Monday, January 31, 2011

A post prandial doze under the ancient oak woods of Ardnamurchan.

From Loch Teacuis we crossed to the north shore of Loch Sunart...

...and landed at a lovely little beach under the ancient oak woods of Ardnamurchan.

David was a little too keen to land and he fell out of his cockpit, getting soaked in the process!

While David got changed, Phil and I started our luncheon. Out came oatcakes and a selection of fine mature cheeses, though we left the runnier French ones to David. All this was washed down with a variety of excellent malt whiskies.

After lunch we enjoyed a well deserved post prandial dose in the sun. We were disturbed only by the gentle lapping of the waves, some buzzing bees and David's snoring! Then the tide came in...

...reminding us we still had a fair distance to go!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Three jewels of Loch Sunart: Oronsay, Loch Teacuis and a buried diamond!

A little breeze soon cleared the mist from Loch Drumbuie as we headed off on the third and final day of our circumnavigation of Morvern.

We left Loch Drumbuie by its west entrance as it was still low water and the shallow eastern entrance was still dry.

We were now on a mini circumnavigation of the tidal island Oronsay which divides Loch Drumbuie from Loch Sunart. There are several Oronsays scattered round Scotland. In Old Norse it means tidal island.

We entered an inlet on the north side of Oronsay. Although Oronsay is now uninhabited, the shells of long abandoned cottages looked down on us from  a high ridge.

Back in Loch Sunart, the ice sculpted rocks of the north coast of Oronsay fall steeply into the sea. A rumble of engines behind....

...warned us of the approach of the cruise ship MV Lord of the Glens. Tobermory had clearly not detained her passengers for long and now they were going to do Loch Sunart including Glen Borrowdale Castle. Borrowdale was a Viking who settled here and built a castle to protect his new lands. The current castle was built in 1902 by Charles Rudd, a diamond mine owner. Reputedly, before he died, he buried  a large diamond somewhere in the grounds !

We had now completed our circumnavigation of Oronsay and entered...

...the narrow channel between Carna and the Morvern mainland. This led us through into a beautiful hidden loch, Loch Teacuis, which bites deep into the Morvern peninsula.

We were delighted to meet members of the Inverness Canoe Club, who were out on a day paddle from the Resipole camp site on the shore of Loch Sunart.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Misty Morven morning.

We awoke on a comfortable meadow of grass by the shores of Loch Drumbuie.

A light breeze meant that there was not a single midge to disturb the morning.

There are two kayaking schools. Those that carry their kayaks right up to the tent, regardless how far the tent is from the shore, and those that abandon their kayaks just above the high water mark. We are definitely in the second school.

I love misty mornings on the Scottish west coast...

...especially when the mist is moving and alternately hiding and revealing the mountains.

The mist alters the scale of the landscape and adds a sense of mystery.  Our route would take us through the narrow mouth of Loch Drumbuie and out into Loch Sunart under the summit of Ben Hiant which floated above a sea of mist.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A banquet in Loch Drumbuie!

We had now left the Sound of Mull and were paddling east into Loch Sunart. From a line between Ardnamurchan Point to Mull, Loch Sunart winds for 45 km, deep into the heart of the west coast of Scotland. It forms the northern boundary of the Morvern peninsula.

Mist was gathering over the Ardnamurchan hills at sunset.

We landed at several little bays on the south shore of Loch Sunart but all were backed by bog or great mounds of tussocky grass and entirely unsuitable for a comfortable night's sleep. In truth, I was not really expecting to be able to camp on the shore of Loch Sunart. I had explored it at leisure on previous visits and had indeed chosen not to camp at Auliston Point before. I also had the security of a midge jacket... I knew of a lovely flat grassy meadow deep within the confines of Loch na Droma Buidhe (Loch Drumbuie) which in Gaelic is Loch of the yellow ridge. There was some dissension in the ranks, as we still had about 5km paddling from Aulistion Point. However, since both David and Phil had been equally unwilling to stop at Auliston there was little more than some grumbling and that was mostly from our stomachs due to the inadequate size of our "large" fish suppers.

We entered the narrow channel at the west end  of Loch Drumbuie to find ourselves in a windless paradise at sunset.

A paradise for midges that is, and we were first second and third courses of their banquet! At least David and I had our midge jackets! Poor Phil fully suffered one of the most savage attacks I have ever encountered! Then I remembered I had a spare midge hood, stashed away at the bottom of my emergency bag. Phil's relief was wonderful. We pitched the tents in near darkness then a remarkable thing happened. The midges disappeared with the last light! We had brought a sack of logs and soon had a fire going on the beach. We cooked our evening meal by the crackling logs and under the twinkling stars. Paradise indeed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A barren point and fateful decision.

We set off from Tobermory, past the RNLI Severn class lifeboat Elizabeth Fairlie Ramsay, to cross the Sound of Mull for the second time that day. We were bound for Auliston Point, the NW tip of Morvern.

Rubha nan Gall lighthouse stands at the  NW entrance to the Sound of Mull with the Ardnamurchan peninsula behind.The lighthouse was built in 1857 by David and Thomas Stevenson. It flashes once every three seconds and was automated in 1960.

