Monday, March 30, 2015

Charcoal and herons in the Burnt Islands.

From Eilean Dubh we paddled across the north end of the Kyles of Bute to the delightful Burnt Islands. The first we came to was Eilean Fraoich (Heather Isle).

The daffodils were out and it was only the 14th of March. There was little sign of any heather however.

 Looking over the Kyles of Bute to the Bute shore we could see the new composting toilet and cooking shelter that has has been provided for those that follow the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail.

The west going tide had already started so we worked our way uptide close to the island before crossing...

 ...the shipping channel which is clearly marked by red and green cans.

 The tide had just started running so was very gentle but it rips through here at 6 knots on a spring tide. Our destination was Eilean Buidhe (Yellow Isle).

 We landed on rocks at the north end of the islands. Although the rock hereabouts is...

 ...very interesting, composed of contorted lichen covered swirls, it was not the purpose of our visit.

Ian and I  braved bramble covered defences to ascend to the south point of the island. Here are the grass covered remains of a vitrified dun (fort). Its circular walls are 4m thick and enclose an inner area nearly 20m in diameter.It was extensively excavated by JH Maxwell in 1936. He found a thick layer of charcoal at the base of the vitrified walls which was presumably the source of the combustion process that fused the stones of the wall together.

From the dun we had a good view over the Kyles to Eilean Mor which is the largest of the Burnt Islands. Some years ago Mike and I camped on Bute just on the far side of Eilean Dubh. We suffered one of the worst midge attacks we have experienced anywhere. Then we were kept awake most of the night by the cacophony from the large heronry which takes residence in the island's trees in the summer.

The dun also affords a good view over Eilean Bhuidhe to the West Kyle beyond. It must have been a great location for a fort.

 Leaving the Burnt Islands we just had a short trip down the East Kyle to Rhubodach, the Bute ferry terminal  where we had left the cars. An easterly wind got up and we launched the sails. I was able to leave the others far behind by using the forward fin on the Aries. However the others caught up as I had to wait for the ferry MV Loch Dunvegan to leave her berth.  I remember using the MV Loch Dunvegan to cross to Skye in the days before the Skye Bridge was opened in 1995. She was built in 1991 at Fergusons Yard in Port Glasgow. After leaving Skye, she was relief vessel on various crossings until she moved to the Kyles of Bute route in 1999.

 We landed just to the east of the ferry slipway, a few metres from the cars.

We had enjoyed a wonderful day in the Kyles of Bute. We may only have covered 18km but on the other hand we had spent some very pleasant time in the Kames Hotel!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Eilean Dubh, the dark island of the Kyles of Bute.

We set off from Caladh Harbour to exit via the north channel with the thickly wooded island of Eilean Dubh on our starboard side.

Like the south channel, the north channel also has a stone beacon to mark the entrance.

Eilean Dubh means the dark island and the dense growth of non-native rhododendron means that not much light reaches its base and so it gradually chokes out native species. Many places in Scotland are trying to eradicate rhododendron such as... on Riska Island in Loch Moidart.

Back in the Kyles of Bute, we paddled round the steep, dark shore of Eilean Dubh till we came to.. of the few landing sites which is situated on the east side of the island.

The sign at the top of the jetty says "Strictly Private". This of course is irrelevant since the  Land Reform Act (Scotland) was introduced. There is a path from the jetty to the burial ground of the Clark family (of Clarks Shoes)  who owned the Caladh estate for much of the 20th century. There are eight graves dating from 1937 to 1999. Sadly one is of a child who died at only 9 years of age. We decided not to land.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Para Handy, wartime ops and a wee touch of oil in Caladh Harbour.

 From Buttock Point at the north end of Bute we set off across the west Kyle for the Cowal shore.

We were bound for Caladh Harbour, which has both a north and south entrance, each marked by a white stone beacon.

The thickly wooded island is called Eilean Dubh (the Dark Island) and it gives  shelter to the harbour.

 The small lighthouse which stands at the south entrance originally had a simple oil lamp... the recess at the top.

We swung round the small headland below the lighthouse and entered the harbour. Almost immediately...

...we arrived at the slipway and what was the lighthouse keeper's cottage. It has been completely rebuilt and is now a holiday cottage. One of the occupants of the original cottage was inspiration to author Neil Munro for the character Para Handy who was the skipper of the Vital Spark, a Clyde puffer that plied these waters in the 1930s. The much loved BBC series "The Vital Spark" used the harbour for filming many location scenes. A century ago Caladh Estate had no road and so supplies had to come in by sea and puffers would have been frequent visitors to the harbour. Many people know the Lighthouse Cottage as Para Handy's House.

In 1868 Caladh Estate was bought by George Stephenson, who was a nephew of the railway pioneer George "Rocket" Stephenson. He built the estate's big house, Glen Caladh Castle. The estate was in the hands of the Clark family (of Clarks Shoes) for much of the 20th century. In WW2 the estate was requisitioned and renamed as HMS James Cook. It was used for navigational training of the many officers required to command landing craft and Xcraft (miniature submarines) for the D Day invasion of Europe. The castle was demolished in the 1960's.

The slipway still has an iron ratchet system which would have prevented boats on a trolley slipping back into the sea.

 We climbed up to the harbour wall where...

 ...this old crane... still in remarkably good condition.

 Just a wee touch oil and it should be ready to go!

From the old harbour wall you can see out of the south entrance to the East Kyle on the left and the West Kyle on the right.

The old boathouse has also been renovated and converted into another holiday home.

I first landed here from a yacht in the early 1970's. At that time things were pretty derelict.

It is nice to see how things have been very nicely restored. I would not stop here in the summer when the holiday homes are in use and obviously we left no trace of our visit.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Two cheeky Maids sitting on Bute's bottom.

 Our voyage up the Kyles of Bute continued at... increasingly leisurely pace as we entered the wind shadow of Bute. We stuck close to the wild Bute shore to...

 ...avoid the villas of Tighnabruaich (The house on the hill) on the Cowal shore.

 We kept our eyes open for otters as...

 ...the scenery became increasingly highland but...

 ...we only saw this heron and a couple of...

...garishly painted rocks known as the Maids of Bute, which sit on Buttock Point.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Kames Hotel, a long way home.

After our blast up the West Kyle of Bute, we were looking forward to a luncheon in the Kames Hotel...

...we ordered beef and veggie burgers with pints of frothy sports recovery drinks. We had got chatting to a great bunch of guys from Ayrshire who had been in the bar watching our crossing. After a while they disappeared only to...

...reappear with guitars and an accordion.

My goodness we were in for a treat.  They played traditional Scots...

...and Irish songs...

..along with more recent songs from James Taylor and ...

...this one from Tom Waits....Long Way Home.

Sports recovery drinks were flowing and we knew we were getting into a perilous situation, any longer and we would have been there all night!

So we beat a hasty retreat while we still could and made a run for it up the West Kyle of Bute. This is sea kayaking.