Friday, August 26, 2011

Well composed on Gott Bay pier, Tiree.

Our trip round Tiree came to an end and we landed on this little beach beside the ferry pier at Gott Bay. Although the map shows rock, it is all sand right up to a steep grassy bank then an opening gate... the ferry queuing area. The Calmac office has toilets, water and a tourist information touch screen computer.

Once you have checked in with the ferry staff you need to take the kayaks out to the end of the pier. By the time you do this and get the kayaks onto the car deck you will have covered 0.5km so...

...trolleys can save the smart (but casual) sea kayaker's composure.

Through the link-span, we could just see Loti as she made her way round the isle of Soa that lies off the east end of Tiree. The pier at Gott Bay was first built in 1914 then extended in the 1950's. Full roll on roll off service was not introduced until the link-span was built in 1992.

Loti, or to use her full Sunday name MV Lord of the Isles, was built in 1989 and although she has full Roro, using her bow and stern doors, initially vehicles had to use her side ramps and lift to get off at Tiree. Her sister ship MV Clansman, which also serves the route, was built in 1998. As this was after the Tiree link-span had been completed she does not have side doors or car lift.

All too soon we were aboard Loti and Tiree quickly slipped away over the horizon and into our memories.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just resting in Scaranish Old Harbour, Tiree.

The final day of our Tiree adventure dawned sunny...

 ...but with a continuing fresh NE wind. We paddled our sea kayaks through gaps in the skerries...

...and hugged the south coast for shelter. We explored each cove, like this one at Heanish...

...then took a detour into Scarinish old harbour. It was once the main port on Tiree but the modern ferries required deeper water so the new jetty and pier was built 1km away to the NE.

Unfortunately it was too early for the bar at the Scarinish Hotel to be open... we rested for a while in the shelter of the harbour, out of the wind. We paddled slowly round the bay inside the harbour past the wreck of the Mary Stewart. She was a 20m topsail schooner and has rested here since 1938. She was registered in Ardrossan but based on Tiree. She had  traded coal and other cargo on the west coast of Scotland for 30 years. The Mary Stewart was actually an anachronism in the 20th century as by that time, most of the west coast sailing smacks had been replaced by steam puffers.
Originally this croft would have had a thatched roof. Note how the roof does not overhang the walls. Tiree is so windy that the wind could catch an eave and lift the whole roof off. The traditional crofts had thick double walls with the gap filled with sand. The roof joined the middle of the wall and rainwater percolated down through the sand between the inner and outer wall.

The Coop supermarket is on the hill behind and is excellently stocked with reasonable prices for supplying your visit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of corncrakes and cremated potatoes on the machair of Tiree.

The dunes behind the beach where we had landed were covered by the sweetest smelling machair. There are no rabbits on Tiree and this part of the island is only grazed intermittently by cattle. As a result this grassland contains a profusion of  wild flowers.

What a place to pitch a tent!

We had been paddling, breakfasting and luncheoning for 11 hours and were ready for our evening meal.

 We gathered some bone dry, well seasoned wood from the high water mark and soon had the fire going.

It burned long into the night with very little smoke and the Tiree breeze meant there were no midges. Unfortunately the fire burned so hot that our baked potatoes were cremated. David's cries of disappointment were drowned out by the steady rasping calls of the corncrake. This bird is almost extinct from the "corn fields" of Scotland due to modern agricultural practice. Due to traditional farming methods still being practiced and encouraged by financial support to farmers, the machair land of Tiree is now home to nearly a third of the UK population of this once common farmland bird.

Sea kayaking over crystal clear waters in Hynish Bay, Tiree

From the dry dock and pier at Hynish we looked across Hynish Bay to the distant headland of An t-Ard. There are some wild camping opportunities round Hynish Bay but there was a large Music Festival based at Crossapol and we could already hear rehearsals. Not only that, every available spot was already taken. We decided to try and find a quieter spot somewhere between An t-Ard and Scarinish.

Leaving the higher ground of the south corner of Tiree we approached Mannal where the houses were again the highest points on the landscape.

The anemometer at Tiree airport was recording an average of 17 knots of wind from the NNE so we had a long hard slog into the wind past Balemartin and...

...Balinoe where...

