Sunday, May 31, 2015

A change of course in the Sound of Islay.

When Tony and I left West Loch Tarbert on Jura's wild west coast, our original intention had been to paddle the 8km across the Sound of Islay from Rubha a' Chrois-aoinidh on Jura and land to the west of Ruvaal lighthouse on Islay. There we could sit out the north going flood tide in the Sound of Islay before the tide turned and carried us south to our next destination on the SE coast of Islay. At first the sea was calm but...

Intermission with no photos. thing about sea kayaking is that you need to be flexible. We had only gone 2km but the offshore tail wind which was funnelling straight down West Loch Tarbert had increased to the top of a F4 and we the Sound was kicking up some very lumpy water as the tide increased.

Anyway we decided to give Ruvall a miss and turned through 90 degrees to broad reach down the Sound as far as we could, given the tide was running against us.

 Out in the open Sound, we made splendid progress...

Intermission with no photos.

...for a further four kilometres but as we entered....

 ...the lee of Jura, the wind dropped and veered to the south so we had to drop our sails. The coastline here has frequent basalt dykes, arches caves and raised beaches.

It was getting hard paddling against the wind and the tide but we hugged the shore to keep out of the main stream as the Sound narrowed ahead.

This magnificent series of waterfalls cascade from a high valley directly onto the beach. The deep V shaped gorge was not cut by the present flow but by the huge volume of melt water from the retreating ice after the Ice Age.

 We made one last burst against the tide before finding...

 ...a most agreeable place to stop for...

 ...third luncheon. A basalt dyke behind the beach offered shade from the chill south east wind.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A big egg or a small frying pan?

Tony and I stopped for second luncheon at a little bay on Rubha a' Chrois-aoinidh at the mouth of West Loch Tarbert on Jura. What to eat?

 A big bird.

 An empty nest.

 Is this a big egg or a small frying pan?

As we ate we enjoyed a view over the mouth of the loch to another magnificent raised beach on the north side. After a scrumptious luncheon, the tide had turned and come back in to the boats. It was now time to leave West Loch Tarbert.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The beaches under the Enchanted Mountain of Jura.

From the raised beach on the south shore of West Loch Tarbert on Jura Tony and I set off on our exploration of the outer loch.

A fair wind and the last of the ebb tide helped to propel us...

...past an amazing series of bays backed by...

...raised beaches which were in turn backed by long dry sea cliffs and caves. The Paps of Jura now heaved above the coastal landscape and would be with us for most of the rest of our expedition.

As we approached Glenbatrick  bay the water quickly shoaled to a sandy bottom and turned from ultramarine to...

...dazzling turquoise. What looked like a road on the hillside was actually another raised beach.

We approached Glenbatrick house at the head of the bay. It is locally pronounced Glenabatrick after the original name Glenabedrig.

The house was built in Victorian times for the Astor family and it is the current Lord Astor's holiday home. David Cameron's wife Samantha is Lord Astor's step daughter and the Camerons have enjoyed several holidays here. Tony and I met Lord Astor in 2007 in a remote bay on the west coast of Jura. He seemed a thoroughly decent person. Behind the house the shapely mass of Beinn Shiantaidh (757m) heaved towards the blue vault of the sky. There are several translations of her Gaelic name but I much prefer "The Enchanted Mountain."

We left the turquoise waters of Glenbatrick Bay and paddled over the...

...the deeper ultramarine waters off Rubha a' Chrois-aoinidh (headland of the steep cross) at the entrance of West Loch Tarbert. Then we spotted a little sandy cove, time for second luncheon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Are the raised beaches of West Loch Tarbert, Jura Slartibartfast's crowning achievement?

From Cairidh Mhor in Jura's West Loch Tarbert , Tony and I paddled west through the outer tidal rapids, the Cumain Mhor. A F4 easterly wind had got up (as forecast*) and together with the ebb tide accelerating through the narrows we went through at a fair lick. At the point the above photo was taken, I  had to suddenly divert to port as I was heading directly for a rock at 12km/hr. Just as the sail gybed over, the GoPro camera got knocked off by the rock but fortunately I always tie it on.

