Thursday, July 30, 2009

A winter warm up

Saturday morning on the 28th of February saw us driving from Ballachulish SW for the lovely little Port Appin. A nice friendly standing wave or two develops as the tide runs south between Appin and the island of Lismore especially if there is a southerly wind.

After a good winter morning workout we broke out behind Lismore to catch our breath.

We then headed north up the east coast of Shuna. Jennifer Tony and I were joined by...

...Harvey. We don't get out with Harvey so much these days, since he discovered river kayaking in a big way.

Our route was to take us NE up Loch Linnhe and then in through the tidal narrows of Loch Leven.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Better Days in Loch Leven!

Back at the end of February, when I was still able to walk, Tony and I drove with our families to the excellent Isles of Glencoe hotel on the shores of Loch Leven. We were bound for the Scottish Canoe Association, luxury weekend.

The hotel is most conveniently situated on a little peninsula that juts into Loch Leven and was once the spoil tip of the Ballachulish slate quarries. A railway from Oban was constructed in 1903 and terminated here at the quarries. In the 1950's I remember seeing steam engines on this line but it closed in 1966 and all that remains is a solitary signal. The line of the railway is being used to create a new coastal cycle and walk way.

I am always on the lookout for boats that have seen better days and this one is an absolute cracker! Clearly, although the owner may not have been very good at parking the thing, he (and I assume it was a he) was quite handy with a welding torch!


Monday, July 27, 2009

I don't feel safe in a dinghy!

David, my regular paddling buddy, used to paddle off the Ayrshire coast with John Young in the Kyle Canoe Club (now KKC). John designed and built his own Kyle, skin on frame, sea touring canoe. It was a fast boat as he was interested in speed and trained with Alistair Wilson of Lendal paddles, who competed in kayak sprints in both the 1964 and 1968 Olympics. John also introduced his son Jock to kayaking at the tender age of two. Jock went on to develop an interest in surf kayaking and was Master Longboat Champion at the 2008 British Surf Open.

Back in 1976, Jock took part in a film of a "coastal journey" from Glenfinnan down Loch Sheil, down the River Sheil and falls, into Loch Moidart, then round the Ardnamurchan peninsula and into Loch Sunart. John paddled his father's Kyle kayak. His three companions, Rusty Baillie, Sue Edwards and Liz Elliot paddled composite Valley Anas Acutas which were the latest development at the time, though they did not have either bulkheads or hatches.

The film is beautifully shot and features a great scene where they ask the Ardnamurchan lighthouse keeper (think Peter Sellers does Thunderbirds)for a weather forecast.

The closing seconds of the film feature Jock and Rusty paddling along the dark rocks of Ardnamurchan in a huge swell. Jock turns just in time to meet a monster wave and his sea canoe gets tossed high into the sky, with big air below his keel. As the film fades he is heard to say "I don't feel safe in a dinghy."

When you see this clip you will know what it takes to be a Master Surf champion!

I would love to track down the original of this wonderful film. It deserves to be shown again, perhaps at the Perth Canoe show. Simon Willis was not aware of this film but has kindly agreed to use his professional contacts to try and track the original down.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Cave of Knockbrex is no longer lost!

I had decided to look for the lost cave of Knockbrex, not at the current shoreline but at the back of the ancient shoreline of the raised beach. I found the cave almost straight away, though I had passed this spot many times before. Ivy draped itself over the rocks round the cave. An ancient bough, above the mouth, had recently broken thus possibly exposing the cave for the first time in many years.

Inside it was one of the driest caves I have ever been in, the floor was so perfectly level, I suspect it had been made by the hand of man. The beaches in these parts were frequented by the Solway smugglers and almost certainly this one would have been piled high with casks of claret and rolls of tobacco from the Isle of Man. There were even flat rocky ledges to store a bottle or two! It may well be that the covering ivy had been "planted" by the smugglers for the purposes of concealment.

I paddled home with a sense of satisfaction that my short 9km pasddle had solved a long standing mystery. I think Lucy Walford would have written another novel about it.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The amusing story of the novelist and the lost cave of Knockbrex

I paddled across Fleet Bay and took a break at the sandy cove of Knockbrex. Not far from the beach is a fine large mansion which was built by a Manchester businessman Mr James Brown in 1895. It was built on the site of an older mansion, which was part of the Selkirk estate but Knockbrex dates back to at least the 1650's when it belonged to the Gordon family.