...the clarity of the water was absolutely stunning.

Eventually we briefly turned south again to round An t-Ard before finding...

...a break in the rocky coastline to land for a welcome break and to set up camp.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A wild goose chase and feeling flushed at Hynish, Tiree!

After rounding the southern tip of Tiree we turned to the NE again for the first time since we had left the Gunna Sound. We entered a maze of skerries with several dead ends but these wild geese led us through.

As we approached the settlement of Hynish, we saw the observatory tower for the Skerryvore lighthouse, which lies over 19km away to the SW. Two way communication was by flag signals and telescopes. It is now maintained by the Hebridean Trust and houses an interesting museum.

Rounding Hynish pier we approached the beach with its massive dry dock...

...which was built by  Alan Stevenson during the construction of the Skerryvore lighthouse from 1838 to 1844. Granite was quarried at the Ross of Mull then shipped here to Hynish where the blocks were shaped to the exact dimensions required for each layer of the lighthouse.

Hidden away at the back of the dry dock is an unusual opening. It looks just like something that might lead to some burial chamber filled with gold! However, you would be wasting your time on a treasure hunt! It is actually a sluice gate that is connected to a reservoir above Hynish. At low tide, it could be opened to flush out sand which was silting up the dock.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jets, sea kayaks and galleys and fair Tiree.

 After lunch, David and Phil snoozed on the hill above the remote beach on the SW coast of Tiree.

There is nothing over the horizon until you encounter the fair shores of Newfoundland.

The dome on Ben Hynish houses one of the main air traffic control radars for trans Atlantic flights to and from Europe.

The summit of the hill behind the beach was an Iron Age hill fort. It also commanded views away to the east to the Treshnish Isles and Mull from where any invaders would come, looking to plunder the fertile lands of Tiree.

About two thousand years ago, it would have been our ancestors galleys that would have been drawn up on this beach of dazzling white shell sand.

The beach to  the SE of the hill fort was composed of cobbles and rose continuously up the hillside to a level that the tides would last have reached about 10,000 years ago.

This raised beach is very similar to those on the west coast...

...of the isle of Jura. The tops of the Paps of Jura could be seen rising above the horizon 80km away to the SE. There was no sign of the coastline of Jura, or indeed the intervening isle of Colonsay, which were both below the horizon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sea kayaking the Hynish peninsula, Tiree.

From Balephuil Bay we enjoyed a downwind blast down the west side of the Hynish peninsula, which is the most southerly point in Tiree.

Once we turned the corned and headed east we were in the wind shadow  and could enjoy exploring the most incredible series of skerries and white and beaches... this one to the west of Port Snoig.

It was past 1pm and so first luncheon was somewhat overdue.

Whatever, it took little excuse to stop at this piece of paradise!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sea kayaking Balephuil Bay, Tiree.

Leaving Ceann A' Mhara on Tiree's west coast we arrived at the beautiful Traigh Bhi  or Balephuil Bay as the surfers know it. Ben Hynish is the highest point on Tiree at 141m. I would have loved to have landed and climbed to the radar dome at the top but my knee was bothering me. We missed the all encompassing view if the island from the summit. I hope to climb it one day...

Anyway the view from the kayaks more than compensated.

The turquoise and ultramarine of the sea contrasted with the dazzling white sand and... grass of the dunes...

...while puffy white clouds scudded across the deep blue sky, only a little faster than our kayaks with their sails.

Simply stunning......!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Through the Maze to Ceann a' Mhara

South of the amazing beach that the Tiree surfers call "The Maze" (it is actually Traigh Thodhrasdail) lies the real Maze...

it is an incredible series of skerries and channels which lie to the north of Bharrapol Bay and the imposing headland of Ceann a' Mhara. Inside we were protected from the swell that the surfers were now enjoying...

...but as we emerged into Bharrapol Bay we were reminded of the presence of the surf.

At 103m Ceann a' Mhara is the third highest point on Tiree. Quite a distinction as Tiree only has three high points!

We had timed our arrival for slack water. If we had arrived with the north going tide against a NE wind, then it would have been somewhat bouncier than we experienced.

Once round the headland, we found a rocky cove sheltered from the swell.

It was now time for a well deserved third breakfast!