Thursday, March 31, 2011

Preparations for invasion in Caladh Harbour.

Near the head of the Kyles of Bute we first passed a monstrosity of a fish farm but then approached the beautiful wooded isle of Eilean Dubh.

A stone lighthouse marks the entrance to the delightfully hidden Caladh Harbour which nestles behind the isle. The light has long gone but the whitewashed tower is a great landmark for the harbour beyond.

Not much remains. A rusting derrick still swings over a stone pier. However, from 1942 until 1945, during WW2 this was a hive of activity. HMS James Cook, a shore based station for training landing craft crew, was based here. Exercises in the Kyles of Bute and beyond prepared the sailors for crossing to and landing on the distant beaches of Normandy on D day.

Today the harbour is a quiet anchorage for visiting yachtsmen and a pleasant diversion for itinerant sea kayakers. We left by the north entrance, marked by another stone beacon. Few visitors will guess the important part this quiet backwater in our history.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A house on the hill in the Kyles of Bute.

 Just north of Kames in the Kyles of Bute lies the delightful village of Tighnabruaich. Its Gaelic name means "house on the hill". Nowadays many houses tumble down the steep hill, almost on top of one another, right down to the shore. We wondered if this was a secret waterside entrance to the Burnside Bistro!

Tignabruaich has long been famed as a sailing centre. There are so many water users in the Kyles that the RNLI have an Inshore Rescue Boat stationed in the village. This is the modern lifeboat station and slipway.

It was near the end of the season and most of the yachts were now lifted from the water and lined up on their winter standing. However, a few hardy souls were still enjoying the short, late autumn days on the water. It was not just yachtsmen and us sea kayakers. We had a very pleasant chat with a chap in a rowing shell. He had spotted it languishing under weeds at Otter Ferry and made an offer!

North of Tignabruaich we stopped for afternoon tea at Rubha Ban. In the distance we could see the wooded isle of Eilein Dubh. This would be our next destination in the delightful waters of the Kyles of Bute.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We came to Kames in the Kyles of Bute.

 Rounding Ardlamont Point, we left Loch Fyne and came to the sheltered waters of the Kyles of Bute.

Unlike the rugged west coast of the Cowal peninsula, the countryside was much gentler, fertile farms and woodlands came right down to the shore.

We arrived at the settlement of Kames and  a large sign caught our attention... we decided to land and investigate further.

On the way up to the entrance to the Kames Hotel we passed this little rowing boat that had clearly seen better days...

 ...indeed these days were clearly illustrated in this mural on the hotel wall. By the looks of things, the fishing was better then too!

We entered the public bar and were warmly welcomed despite our sea kayaking attire. The Guinness was excellent and most welcome.

As a warning to those seafarers who might be tempted to indulge in one pint too many, these two photos on the bar wall...

...caught my eye, a splendid subliminal warning!

Anyway, the Kames Hotel proved to be a truly excellent sea kayaking pub, conveniently situated and well worth coming to!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Death in Ardlamont.

We paddled towards the mouth of Loch Fyne along a raised beach until we came to...

...Kilbride Bay. The sad remains of a dead whale lay beached on the shore. The smell of death hung so heavy in the air that we could not approach closer to investigate its species. We paddled over huge detatched ribs with flesh still attached, that lay under the clear waters below its final resting place.

The whale is not the only death that has attracted attention in Ardlamont. This is the boathouse of Ardlamont estate, tradtional home of the Lamont clan.  The boathouse has a dark secret. In 1893, Alfred Monson, a gentlemen’s tutor, rented the estate to give 17year old Cecil Hambrough a Scottish country experience. Monson persauded Hambbrough to take out a life insurance policy for £20,000 with his wife as the sole beneficiary. He then set out to murder the boy and claim the insurance. He took the boy, who could not swim, fishing in the bay. He had earlier drilled a hole in the bottom of the boat. The boat sank and Monson reached the shore without difficulty. The desperate boy learned to swim and thrashed his way to the shore. The next day Monson took the still unsuspecting boy shooting in the woods and shot him. He claimed the boy had shot himself. In a notorious trial, the jury found the murder charge against Monson "not proven" and he walked free but with his reputation in tatters. Five years later he went to jail for insurance fraud.

 As we approached Ardlamont Point the mist thickened...

 and it was impossible to say where the sea ended and the sky began.

We turned our gaze downward and were rewarded with views of Ardlamont's submerged reefs lying beneath the calm clear waters.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Clear seas full of sprats, off Ardlamont Point

The Cowal peninsula has some really great bays. This is Kilbride Bay, which was very atmospheric with the mist lying low over the hills and forests.

Off Rhuba na Peileig the sea was boiling with large shoals of sprats.

 Just round the point, we came across this lovely...

...beach of cobbles.

 It was now time for our first luncheon.

We sat on these wonderful whorled rocks. I found a very nice mask, snorkel and gloves here, so if you have lost them drop me a line.

