Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Beady eyes and incontinent cormorants on the Murray's Isles.

 I was bound for the Murray's Isles which house a cormorant colony on their rocky crest.

From their lofty perch the cormorants can watch for...

...passing shoals of fish.

 Then a leisurely flap of ...

 ..their wings and they are off on a fishing trip...

 ...to feed their hungry chicks.  However, one adult always remains at the nest to protect the chicks as hungry herring gulls also nest in close proximity to the cormorants and are quick to swoop down on an undefended egg or chick. The cormorants' prime nest sites sit atop rocky pillars and by late summer...

 ...the rocks are caked in their white guano. Photographs can neither capture the sounds or the smell of a sea bird colony. The cormorants are bigger than the...

 ...the gulls but the gulls are patient, waiting for any opportunity to raid...

...a cormorant's nest.

 The gulls are also breeding  and...

 ...their chicks hop about the rocks in large groups before...

 ...they are fledged and take their...

 ...first flight down to the sea where they bob about in perfect camouflage.

This adult was keeping her beady eye on her chick and saw me off the premises.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Midsummer dawn on the Solway.

We have just passed the shortest day but my thoughts have recently gone back half of a year to when I was last on the water. It was a short but wonderful trip on the Solway in south west Scotland in the glorious summer of 2013. I arrived on the beach just as the sun was rising, it was shortly after 5am.

I soon had the boat at the water's edge and although there was not a breath of wind, I rigged the sail as a breeze was forecast to pick up as the day progressed.

The water temperature was 18C so the sea felt like warm tea on my bare feet compared with the chill of the dawn air. Where was I off to that required such an early start...?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright.

From the landing place at Kirkcudbright harbour it...

 ...is a short 400m walk (even for a hungry and thirsty kayaker)...

...through the town's quiet historic streets to...

 ...the Selkirk Arms Hotel. The hotel has a long history and Robert Burns wrote the "Selkirk Grace" here in 1794.
“Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit”

The current owners have taken full advantage of the proximity of the Kirkcudbright fishing fleet and serve a variety of seafood dishes in the hotel's restaurant, bistro and bar.

The local speciality is king scallops. These were succulent and perfectly cooked. They were served with a green pea puree and crispy slivers of pork belly.

 Needless to say the Guinness was perfect and the lobster.... This delicately cooked lobster had been delivered to the hotel kitchen just a couple of hours before our arrival. It was beautifully shelled and presented and was served with a little garlic butter and parsley sauce. Stunning.

 The monkfish had been landed that morning and the tails in crispy batter were served with a contrasting sweet salad and local chutney.

Not everyone likes fish and the roast pheasant was a tantalising on the tongue alternative. The thinly sliced breast meat was tender and moist and was served on a potted bed of diced leg meat and black pudding. The thick, tasty sauce from the juices had clearly been reduced for hours.

Those with simpler tastes were also well catered for. The Selkirk Burger was home made using local Galloway steak and served with crispy local dry cured bacon, lettuce and tomato. The chutney was locally made from red onions.

The service was the perfect blend of efficient and attentive without being over fussy. (Not once did I hear that dreaded command "ENJOY".)

This was a stunning table of food and I highly recommend that sea kayakers in the area make a visit for a drink and or a meal. Those from further afield could also stay in the hotel's rooms.

So how does the Selkirk Arms rate as a sea kayaking pub? Well I have had to take a mark off because it is not visible from the water and another mark off because it is a 400m walk from the slipway. So adding it all up the Selkirk Arms Hotel scores 11/10 and so rates as one of the finest sea kayaking pubs in Scotland. One of the owners, Chris, is also a sea kayaker and you may even bump into him on the water!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Coming and going and leaving a wake at Kirkcudbright.

Behind us, the wind was funneling through The Sound between Little Ross and the mainland and it was with...

 ...great anticipation that we launched the sails. We were soon averaging 9km/hr and hitting 19km/hr when planing on a wave. This return trip was going to be a much quicker than the outward trip, when both wind and tide were against us and we had averaged just 5km/hr.

We were making such speedy progress that we were leaving a definite wake behind us. It soon became apparent that Tony's Alaw Bach was planing for much shorter bursts than the Aries. We had noticed this previously in Fleet Bay and now Tony, Mike and myself have all replaced our Alaw Bachs with Aries kayaks. The Alaw Bach is a superb sea kayak but for some reason it is not so suited to paddle sailing as the Aries.

 As it was just coming up for high water we did not need to keep to the narrow buoyed channel which...

 ...was just as well as the scallop dredgers from Kirkcudbright were making their way out to sea, Proud as we were of our wakes we couldn't quite match the wakes of these stout vessels.

Approaching Kirkcudbright* harbour, we kept out of the fishing boats' way by keeping inside the end of the marina pontoon.

 Once past the marina we made a quick sprint for the slipway before the remaining fishing fleet departed.

We arrived exactly at high water and so the top of the harbour slipway was dry and not too slippy. If you use this slipway in the wet be careful as it is both steep and slippery. Just a few weeks later than our trip a man slipped and suffered a nasty head injury.

