Thursday, April 30, 2009

South West Sea Kayak Meet - 12th-14th June

Mark Rainsley has organised the second South West Sea Kayak Meet for the 12th to 14th June

This promises to be a fun alternative to the many established UK symposia. The SW has a stunning coastline and I am very tempted to go myself but I can't travel very far from home at the moment.

Have a great meet!

Zen and the Art in Sea Kayaking


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sea kayaking Carsethorn to Southerness

Crossing the broad expanse of Drum Bay we approached Carsethorn .Having been denied white topped foaming Solway Steeds we now looked forward to some white topped foaming pints of Guinness in the waterfront beer garden of the Steamboat Inn. Sadly, our thirst went unslaked, not only were the no rooms, the Inn was closed!!!! Hopefully, it will reopen soon.

Chugging up and down, just off shore, the Leah Marie, MT117, was dredging for cockles. For most of the day the Carse Sands are dry land. They are only covered by water for a couple of hours at high tide. This little trawler from Maryport on the English coast of the Solway had to time her arrival with some precision. She is quite a new boat having been built in 2006 but it looks like she has a wood burning engine in there!

Quite thirsty we came to the Thirl Stane. At high tide you can paddle right through this natural arch into a delightful sandy cove behind. As it was, the tide was retreating quickly and we had to press on to our final destination Southerness.

Southerness is a rocky point which extends south into the sands of the Solway coast. The lighthouse is the second oldest in Scotland. It was commissioned in 1748 to encourage ships to use the ports of Carsethorn, Glencaple, Kingholm Quay and Dumfries.

The lighthouse is surrounded by water at high tide. It was heightened on at least two occasions but due to decrease in shipping traffic in the Upper Solway it was last lit in 1936.

The old village of Southerness is rather attractive with low cottages which seem to shrink into the ground to escape the winds that blast across the point. Unfortunately it has grown somewhat and is now surrounded by a huge caravan park. We chose not to stop at the pub.

All in all a thirsty 25km trip from Dumfries to Southerness but what a magnificent way to enter the Solway!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Nith bore

Leaving Glencaple, we entered the 2.5km straight channel, which is hemmed in by mud banks and connects the Nith to the sea at Airds Point. It was here that we expected to meet the Nith bore. It was 2 days after springs, on an 8.1m tide, so we expected a wave or two! It was 12:43. High water Hestan Island (0n the Solway) was due at 14:47 (HW Liverpool 14:21) We were drifting downstream with the river current at 8km/hr when all of a sudden the water ahead began to slope down towards us, its colour darkened and its surface was contorted with small ripples, then whumph! We were now travelling back towards Dumfries at 12km/hr. There was no broken water just a sudden change in velocity of 20km/hr! It was really quite disconcerting.

We were going to make nothing against the current on the right side of the channel, so we ferried across to the far side where the water was shallower. This and the help of an eddy allowed us to get another 500m towards the sea. We then ferried back to the right side of the channel where a series of piles created a little eddy from which we clambered onto the mud bank.

We dragged our kayaks up the steep mud and onto the merse above. We decided to have a lunch break and watched the tide rush by, filling the bay and covering the mudflats.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, the flood tide began to ease after only an hour.

We were soon on the water again and clearing Airds Point. Criffel came into view with Carsethorn at its foot. Carsethorn is another of the ports of Dumfries.

Carsethorn lies on the long low peninsula on the horizon, it was still 6km away.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Quays, trawlers, geese and the White Steeds of the Solway.

Making our way down the River Nith from the port of Dumfries, we came to Kingholm Quay.

Substantial boats can use Kingholm Quay at high tide. Petronella of Portsmouth is a converted beam trawler P673. She was built in Holland in 1964 and is 78 feet long. She worked out of Portsmouth then Shoreham before becoming unregistered in 2004.

Beyond Kingholm quay we caught our first sight of distant Criffel, 569m. Our destination Southerness, lies a further 8km south of Criffel's summit.

Huge flocks of wintering barnacle geese made an impressive sight as they flew from field to field, fattening themselves on spring shoots before their migration to Svalbard.

We now approached the quay of Glencaple on the long entrance to the Nith from the Solway. There is a warning in the Nith Navigation web site for boats not to anchor in mid channel as the Solway bore can flood in increasing in depth by 2 metres in 2 seconds!

