Monday, 14 September 2020

Stacks of colour at Rubha Reidh

The point and lighthouse at Rubha Reidh marked the extent of our outward journey on this superlative summer day.  We turned and headed back around the point, pausing to investigate the tiny jetty at Port an Amaill which was used to supply the light with paraffin and stores for many years - the narrow, twisting road from Melvaig to Rubha Reidh was only completed in 1962.

Seen from the west the stacks are even more impressive than our initial view from the east as they stand out from the cliffs.  It's a great place to explore with a sea kayak and one can paddle in and around the narrow channels at the base of each stack - so we did!

A last run between tow of the larger stacks in perfect conditions brought us back out to the eastern side....

...and back out into the riot of colour in the bay of Camas Mor.  I'd rate this pace, in these conditions, as one of the best places I've ever explored by kayak - just superb.

Image by Allan McCourt

We took turns to pose in our boats for photographs, seemingly suspended on brilliant aquamarine water which would grace a tropical island.

After spending time just absorbing the intensity of the colours we headed in to a small beach we'd spotted on our outward leg.  If Camas Mor is difficult of access on foot, then this beach takes it to another level.  At spring tide high water it will pretty much disappear and is guarded by rocks and reefs, but if you make it here, and it's possible to land, we recommend that you do so.....

 ....we promise you won't be disappointed!  An utterly superb beach, surrounded by dramatic rock architecture and lapped by a sea of stunningly intense colour; it's a great place.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Smooth headland, smooth going

We left Camas Mor with some reluctance, it's a lovely spot and one that's usually difficult to land on.  Ahead of us the sea shaded from aquamarine to indigo and every shade of aqua blue in between.  The cliffs are high here and we began to pick out the stacks near to our destination.

A glimpse of another strip of pale golden sand caught our attention - and if Camas Mor is difficult of access then this beach takes it to another level.  Backed by rugged, loose cliffs it would be a tricky scramble down and back.  The scale of the place is put in perspective by the group of walkers on the skyline near the lowest cliffs......

We were now paddling in emerald green water - an indication of some depth over a sandy seabed.  The sandstone stacks rose up in front of us, intricate and challenging.

When we came to shallower water the sea colour changed again - bright turquoise alternating with a deep green where patches of laminaria weed grow from the seabed......

...while behind us the emerald green was stunning - flashes of light darting across the seabed as the bright sunshine was refracted off the ripples on the surface.

As if this couldn't get any better, the colour of the water intensified close to the stacks, which added their own warm red shade to provide contrast.

Against an intensely blue summer sky, the contrast of the sandstone's red was startling.

 Suddenly, we were past the stacks and the height of the land fell quickly to Rubh Reidh (the smooth headland).  Rubh Reidh is named for the appearance of the sloping slabs.  These are of a different type of sandstone, termed autoclastic (made of itself) and are understood to have been sediments broken and tilted 30 degrees to the northwest, possibly by earthquakes.

Across the headland, Rubh Reidh lighthouse stands tall and distinct, visible from many miles up and down this northern coast.  Built by David Alan Stevenson between 1908 and 1912, the tower stands 25 metres tall (37 metres above the sea) and shows four white flashes every fifteen seconds.  I've travelled this coast in large vessels and the intricate chain of lights is perfect, each distinct and in just the right place - one of the great engineering and navigational feats.

To be here, at the Smooth Headland, in smooth conditions was a real treat.  I've walked to the light and tried three previous times by sea kayak to turn this point; each time conditions were too big for me.  the tide sweeps around at 3 knots, it's absolutely exposed and despite it's lack of height is described in yachtsman's pilot books and the sea kayak guide to the north west as "the most dramatic and challenging of the Wester Ross headlands".  We felt pretty lucky!

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Under the Eagle's gaze at Camas Mor

Continuing from Rubha nan Sasan we left Loch Ewe and began to head west towards Rubha Reidh.  A couple of low-lying skerries came into view and we just managed to squeeze between them and the mainland at quite a low tidal state.

