Saturday, May 31, 2014

No plod to Pladda!

 From Whiting Bay we enjoyed a downwind blast with...

 ...Mike and I having our sails up.

Until we got to Largybeg Point  (where we caught sight of Ailsa Craig) Ian managed to keep up by paddling hard while Mike and I were only doing paddling lite!

Between Largybeg Point and Dippen Head the wind got up to the extent that even without paddling, the kayaks with sails drew too far ahead. Mike and I dropped sails but we still enjoyed a fair bit of assistance on the way to our next destination, the isle of Pladda.

As we crossed the Sound of Pladda and approached Pladda with its prominent lighthouse, I could resist no more and whipped the sail up. I drew ahead of Mike and Ian again.

By the time we got to Pladda we were filled with the exhilaration of the perfect weather conditions. We were really glad we had decided to circumnavigate Arran anticlockwise and so get the wind as a tailwind.

With a NE wind blowing straight from Dippen head to Pladda, I had wondered if it might be tricky landing in the little lighthouse harbour, which is on the north of Pladda. We needn't have concerned ourselves. The harbour had been cleverly constructed and...

...once through the narrow entrance we were in perfect shelter. It was now time for an explore but there was also a decision to make. If the wind was forecast to ease the following day, we would push on round the south coast of Arran and camp in the SW corner ready for a crossing to Davaar Island off the Kintyre coast the next day. However, the forecast for the next day proved to be for NE F4-5 increasing F5-6 so any thought of crossing the Kilbrannan Sound was forgotten. This gave us some time in hand, so we decided to explore Pladda on foot then go out into the tide race on its southerly side before landing at Kildonan Hotel for a pub lunch. We then planned to stay in the commercial camp site next to the hotel and so would have time for a walk in the afternoon before retiring to the hotel again for dinner. The complexities of route planning in a changeable forecast can be challenging but we felt we had a plan...

Friday, May 30, 2014

The "hoody" crow of Whiting Bay.

From the middle of Lamlash Bay we enjoyed a fantastic view of Arran's rocky ridges.This view shows Beinn Nuis 792m, Beinn Tarsuinn 826m and A'Chir 745m.

The south entrance of Lamlash Bay was a bit stirred up by the tide in places but...

 ...soon we were in the shelter of Kingscross Point.

 The great sweep of Whiting Bay seemed a great spot to land for...

...a second breakfast, which we enjoyed at a bench on the grass above the reddish sands. Unfortunately a local crow managed to get into Mike's day hatch. Although the Guinness proved to be crow proof, packets of cheese and smoked sausage proved no barrier and the crow made off with Mike's forthcoming luncheon. We chased the crow off several times but it returned each time. It was a real neighbourhood hood. It was at this point that I formulated a plan to take luncheon in the Kildonan Hotel...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Inner Light, Stairway to Heaven and Pie in the Sky on Holy Island.

The view north from Holy island  was stunning. In the middle distance on the left is Hamilton Isle and Clauchlands Point on Arran. Above the point in the distance is Ben Ime, The Cobbler and Ben Narnain while on the right the summit of Ben Lomond rises above the Little Cumbrae island. The summit of Ben Ime is 81km away from Holy Island but two sea lochs of the Firth of Clyde; Loch Fyne and Loch Long extend  on either side of the mountain. The Firth of Clyde is a big place and it would take a long time to explore it.

We set off down the remote east coast of Holy Island with a fair wind,...

...full sun and a sparkling sea.

The wooded north soon gave way to...

...steep grass covered slopes and cliffs.

The geology here is very interesting. 250 million year old Permian red sandstone is covered with a thick sill of 55-60 million year old dolerite. The hard layer of igneous rock above protected the soft sedimentary rock below from the glaciers of the Ice Age.

Today the red sandstone is eroding as each time we pass there seems to be fresh rock fall. This would not be the best place to camp.

As we approached the accurately named Pillar Rock, we came to the Holy Island Outer Light. It was built in 1905 and was the first square lighthouse built by the Northern Lighthouse Board. It was automated in 1977. I flashes white every 20 seconds.

Turning the south end of Holy Island we entered the calm of lee of the island from the NE wind.

On the slopes above are built a series of retreats for the monks. They were designed by architect Andrew Wright and cots about £5 million to build in the mid 1990's. The winding path that leads to the highest retreat is truly a stairway to heaven.

We now approached Holy Island's second lighthouse which is appropriately called the Inner Light. The last time I was on Holy Island one of the volunteers told me that some women had been meditating inside for 17 years. As regular readers of this blog will know, we like landing and exploring lighthouses but given the current residents' wish for seclusion, we were happy to leave them to their splendid isolation.

The Inner Light guards the southern entrance of the great natural harbour of Lamlash Bay. It has been used by the Vikings, the Lords of the Isles and the Royal Navy in both World Wars. The Inner Light flashes green every three seconds. It was built in 1877 by David and Thomas Stevenson and was automated in 1977. We left Holy Island and paddled across Lamlash Bay with its wonderful view of the Arran mountains to the north.

