Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A melted fort on a Burnt Island

The final part of our day in the Kyles of Bute was visiting the Burnt Islands, a collection of three small islands at the top of the East Kyle.  We arrived at the largest of the three, apropriately named Eilean Mor (Big Island) just as the tidal stream was turning, but didn't land as the gulls were already in residence and it's a noisy place in the Spring.

The short crossing to the second largest island crosses the narrow navigable channel, marked by red and green conical buoys.  The tide runs strongly here; just five minutes after slack water and the west going stream was already beginning to take effect.

We landed on the smallest of the islands, Eilean Buidhe (yellow island) simply because none of us had done so previously.  The rock on the shore has some wonderful textures and patterns.

The remains of a vitrified hillfort can be found on this island, though the visible evidence isn't too obvious - a low bank enclosing a flattened area.  It must have once been in a very strategic position to control sea traffic through the Kyles although defensivley it doesn't seem to have been very strong.  The main defence now is the profusion of brambles across the whole island - a few weeks later and we wouldn't have been able to reach the fort at all.

In the distance the Colintraive - Rhubodach ferry can be seen leaving the mainland for the short crossing to Bute, a few hundred metres only at this point.  Our cars were waiting at the parking area adjacent to the ferry slip and our short day out was nearly over.   We paddled and sailed just 16 kilometres on this trip, but managed to pack in two luncheons, musical entertainment, great kayak sailing conditions and good company.........

Monday, 30 March 2015

An Caladh - the harbour

On the crossing from Kames back towards Bute we got into the wind shadow of the hills at the north end of the island and the wind died away completely.

The Highland Boundary Fault passes through the centre of Bute along the trench of Loch Fad (Long Loch) and divides the island's geology and landforms markedly.  South of the fault line the land is comparatively low-lying with rolling, fertile farmland pierced by volcanic rocks.  North of the fault line the landscape is most definitely Highland in character with steep slopes, craggy hills and much poorer soil.  We kept close along the shore enjoying the quiet atmosphere and the wader calls as we went.

Near the northernmost point of the island stand the Maids of Bute, two large rocks which were first painted over 100 years ago.  When I first saw the Maids they were decorated in simple red and white colour bands but lately the decoration has become garish, the rocks painted to resemble cartoon creatures.  They're still an interesting and unusual feature of the landscape though!

Turning away from Bute as we passed the Maids, our next destination was An Caladh (the harbour), a protected bay near the mouth of Loch Riddon formed by the close proximity of Eilean Dubh (Black or Dark Island).  The island has been overrun by Rhododendron originally planted on the Caladh estate as decorative shrubs, but the larger trees rising above the choking vegetation host a large heronry.  Any visit here in late Spring is accompanied by the unearthly clamour, shrieks, clacking and hissing of the young herons.

The entrance to An Caladh is marked by a stone light tower which once held an oil lamp, again dating from the heyday of the big estates.  Nowadays the bay is a popular anchorage for yachtsmen transiting the Kyles of Bute. 

At one end of the bay is the jetty once used by Caladh estate, which was latterly owned by the Clark family (of Clarks shoes).  The boathouse and harbour cottages are now holiday homes but one former occupant was an inspiration for the author Neil Munro when he wrote the series of stories featuring Peter Macfarlane, the Gaelic-speaking skipper of a Clyde Puffer - better known as Para Handy

As the houses were unoccupied at the time of our visit we landed on the slipway and took second luncheon on the manicured turf of the jetty.......

           ...including the soup du jour, home-made  Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash & Chili

The jetty is complete with a remarkably well-preserved derrick crane.  Aside from Puffers, yachts and kayaks, other vessels have used the shelter of An Caladh.  During the Second World War, Glen Caladh Castle was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS James Cook.  The area around the Kyles and Loch Riddon was utilised to train beach landing and coastal navigation to Landing Craft crews, the name of the establishment is a reference to the new techniques which Captain James Cook introduced to the Navy.

The area was also utilised for the training of X-Craft crews.  Based at Port Bannatyne on Bute and headquartered in the Kyles Hydro Hotel which was known as HMS Varbel, X-Craft miniature submarines were designed to attack shipping in harbours and anchorages, and were used in attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz as well as the sinking of two Italian cruisers.  The four-man crews of these 35 tonne vessels displayed incredible skill and bravery both in training and on operations; in total 39 men were killed serving in X-Craft and 68 awards for bravery were made, including four of the Victoria Cross.  A memorial to the service is displayed at St Ninian's church in Port Bannatyne.

An Caladh is a place which nowadays has a calm and tranquil atmosphere; there are woodland walks nearby and it's well worth a visit whether by water or on foot.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Craic at Kames

 Having lifted our boats just far enough up the beach to allow luncheon and a frothing sports recovery drink, we adjourned to the bar of the Kames Hotel.  Recently decorated and very welcoming, the hotel bar has a fine view of the West Kyle and we struck up a conversation with a group of customers who'd observed our speedy crossing of the Kyle under sail.  Remarkably, Phil found that he knew some of the same people and so some lively craic ensued.

Our food order of two vegetarian burgers and two home-made beef burgers was fairly straightforward and before long we were sitting down to luncheon.  The hotel is well used to serving yachtsmen, kayakers and divers so a table of four in drysuits didn't even raise an eyebrow.