The rock architecture began to grow again in stature as we paddled out of the loch; I remarked to Allan and Lorna that this spot was the furthest I'd previously managed in two attempts to reach Rubha Reidh from Loch Ewe (and one attempt from Gairloch when I didn't get far up the coast before it became to rough to safely continue.  So far everything was looking good.  We weren't the only ones enjoying this sunny morning either.....

I got a glimpse of a huge and unmistakable shape wheeling away above a small headland, and another huge shape atop a post.  A view of a White-Tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is always a thrill and this bird stayed obligingly on it's perch as we paddled below.  It was well aware of us as the head with its massive beak occasionally swivelled to stare at us as we passed by.  The bird had chosen its viewpoint well; as we rounded the headland on which it sat a great view into Camas Mor (big bay) opened up.....

It's an impressive place; a sweep of golden sand backed by steep grassy cliffs and in any kind of swell it has a reputation as a pretty difficult landing.  No road or easy path leads here either, to reach the place on foot is a long walk on a rough path, then a steep scramble down the 150m cliffs.  On this day conditions were about as perfect as you could wish, so we made our approach and landed on the sand among some reefs at the near end of the shore.  

First luncheon was most definitely in order, but before that I walked up the beach to explore a bit and to get a view right along the beach.

I deliberately kept my focus on the small sights, saving the wide view until I was in just the right place.  The only tracks here were animal tracks; whelks moving across the wet sand left their trails - these two forming a neat saltire shape.

A sandstone boulder had really interesting lichen patterns - I picked out the the outline of a heart shape and a turtle in the patterns....or is it just me?!

From the base of the cliffs I looked back to our landing place among the reefs, the view a layered one of green marram grass, golden sand, warm coloured rock, aquamarine water shading to deep indigo and a thin bank of sea mist below a blue sky.  It was lovely, but if the view over the beach was good.....


The view along it was superb!  We enjoyed a leisurely first luncheon, followed by a swim.  We can report that despite the warmth of the day, the sea temperature was on the bracing side of refreshing...though refreshing it certainly was.  It took no time at all to dry off in the sunshine and we ere soon ready to get back on the water; we were leaving as a double kayak and a RIB were arriving.  Camas Mor is a beautiful beach, and the fact that it's difficult of access by land or sea adds to its appeal.  But for all it's grandeur, we were to find out that it's not even the best beach on this stunning stretch of coast.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Clouds and colours - a morning on Loch Ewe

The first paddling day of our trip to Loch Ewe started with a mirror flat sea reflecting an amazing cloudscape - I think these are altocumulus clouds.  The effect built quite quickly and then the cloud began to dissipate just as rapidly.

By the time we set out from Firemore the cloud had largely broken up.  We paddled out into the loch and straight away a long view opened up to the distinctive skylines of the Torridon mountains.

It was a marvellous morning to be out on the water!  Our route took us northwards along the west shore of Loch Ewe towards the open sea, which looked to be as calm as the loch - our boats simply slid along with little effort.

We enjoyed exploring some rocky channels below Meallan Na Gamha (also named Stirkhill on the map - the meaning is the same in Gaelic and Scots, "little hill of the yearling cattle") and then across the bay came upon this arch, high and dry.  As we were here near low water, we noted the place to explore on our way back when the tide would be somewhat higher.

As the morning progressed and the sun move higher the colours were simply stunning.  Most of this area is composed of Old Red Sandstone which is a warm reddish-brown - against a deep blue sky and the vivid colours of yellow lichens and green summer growth it was a very colourful.

Allan found this tiny cave, not more than half a metre across, which was half submerged but seemed to go back a fair way into the rock.  When the gentle swell from the open sea washed in, there were all kinds of gurgles and hisses before a plume of water shot out, expelled from the back of the cave - which I totally failed to capture on camera!


