Monday, February 25, 2013

Bitter sweet memories at Portuairk.

The February sun was still low in the sky as Ian, Mike and myself  left a car at Ardtoe Bay at the east end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. You can follow Ian's account of the trip over on his excellent blog here.

The local crofter has fenced off one of his fields as a car park and there is an honesty box for the very reasonable 50p charge.

We then drove to Portuairk at the west end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula which is the most westerly point on the mainland of Britain. . The shuttle from Glenuig to Ardtoe and on to Portuairk is only 45 minutes but it took 2 hours to set up due to the twisting single track roads.

I arrived at Portuairk with mixed emotions. I was last here on 15/6/2009, after we landed after the trip to Coll and Tiree during which I had an accident on a sand dune and ruptured the ligaments of my right knee. Also on that trip was our good friend Jim Broadfoot. He had celebrated his 50th birthday on Coll with us but sadly and unexpectedly he died of a heart attack less than a year later.

 We were soon in the Portuairk channel (which drains very quickly) and making...

 ...our way down through the rocks of the enclosed channel.

 Mike launched his sail and...

 ...soon we had just a final gap in the rocks to squeeze through before...

 ...we arrived on the open sea with a backdrop of low lying Muck with the mountains of Rum behind.

Soon Portuairk was slipping astern in our wakes but a gusty F3-4 SE wind got up and had too much east in it for Mike to sail to the east.

The offshore wind was holding the surf up as it broke steeply on the reefs. The spray was blowing over the backs of the waves. We realised there was not going to be much chance of landing further on... this trip so we sneaked through a gap in the skerries into the sheltered water inshore and

 ...landed on Sanna Bay.

 It was a truly glorious day...

 ...and we stretched our legs for the last time in preparation for the long paddle to come.

Ian produced a dram of golden steadying liquid (Jura Superstition) and we toasted the voyage yet to come and great memories of our friend Jim.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Return to the north west.

Due to worsening knee problems, I have not been driving far recently. So it was great news when Mike offered to drive me up to Glenuig Bay where we planned to meet Ian for some paddling in the Sound of Arisaig area.

 We decided to stay at the Glenuig Inn which is...

 ...well set up to cater for sea kayakers. There is an excellent drying room round the back and you can even launch from the hotel.

We were soon tucking in to excellent local prawn tails and Cairngorm Wildcat real ale by the fire.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Benediction and supplication on the Little Cumbrae.

Low tide had revealed a short undamaged section of the old slipway under the Little Cumbrae lighthouses. I was extremely grateful for the help I was given in getting my kayak to the water and in getting me into it! The ebb tide was running at 5km/hr past the little harbour and we had some fun in little standing waves until...

 ...the flow reduced as we approached the south end of the Lttle Cumbrae. Sadly it was now time to say goodby to Ian, who was going to paddle back across the Firth of Clyde channel to Bute.

 We continued south towards Gull Point where the sea was...

 ...very calm....

 ...before turning north towards Castle Island.

The Coastguard MSI broadcast warned of freshening NE winds in the evening.  As it was getting late, we didn't want to hang about so, when we stopped for a quick bite to eat under the walls of the castle, we stayed afloat in the kayaks. It was here that yogmaster David delivered benediction.

As night fell, and right on cue, a cold NE breeze picked up. It was now time to get our heads down (in supplication as David said) and paddle hard for home. We arrived at Largs well after dark but perfectly safe, thanks to David's intercession.

Another great day out on the Clyde. We had covered only 24 km but we saw a great deal..

Friday, February 22, 2013

Not rated for continuous use on Little Cumbrae.

We descended towards the second and new Little Cumbrae Lighthouses.

The new one is solar powered and the arrays were well sited as the...

 ...daffodils at its base were further on than any we had seen elsewhere.

The new lighthouse is built on to the end of the generator room which had banks of batteries and battery chargers but was dominated by...

 ...a pair of huge diesel electric generator sets.

They were Austinlite Dormans, manufactured in 1957. They were powered by 6 cylinder turbo diesels and each generated 30KVA at 1,000 RPM. They were rated for continuous use. You can get some idea of the racket each made at the end of the video clip on this page. They would have supplied electricity to both the lighthouse and the keepers' cottages. I am not sure if one was a redundant emergency unit or if both were run together.

As on many previous occasions, we walked round to the second lighthouse.

High up in the light room, I found some more iron relief mouldings. I think this might be part of the coat of arms of Glasgowl as it appears to be a bird and a bell emerging from the branch of a tree.

 This one shows a woman leaning on an anchor.

We were amazed by the workmanship in this structure which dated from 1793.

The tide had gone well out leaving our kayaks high and dry among the rocky remains of the storm damaged slipway.

 My knees did not like the decent of the stone steps and the others finished moving the kayaks by the time...

 ..I made it down to the magnificent old capstan...

 ...which was used to...

...pull truck loads of supplies up the old railway from the harbour to the base of the cliffs. Amazingly, despite its age and lack of maintenance, it still looked in working order, unlike my knees, which are not rated for continuous use.

More on seeing the light and collecting taxes on the Little Cumbrae.

 We climbed up to the top of the cliffs where the Smith/Stevenson lighthouse stands but...

 ...we continued to climb the path which winds...

 ...up towards the summit of Little Cumbrae.

 As we approached the highpoint of the path we caught sight of the original Little Cumbrae lighthouse but...

 ...unfortunately there was no path to the top and I had a real struggle crossing the grass. Although I had set off about 20 minutes before the others they soon passed me.

 It is a simple round tower, 8.5m high and was...

 ...built by James Ewing in 1757. An open coal brazier was situated at its top and served as the source of light. It proved to be a profitable business as there was a tax on every ship, which passed on the way up the Clyde to Port Glasgow and Greenock. However, it had a voracious appetite for coal. The coal came from Rutherglen near Glasgow and was transported by horse and cart for 45km over the hills to Irvine in Ayrshire before being transferred to a boat for the Wee Cumbrae. It was then hauled by ponies another kilometre up to the 123m high summit. It was not exactly light work.

This plaque commemorates the bicentenary of the Cumray Lighthouse Act of Parliament which allowed passing ships to be taxed.

Inside the steps and the brazier platform have long disappeared. A resident peregrine falcon now enjoys the lofty ridge as a perch for...

 ...consuming its prey. Their bones litter the floor of the tower.

 It is a solidly built tower which should last for several more centuries. Some of the lichen colonies growing on its wall were probable over a hundred years old.

 Despite (or rather because of) its height it was often invisible to shipping as... was frequently above the level of low clouds that frequently...

 ...swirl round the Clyde.

This is the view north to Millport on Great Cumbrae.

This is the view north north east to Largs and...

 ...this is the view east to the Hunterston nuclear power stations. You can clearly see the mushroom of cooling water in line with the two channel buoys.

This is looking south east to Portencross and...

...its castle.

 This is looking west towards Garroch Head on Bute. The paddock for resting the coal ponies is just below the lighthouse.

 Lastly this is looking NW to Kilchattan Bay on Bute, from where Ian had set off.

All in all the lighthouse proved to be a costly and fairly ineffective project. However, it served a useful function as it pioneered the collection of lighthouse dues on shipping entering the Clyde ports and led to the establishment of the next lighthouse built by  Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson in 1793. It was situated at a much lower level and was lit by a more efficient oil lamp.