Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sea kayaking desktop wallpaper calendar, December 2010.

December, resting at Rainbow Rock, Rhins of Galloway, after an exciting trip round the Mull!

The seakayakphoto.com December desktop wallpaper calendar (in a variety of screen resolutions) is available for download here.

We paddled off into the sunset in Loch Linnhe.

The River Lochy discharged us into Loch Linnhe, which stretched away to the SW and the distant Corran Narrows.

We soon came to Fort William, Scotland's outdoor capital. The town is not just a tourist centre it is also an unpretentious working place and so is not, perhaps, one of the most scenic of coastal towns.  It is hemmed in to a narrow ribbon of land by Loch Linnhe on one side and Ben Nevis on the other. The only space to build the town bypass was along the shore, the town shows its "derrière à la mer" as they say further south. To be fair, when they built the bypass, they did not demolish a curving street of "but and bens", nestling round a silver strand with peat smoke curling into the still highland air from their lums. Rather the bypass was built where the railway used to run! Neither is the town pier a tourist attraction. There was no funfair at the end of this long pier, only some heavy barges.

We left Fort William and set off down Loch Linnhe...

...it was a glorious winter evening as we...

...paddled off into the sunset.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Luncheon on a gravel bed in the River Lochy.

The sea lock of the Caledonian Canal opens to Loch Linnhe beside Corpach pier.

For a little while, the canal follows the shore and we paddled below some fishing boats.

We now crossed the head of loch Linnhe towards...

... Fort William. Unfortunately we turned left instead of right.

The first warning of our mistake was that the kayaks' seam lines were closer to the water, and talking of water, it was decidedly the lo-salt variety.

We had entered the River Lochy, which drains the wettest part of Scotland and so is quite big.

Being in a dryish spell, we paddled below great banks of shingle, which rather restricted our horizons.

It was quite surreal, every so often our eyes rose above the shingle bank and  suddenly the landscape was revealed to us. In this photo I am looking straight up Glen Nevis, where much of the shingle will have come from.

We eddy hopped upstream but eventually the current became too strong. We ferry glided across the main flow to take a break on a shingle bank in the middle of the river. Jim had hoped to get up to the "smelter play wave", where the water exits from the hydro power station that provides the electricity for the aluminium smelter. It opened in 1929. The pipes carry the water for 24 km under the mountains and exit from the slopes of Ben Nevis. The plant produces 40,000 tons of aluminium each year and employs about 174 people.

It was a well earned break for a luncheon on an exposed part of the river bed.

The view up Glen Nevis to Sgurr a' Mhaim (1099m) made this one of the best lunch spots ever. However our sojourn was cut short, the river was rising due to the high tide in Loch Linnhe and our little world steadily shrunk. It was time to go...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ben Nevis and Corpach Pier.

We had come to photograph Ben Nevis (1344m) and were not optimistic, given the thick cloud that had enveloped the upper slopes of Scotland's highest mountain during our approach. From November to January the mountain's summit is in the clouds for 80% of the time. So we could not believe our luck when a weather window opened and the summit and magnificent northern corrie were revealed.

The great northern corrie of Ben Nevis provides some of the finest rock and ice climbing in Scotland.

Photo from Library of Congress collection.

A weather observatory was built on the summit of  Ben Nevis in 1883 and hourly observations were made until it closed in 1904. It was designed by the lighthouse engineer Thomas Stevenson. He also invented the Stevenson screen to protect meteorological instruments in exposed places.  The observatory had a wooden tower to allow access when the building was buried in snow.

Corpach Pier was constructed between 1804 and 1806 to service the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, which was finally completed in 1822. A ferry connected Corpach to Fort William, which lies at the foot of Ben Nevis.

In the 1850's steamers began to bring tourists from Glasgow and Corpach developed as a tourist resort.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Better days in Corpach.

Arriving in Loch Linnhe we almost immediately came to a large pier that runs for nearly 500m out to the deep water channel. It was built to service a large wood pulp mill which operated her from the 1960's until it closed in 1980. At its peak 900 people worked there. There is still a paper mill and a saw mill on the site.