The Scottish novelist, Lucy Bethia Walford (1845-1919), lived here for three years when her father took a tenancy from the Selkirks. She described Knockbrex (which was one of the the finest mansions in these parts): "though unpretending, was very much the kind of house we liked. Every window had a view : on the one hand, of a wild and storm-beaten district, wooded after a fashion on the hillsides, with the hills rising into mountains beyond ; while on the other was the famed Solway Firth, across which we could at times distinguish on the far horizon the faint outlines of the Isle of Man."

She and her brothers had "arrived at Knockbrex full of the wonders of a sea cave containing fossil remains said to be of great antiquity, of which he had heard as being in the neighbourhood." Despite much searching, she never discovered it. In her book, Recollections of a Scottish Novelist (1910), she recounts an amusing (though a century has not been kind to the humour) story of how she attempted to find it.

She and her family were all dressed in their finery on their way to a gala when they heard they were passing the house of the elderly man who owned the cave and looked after the fossils. There was a large number of carriages outside the man's house and they thought the fossil museum must be very popular. The house was crowded with men in black clothes and she thought they must be a gathering of ministers, though some looked very young. She became annoyed when her requests to be taken to the owner of the cave were ignored. Finally a young man ushered her in to a darkened room and said "This is the owner of the cave!"

The man was dressed in his Sunday best but was clearly well past his own best as he lay quite dead in his coffin. She recounts "We fled indignantly and precipitately ; nor did we once give way to mirth till far away and out of sight. But we never saw the cave, then or thereafter."

Well Lucy sounds very much like the kind of gal that describes a mansion as "unpretending"!

I have been visiting the Knockbrex shore regularly over the last 40 years and I have never found the cave either. It was a quite lovely afternoon so I decided to take another look for the wondrous cave....


Thursday, July 23, 2009

You're not paddling down here son!

Regular visitors to these pages will know that our local, and most frequently paddled waters, are those of Ayrshire's Carrick coast. Well last weekend, Tony, David and Phil went for one of our usual outings on the coast between Dunure and Turnberry.

No sooner had they rounded the Point than an all black RIB roared up at high speed. It was manned by big blokes in all black drysuits with dark glasses and black berets with big, black automatic guns.

"What do you think you're doing?" the leading maritime, anti-terrorist officer asked politely.

Tony looked at the kayaks and then at the sea before giving a considered and equally polite reply, "We're paddling."

Never taking his eye off Tony's paddling knife, the man in black replied (even more politely this time) "Well you're not paddling down here son."

Obviously outgunned, Tony, David and Phil turned their bows and made their way reluctantly back to the pub at Dunure.

With good excuse, David and Phil spent some time appreciating the Guinness in a very crowded Dunure Inn. They were soon perspiring in their brightly coloured dry suits, (Phil in red and David in plum). After a time, their mood was lifted when a female American golf journalist asked for their autographs!

Photos by Tony.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Clear Solway tide

I slowly paddled east from Rumblekirn to a break in the cliffs.

By its nature the Solway Firth, with its extensive sand flats at low tide, tends to have cloudy water...

... but a period of light easterly winds had allowed the sediment to settle.

I enjoyed a peaceful swim in the unusually clear waters.

Another 14km Solway paddle.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Full Moon at Rumblekirn!

It was a full moon when we arrived at Fleet bay on the Solway Firth. That meant a spring tide and that gives access to all sorts of interesting places at high water!

My destination was "rumblekirn", an amazing rock formation, which I recently found. Here the vertically aligned strata of sedimentary greywacke (Hawick rocks) tell of enormous forces that compressed and distorted the Earth's crust in these parts. The name "rumblekirn" means "rumble churn" in Scots. I would certainly not relish being churned round in here at the height of a storm. Waves smash through the back of rumblekirn creating an enormous blowhole.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Sea shells and egg shells on the sea shore

On the storm line, high above the normal high water mark, on Ardwall Island I found a huge bank of shells.

It was really quite a remarkable sight.

As I returned to the beach I noticed this oystercatcher's nest hidden in a clump of thrift.

The eggs looked so beautiful nestling there beside some mussel shells. I moved quickly but carefully away so that I did not disturb the birds or tread on any other eggs.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dawn boat to Ardwall and Barlocco Isles

Time for a reminisce. Back on the 1st of June I rose at dawn expecting me to be first out to the Islands of Fleet.

Not much chance, Iain beat me to it. Iain has been mucking about in boats for at least 0.75 of a C.

I landed on Ardwall Island before...

...making my may out to Barlocco Isle.

I went for a swim but it was so cold, I couldn't hold the camera straight afterwards.

Just an early morning bimble of 10km.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Watch the birdie!