In his History of the Burgh of Dumfries, 1867, William McDowall wrote:

"The Solway, into which the Nith flows, has peculiar characteristics, that render it quite a topographical study. Numerous currents meeting near its mouth keep up a perpetual conflict; and twice in every twenty-four hours the tidal flow, suddenly raised above its ordinary level, and rendered fierce by the tumult, seeks an outvent at the estuary, through which it rushes with a speed that is nowhere rivalled in the United Kingdom, or perhaps in the world. It hurries on, carrying a head four to six feet high, filling up the tortuous channels, and sweeping over the broad level beds of the Frith with a rapidity that has earned for its foam-crested billows the title of the White Steeds of the Solway."

Another old trawler Alison Louise, UK77, is tied up at the quay. She looks very battered and forlorn. She last operated out of Brixham but her days at sea are over. The smaller flat bottomed boat is the Askari, BA17 a scallop dredger. She can also be seen in Kirkcudbright and Girvan harbours.

The tide was due to arrive at any time. We could have waited for its arrival in the safety of the Nith Hotel but we chose to press on in search of the White Steeds of the Solway!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Down town sea kayaking in Dumfries!

On our search for the bore of the river Nith we launched in the town of Dumfries, which is the historical lowest crossing point of the river. We paddled upstream at first, under St Michaels road bridge and the Nith suspension footbridge which was opened in 1875 and restored in 1985.

We got up as far as some gravel beds just below the tidal weir. Beyond this is Devorgilla's bridge. This dates from 1432 though it has been repaired many times since then. It is now only used as a foot bridge. It is named after Devorgilla , the mother of John Balliol who was a "puppet" King of Scotland, chosen by Edward I of England.

We now turned our bows in the direction of the flow and were soon...

...speeding down stream past the old Rosefield textile mill of Dumfries. Its doors have been closed since the depression of the 1930's.

We then passed under the lowest bridge over the Nith. This is the Kirkpatrick MacMillan Bridge, which opened in 2006. It is a cycle and footbridge and forms part of the National Cycle Network. Sadly this bridge has blocked access for any large or masted vessel to the historic quay in Dumfries from which we had just launched.

Thanks to watret2 for correctly identifying the Kirkpatrick Macmillan bridge!


Friday, April 24, 2009

Sea kayaking from Hamilton Isle to Brodick, Arran

Despite its size, Arran only has three satellite islands. Pladda on the south, Holy Island on the east and little Hamilton Isle, to the north of Holy Island. I am afraid we just call it Hamilton Rock!

As we made our way round Clauchlands Point the magnificent peak of Goatfell, 874m soared into view.

Round successive headlands, views of more of Arran's granite ridges pulled us on towards Brodick Bay.

Finally, we approached Corriegills Point round which lay our destination, Brodick and the ferry back to Ayrshire. We had nearly come to the end of a fantastic trip to Arran and Ailsa Craig. We had experienced two significant open crossings, some amazing bird life on the Craig and some superb coastal paddling under Arran's rocky ridges.

We covered 60km over the weekend, 42km of which were the open crossings. Our total paddling time was 12 hours and I lost 4lbs in weight. Now let's see, how far would I need to paddle....?


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Holy Island, the cave of St Molaise and modern day monks.

We entered the enclosure of Lamlash Bay. It was quite a contrast to the exposure of yesterday's open crossings. We were bound for Holy Island which encloses the east side of the bay.

We made landfall at the cave of St Molaise. The saint was born as a prince of Ulster in 588AD but renounced his throne and chose the life of a religious hermit in this cave. After about 10 years, he travelled to Rome and trained as a priest. On his return, he made his way to the monastery of Leighlin in Ireland. He eventually became its abbot and under his leadership it grew to house over 1500 monks.

Eider ducks were courting across the bay. This drake was not letting its duck out of his sight!

At the north end of the island, the monks of the Samye Ling Buddist monastery have extended the old farmhouse to create a visitor and study center.

There are eight white stupas on the path from the landing place to the centre (five can be seen in the photo). Stupas convey immeasurable benefits to any living thing that walks three times round one in a clockwise direction.

When we last visited in August 2007 there were "No Landing" signs round the island. I complained to the North Ayrshire Council Access Officer. She said that she had received a number of complaints and would be visiting the island to inform the monks of how they had to abide by the Land Reform Act (Scotland) just like any other landowner. I am delighted to report that the monks have now removed the signs, well done them.

