Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gaelic names and chance meetings, as one door closes and another opens on Rum.

 Ian and I paddled under Creag n h-Iolaire (Eagle's Crag) on the NE coast of Rum just as...

...a sea eagle flew off the rocks and glided effortlessly over our heads. One of the great pleasures of sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland is knowing a little about what the Gaelic place names mean.

Shortly afterwards, we passed this sad pile of stones. It is all that remains of the ancient settlement of Tigh Bhralie. Tigh means house but I have no idea what Bhralie means. Sadly like its inhabitants, its name is lost in the mists of time.

Even on the 1877 OS 6" map it was marked as a roofless ruin. It is likely that Tigh Bhralie was abandoned about the time of the 1826 Clearance when 300 men, women and children were deported to Nova Scotia and the land put over to sheep.

 In glassy calm conditions we paddled along the east coast of Rum until...

 ...we came to the entrance of Loch Scresort.

We paddled to the head of the loch beyond which lay our chosen accommodation for the night...Kinloch Castle. We made our way round to the back where the hostel is entered through the old tradesmen's and servants' entrance. The hostel was not officially open to visitors but during a chance meeting with the warden, Rachel, the previous day she had told us there would be beds available as the  hostel was open for contractors.

 We left our wet gear in the excellent drying room. The hostel staff could not have been more helpful.  Abby checked us in and Rachel showed us to a comfortable...

 ...bedroom just down the corridor from where the contractors were staying.

I wondered whether to take my PLB* to the bath. It is seven feet long and two feet deep so quite easy to get lost in it! There was lashings of hot water, which was most welcome after the bitterly cold paddle from Canna.

*PLB: personal locator beacon

After we got cleaned up we made our way to the island shop to restock on essential post exercise supplements. These come in handy aluminium containers with ring pulls and we were well pleased to find that even in such a remote situation, the shop was well stocked. I overheard that Alastair, one of the contractors lived in Eigg. I asked if he knew anywhere good to stay on Eigg.

He said "I know just the place, Lageorna. It is the best B&B in the whole of Eigg".

"Would we be able to get dinner there?"

"Oh yes, Sue the owner is a very good cook, I enjoy eating there myself."

"You sound like a regular visitor..."

"You could say that, Sue is my wife!"

Without further ado, Ian and I asked Alastair if he could let Sue know that we would like to stay the following evening.

We could have eaten in the catered Hostel dining room but we did have supplies with us so we retired to...

 ...the self catered kitchen where we rustled up Aberdeen Angus mince, carrots, onions and tomatoes...

 ...on a bed of pasta, all washed down by our favoured dietary supplement.

After dinner we chatted long into the night with Gordon, a contractor from near where I used to live in the NE Highlands. Some considerable damage was done to Ian's The Singleton during the course of the evening.

NB. Rachel and Abby from the hostel had told us that the Kinloch Castle hostel will close at the end of May 2013 and a new hostel will open in alternative accommodation on 8th June 2013. We felt so lucky to be two of the last guests in this unique place.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Taking the rough with the smooth in the Sound of Canna.

By the time Ian and I returned to our camp site on the south side of Canna, the ebb was well established and Canna harbour was well dry both to the east and...

 ...west of the foot bridge to Sanday. This meant that we would need to launch to the west of Sanday and paddle along its exposed south shore before crossing the Sound of Canna back to Rum.

To the west of Sanday the coast is sheltered by a series of offshore skerries but in the distance big water was breaking on the rocks of An Steidh to the south of Canna. The wind had not dropped as much as we had hoped. The wind was SSE F3-4. The XC weather forecast for the afternoon at Canna was S F4 and the BBC coastal forecast for north of Ardnamurchan Point was SSW F4-5. Off the east end of Sanday the ebb tide runs SW at 4- 5 knots springs  between Canna and Rum and an E going eddy runs along the south side of Sanday to its west end, where it joins the main SW going race. To add to this the air temperature with wind chill was -5C, though the sea temperature was a balmy 7C in comparison.

We set off through the skerries to the west of Canna in the last third of the spring ebb tide. At first we were sheltered by the skerries but even so it was bitterly cold.

This is what we met as soon as we left the shelter of the reefs. A 2 meter SW swell was creating a lot of clapotis as it reflected off the cliffs and met the wind blown chop from the SSE. The east going eddy managed to stir things up a little further.

Ian and I paddled side by side so that we could keep an eye on each other. I found it impossible to take photographs. I had a head-band mounted GoPro in my forward day hatch but felt unable to get it out. I didn't want to risk rafting up with Ian as heavily loaded kayaks can be lethal to hands in those sea conditions.

There are some great caves on the south coast of Sanday but needless to say we kept well out! As we approached the west end of Sanday, the swell built up as it became compressed in the funnel between Sanday and Rum. Ahead we could see confused water where the two tidal streams met. Then we were in the thick of it with water tying to leap off the surface of the sea. Despite the waves and swell we could see and feel huge swirls in the water and sweep strokes and braces were the order of the day. For an hour the conditions had our full attention as we slowly but steadily crossed the tide race.