After lunch we walked up onto a huge raised beach that stretched away to Ardlamont Point in the distance. The dark patches on the water below the horizon are large shoals of sprats.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Skating about Skate Island: a baby basking shark.

 From Portavadie, we set off down Loch Fyne to Sgat Mor, big skate island.

 The little lighthouse used to be powered by propane and is almost all gas tank. It looked like a rocket. Nowadays it is solar powered.

Between the island and the mainland something skating about at high speed on the water surface caught our eye.

What on earth was it?

It was a baby basking shark, less than two meters long. I had never seen one before and I cant even remember seeing basking sharks in mid October in Scotland before. It was feeding on a rich plankton bloom. The speed it was swimming at was definitely skating speed rather than basking speed. It is great to see basking sharks back in the Clyde.

All this watching an other creature feeding had its effect on us... was time for second breakfast and where finer to enjoy it than on the delightful sands of remote Asgog Bay.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Morning mist in the Kyles of Bute

Early on an October morning, Phil and I drove over the high pass above the Kyles of Bute. The Burnt Islands were caught in a momentary blink of sunshine that managed to break through the thick mist.

We had left one car at Colintraive which is the mainland terminal for the ferry which runs over the Kyles to Bute...

...and drove  over the narrow roads to Portavadie on the west coast of the Cowal peninsula which is on the shores of Loch Fyne. The new marina here serves breakfast and morning coffee.

We paddled round some of the modest boats in the marina before heading off on another adventure...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Large white navigational aids on Islay

I am sorry has been unavailable since last Saturday. Apparently there were many other blogs affected as a result of spammers stealing content from genuine blogs (splogs) to cloak themselves then the Blogger spam detection software deleted the lot, spammers and genuine bloggers together. Thank you to Blogger staff, Brett, Gatzby and nitecruzr for sorting the problem :o).

I was extremely touched by the many emails I received expressing concern in case the disappearance of the blog meant I was unwell. Thank you all and I am delighted to say that I am very well indeed and certainly hadn't lost my way.

That brings me to today's photo. It was taken on Islay, which is one of my favourite places in Scotland (the World!).  The coastline of Islay is unique. At regular intervals there are large white navigational aids round the coast. It would be very difficult to loose your way on Islay!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Common sense prevails in Wigtown Bay.

This wonderful, wild seascape in Wigtown Bay has been under threat of industrialisation by the installation of 90 giant windmills. All would be situated within the confines of the bay, with the nearest being only 4.5km from the shore. Fortunately, for those that do not put natural beauty above greed for energy, the BBC Scottish News today announced that the Scottish Government turned down the application to develop this sensitive site. I am not a NIMBY, as I live just 5km from the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. I quite like it, though its rotors hardly turned during the last two record, cold winters.

Rather more surprisingly, they have also turned down the application to extend the Robin Rigg wind farm, further up the Solway, from its current 60 turbines to 160. This farm is further offshore, at 9km, but apparently its power output is much less than predicted and it would not survive economically without a massive subsidy paid for by UK electricity consumers.

I am glad that these particular proposals have not gone ahead. I particularly like Wigtown Bay and I would have hated to see it spoiled, just so I could leave my computers at home and at work running overnight. Thank goodness the Scottish Parliament has made a common sense decision. Of course the forthcoming election, on the 5th of May, has no doubt helped them come to their decision!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sound of Tomorrow, Islay.

Port Askaig on the Sound of Islay is one of the best places to set off sea kayaking. The Sound is only 0.75km wide so you can really only go north or south. However you don't even need to make that decision as the tide will make it for you (5 knots at springs can be somewhat persuasive).

The scenery on the Sound is stunning with the Paps of Jura being the high point on the horizon.

A number of lighthouses guard the salient points...

...but the strong tides still catch the unwary.

There are two distilleries situated on the Sound.

It is not just kayakers that use Port Askaig... is one of Islay's two ferry terminals and after the introduction of the new ferry MV Finlaggan for the summer 2011 season, it will be the only one until Port Ellen is upgraded.

There is also a small fishing fleet, which use the port as a base for their lobster boats.

The south end of the Sound, towards McArthur's Head lighthouse is equally dramatic and...

 has Scotland's best bothy right by the shore!

The waters of the Sound are pretty sheltered from the storms that sweep across Islay...

...but you never get away from the power of the tide.
Today the Scottish Government approved plans to build an array of 10 tidal generators mounted on the sea bed. These will  generate enough electricity to power several thousand homes and Islay's energy hungry distilleries.

Scottish Power Renewables are going to install 1 megawatt versions of the turbine developed by Hammerfest Strom tidal turbines in Norway.

Two of the turbines will go in just offshore from Port Askaig  with the other 8 going in further south. Apparently the blades will rotate slowly enough not to harm migrating whales and...

...will be deep enough not to interfere with ships or kayaks.

It sounds pretty good. The tides are a lot more reliable than the wind! The only downside is that no fishing will be allowed in the vicinity of the turbines. Just imagine a spot of kayak fishing and catching a turbine with a mackerel line!