I hoped to camp at Auliston Point, perhaps on its summit where the breeze would keep the midges away.

 The sun was now setting quickly, behind Ardnamurchan Point with the open sea behind.

We pressed on in the hope of getting the tents up in daylight.

However, after the creature comforts of Tobermory, David and Phil thought Auliston Point a somewhat barrenlooking place for gentlemen sea kayakers to camp at. We now left the Sound of Mull and paddled into Loch Sunart and the approaching night. They would soon learn the error of their ways....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sardines and showers in Tobermory.

On landing in Tobermory our first priority was not the Mishnish Bar but the  Fishermans Pier Fish & Chip Van. This has a considerable reputation for a decent fish supper. It was recommended in the Independent's top 50 fish and chip shops last Saturday and even has a  "Les Routiers" award. The fish is cooked to order (as are the frozen chips) so there is a short wait, which always carries the promise of fresh fish. We each decided to order large (rather than regular) haddock suppers, because we were ravenous after paddling for over 30km and still had about another 12km to go to our camp.

Well it was just as well we decided to go large rather than regular. David got the most generous helping but you can see how happy he was about it. Large haddock? It was more like a malnourished sardine. Having said that, it was delicious and expertly cooked with dry crispy batter. Even the frozen chips were very tasty and done to perfection. We left the pier still feeling hungry and the local seagulls were left starving. If the good ladies of the chip van are ever in Kircudbright, they should call in at Polarbites to discover what a large haddock supper actually looks like.

Only partially sated, we wandered round Tobermory Bay to the... Harbour Visitor Centre. This is a superb resource with spotless toilets, showers and laundry, all for a very reasonable charge. This is somewhere any touring sea kayaker in the area should make a point of visiting.

Totally refreshed we wandered round the harbour area. This old wooden rowing boat had seen better days... contrast to the newly arrived and ship shape MS Island Sky which had just emerged from a multimillion pound refit before dropping anchor In Tobermory. Her 116 passengers would be keen to disembark, we had been fed and watered, it was now time to go. Tobermory was a great place to spend some time in.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tobermory, what's the story?

We followed the Morven coast for a further 1.5km north of Caisteal nan Con before we crossed the Sound of Mull to the Mull coast. The Sound carries a lot of shipping traffic so we chose to cross at its narrowest point in these parts. It was a relief to get out of the main shipping channel marked by the buoys. Several cruise ships had made their way up and down the channel just before we crossed. Fishing boats and speed boats don't stick to the channel though, so we still needed to be vigilant.

As we entered the NW part of the Sound, we could see Ben Hiant (528m) on the distant Ardnamurchan peninsula. Nearer at hand Calve Island partially blocks the entrance to Tobermory Bay.

We chose to enter the bay via the narrow channel between Calve Island and Mull.

The farmhouse on Calve Island is where the Canoe Boys stopped off (for some time) on their way north to Skye.

We were not the only visitors to visit Tobermory by sea.  Fortunately the MV Marco Polo had just departed. She was built in East Germany in 1965 and launched as the MS Alexandr Pushkin. She is not the first foreign built ship to seek shelter in Tobermory Bay. In 1588 a Spanish Galleon (part of the Armada)escaping from the English Navy is reputed to have anchored here but later exploded in mysterious circumstances. Some say she was carrying gold, which lies in bottom of Tobermory Bay to this day.

The MV Lord of the Glens was docked at Tobermory pier. She takes 54 passengers and is small enough to negotiate the locks of the Caledonian Canal and big enough to ply the more sheltered waters of the west coast.

As we made our final approach , we slowed to let this whale watching boat pass in front of us. The black building is the Mishnish Hotel, which has an excellent pub! Tobermory caters well for tourists.

The tide was out and we landed on a strip of sand below the gaily painted houses. Tobermory is the biggest settlement on Mull and was built in the late 1700's as a fishing port. The name is derived from the Gaelic 'Tobar Mhoire' which means Mary's well. If you have never been but Tobermory looks familiar, you have probably seen it as the backdrop to the BBC children's TV series Balamory.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A series of juxtapositions in the Sound of Mull.

North of Lochaline, the coastline of Morvern becomes much gentler  and is backed by large forestry plantations. It was to here the the last few St Kildans were evacuated in 1930. Those that were able worked in the forests. what a juxtaposition a St Kildan in a forest in Morvern! They had come from an island with no trees!

We found Fiunary boathouse in a little inlet beside Rhubha na h-Airde Luach. It was built about 1820. The air was fragrant with the juxtaposition of two scents: the sweetness of the white hawthorn blossom and the coconut like scent of the yellow gorse.

We continued through a series of rocky skerries...

...but on the other side of the Sound of Mull, the island of Mull began to draw our attention.

Ben More at  966m (3169 feet) is the most southerly island Munro (mountain >3000 feet)  in Scotland. One of the great joys of paddling in west Scotland is the juxtaposition of mountain and loch.

Talking of juxtapositions; paddle, diesel and sail, who has right of way?

The final juxtaposition is the 17th century tower house of Caisteal nan Con (castle of the hounds), which was built on an Iron Age fortified mound.