However, their website still says "We strongly discourage camping anywhere on the island."
This is an unacceptable disregard of the Law of Scotland by the current owners of Holy Island.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and Scottish Outdoor Access Code became law on 9th February 2005. The Act establishes a statutory right to camp and the Code describes the responsibilities and best practice that should be followed when exercising a right to wild camp.

The section in the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865, which contained an offence of camping on land without the consent of the owner or occupier, has been repealed via Schedule 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The Act confirms that camping is a lawful activity when done by a person in the exercise of the access rights created by the Land Reform Act.

The full Scottish Outdoor Access Code can be read here.

Soon we left the North entrance to Lamlash Bay, leaving the distinctive outline of Holy Island in our wakes.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Red rocks at Kildonnan.

After a pretty late start on Sunday morning, we launched from the beach at Kildonan at half tide. The middle beach is composed of great slabs of old red sandstone. These sedimentary rocks were laid down when this part of Scotland lay on the equator. Their deep red colour still hints at the heat of ancient equatorial sunshine.

The ruined tower of Kildonan Castle sits on the cliff line of a raised beach. It was built by the Lords of the Isles but became a Royal Castle at the beginning of the 15th century. My careful framing of the photograph does not show that it is actually at the bottom of the garden of a private house.

We continued under the raised beach of Dippen Head. This is one of the few parts of Arran where the road does not hug the coast and it is a truly wild place.

Jennifer waited for us at Largybeg Point beyond which ...

... Holy Island came into view.

By the time we reached the dark red sands at the north end of Whiting Bay, it was time for a break. Jennifer went for a swim ...

... while David, Phil and I enjoyed a refreshing luncheon under the unaccustomed heat of the early Spring sunshine.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ailsa Craig to Arran

After paddling round Ailsa Craig there was still a nasty swell and force 4 northerly so we decided to explore the island for a bit and have something to eat. Then at 1630 the wind began to drop. I reckoned we would be able to complete the 22km to Arran by nightfall and even if we didn't, the lighthouse on Pladda would guide us. We would need to get going though so as we would be well clear of the high speed ferry from Larne to Troon which was due to pass between Ailsa and Arran about 7pm!

David and Phil graunched the double trying to launch of the steep boulder beach in the swell. There was an ominous crack and the rudder wouldn't work. Rather than risk re-landing I got the rudder out the water and left them to paddle without.

A menacing roaring and rumbling filled the air. The high speed ferry was on her way at 41 knots!

We turned round several times to scan the horizon but we were well out of the way when the ferry passed to the east of us. In the distance you can just see Pladda lighthouse to the right of Jennifer. It felt quite exposed out there!

It was a wonderful night for a long crossing and Jennifer and I really enjoyed it...

However, all the way across, David and Phil moaned that the double was just about impossible to handle. I thought they were just a couple of wusses who couldn't steer a kayak with only paddles so I had little sympathy.

Eventually we made landfall at Pladda. Its early lighthouse has two towers. Before flashing lights were invented, this was to differentiate it from the other lights at the entrance to the Clyde. We had intended camping on Pladda but we discovered the island was completely covered in nesting gulls. Even worse, we discovered the huge centre hatch of the Aleut double was full of water and David and Phil had not enough dry bags for all their clothes and sleeping gear! The next day we discovered the cracking noise was a due to the bulkhead bolts (which fix the two pieces of the Aleut together) loosening off and allowing the bulkheads to flex apart. The bulkhead sealing gasket had been leaking all the way across. No wonder the Aleut was not handling with all that water sloshing about. I did by now feel a little sympathy for the Aleut boys so...

... time for a sharp exit to Kildonan camp site, a hot shower and the pub! There was a wedding on in the pub, it was like something out the Wicker Man. It was a late night after a long day.

This is seakayaking!


To Arran via Ailsa Craig

We had originally intended going to Colonsay last Friday night but the easterly winds were up to 35 knots. The forecast for the Clyde on Saturday was for force 3 easterly and on Sunday force 3 southerly so we thought we would go on a little 42km trip to Arran via Ailsa Craig. We met at Lendalfoot on the south Ayrshire coast.

Of course the forecast wasn't quite right and we had a fresh northerly on Saturday. At nearby Campbeltown airport it got up to 19 knots. It made for a bumpy crossing and I thought that we would need to abandon our attempt on Arran. You can see from our track to Ailsa Craig where we got blown down wind on two occasions when the wind really got up.

Instead, we decided to paddle round the Craig. On the sheltered southerly side we had amazing views...

... of thousands and thousands of nesting gannets and....

... amazing rock architecture like here at Stranny Point.