David and Phil were down at our usual haunt the Carrick coast of Ayrshire. Unlike this photo taken in winter, Turnberry was heaving with people and cameras. Apparently there are some folk playing golf there this weekend

Anyway as I have cabin fever, I was watching the golf highlights on telly (excuse the oxymoron) when all of a sudden, a bored cameraman swings his lens round to the sea and there they were, rockhopping with Arran in the background.

For a moment the commentators were lost for words then the following conversation took place:

Commentator 1: "I've never understood doing that."

Commentator 2: "How do you stop it from filling with water?"

Commentator 1: "Do they just sit in water all day?"

Commentator 2: "I don't fancy the sound of that."

Anyway David, Phil and Tony are away back down there today, see if you can spot them!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paddle Orkney 09

Photo by Johnny, OSKA

Mary Saunders, from those friendly folk at the Orkney Sea Kayaking Association, has just been in touch with details about their Paddle Orkney 09 weekend on 14th to 16th August.

I would love to go to Orkney but with my bust knee, it will need to be next year. If you fancy going, get in touch with Mary quickly as numbers are limited to 30. You can download an application form here.

I hope it is a great event.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Seven years to Coll but it's too late to call

Our trip to Coll had been seven years in gestation. When I first thought of taking up sea kayaking, in the summer of 2002, I gave the late Mike Thomson of Scottish Paddler Supplies a phone call. He sent me his catalogue and on the front cover there was a wonderful photo, by Ronnie Weir, of a white shell sand cove with azure blue water backed by hills of grey gneiss and green grass. Three kayaks lay on the beach ready to take their owners on to the next piece of paradise. Mike is walking purposely towards his kayak, pipe clamped firmly between his teeth.

I soon called Mike back. “Where is that?” I asked him. “Oh that’s the west coast of Coll”, said Mike in his deep gravelly voice, "you will need good weather and a great deal of luck to get out there!”

Each year since then, I have tried to get to Coll but the weather and or surf always broke before we went. Each year, Mike would ask, "Well have you got to Coll yet?" That was how he started our last phone conversation in about May 2008, just before he died. I always answered "Not yet Mike, but soon!" Mike always said, "Give me a call as soon as you get there". Well we finally made it out to Coll on this year's second attempt and it was everything Mike said it would be.

Mike, I am sorry it's too late to call, but thanks for the inspiration.



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Storm clouds lift over Portuairk, Ardnamurchan

After the apparent calm of the open crossing it was good to be paddling along a shore again but it was surprising how much swell there actually was.

Soon we entered the long channel to the sheltered anchorage of Portuairk. Dark clouds were gathering overhead.

We waited for a downpour as we made our way through the moored fishing boats.

We arrived just after high water so there was not too much of a carry. I limped up to the grass and cracked open a Guinness as I watched the ground support team carry the boats up to the road. The storm clouds lifted and the sun came out giving a marvelous view of Muck, Rum and distant Canna. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and felt very satisfied at the completion of a fantastic trip despite the problems caused by injury.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dark skies over Ardnamurchan

We crossed the Sound of Coll slowly but steadily. At last, the tower of Ardnamurchan lighthouse could be made out against the background of the hills and mountains behind. Above the land, dark clouds began to tower into the sky.

Ben Hiant (528m) is the distant hill to the left while the ridge to the right rises to Beinn na Seilg (344m)

As we approached the lighthouse the tidal current increased and our transit between the lighthouse...

...and the hills behind was soon lost. It did not really matter as we were aiming for the next headland to the north. We were nearly home!


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coll, calm and collected; crossing the Sound

By now my dislocated knee had swollen to the size of a melon and the pain was nearly unbearable. David, Jennifer and Jim carried my kayak to the water's edge and carefully lifted me in. I had a full ten litre water bag on the cockpit floor, which I used to support my knee. The others then carried their own boats through the narrow slot in the rocks of Coll. I am pleased to say that the ringed plovers and their chick were now ignoring us and we left them in to have their beach in peace. We now call this place Plover Beach!

It would take us about 3 hours to make the crossing so our initial vector had to take account of the average about 3km/hr tidal flow to our left (north). We set off towards the Sound of Mull which is some 6km up tide from Ardnamurchan point.

I did not feel like taking many photos on the crossing but I could not resist this shot of the P&H Cetus's fine bow lines. The colour of the boat also matched the conditions perfectly!

As we progressed across the Sound of Coll, the wind dropped and the skies cleared. Our passage was enlivened by flocks of swirling shearwaters that wheeled round and round us.

Despite being distracted by the pain in my knee, I was quite pleased with our ferry angle across the Sound. You can see places where we stopped for a rest and the tide carried us northwards at 3km/hr. We hit a stronger current as we approached Ardnamurchan Point.