Fort William and Corpach have reinvented themselves as the UK's outdoor capital and each year more people are drawn to the area for its skiing, snowboarding, winter and rock climbing, white water and sea kayaking, mountain biking, sailing etc. However it is not just adventure seekers, cruise ships now come and tie up at Corpach pier. This year, 16th May, the cruise liner MV Spirit of Adventure was given a little assistance to manoeuvre to the pier...
..by the diminutive but shipshape local tug, the Fiona.

Other boats were less shipshape, though there was hope for this old fishing boat as she was tied up at the local boat yard pier.

Sadly this old barge had seen better days. Her rusting plates seemed to blend into the russets of the landscape and the sea weed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reminiscent of a river: the Loch Eil narrows.

As we approached the tidal narrows at the mouth of Loch Eil...

...the summit of Ben Nevis was still lost in the clouds.

In the narrows, the west going flood starts at -0435 HW Oban (+0220 HW Dover) and the east going ebb starts at  +0130 HW Oban (-0400 HW Dover). The spring rate in both directions is 5 knots. We were in the narrows an hour before the end of the ebb and were surprised to be drifting at 3.2 knots.

This boat had found a sheltered spot to hole up for the winter.

We stopped for a quick break in the middle of the narrows. With the trees coming right down to the shore, above the flowing water, we both thought the scene was reminiscent of a large river like the Tay. Well, apart from the sea weed that is!

On the water again, for the first time there was some sign of the cloud on the Ben lifting. Maybe we would get photographs of  Ben Nevis after all.

We now left the shelter of the narrows and entered the broad sweep of the head of Loch Linnhe. First signs of industry at Corpach and Fort William appeared. We were about to return to civilisation!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A very modest Ben, above Loch Eil.

At first we made rapid progress down Loch Eil.

Every so often the sun would break through the grey blanket of cloud...

...that hugged the Lochaber landscape.

We were averaging about 7-8km/hr...

...with the help of the ebb tide.

Our bows cut through the calm water but all too soon...

...we drifted to a stop. The scenery  just grabbed our attention.

Stop/start was to be the order of the day...

...as photo opportunities kept appearing out of the clouds. However, Ben Nevis (our target of the day) was proving to be very elusive with the summit hiding behind a thick veil of cloud. A 900m cloud ceiling would reveal many Scottish mountains but not Ben Nevis, which is 1343m high.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glen Sannox, Arran from Portencross, Ayrshire

A 31km day trip from Portencross to Glen Sannox on Arran and back via Brodick and the Arran ferry.

HMS Dragon was on sea trials in the Sound of Bute as we crossed...

...towards the magnificent vista of the Glen Sannox mountains.

There be dragons at the end of rainbows in the Clyde!

Clyde ore, prawns and peninsulas.

Making the most of short winter days.

This dragon does not belch smoke!

Landfall on the golden sands of Sannox.

Guaranteed seal sighting at Corrie, or your money back!

A dream of the otter and the mountain.

Photo album map.

Sea of tranquility in Loch Eil.

Last Sunday Jim and I left Glasgow at 6am. We were bound for the head of Loch Eil which is deep within the mountains of Lochaber. We dropped one car off (as our shuttle) on the shores of Loch Linnhe, just north of the Corran Narrows.

Not a breath of wind disturbed the waters of Loch Eil and to the west, the mountains above Glen Finnan were perfectly reflected on the calm water. From left they are: Beinn an Tuim 810m, Meall an Uillt Chaoil 844m, Stob Coire nan Cearc 887m and on the extreme right, Streap 909m.

There is a long passing place, suitable for parking, on the single track road just above a large rock on the beach. In the distance, Ben Nevis 1344m was lost in thick cloud.

If this old lifeboat is moored offshore and is a pretty unmissable guide that you have arrived at the correct spot.
We soon had the kayaks on the beach ready to go.

The waters of Loch Eil are a long way from the open sea and not a hint of swell reached the upper recesses of the loch. We set off on a tranquil sea.