Tony's wife kindly brought the car round and we only had a few feet from water to car roof rack!

Although we had not been able to paddle round the coast past Abbey Head (due to the live firing at Kirkcudbright Range) we had a most enjoyable paddle of 18.4km in Kirkcudbright Bay and Little Ross was well worth a visit. The contrast between the enclosed tidal River Dee at Kirkcudbright and the lively conditions in Little Ross Sound at the mouth of the bay could hardly be greater. If you just wanted some park and play in the Little Ross Sound tide race choose a spring tide (HW will be about 1300 in summer) on the ebb against a S-SW wind. The nearest launch place to park easily is Brighouse Bay. It is an 8km round trip to the Sound and back. Take a folding trolley as the tide goes out in Brighouse Bay for 600m. Remember that this fun little race will carry you out into the main south west going Solway ebb which runs at 4 knots springs. This will take you to a fun filled rocky landfall at the Burrow Head tiderace, some 21km away across the mouth of Wigtown Bay.

* A phonetic note for non Gallovidians, Kirkcudbright is pronounced Kir-coo-bri. It means the church of St Cuthbert.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The view from the summit of Little Ross Island.

From the summit of Little Ross Island we looked west down to the waters of The Sound with the point of Fox Craig beyond. It is often instructive to view paddling conditions from above.

From sea level, just 20 minutes before, the wide angle lens made the conditions look much calmer than they actually were.

The tide race was swirling round the south end of Little Ross and this was wind with tide! This large yacht was making her way up to Kirkcudbright from the Isles of Fleet where she had spent Saturday night. She had reached down under foresail alone. Because there was live firing on the range she.had to pass within 200m of the SE shore of Little Ross so she started her engine and motor sailed in before hoisting her main once in the more sheltered waters of the bay.

This is the view east from Little Ross and all the sea and land in the photo is in the exclusion zone when the range is firing. In the middle distance, Gypsy Point marks the far side of Kirkcudbright Bay. In the far distance, Abbey Head is 7km away and the firing range extends a further 3km beyond it. Despite the wind, the noise of medium and large calibre firing travelled far over the water.The flood tide runs east along this coast and the ebb west. At springs the tide makes 4 knots in each direction.

As we did not want to paddle north up Kirkcudbright Bay against the 3.5 knot ebb tide (I stopped using my Greenland paddle for everyday use after the last time I did that!) it was now time to make our way back to our kayaks to catch the end of the flood. The lower light at the north end of the island is aligned with the lighthouse astern  to give a transit for boats to find the start of the buoyed channel up the River Dee to Kirkcudbright.

As we approached the store at the west quay, the Gallovidian III was still at anchor on range duty but the other recreational boats were already making their way up river to avoid the ebb tide.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Murder at Little Ross Lighthouse.

Near the west quay at the north end of Little Ross Island lies an old workshop and store. An old Alvis Stalwart 6WD amphibious vehicle was parked next to the store. We thought we would be safer crossing the Little Ross Sound and Ross Roads in our sea kayaks.

 From the store a track leads up to the summit of Little Ross, which is crowned by the lighthouse.

Half way up, on the east side of the track, some cottages and an old smithy are adjoined by a walled garden. The garden belonged to the principal lighthouse keeper.

The Little Ross lighthouse was the first built by Alan Stephenson and was lit on 1/1/1843. The light flashes white every five seconds.

It was the first lighthouse in the world to have a catadioptric design, which meant that the beam was focussed with both lenses and mirrors. At the time the famous physicist Lord Kelvin ranked it (along with the lighthouses at Rhinns of Islay and Buchan Ness) as one of the top three lighthouses in the World.

In 1960, the light was one of the very first manned lights to be automated. This was precipitated by the tragic murder of one of the keepers by his assistant. There is a moving first hand account by David Collin, one of the people who discovered the murdered man, on the Kirkcudbright community website.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The red flag is flying high over Kirkcudbright Bay.

 Although our destination was Little Ross Island....

 ...we paddled out through Little Ross Sound and past Fox Craig to...

 ...the open Solway Firth beyond.. There is a tidal anomaly in the Sound. During spring tides the current generally flows south in the Sound during both the ebb and the flood. You are almost guaranteed some interesting wind over tide conditions here in the prevailing SW winds. It was easy to see why the other boaters had stayed within Kirkcudbright Bay.

After some fun in the Solway we paddled back through the Sound and into the lee of the north end of Little Ross Island.

During the early part of the year this is a gull nesting colony but the chicks had all fledged and the rocks were deserted. Their guano and the smell well the only reminders of the frenetic bird  activity during the Spring.

We had noticed the MV Gallovidian III had been anchored a little way offshore. Her skipper Gary McKie upped anchor and motored across to within hailing range. The Gallovidian III is the Kirkcudbright Range safety boat. Gary hailed us to ask if we knew the range was being used for live firing. Over the AKA AKA AKA and Crump Crump of small and large bore firing, we reassured him that we did.

In fact Tony and I had originally intended launching from Abbey Burn Foot (at the east end of the range) and paddling west to Little Ross Island. However, the red flags round the range were flying and the access road was blocked.