As we left the beautiful Holy Island in our wakes, I reflected on the ownership of the Scottish Islands. Recently we have visited islands owned by absentee landlords (Sanda), resident working landlords (Muck) , community buyouts (South Uist, Eigg, Gigha), government quangos (SNH) (Rum), charities (NTS) (Canna), and religious orders (Little Cumbrae, Holy Island). Perhaps surprisingly I found the island of Muck, which has a resident and working landlord, to be the happiest.

Holy Island is where a branch of my ancestors lived and worked and today it is a peaceful and environmentally sound place under the stewardship of the Tibetan monks of the Samye Ling monastery in Dumfriesshire. The regenerating natural woodland full of birdsong is a delight. However, I found it in some ways a rather sterile and unreal place. In a way it is elitist, with those in retreat being supported by the time labour and money of volunteers. It is therefore not self sustaining like the Island of Muck. Those in retreat may think they are escaping from the outside world but they are just as dependent on it as you or I. Lastly it is not a real community at all. There are no children. So despite Holy Island being the land of my ancestors, give me Muck any day. It is a living island.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Responsibly exercising our legal right to wild camping on Holy Island, Arran.

 It was still raining heavily when we paddled through the gap between tiny Hamilton Isle and...

 ...Clauchlands Point on the Arran mainland.

 Holy Island lay across Lamlash Bay and as it was getting late we decided to wild camp on the island.

 we were not the only ones heading south. This submarine appeared out of the mist and rain.

 We decided to avoid the area on the east of Holy island because of the Buddhist prayer poles and the NW of the island due to the residential buildings for the volunteers. We also avoided the best bit of shingle because of nesting gulls, oyster catchers and ringed plovers. Despite a previous history of kayakers being asked to leave and the monks warning on their website "We strongly discourage camping anywhere on the island" and "no fires are lit",  we were happy to exercise our legal right of discrete wild camping.

 It was still pouring with rain a a cold northerl;y breeze got up. We decided to warm ourselves by a small fire. We respected the monks request and lit our fire below high water mark (as we always do anyway). The driftwood on the shore was all soaking wet but I had brought my patent fire lighter...a bag of barbecue charcoal.

 Despite Mike's misgivings we soon had a small fire going. As it was very wet, we stayed in our dry suits to cook our meal.

We enjoyed our meal by the fire and just for a second or two, there was a hint of a sunset. Ian pointed out a woodcock which flew backwards and forwards patrolling its territory round the edge of the wonderful new mixed woodland which has been planted by the volunteers.

 The following morning we were up at 6am and I took a stroll along the beach and was pleased to see that the previous no landing and no camping signs had been removed. We broke camp and left no trace. There was no sign of the ashes of the fire which had been washed away by the tide.

Just as we were about to leave at 0730 we were approached by a very pleasant and polite female volunteer. She made no comment about camping not being allowed and was interested to hear where we had come from and where we were going. We chatted for some time about the west coast in general before she headed back along the path towards the Buddhist centre. Before she went, I noticed that while she was chatting with us, she had a good look at where we had camped and the area of woodland behind. We were pleased that nothing untoward had been noted before saying goodbye.

A few minutes later another female volunteer arrived from the other direction. She too was interested in our trip and made no comment about camping. She had not been on the island very long and I was able to tell her several things about the history of the island and how once many families had lived on the island. She was unaware of this and I pointed out some ancient lazy beds that had been used by crofters to grow crops. I was also able to tell her that a female ancestor of mine had been born on Holy Island in the early 18th century then moved to a another croft at Corriecravie on the SW of Arran when she got married. We said pleasant goodbyes to this volunteer and thought that camping problems on Holy Isle were over until...

When we got home we discovered that another two kayakers had camped on exactly the same spot as us three nights later. They thought the beach was too rough to land on so they paddled round to the Buddhist Centre and used their slipway before starting to trolley the kayaks round to where we had camped. Being right under the eye of the Centre, a volunteer came down and "strongly advised them not to camp" though he did acknowledge that he could "not prevent you". I rather thought that this was like waving a red rag at a bull and given the past history of camping problems on Holy Island  I certainly would not have chosen to arrive so blatantly. Indeed the owner of nearby Sanda recently tried to stop people landing but was only able to prevent them using the pier and slipway, which were his property. The Land Reform Act allows people to access the land from a beach but not from private property such as a slipway or a pontoon. In this case, the monks could have very reasonably refused access to the kayakers and sent them back to the water.

My advice is that it is legal to wild camp on Holy Island but do so sensibly and discretely. Arrive late and leave early to minimise disturbance, don't stay for a whole day or more. Be a small party, large parties by their nature are not discrete. Leave no trace. Don't camp by the prayer poles or near shore nesting birds near the NW point.

With respect to wild camping, here is an extract from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code:

Access rights extend to wild camping. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner’s permission. Leave no trace by: taking away all your litter; removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire (follow the guidance for lighting fires) not causing any pollution.