The folk we'd been chatting with disappeared temporarily, but soon returned with a treat......

....a musical treat.  All four were folk musicians and an impromtu session started as we finished our meal.  Other diners entering the bar were amused to see a band playing with an audience dressed in drysuits singing along!

Such a spontaneous "session" presented us with some difficulty.  It would be great to have another sports recovery drink and listen to the music for a while, but that's how afternoons can become messy!  We imbibe very sparingly when kayaking, and anyway our tidal rise versus carrying distance equations had been quite precise......regretfully we said our farewells and headed back down to the boats.

The combination of location, the welcome, the ambience, food and range of beers makes the Kames Hotel a great sea-kayaking establishment - we score it 12/10; if you're lucky enough to be in when there's a band staying the weekend, make that 13/10  !

Back on the water, we lost the strength of the wind once we crossed over to the northern shore of Bute, leaving just a gentle breeze to to carry the sound of music across from Kames.....

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A blast in the Kyles of Bute

Whilst visiting relatives on the island of Bute I was able to meet up with David, Phil and Douglas for a paddle.  The weather forecast predicted southeasterly winds of F4-5 so we chose to start our trip at Kildavanan on the west coast of Bute, paddle up the west Kyle and through to finish at Rhubodach at the top of the east Kyle where we'd pre-positioned our cars.  It was a tricky launch through rocks at low water, but this was preferable to carrying the boats for half a kilometre across the sands at nearby Ettrick Bay.

There was already a steady breeze blowing when we started out, so the sails went up as soon as we were clear of the shore.  We made a gentle passage north for a couple of kilometres before I needed to stop at a small sandy beach to adjust the seat in my boat; also the perfect opportunity for a hot drink to warm us up a little....

Back underway and the wind was picking up nicely to give us a good push along. This is sea kayak sailing rather than plain sailing so we kept up a steady paddle cadence but in terms of effort expended it really felt like kiddy-on kayaking in the Kyles!  This seems to me to be the real advantage of a sail on a sea kayak; the opportunity for the sail to assist rather than replace the paddle, increasing speed and decreasing effort in suitable conditions.

We had decided to cross to the Argyll (mainland) side of the west Kyle for a rather specific reason and as the wind continued to rise so did our speed.  Shortly after I took this image we got a sudden increase to the F5 predicted in the weather forecast and simply flew along on a broad reach straight towards the village of Kames.  I enjoyed this downwind blast enormously; the maximum speed we recorded was 14.5km/h or nearly 8 knots; more than twice the maximum sustained speed we could have achieved by paddling alone - and it was such exhilarating fun too!

We sped like arrows towards the Kames Hotel, the large sign outside provides a great aiming point, our speed slackenening only slightly as we neared the shore......

.......indeed David approached at such a lick that we thought he might be aiming to sail straight up the beach and into the hotel....

Once we were landed and the sails were stowed, complex mathematical calculations were conducted to determine just how far up the beach the boats should be carried to allow a relaxed luncheon - conservation of energy being key on a kayak sailing trip :o)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A quiet corner in Kentra Bay

Unfortunately Douglas still felt too unwell to paddle on the final day of our winter trip in the Glenuig area.  Allan and I decided on a short trip at Kentra Bay, from where we could return to meet Alison and Douglas for coffee and cake at the Glenuig Inn.  We chose the location to get some shelter from the F4-5 westerly wind, starting from the small car park at Ardtoe (at which there's a very modest 50p per day charge utilising an honesty box).

Kentra Bay is a shallow enclosed bay backed by saltmarsh at the head with woods along the western side and a rocky channel at the entrance. There are a couple of small islands with narrow channels through which the tide runs. The bay almost completely dries at low water to reveal a huge expanse of sand rich in molluscs, so it's also very rich in birdlife particularly waders and wildfowl and Otters are often seen.  The general topography of the sand is almost flat, so the tide goes out very quickly; when paddling here the timing needs to be good to avoid a long wait for the water to return.....

We paddled clockwise around the bay, our pace slow and relaxed as we absorbed the atmosphere of this quiet corner.  Overhead the clouds racing past indicated the wind out in the open but in the bay there was almost no wind.  Work was going on to fell a birch tree near the shore and at first there was the sound of a chainsaw echoing around, but after a short while it stopped and there was just the sound of waders and ducks calling as the tide began to recede and uncover feeding ground.

In the far west corner of the bay we came across this shingle beach - a quiet corner in a quiet place.  It seemed the perfect spot to take lunch.....

The continuing fall of the tide meant we didn't linger too long after lunch, setting out to enter the channel and paddle out to the western side of the entrance, Sgeir a'Chaolais (skerry of the channel).

We'd decided on a quick visit to the beaches below Torr Beithe before returning to Ardtoe.

This short stretch of coast consists of a dune system fronted by two sandy crescents.  Allan has camped here and I've seen an Otter on the sand on a previous visit.  There were none to be seen this time......

...but there are definitely still Otters here.  A short crossing back to Ardtoe completed our trip and we loaded up and headed back to Glenuig.  This is a great half day paddle if tidal conditions are right ,best done an hour or so either side of high water and can be particularly good when other locations are too windy.  We paddled around 11 km in a little over two hours but it had been a very relaxing morning in a quiet corner.