Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of the finest headlands in SW Scotland.

As we paddled along the south coast of Arran in the late March sunshine, we caught sight of the island of Pladda with its twin towered lighthouse.

 The coastline here rears up into...

 ...ever higher cliffs until we reached...

 ...the magnificent rock architecture of...

 Bennan Head, which comes complete with waterfall...

...and Black Cave (with blow hole)!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our shadows drifted over the sands of ancient mountains.

 A little breeze helped us on our way from Corriecravie round to Arran's south coast.

It was high water, so we glided across the great number of volcanic dykes (or cleits) that criss cross the Cleats Shore.

This old stone gabled structure is now used as a farm building but we wondered if it was once a chapel.

The Kilmory Water enters the sea just beyond Cleats Shore and carries fine sand from the hills above into the sea.

It has helped create a broad sweep of sand in the bay, backed by a raised beach and low cliffs. The wind dropped and the sea turned glassy calm as...

...our shadows drifted over the sands of ancients mountains that now lay below the sea.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My (very) small part in The Great British Story.

Tonight, the BBC broadcast the first episode of The Great British Story: a People's History. The first programme, Britannia, dealt with the period following the fall of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Dark Ages, civilisation clung on in the western fringes of Britain as the east coast was invaded by the Anglo Saxons. The programme followed the voyage of St Columba from Ireland to Iona off the west coast of Mull. He brought Christianity into the northern land of the Picts (who had never been part of the Roman Britain having been isolated  by first the Antonine, then the Hadrian walls).

St Columba had founded religious settlements on many of the islands he stopped at on his route north. The programme showed the ancient Celtic Christian carved stone crosses that still stand on the islands of Islay and Oronsay. Standing at the foot of these wonderful crosses, which are worn by the gales of 1,200 winters, is a humbling experience.

The above photo is of one of the crosses of Oronsay. It was shown for all of several seconds. I was quite pleased. It was one of mine!

Visiting the spirits of my ancestors.

Rounding Brown Head, we came to a green valley that ran into the hills. The south facing slopes make this one of the most fertile spots on Arran. The village is called Corriecravie.

Until  the 1860's, generations of my mother's family were crofters here. They farmed two fields, which still have the same boundaries today, though all evidence of the croft house has gone. My great, great, grandfather moved to Glasgow to start a new life in 1864.

Corriecravie has a long history of settlement. The mound in the middle of this photo is Torr a' Chaisteal, the remains of an Iron Age dun.

It was time for second luncheon in the land of my ancestors.

There is a story in my family about this beach. Many years ago, about 1800, there was an evening of music in the croft. At  the end of the evening one of my ancestors and a neighbour lit lanterns and escorted several of the older neighbours back to their houses near the shore. It was a stormy night but above the sound of the waves they all heard a slow intermittent tapping noise coming from the shore. Although they were very religious people, they were also very superstitious. Fearing an evil spirit in the darkness, they rushed back to the croft. The next morning when they finally ventured to the shore, they found a drowned sailor lying on the cobbled beach. He still had a rock clutched in his hand. He must have been too exhausted to cry for help and had tried to attract attention by tapping the rock...

On our visit all was calm and quiet and we felt at home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All sorts of things on the go at Brown Head, Arran.

Shortly after leaving Drumadoon Bay we passed the Rebecca R  (RX 383) which seemed to be fishing very close inshore. At first I thought she might be fishing for razor clams but I thought it strange that a small trawler registered in Rye, on the English SE coast had come all the way up here. It turns out she is a fishing research vessel used by CEFAS for young fish surveys.

We continued south towards Brown Head which is another geological sill dating from Tertiary times. The modern day road traverses a raised beach, which is now 30m above present sea level.

707 is one of three Sea King Mk5 search and rescue helicopters based at HMS Gannet in Prestwick. She did the helicopter equivalent of waggling her wings as she passed over.

 Continuing round Brown Head, signs of continuing erosion are frequent. We were not sure if this car was fully aware of what was (or was not) beneath its wheels.

 Over the millenia, large granite boulders had tumbled down the slopes and made the beaches here almost impossible to traverse.

Some larger boulders had even bounced out to sea, where they performed as convenient cormorant perches.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Blackwaterfoot womens' militia, dog branch.

 When we left King's Cave we followed the coast of Arran south towards...

 ...the Doon and Drumadoon Point.

