buzzard was quite unperturbed by our passing.

Eventually we came to a sign of previous habitation. Winter storms kept carrying away the end of the wall which separated the Campbells' lands from the wilderness. Their livestock would escape each spring and be devoured by the beasts that roamed the wilderness. Eventually the Campbells approached the famous giant, Finn McCool, and asked if he could build a wall strong enough to resist the force of the winter waves.

After much deliberation (giants are not particularly quick witted) McCool said he could build such a wall but the Campbells would need to supply him with six red haired maidens, fifty buckets of mutton stew and one hundred and fifty buckets of heather ale. The Campbells agreed, the deal was sealed and McCool built his wall in just a day. He then fell asleep, partly due to his labours and partly due to the effects of a large meal and full strength heather ale. The maidens escaped quite unharmed.

McCool's wall still stands to this day.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Sands of time run out in Skipness Chapel graveyard.

Just behind the beach at Skipness is the 13th century Skipness Chapel. It is also known as Kilbrannan Chapel and is dedicated to St Brendan.

The graveyard is pretty full and is still in use. There are five medieval recumbent slabs amongst the more modern stones.

This one dates from 1721 and, quite clearly, the sands of time have run out for AJ and AM.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Skipness Castle

We chose the shortest crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound and made for the low lying Skipness Point, which extends for about a kilometre into the Sound.

The approach to the beach is dominated by the bulk of Skipness Castle.

Our approach was hindered only by by a strong eddy which was making its way south in the bay, despite the north going flood out in the Sound. The water here is crystal clear and we floated above our shadows, moving steadily over the rippled sands below.

We landed below the Castle and it was obvious that its builders had chosen this position to control the Kilbrannan Sound (between Kintyre and Arran) which is the approach to Loch Fyne and the upper Firth of Clyde beyond.

The castle was built in the 1200's by the MacSweens as a defence against raiding Vikings. It then became part of the fiefdom of the Lords of the Isles and was extended several times until the Lords of the Isles' lands in Kintyre were forfeited to the Crown in 1476. The castle then passed into the hands of a branch of the Campbell family, who were loyal to the Crown. They built the tower house in the 16th century. The Skipness Campbells finally abandoned the Castle in 1867 when they fell on hard times.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sea kayaking across the Kilbrannan Sound.

As we paddled out of Loch Ranza into the Kilbrannan Sound, the wind began to drop.

The Kilbrannan Sound is the body of water which separates the west coast of Arran from the Kintyre Peninsula.

In mid channel we looked back to the distant Cock of Arran....

...and forward to the Kintyre peninsula. Phil, who is a professional photographer, expressed some considerable concern when I held a Canon 5D Mk II a few centimeters above salt water!


Friday, March 27, 2009

Loch Ranza and its two castles.

As the ferry approached the jetty at the village of Lochranza on Arran, we decided that Loch Ranza would warrant some exploration before we set off on our long paddle back to Portavadie where we had left the car. The village of Lochranza nestles under steep hills on the shore of its eponymous loch. Some parts of the village get no direct sunlight in the winter as the sun never rises above the hill behind.

Leaving the ferry jetty, we paddled towards Loch Ranza castle. It has a superb defensive position on a narrow spit of land which projects into the loch. The castle was first built by the MacSweens in the 1200s but the L shaped tower house you see today dates from the 15th century.

Robert the Bruce came here in in 1306 and the castle was associated with the Scottish Kings for a long time thereafter. It was used as their base during battles with the Lords of the Isles for supremacy over the west coast and the Hebrides.

Many years ago Loch Ranza was a major base for the herring industry. Hundreds of small herring fishing boats sheltered in the loch, when great shoals of the "silver darlings" filled the Clyde. The herring have long gone and as reported in a yesterday's post, no fish are now landed on Arran.

As we paddled out from the Loch Ranza, the great rocky ridge of Caisteal Abhail soared above the hills behind the loch. Several granite tors castellate the ridge like battlements and the Gaelic name means "forked castle". Caisteal Abhail is Loch Ranza's second castle!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bottlenose dolphins cruising in the Clyde!

There is a pod of bottlenose dolphins cruising the Clyde at the moment. We saw them in the mouth of Loch Fyne, just south of Tarbert. The captain of the MV Loch Tarbert called us up on deck to witness an amazing display of leaping cetaceans. I have never taken so many photos of splashes!

How many dolphins do you see playing in the ferry's wake!

After all the excitement the MV Loch Tarbert motored on and after one and a half hours we disembarked at lovely Loch Ranza on Arran. This white van from a local hotel reversed down the slip to pick up several boxes of fish that had been put on the ferry at Tarbert. Amazingly, despite being surrounded by water and fishing boats, no fish are landed on the island. So now we know where the hotels get their fish!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Up to the elbows in it!

Many sea kayakers, the world over, know Gordon Brown of Skyak either from attending one of his courses, like I have, or attending the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium. Many others will know him only through his excellent book "Sea kayak" published by Pesda Press.

I am delighted to hear that my friend, and fellow sea kayaker, Simon Willis is currently making a series of instructional DVDs with Gordon. As Gordon is one of the most respected BCU level 5 coaches and Simon is a very experienced journalist and broadcaster, these should be really worth watching out for.