We soon found ourselves at Rubha nan Sasan, which has the remains of a coastal battery and searchlight battery dating from 1941 when Loch Ewe was one of the main assembly points for the Arctic convoys which headed from here up to Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia.  Two 6-inch guns, other lighter calibre guns and two searchlight emplacements were mounted here to protect the shipping within the loch.  In 1999 a memorial stone was erected at Rubha nan Sasan to mark the sacrifice of those from allied navies and merchant seamen lost on these perilous convoys.

Friday, 21 August 2020

The view over Ewe

A period of good weather combined with some days leave isn't to be passed up!  A couple of calls later and Allan, Lorna and I had an outline plan for a sea kayaking trip in the north west.  Camping in August on the west coast brings the near inevitability of midges - but it would be worth suffering them.  Then, some terrific news - Allan and Lorna had been offered the use of a family connection's croft house above Loch Ewe - which was a huge bonus.

We left a very overcast and humid north east of Scotland, emerged into bright sunshine north of Inverness and then drove back into thick haar (sea mist) at Gairloch.  Over at Poolewe it wasn't so thick, but kept rolling in periodically through the afternoon.  We decided not to get on the water straight away and spent a leisurely afternoon sorting out kit which had been hastily packed the previous evening - we wouldn't need any camping gear after all!

Gradually the mist began to clear as late afternoon turned to evening, the outlines of the Fisherfield Munros became clearer in a pale blue sky.


Evening brought the most beautiful view over Ewe....our base faced east and the sunset light was washing the hills with warm light and showing ridges and corries in sharp relief. The forecast was for great weather the following day, and we were raring to go....

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Heading out for a fish supper

While the full lockdown and then the 5-mile travel guidance has been in place sea kayaking has been off the agenda.  But, as the restrictions ease, there's opportunity to get out on the water again.  Lorna, Allan and I met on a sunny afternoon at our usual launch spot at Sandend for a short excursion.

Heading west from Sandend brings great paddling straight away with a series of channels and leads behind rock stacks.  On most days the narrower gaps are inadvisable due to swell surging through, but a combination of low swell and proximity to high water offered the opportunity to paddle all of them.  this particular gap is just shoulder width at its narrowest - but went easily.

It's a great little area to weave through, and full of interest..... well as wildlife.  The last time we were able to kayak here the seabirds were just beginning to scope out the cliffs.  The breeding season is now nearly over, chicks like this Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) are well grown and on the way to fledging.  The Moray Firth is rich in seabird colonies and those on this stretch of coast are remarkably relaxed about passing kayakers - provided one moves slowly and quietly there's no agitation at all from the birds.

We continued west and crossed the county boundary from Aberdeenshire into Morayshire before pulling in at our outward destination of Cullen.  A sandy beach in the outer harbour makes for an easy and convenient landing.  we had a particular reason for making Cullen the target of our evening - Allan made a phone call and we walked up to the town's main street..... collect an order of fish and chips from the excellent Linda's Fish & Chips, which we took back down to eat on benches overlooking the harbour; dining out doesn't get much better than this!  Suitably refuelled, we then set out back towards Sandend, but part way back found that we weren't the only ones with eyes on a fish supper.....

Six or seven of the Bottlenose Dolphins for which the Moray Firth is famous treated us to a fairly close pass with much jumping and tail slapping as they hunted their own fish for supper - it's such a treat to share space with these creatures, and seeing them on this first outing back seemed extra special.

What little breeze there was died completely as we approached Sandend making for a tranquil, relaxed end to our evening paddle.  After so long off the water, it was good to be back!

Monday, 6 July 2020

Physically distanced above the Gairn

The gradual easing of lockdown has permitted travel farther afield for recreation and though our local "patch" has been full of interest and given great days of walking, it has been good to have some more freedom.  I met Allan and Lorna for a walk in the final days prior to the travel restriction end - we met up above the River Gairn which is more than the suggested 5 miles from home, but still local - and we have to travel more than 5 miles to shops anyway!