 We landed shortly afterwards at...

 ...what must be Slartibartfast's crowning achievement... is one of Jura's most amazing raised beaches. Each year, for over 10,000 years, more and more of it is exposed as the land has slowly risen after the Ice Age ice sheet melted.

 Clean, sea worn pebbles and cobbles stretch upwards as far as the eye can see and at the summit...

This photo September 2009.
...the tide last went out 10,000 years ago. It has taken that long for these few patches of vegetation to establish.

It is at the summit of the beach that the largest cobbles are found. These have ancient colonies of lichens growing on them.

This photo September 2009.
The situation and scale of this beach makes it a unique feature of the British coastline.

The huge raised beach retains a fresh water loch, Lochan Maol an t-Sornaich, but despite the high rainfall in the area no visible river flows out of it.

Instead, innumerable springs like this one issue from its base and as the fresh water mingles with the salt water of West Loch Tarbert it creates swirling patterns of refracted light in the sea.

The ebb tide was still pouring out of the Cumain Mhor as we made our way back to the waiting  boats.

*The forecast wind was why we were here in the shelter of West Loch Tarbert. Our original plan for this time during the trip was to be crossing the west end of the Corryvreckan, to the north of Jura. This would have held less appeal given the force 4 gusting 6 easterly wind, see below...!

This is approaching the west end of the Gulf of Corryvreckan from the north in August 2008. Jura is straight ahead. It is the last hour of the west going flood tide (travelling at 8 knots left to right) and the F4 easterly wind is blowing with the tide. We are in the calm waters of an east going eddy (also 8 knots). It is quite a committing place!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A fish ladder in West Loch Tarbert, Jura.

West Loch Tarbert (on the maps it is just Loch Tarbert but everyone calls it WLT!) is full of interest and we set off the explore the middle loch which is bounded by the two tidal narrows. There were many places to stop...

...but we were particularly interested  in a little artificial loch at Cairidh Mhor. There are two dams with the newer one being higher.

The loch was created after the 1881 6" Ordnance Survey map was surveyed in 1878. It does not appear on OS maps until the 1953 1" map.

The fish ladder rises about 3 metres from the sea in...

...four steps. I expect it was built for sea trout. Fishing and deer stalking  provide a significant source of employment to the Jura population.

Tony was like a nimble mountain goat and hopped over the gaps to investigate...

...the majority of the outflow through the sluice rather than down the fish ladder.

Of course he was only pretending to adjust the sluice, it was seized solid!

As my knees were killing me after the previous evening's portage I was certainly not leaping about like a mountain goat so I stayed on the shore and admired these alpine plants growing in cracks in the wall.

There is a boathouse and slipway on the east shore.

Then it was back to the kayaks to continue our exploration of West Loch Tarbert, Jura.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A rescue and two ice cream heads at Auchmithie.

On the May Bank Holiday Saturday, Maurice, Mike, Phil and I drove from Ayrshire and Glasgow to the old fishing village of Auchmithie on the Angus coast NE of Arbroath. We met Duncan and Joan who had driven over from Fife and Ian who had driven south from Aberdeenshire.

 We had paddled here quite recently and enjoyed it so much we were back for more. Until the mid 19th century Auchmithie was a thriving fishing port but the fleet moved to Arbroath when its harbour was improved. Auchmithie was the home of what is now known as the Arbroath smokie, a type of smoked haddock.

Just south of the village we came to Lud Castle a sandstone tower whose rocky ledges are the nest sites of countless sea birds, guillemots, black guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls and cormorants.

 This pair of guillemots caught our eye.

This one has the rarer white spectacle variant though they are all the same species and interbreed at random. They should not be confused with the spectacled guillemot which is a different species and found in the NW Pacific.

 A pair of puffins flew out of this cave

This cave had a "sky light" that let in a narrow shaft of light...

