Sunday, February 28, 2010

Curarrie Port, any port in a storm.

There are few breaches in the line of cliffs along this coast but Currarie Port is one. In 1869 the crew of the schooner Louisa had a lucky escape here. She came ashore here on the night of the second of November while sailing from Belfast to Ayr and was totally wrecked. By great good fortune all of her crew were saved. If her final course had been just 50m to either side, she would have been wrecked in deep water at the base of the cliffs and all would have been lost.

We decided the shelter of the port would make an excellent location for an early luncheon.

As we compared the lines of the P&H Cetus and Cetus LV, the skies cleared and the sun...

...warmed the rocks where we found some shelter from the chill wind. We chatted about how lucky those sailors were to end up here.

Fortified by our refreshments, we continued on our exploration of the south Ayrshire coast.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tony's special cave vision spectacles.

We left Ballantrae in beautiful early February sunshine. The bay and village were framed by Bennane Head and Knockdolian which in misty conditions could often be mistaken for Ailsa Craig. Many sailing ships found themselves foundering on the steep shingle shore instead of being in the deep water on either side of Ailsa Craig. To this day local seafarers call Knockdolian "False Ailsa Craig".

To the south banks of sea fog hid the south Ayrshire coast and the more distant Milleur Point.

Gradually the fog dispersed revealing a magnificent series of headlands receding into the distance and Loch Ryan.

Soon we were paddling below steep ramparts, deep in the shade of the low winter sun.

The cliffs have a number of caves at their base, inside one...

...this pair of black Guillemots were peacefully moulting into their adult summer plumage but turned their heads in amazement...

...when they saw Tony's special cave vision spectacles.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Off for the day to Ballantrae

On a Sunny February morning we went off for the day to Ballantrae. The name has Gaelic origins from Baile an Traigh, the village of the beach. It does have a very big beach. However, this name only dates back to 1617. Prior to that it was called Kirkcudbright Innertig. Apparently the Laird of Bargany who rebuilt the ancient Kirk of St Cuthbert at the mouth of the River Tig had a penchant for the Gaelic!

Behind the harbour you will find the Ballantrae registered (BA253) fishing boat Margaret. She was built in 1949 and is 6.55m long. She was still a registered and licenced fishing vessel until at least 2004 but any time I have visited Ballantrae recently, she has been well maintained but high and dry. As of February 2010 she is not registered.

The steep beach to the south of the harbour, where we have previously launched, is renowned for dumping surf. We chose instead the shelter of the harbour wall. Ballantrae is the most southerly village in Ayrshire and at one time its harbour would have been full of vessels fishing the offshore Ballantrae Banks for the herring which arrived in huge numbers every winter to spawn. Due to overfishing, the herring just about died out by the start of the 20th century. Nowadays BA registered boats are more likely to be based in Troon or Kirkcudbright harbours and be fishing for prawns or scallops.

Fifteen kilometers offshore the magnificent profile of Ailsa Craig dwarfed its lighthouse and looked tantalisingly close in the clear winter air.

But we were headed south to Ayrshire's wild Atlantic coast...

...and Tony wasted no time in putting the P&H Cetus LV through its paces on the way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"So, what's your verdict on the Solway, Jim?"

In the Solway the tide goes out for miles leaving either sand or mud. When we arrived at Needle's Eye these salmon stake nets were nearly covered. We knew we had little time left so we paddled out...

...into the Firth to take full advantage of the ebb tide...

... which carried us across the mouth of Rough Firth back to Almorness Point which marks the entrance to Auchencairn Bay. Unfortunately we did not have time to stop at yet another of the Solway's jewels: the little sandy cove at White Port.

We then passed between Almorness Point and Hestan Island. We could tell the water was getting shallower here over Hestan Rack, which joins the island to the mainland at low tide.