A SWRS sign leaning at a jaunty angle (it sees huge piles of snow here in the winter) indicates the route of a path to Tomintoul via Inchrory and the Avon and to Corgarff - the B976 Crathie to Gairnshiel road where we parked is on the line of a military road constructed in the 1700's.

A 450m high starting point gets you good views right from the start!  An overcast morning was forecast to develop into a very warm day and off to the south the cloud was already lifting from the summit of Lochnagar as we set out.

A gentle climb on an old track through the ruins of a township,over a subsidiary hill and then a couple of kilometres across wind-clipped heather soon brought us to the one hill on our planned route - Tom Breac (Speckled Hill).  I've climbed this hill previously and remarked on the views it offers - and today they were equally special. The sense of space and big sky is a real feature of this part of the eastern Highlands, it really is great walking country.  I was surprised to look back through the blog and see that my last visit here was 2011, where does the time go?

We stopped for coffee and to take in the view near the 696m/2283ft summit, a place which seems to be rarely visited by hillwalkers but more regularly by estate workers, there are a number of vehicle tracks here.  The sprawling mountain in the distance is Ben Avon (pronounced A'an), a giant among hills and which is visible from all across the north east when you get to any sort of height.

We were reversing my 2011 route and can report that this clockwise option is the better  way to climb Tom Breac, it's preferable to the stiff climb out from the valley of the Gairn.  As we descended the weather became very warm and the cloud cleared.  Lorna spotted a large Adder moving off the track just in front of us - sunny mornings are a good time to spot these beautiful creatures as they warm up on the stones of tracks.

We headed down to the River Gairn, a wild and relatively unfrequented river, towards the remains of Corndavon Lodge which must have been quite a place in its heyday - half of the building was destroyed by fire.  What remains is occasionally used as a luncheon spot for shooting parties on the Invercauld estate.  the splendid bridge over the river is new since 2011, my last crossing was on a shoogly wooden affair.  That said, an estate vehicle chose to ford the river rather than cross the bridge as there is some erosion near the ends of the structure.

A last look up Glen Gairn to Ben Avon, and another view full of space.  The plantings alongside the river are mixed native broadleaf and pine, planted has been aided by a charity with the intention of improving the habitat for freshwater molluscs.  Other work has been done on the river itself - large pine tree root-plates and stumps have been strategically placed in the water and backed by boulders with the intention of slowing the flow and creating gravelly pools for Salmon and Trout to spawn.  Years of milder winters have led to changes in the flow of the Gairn, reducing the volume quite significantly.

Our walk back to the starting point was on one of the smoothest estate tracks imaginable, which was welcome as it was now 26 degrees Celsius and pretty warm for walking.  The lower ground is dotted with former shielings and newer, but abandoned, farms, it must once have been quite well populated here.

Our route was 16 kilometres during which we saw just a couple of estate workers and a gamekeeper in his vehicle - a grand walk under blue skies and appropriately distanced from other folk!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Midsummer gold

The recent warm weather in the northeast of Scotland has been a delight.  Sitting outside until late in the evenings has been the norm,  in warm, still air which at times has been almost Mediterranean - and with no midges, which is why west isn't always best! The evening of Friday 26th June was just such a perfect evening, at 2215 the air was just starting to lose the heat of the day and waves of scent were floating down from the Honeysuckle at the top of the garden.  The light reflected in a window was beautiful.....

....but it was just a reflection of the real thing - a midsummer "sunset".  In truth the sun doesn't completely set at this time of year here in Aberdeenshire, it merely dips below the horizon and the glow travels from northwest to northeast until sunrise a few hours later.  But it was gorgeous......

Climbing over the wall and walking a little way up the field behind the house gave a clearer view of midsummer's gold - just perfect.  The early morning brought another special sight, a spectacular thunderstorm seen through thick mist, the whole scene lit with diffuse purple flashes of lightning amid crashing thunderclaps - a magnificent start to the day!