Imagine you are at the edge of the sea on a day when it is difficult to say where the land ends and the sea begins and where the sea ends and the sky begins. Sea kayaking lets you explore these and your own boundaries and broadens your horizons. Sea kayaking is the new mountaineering.
The conical profile of St Blane's Hill is the distinguishing landmark at the south end of the Island of Bute. This part of Bute was one of the earliest Christian settlements in Scotland. St Catan founded a monastery here at the end of the sixth century and was succeeded by his nephew, St Blane. The monastery has a turbulent past. Two abbots were killed and the monastery was sacked by the Vikings at the end of the eighth century but the church ruins we see today was rebuilt in the 12th century
South of St Blane's hill, the smaller Barr hill slopes gently to the southernmost promontory of Bute, Garroch Head.
On a calm day the low lying Garroch Head looks very inauspicious and for those who believe the false mantra "There is no tide in the Clyde" it can hold a nasty sting in its tail. The collection of wind turbines on the distant Ayrshire hill hints that this can be a windy place. The south going ebb tide passes either side of Bute...
...and where it meets, it kicks up a significant tide race. The effect is amplified if there is any south in the wind or if the Firth is swollen by rain or melt water.
As we rounded Garroch Head we caught our first sight of Little Cumbrae to the east.
From Dunagoil Bay, where we had taken our last break, to our next landfall on the Ayrshire coast is 12 km. We embarked on our crossing of the Firth of Clyde and slowly the top of Ailsa Craig came in to view. It was 52km away, beyond the east end of Holy Island.
As we left Garroch Head far behind us, a lovely light developed as the sinking sun illuminated its green slopes flecked with yellow gorse.
As we paddled down the Sound of Bute we were aware that strange swell lines were suddenly appearing. They came from different directions and were not what we expected in the relatively sheltered waters of the Firth of Clyde. Nor were there any large ships visible that might have created such waves in their wake.
Then the peace was shattered by the appearance and sound of a SeaKing helicopter from HMS Gannet. It dotted about dropping its sonar into the sea and was joined by SD Omagh, the naval support vessel which we had seen berthed in Tarbert the previous evening. It was now clear that the swell was the wake of a submarine(s) and that the helicopter was hunting it.
The whole area is identified as a submarine training area but usually the Coastguard broadcast MSI VHF SubFacts warning of such operations but we did not hear them. Whatever, they do not like to publicise these exercises too much. SD Omagh was not transmitting any AIS information about her whereabouts. For a long while the SeaKing helicopter hovered directly over SD Omagh then they both broke off and left us in peace.
No sooner had they gone than common dolphins (above) and porpoises began to appear again.
Please excuse the quality of these photos. They were taken with a standard lens and cropped to give a telephoto effect. Behind Phil you can see a series of great...
...caused by dolphins leaping out of the water as if in celebration of the submarine exercise finishing. Thank goodness peace was restored.
As we approached the south end of Inchmarnock, we knew we were entering our home waters again when we caught our first sight of the Galloway Hills rising above the low plains of Ayrshire. To the left of Phil a long line of mountains leads to the Merrick (843m) some 85 km to the SE. Just to its left, the smaller summit is Mullwharchar 692m.
The reefs off Inchmarnock could be seen deep below our keels as we swung round the south end of the island and...
...caught sight of our next destination the Isle of Bute.
As we left Inchmarnock a gentle breeze got up and we wasted no time in hoisting our sails...
...as we set off on the 8 km crossing to Dunagoil Bay on Bute. Little did we know that our peace would soon be disturbed....
Leaving Kylie the lonely dolphin to her buoy friend at the mouth of the West Kyle of Bute...
...we set off across the broad expanse of the Sound of Bute towards...
...the low lying but lovely island of Inchmarnock, which lies off the west coast of its larger neighbour Bute. Inchmarnock was home to St Marnock and long before that to the Queen of the Inch. The beaches on Inchmarnock's west coast are similar to those of Ardlamont Point. They consist of steep rock shelf with intermittent infill of cobbles. We were unable to land where Tony, Jennifer and I had landed on a previous visit as...
...all the cobbles had gone and the spot was already occupied by one of the famous herd of Inchmarnock organic cattle. However, we were able to land a little further on...