As you can see, Simon is up to his elbows in hard work!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tarbert castle and East Loch Tarbert

After a breezy crossing of Loch Fyne, we slipped into the shelter of East Loch Tarbert under the grey walls of Tarbert castle. The name Tarbert lets you know that this is a narrow neck of land, separating two arms of the sea and that it was where the Vikings dragged their boats overland from one body of water to the other.

A castle was first built here by Magnus Barelegs in 1068. The present structure dates from the 13th century and was extended by King Robert the Bruce in 1325. The tower house, which is the most visible part of the ruins today, was added by King James IV in 1494.

We paddled deep into the recesses of the Loch and came to the small town of Tarbert with its multicoloured houses and rattling yacht masts.

We landed on a patch of seaweed...

...from previous experience, the mud at low tide is very foul smelling!

We enjoyed a lunch in the early spring sunshine, while waiting for the ferry to arrive.

After lunch we paddled back to the ferry jetty at the mouth of the loch. CalMac have recently changed their policy on carrying kayaks on ferries. They used to charge a flat £5 per single trip but they now go free! The only thing is, you need to be able to load and unload the kayaks yourself and not cause delay to the rest of the ferry traffic. A trolley is really the only sensible way to achieve this, especially if you are loaded with camping gear


Monday, March 23, 2009

Of geology and pakora!

We landed at Bracken Bay to the south of the Heads of Ayr. This area must be a geologist's paradise. The Heads are a well preserved lower carboniferous volcanic vent but these adjacent weathered cliffs...

..are composed of the most wonderfully coloured layers of sedimentary rocks, which appear to be sandstone on top of a conglomerate layer.

Relieved by our exploration of the geological features we made our way onwards to Ayr. Phil is as pleased as punch with his new Quest. Just as well, as it was to be well tested twice within the week.

On arrival at Seafield in Ayr, David rushed off to Ayr India to obtain supplies of Scotland's national snack...pakora. All that talk of once hot rocks had given us an appetite for some hot food! We ate with gusto, as the sun went down behind the Heads of Ayr.

From Maidens to Seafield is 20.5km. Tony and I hit 15.5km surfing on following seas in the section south of Dunure.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Return to Arran

We are on Glen Sannox beach after a force 5 wind against tide crossing from Bute and Portencross. Just heating up the bhoona!


Friday, March 20, 2009

End of winter timetable.

Hidden away in the Calmac winter timetable is a little known ferry service. It only runs once per day, if places are reserved in advance, and it stops for the summer season on 26th of March. The ferry leaves Tarbert on the remote Kintyre peninsula at 1215 and arrives at Loch Ranza on Arran at 1340. I have often hoped for a settled spell at this time of year when the sun sets at 1830. This would allow just enough time to paddle back after taking the ferry to Loch Ranza.

We took the car over on the ferry from Gourock to Hunters Quay then drove past Loch Striven and the Kyles of Bute to Portavadie. We then enjoyed a wind assisted blast across the mouth of Loch Fyne to Tarbert where we planned to board the ferry to Arran.

Altogether we paddled 30km and on the way over to Tarbert we hit a maximum speed of 12km/hr.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring is sprung in Skipness

Just paddled from Arran to Kintyre. We are sitting here in Heaven!


En route to Arran

The ferry from Tarbert should arrive in Loch Ranza shortly. Then we will paddle back to Portavaddie. Just seen a pod of bottlenosed dolpins.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The sound of running water...

Tony and I slipped into the shelter of Dunure Harbour. Just before hand, in the fantastic mixture of swell and clapotis among the Dunure skerries, Tony said "isn't it great how much fun you can have only 10 miles from your front door?" I replied "and we're only 200 yards from the pub!"

We had arrived early and David and Phil were still loading their boats. Deck bags with flares and electric pumps and cans of ballast were carefully distributed. We were clearly ahead of schedule and so found ourselves within the portals of the pub! It had just opened after being closed for the winter. However, it will need to improve its service, we almost died of thirst before the Guinness arrived. It was a pleasure to be able to toast the good St Patrick and the arrival of Phil's new kayak.

We were soon heading north for Ayr. As the wind and swell were coming from the south, we were now sheltered by the headland at Dunure. A bottle was drifting towards the rocks but we did not stop to see if it contained a message.

Phil was pleased as punch with his new Quest. It was one of the first out of the mould but the previous owner had hardly used it.

The coastline was composed of low wooded cliffs over which a series of delightful burns...

...cascaded and splashed noisily into the sea.

The sound of running water has a certain physiological effect on men of a certain age. It was time for a stop at a convenient beach.


Remember, alcohol and sea water do not mix!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A free ride to Dunure.

Within minutes from launching in the shelter of Maidens, we emerged into a fun ride of wind and swell that would carry us to Dunure at speeds of up to 15.4km/hr.

The coastline is formed of a series of underwater and raised beaches. Swells speed up when they hit the sunken beach and give some great paddling.

On Saturday the wind had being blowing from the SW at 20 to 30 knots but by Sunday it had dropped to a much more manageable 12 to 15 knots.

The swells from the day before gave us free ride after free ride and we were in Dunure about an hour before we had planned to meet David and Phil.