It was a relief to get back into the deeper water of Auchencairn Bay again. But our relief was short lived. In the third hour of a spring ebb, the Solway tide moves very quickly and as we paddled towards our launch point, acres of deep glutinous mud were being exposed before our eyes! The firm upper beach was already half a kilometer away on the other side of the mud and I knew my injured knee would not have a hope of surviving wading through it. Strong men and horses have lost their lives in the Solway!

It was time for a plan "B" and I only did this because of my injury. At the entrance to Auchencairn Bay there is an old slipway which led up to a gate through on to the drive to the Tower which is a private residence. I do hope we did not disturb the residents. We quietly loaded the kayaks onto the trolleys and...

...wheeled them past the snowdrops back to the cars.

If we had had time we would have paddled up Rough Firth to Kippford (here there are a couple of pubs) but we drove round. Initially we were disappointed that the Anchor Hotel had closed only the day before because the lease had run out. We did not remain thirsty for very long however. It was but a short walk to the Mariner Hotel.

"So, what's your verdict on the Solway, Jim?"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Threading the Needle's Eye with the Cetus LV!

The staff of are currently puting the P&H Cetus LV through its paces for Ocean Paddler magazine. So far we have taken her to Mull in the Inner Hebrides, Loch Creran in the Firth of Lorn, the Mull of Logan in the North Channel, Ballantrae on the Firth of Clyde and here at the Colvend coast in the Solway Firth. We have been particularly keen to see how she compares with other kayaks such as the Rockpool Alaw Bach.

From Gillis Crag we continued eastward past Port o' Warren...

...and oyster catchers waiting for low tide at Portling, all on our port side,...

...with Skiddaw, 931m, and the mountains of the English Lake District on our starboard side, until...

...we arrived at the magnificent arch called the Needle's Eye!

Once through the Eye, we soon came across another of the Solway's treasures. This little cove is not named on modern maps and is completely cut off by steep red cliffs at high tide.

I discovered it is named Piper's Cove on the OS 6" to 1 mile map published in 1854. A cave nearby had green stains of malachite on its walls and was once a copper mine. The name Piper's Cove could equally apply to the cave as in old Gallovidian "cove" could mean cove or cave.

Piper's Cove, what a fantastic name for a special place. What hardships we have to endure, keeping up a busy testing schedule!

Monday, February 22, 2010

More to see on the Colvend coast

At the Bogle Hole the tide turned and started to ebb. If we wanted to travel east with the Canada geese we needed to leave before the full spring ebb was established.

So we slipped out of the recesses of the Bogle Hole and entered the expanse of the Solway beyond.

We soon came to the monument to the wreck of the schooner Elbe, which was wrecked near this point in December 1867. A storm had broken her rudder off in a cross offshore gale but Captain George Wilson, his father Captain Samuel Wilson and 5 crew managed to steer her by trimming her sails so that she nearly came into the rocks. With each wave her bowsprit overhung the top of the rocks and in turn all seven men leaped to dry shod safety. The wind then carried the Elbe out into the Solway where she was lost.

Next we came to the red rock cliffs of the Cow's Snout.

The cliffs tumble straight into the sea but in some gullies you can still see green deposits of malachite which was mined for copper.

By now the ebb was well established and we had to push on to the next...

...line of cliffs at Gillies Crag.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Any port in a storm #2

All round the Scottish coastline, even in the remotest parts, there are place names such as Port Bhan or White Port in either Gaelic or English. These signify little coves in which our seafaring ancestors could land a small boat, if caught by a storm.

Needless to say, these make ideal places to stop for either a late breakfast or an early luncheon.

In this case, it was just past 11am, so it was an early luncheon. Phil was most concerned as he momentarily couldn't find the Glenlivet anywhere and a luncheon without Glenlivet... why, it is no luncheon at all. Indeed, it should only be considered as a late breakfast!

David then spread our victuals out. A bottle of fine vintage port, some extra mature Stilton, some pheasant pate and crackers.

We scoffed the lot, then washed it down with the Glenlivet and all before the sun had passed the yardarm.

From this day hence, let this cove be known as PORT STILTON!