....near where Mike and I had camped almost exactly a year previously.
The steep storm beach of cobbles was stacked high in a series of ledges, which represent the height reached by previous storms with the oldest being at the top.
With a wonderful view over the sea to Arran, it was the ideal place to stop for an extended lunch. Since we were cutting our trip short by a day we had two luncheons to eat. We took our time savouring the last luncheons on our trip. We enjoyed the food and our situation, after all we still had 32km to go and would be paddling late into the summer evening anyway.
I don't know why Kylie has chosen a solitary life. Clearly she can't be completely alone, since she has recently had a calf, but she does seem to prefer the company of this buoy to a pod. Given the intelligence of dolphins, I assume she has made a choice, if that is not being too anthropomorphic.
She has been seen here since at least the summer of 2011 and it was a real thrill to come across her again as she toyed with us, circling and diving beneath us then reappearing where we least expected her.
If we tried to paddle away from her buoy she would catch us up swim along side us, easily keeping up no matter how fast we paddled then with a flick of her tail she would streak ahead of us.
In some countries people like to eat dolphins (not to mention killing them first). Well I am not a hypocrite, I swat flies, I eat cows, I catch fish, kill them then eat them and my ancestors were whalers. However, I could not eat a dolphin, a creature which, due to its degree of intelligence, can interact with other dolphins (and humans) at a much higher level than cows can. In some countries they eat chimpanzees, in others dogs and in some places cannibalism is also traditional. I do not eat chimps, dogs or my neighbours either. It is up to each of us to draw our own line at what we choose to eat but I am glad that in the UK dolphins are protected and that Kylie will not end up barbequed on a British beach. Chacun à son goût.
As a Briton I am aware that there are many things that are not right in British society and we need to listen to and learn from others' criticism to make our society better. However, because Britain is so multicultural it is a factor that makes it one of the more progressive societies to live in today. We are all learning from one another and as a result respecting and increasingly adopting what is good about each others' cultures. We also need to respect other countries' rights to determine what is acceptable and legal for their people but that does not mean we need to agree with others' practices just because they are traditional. Other human traditions include burning witches, child sacrifice, incest, childhood female circumcision and on a bigger scale, slavery and genocide. I don't agree much with them either, no matter how much their proponents may argue for their continuation on cultural and traditional grounds or accuse their critics of cultural imperialism.
So there you have it, it's a free World (for humans). If you want to see dolphins come to Scotland, if you want to eat dolphins, you are free to go somewhere else. It's your choice. As humans we are fortunate that we are often able to make choices.
I got up on the sixth day of our expedition after having slept very little. The pain in my injured shoulder had steadily worsened making sleep all but impossible. To make matters worse I had finished all my painkillers. Our plan had been to spend a further two days exploring the Kyles of Bute before returning to Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast. However, I could not face a further miserable night so I explained the situation to the others and we decided to head directly to Ardrossan some 42km distant. We did consider whether to paddle 33km to Brodick on Arran and then get the ferry to Ardrossan but it would have put my injured shoulder under too much pressure to get the last ferry.
The beaches at Ardlamont point are composed of steeply sloping rock shelves. The rock is 600 million years old and is made of sediments which been subjected to considerable metamorphic changes. The great pressures, folding and heat have produced some beautiful patterns in the rock.
In places the rock shelf is covered by beaches of cobbles. Mostly these are of the same metamorphic rock but there are also some sandstone, quartz and granite cobbles mixed in.
The water looked very inviting for a swim but as my shoulder was so sore I decided not to risk it. Only Jennifer was brave enough to go in as the water in early June was still only 11 degrees Celsius.
We slowly packed the kayaks as the heat of the day began to build. Thankfully there were far fewer midges than the previous evening.
It felt great to be paddling down the Sound of Bute with Arran on one side and...
...the rocky shores and yellow gorse covered banks of Ardlamont on the other.
There was absolutely no wind so the sails remained furled on our decks. My friends accommodated my injury by paddling slowly, much more slowly than...
...the passengers on this Trans-Atlantic jet, which was the only other sign of human activity. Long after the jet had gone, the reflection of its contrail writhed like a snake in the water ahead of us.