The Doon is a remarkable rock formation that was used as a fortified settlement in the Iron Age. Geologically it is a 25 to 30m thick sill, which is a composite of quartz-feldspar porphyry and tholeiitic basalt. It was at this point that we were aware that we had aroused the interest of a number of dog walkers. One was watching us intently through binoculars.

We decided to land on the lovely strand at Drumadoon Bay near the village of Blackwaterfoot to partake of our first luncheon.

However, no sooner had we landed than a 4X4 vehicle drove up and parked on the dunes facing us and the female driver trained her binoculars on us. There were now four female dog walkers surrounding us and another female with binoculars was hiding in the dunes above us.

Finally, one of the women (with two large dogs) plucked up the courage to march up to us. The dogs were friendly enough but stuck their noses in our bags stealing our food.

"You can't camp here again!" she blurted out. "We know it was you who left your tents and a mess up in the dunes." Her strident accent clearly hadn't been honed by a childhood on Arran!

I didn't have my hearing aids in and although I had heard her perfectly well, I feigned deafness and asked her to remove her two dogs from my lunch as I found their behaviour objectionable. In the meantime one of the hounds attempted to pee on my luncheon bag then crapped at my feet. Fortunately, the other hound took a dislike to my finest Arran Blue cheese and bolted. My verbal assailant then ran off after it.

After what was left of our luncheon, we prepared to leave with eyes still watching our every move. We were pretty sure that they would check our lunch spot for any scrap of litter. We debated whether to write a rude message in the sand but decided to leave the beach as we found it, in case an innocent child might come by and be corrupted. We carefully stepped over the dog crap and made our way back to the kayaks.

From 200m out at sea, we turned to see our recent luncheon spot being closely inspected by several women and half a dozen hungry dogs. They found nothing (we had left behind).

Farewell Blackwaterfoot (watch your feet).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Portents of spiders and the early buds of March.

We made landfall on Arran under the slopes of Torr Righ Beag.

 The still waters were sparkling clear as we made our way...

 ...south along the Arran coast towards the King's Cave in which a defeated Robert the Bruce was hiding from the English during the winter of 1306/07. In his despair he watched a spider repeatedly trying to spin a web across a gap and finally succeeding. This gave him inspiration to continue the struggle for Scottish Independence and the major victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

All round Scotland and Ireland many caves claim to be the King's Cave...

 ...but this one certainly has a setting fit for a king: a sea view and a choice of rooms to boot.

As we left the caves, we paddled below cliffs that were bursting with early March buds. It is a pity that the promising heat in March has been followed by such cold windy and wet weather in April and May.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It was so still we held our breaths, not wanting to disturb the scene.

Once we were in the middle of the Kilbrannan Sound the haze lifted sufficiently to allow us a view of the mountains of Arran. We quickly got our cameras out... try and capture some of the beauty of the seascape. 

There was not a breath of wind and this feather drifted lazily alongside us.

It was so still we held our breaths, not wanting to disturb the scene.

This view is looking NE up Glen Iorsa. From the left it shows Beinn Bharrain 717m, then in the distance,  Caisteil Abhasil 859m, Cir Mhor (with the Rosa Pinnacle) 799m, Beinn Tarsuinn 826m and Beinn Nuiss 792m.

In the sea below the mountains we could see porpoises breaking the surface in every direction, we even came across one that was sleeping on the surface.

We treasured these moments.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A record time, despite some trouble with the waterworks on the way.

 On Saturday afternoon, we emerged from the Dunure Inn to continue our downwind blast back to Ayr.

 The wind was now cross offshore and the resulting flat water conditions meant we could really push on.

I managed to get one blast of 19km/hr as we sped below the cliffs towards the Heads of Ayr.

Bracken Bay proved to be a convenient spot to get rid of excess fluid though it took David a little time to get his pump gushing.

 Then it was back at sea again for the final...

 ...5km dash from the Heads of Ayr... Seafield. Because of the strength of the wind, we had completed the 19km trip from Maidens in 90 minutes less than our previous best kayak sailing time.

As idle as a painted ship, Upon a painted ocean.

Leaving Carradale Point on Kintyre a lovely NE breeze soon had us on our way across the Kilbrannan Sound towards...

...the dark wooded slopes of Tor Righ Beag on Arran. At 9km distant, this was just about the only landmark visible on Arran due to the haze. At first we made good progress: "The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free" until...

... "The bloody Sun, at noon, Right up above the mast did stand" Then the wind dropped and we were...

 "As idle as a painted ship,... 

...Upon a painted ocean".

With some apology to Coleridge.