....that illuminated a patch of emerald green water in the depths of the cave..

It also had a second door that exited on the far side of the headland.

Kittiewakes added to the auditory and nasal experiences with their onomatopoeic calls and their guano.

This cave did not look very promising but... extends 150m deep inside the cliff...

...where it opens into a gloup called Gaylet Pot where the roof has collapsed.

We managed to land this time, last time some big swell almost wiped us out!

The pebbles on the gloup's shore were very smooth and colourful.

It was time for first luncheon at Cove Haven below...

...these ancient red sandstone cliffs.

These sedimentary rocks were formed when Scotland was an equatorial country. The coarse layers with large water worn pebbles were formed in periods of high rainfall when huge rivers carried their deposits and dumped them in a shallow sea.

We enjoyed our first luncheon at the head of the bay. Ian had brought some truly excellent  traditional Speyside malt.

We had this great view of the Angus coast as we chatted over our extended first luncheon. We waited for the tide to go out then come back in again so that no carrying of kayaks was necessary.

Just south of Cove Haven we came to this former sea stack called the Deil's Heid. It is now above sea level but this and many caves and arches that are now dry are evidence that once the sea was higher.

Then it was back to more stunning caves. Just south of the Deil's Heid we entered a truly remarkable cave with an extremely narrow exit.

It was reminiscent of the caves that riddle Dun in the St Kilda archipelago.

In the many narrow channels, Phil found a great way to stop the barnacles getting to his new VE carbon paddles.

Next up was Dickmont's Den, a huge geo formed by a collapsed cave system. There is a way round the back that leads to another entrance. Phil and Maurice were so taken with it they went round twice and so now we call it Phil's Pott!

Another tight through route can be found at Seamen's Grave geo.

The Needle's E'e is an arch which is now high and dry.

After one last cave we emerged to find the wind had got up to F4. The inshore forecast for the afternoon was F4-6 southerly.

We stopped in the shelter of a tidal channel at Arbroath for second luncheon. A tour boat had the same idea.

We enjoyed ice cream in Arbroath but...

...we heard on the VHF channel 16 that a yacht was in distress a mile off shore. I got an ice cream head trying to finish my ice cream too quickly.

The yacht in difficulties had dropped its sails due to the increasing wind and started its engine. Its propeller got tangled in a long piece of rope attached to a buoy. The yacht was stuck fast. Ian did a superb job communicating with Aberdeen coastguard and the yacht. Ian and I paddled out to see if we could cut her free so she could sail. After a real high energy paddle into the F4 wind and with a 1.5knot cross tide  We almost reached the yacht but the RNLI Arbroath allweather and inshore lifeboats just beat us to it. They thanked us and wished us a safe passage to Auchmithie.

Clouds had gathered and the sea was now very lumpy with the ebb tide against the wind but Ian and I had a most enjoyable paddle back to the others who were making their way up the coast. At each headland there was a small tiderace where we experienced bumpy seas. Off the headland at Lud Castle it was particularly rough. It was a surreal situation as we paddled through rafts of guillemots and razorbills that were quite unconcerned by either our passage or the rough conditions.

Only 3 out of the 7 of us had sails so to avoid splitting the party we did not use them until near the end when we were in the relative shelter of Lud Castle.

Once the sails were up, Phil and I caught some decent waves and got the speed up to 20.9km/hr. To finish off a really great day. Ian, Mike and myself did some rescue and rolling practice. I did 10 rolls on each side and ended up with my second ice cream head of the day (the water was only 8C). So that's my rolling practice done for another year.

We might only have done 15km but everything about this day was superlative, not least the exceptionally fine company!

For the full 3D trivision blogging experience you can read Duncan's account here:

Perfect Auchmithie: Paddling back...inside the planet.
Ice cream on deck...and a rescue operation on the North Sea.

and Ian's account here:

An Angus congregation.
Sea kayaking under the farmland of Angus.
Luncheon in a lost world.
Narrow places - exploring the geos of the Angus coast.