With respect to lighting a small fire on the foreshore, here is an extract from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: "Public rights on the foreshore will continue to exist, including shooting, wildfowl, fishing for sea fish, lighting fires, beachcombing, swimming, playing and picnicking."

I have previously posted on this subject:, it is worth reading some of the comments.

An excessive attachment to the land.
The Outer Light of Holy Island...Scotland's forbidden Island.
Scottish access problem, is Holy Island closed?
Holy Island of two faiths, Arran.
Do Holy Island Monks think they are above the Law of Scotland?
Holy Island, the cave of St Molaise and modern day monks.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Destined for Holy Island.

Ian is currently on shore leave from his sea faring job. So it was a great opportunity for Mike and I to get back on the water with him again. However, our plans for a bank holiday weekend on Tiree did not come to fruition due to a complex low pressure system sitting over the UK. In fact the weather was so bad that the Thursday ferry to Coll and Tiree from Oban was cancelled. With the weather gods clearly against us, we decided instead to meet at Ardrossan at 1630. This would give us time to get a weather update then catch either the 1800 ferry to Arran or the 1840 ferry to Campbeltown depending on the severity of the forecast. As the next few days were forecast to be F4-6 NE, we decided that the east Kintyre coast would be a long slog followed by a rough crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound to back Arran so we...

 ...decided to head for the Arran ferry instead. When we arrived it was pouring with rain so we changed into our dry suits in the comfort of the car deck as the vehicles were disembarking before us.

We were on the water just after the MV Caledonian Isles left to return to Ardrossan however, we were slightly delayed in setting off. The little beach to the east of the ferry jetty is composed of coarse sand and fine shingle. There is guaranteed to be something that will jam every skeg box and indeed each of us had to clear our skeg boxes twice before we had working skegs.

 We decided to circumnavigate clockwise and spend the first two days running south before the strongest winds of the weekend. I always enjoy the sense of weightlessness that occurs as soon as you get a heavily laden sea kayak afloat. Soon after leaving Brodick we spotted the first of many otters we would see round Arran.The woods along the shore were full of birdsong.

 The pouring rain did nothing to dampen our spirits but looking back...

 ...a stream of dark clouds was streaming downwind from the summit of Goatfell.

The east Arran hills were still covered in wild hyacinths which are commonly called bluebells (but the Scottish bluebell is actually the harebell).

Just before 20:15 we spotted the peak of our destination, Holy Island rising behind Clauchlands Point. There have been  recent problems of access for wild camping on Holy Island caused by the Buddhist monks banning camping, However, I had recently been reassured by the Ayrshire and Arran Access Officer that the the monks (who own) the island had now accepted that under the Scottish Land Reform Act, they could not ban people from wanting to wild camp. However (as of today) the Holy Island web site still states "We strongly discourage camping anywhere on the island" which is clearly at odds with the Law of Scotland. What sort of welcome would we get...? 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thirty glorious hours in the Firth of Clyde.

It was with some sadness that we left the north end of Inchmarnock. Our adventure round the isles  and peninsulas of the Firth of Clyde would soon be over.

 Gradually the isles of Inchmarnock and Arran and the distant Kintyre peninsula (where we had set off from that morning)...
 ...receded into the haze and patches of sea mist behind us.

 Soon we were paddling across Ettrick Bay on Bute towards Kildavanan Point near where we had set out just the previous day...

 ...only 30 hours previously. We each commented that it seemed we had been on our adventure for a much longer time. It was as if we had entered another time zone where time ran more slowly.

 As we looked out at Ardlamont Point on the right to distant Kintyre then to mountainous Arran and low lying Inchmarnock on the right, we realised that we had experienced true wilderness and an amazing variety of wildlife so very close to home. You do not need to travel to the far corners of the World to find adventure, it is much closer than you think. We didn't even paddle very far....

...we covered just 55km over the two days.

 Ian's wife arrived with a car to run the shuttle back to Rothesay to pick up Mike's car. While they were away I slowly carried the bags of our gear up the beach to near the road. When I finished, I sat down to enjoy, for the last time,  the wonderful panorama of where we had been during those 30 hours. Behind me the woodland and fields were alive with bird song.Cheeky chaffinches hopped round my feet looking for crumbs from my last biscuit and in the air high above a meadow pippit was descending slowly with its wonderful trilling song.

 Shortly afterwards Ian, his wife...

 ..and Mike arrived to load the kayaks onto the cars for the journey home.

While we were waiting at the ferry terminal Ian ran back to Zavaroni's to get some tubs of ice cream. I kept having to move round to get the photo of Ian with the cones in the background. Real men don't eat ice cream in cones!

We did not have long to wait for the ferry and soon we were leaving Rothesay (framed by the distant Arran mountains) behind in the wake of the ...

 ...MV Bute.

When we passed Toward lighthouse and could see the houses of Wemyss Bay, we knew our adventure was over.