Half way across the Sound of Canna, we at last entered the lee of Rum. The sea conditions calmed as the Sound widened and the tide approached slack. This is the view up Glen Guirdil on Rum.  Guirdil Bay in front of the bothy was a mass of white water. We were so glad we had not spent the previous night there...we would have been trapped!

 By the time we rounded the north end of Rum, we entered another World where all was calm.

 What a contrast! We paddled into...

...the sands of Samhnan Insir where we stopped...

 ...for first luncheon and a well deserved shot of Golden Steadying Liquid.

Sadly this sea urchin did not feel quite so refreshed.

Ian's account can be read here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Canna island have a future as well as a past?

Morning dawned grey and blustery on Canna. The wind had got up during the night and I had to get up to tighten the tent guy lines.

It was also cold. Our neighbours, these highland ponies, were standing back to the wind on the heavily frosted grass.

Looking over Sanday and St Edward's, the low clouds were scudding over the Rum Cuillin. Though the waters in Canna harbour were deceptively calm we were glad we did not have to consider launching of the storm beach at Guirdil on Rum. From high on Sanday, the sea to the south was rough though the F5 wind of the previous night had dropped to F4 and the forecast was for it to drop further in the afternoon. Whatever, the spring ebb tide was running straight against the southerly wind. Thoughts of paddling round Canna evaporated and we decided to go for a walk and look at the conditions again towards the end of the ebb. We set off on our walk knowing that Canna had been populated for 9,000 years. We wondered what we would find.

 Near the causeway between Canna and Sanday we found these whale vertebrae...

 ...and this old abandoned bike. I wonder if its owner has left the island?

Canna is a volcanic island and the basalt ledges of its hills rise steeply from the shore. Sitting on its elevated ledge, Kate's cottage has one of the best views on the island. We got to chatting with two builders from the mainland. They were re-roofing a cottage which had recently burned down. The previous evening they had worked late to take advantage of the settled weather. From high on the roof they had spotted us paddling into Canna Harbour and news of our arrival had spread round the island.

Near the farm buildings we discovered the reason for the midnight disturbance. It had been a rabbit cull. Since a successful operation to eradicate rats (to preserve breeding bird stocks) the rabbit population of Canna has mushroomed. They breed like...well rabbits actually.

Last year the restaurant on Canna did a nice line in rabbit pie and I am sure that was nothing to do with its recent closure.

This lovely old farm dog padded out to say hello. His hang dog appearance suggested that it would be rabbit for dinner ....again.

Next to the farm buildings is this convenient loo and shower. The shower requires a £2 coin. The National Trust for Scotland office is just across the road. We called by to present our NTS membership cards but no one was in.

 The old farm dairy has been converted into a museum displaying...

 ...dairy and... implements,...

...old photos (this is Kate sitting outside her cottage) and...

...curiosities brought to Canna by the Gulf Stream.

In 2012 the farm manager found an ancient cursing stone in the ancient graveyard  above the farm. 

Amazingly it was a perfect fit for the hollow which had been worn in the base of the Celtic Cross which stands nearby.

Just to the east of the farm is the ruin of the old corn mill. It was built in the 1780's and was originally water powered but was converted to steam at a later date.

We now continued our perambulation along the front at Canna Harbour. There was no mobile phone signal on Canna so we were pleased to find...

 ...a public phone box with one of the most marvellous views in the country. Inside, it didn't smell like a city call box either.

 It was fully functioning and accepted a variety of coins. Its signal was beamed by communications dish to feed into the rest of the World's telecoms network! We phoned home for a weather forecast and to book a room in the Rum hostel for later that night.

Next we passed Canna House. It contains a large library of Gaelic books and butterflies collected by the last private owners of Canna, Dr John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw. In 1981 the National Trust of Scotland was gifted Canna by the Campbell family.

 We continued along the shore road towards the Protestant church but our attention was...

 ...captured by a sea eagle circling over Canna harbour. When you see a sea eagle like this, there is no mistaking it for a buzzard. No doubt the sea eagle also has rabbit for first second and third luncheons.

The Protestant church has a round pencil tower which is not common in Scotland but is frequent in Ireland. It was built in 1914 in memory of Robert Thom, a Clyde shipowner who bought Canna in 1881 and who did much to improve the island until he died in 1911. It was designed by Peter Chalmers who had built a similar church in the parish of Kilmore at Dervaig on Mull.

As we approached the pier we passed this fine bull. We saw a surprising number of breeds and crosses on Canna and Sanday: Aberdeen Angus, Luing, Belted Galloway, Highland and Shorthorn.

The Canna terminal building at the pier  has a toilet and water supply.

Nearby the old terminal building has now been converted to the community shop.

Between the shop and the pier warehouse we found a number of dishes and radio links that are part of the HebNet system that brings broadband to Canna and the other Small Isles.

It was now time to think about heading back to the kayaks. This old hedge tells its own story of how windy Canna can be. However, we were grateful that the wind had delayed our departure and allowed us to explore this delightful island. Sadly the population has recently fallen to 10 after all the families with children left. I do hope others will arrive to take their place and hopefully they be able to stay. Canna has had a wonderful past, I hope it has a future.

Further reading:
The past: Canna Local History Group.
The future: Isle of Canna Community Development Trust Ltd