Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A good year for the roses

 It seems to have been a particularly good year for the wild roses - also known as Dog Rose (Rosa canina), at least here in the northeast of Scotland.  The bushes have been loaded with flowers all through June and July, a lovely sight in the hedgerows.

The delicate pink flowers don't have much of a scent but are a magnet for bees and other pollinating insects.  Later in the year the rosehips provide an important food source for birds, migratory thrushes such as Redwings and Fieldfares seeming to particularly enjoy them, and if you can get some ripened rosehips before the birds do, syrup made from wild rosehips contains twenty times as much Vitamin C as orange juice!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Days like these - Iona and the Ross of Mull

This Google Earth slide shows the track of our three day sea kayaking trip to Iona and the Ross of Mull.  We paddled a little over 100km during the three days, but the distance was really irrelevant - it was the stunning colours, light quality and beaches which really made the trip stand out - below are just a few of the highlights....

The "pink milepost" at Pennyghael, with Loch Scridain and Ben More beyond.

Dinner al fresco at our base - Fidden Farm camp site.

Breathtaking colour at Port Ban on Iona

Afloat on a sea of light......

Traigh na Margaidh, Ross of Mull

Taking in the view after a great day's sea kayaking

Bones of the land - Ross of Mull pink granite

Watercolour light - Eilean Annraidh

St Martin's cross, Iona Abbey

Sunsets at Fidden with the calls of Corncrakes and Snipe - magical evenings.

Days like these...memories to last forever.

Monday, 18 July 2016

From grey to gold on the Ross of Mull

The cloud sheet which we'd seen advancing across the Ross of Mull covered the sky as we headed from Eilean a' Chalmain towards Traigh Gheal (white beach), one of two beaches with the same name on this part of the coast.  Along with the cloud came a stiff ESE breeze which cooled us quite quickly.

I took no photographs at Traigh Gheal, after what we'd experienced over the previous days it seemed devoid of colour, and we were concentrating on getting some coffee and putting on extra layers.

Although the brilliant colours were muted without sunlight, there was still a subtle beauty to be seen in the pink granite as we headed back along the coast towards Fidden.

This is the beach at Port nam Ron (seal port) and, appropriately, we were escorted through the bay by numerous curious seals which did the usual seal thing of popping up just behind us then splashing off when we turned around.

The breeze which had chilled us down at Traigh Gheal did have one advantage - it was blowing in the direction we were paddling so our speed was very satisfactory as we passed inside the cluster of islands south of Erraid, then back north through Tinker's Hole...... arrive back at our camp site at Fidden.  To the north, signs of an improvement in the weather were encouraging, and as we made dinner the cloud sheet slowly broke up and the wind eased...... allow us one more stunning sunset.  Our paddling on the Ross of Mull and Iona was over, but what a great trip it had been!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Thunder and light

After an extended luncheon stop at Balfour's Bay on Erraid we got back into the boats to continue along the south coast of the Ross of Mull.  We had no specific goal in mind, just to explore the coast and then turn around to head back to Fidden.  If you visit this bay on a sunny day such this - you'll find it a hard spot to leave!

As we headed east along the rocky shore there were intruiging glimpses into other small sandy bays - it's a stretch of coast where many hours can be spent; short paddles between stunning beaches.

Donald went ahead in his F-RIB, intending to visit a couple of the larger skerries which form the inner part of the Torran Rocks.

As we followed at a slower pace, Douglas and I spotted a familiar silhouette through the haze on the horizon.....

 ...beyond the skerries and the low-lying shape of Colonsay rose the unmistakeable outline of the Paps of Jura. Our memories of a superb Spring trip to Jura still were still fresh - a place I'm very keen to return to!

In the foreground are some of the innermost skerries of the Torran Rocks.  This scattered group of rocks, islets and reefs lies to the south of the Ross of Mull to an extent of some 25 square kilometres.  They're well named - Torran is "Thunder" in Gaelic and a hint of the nature of the reef system can be found in some of the individual rock names such as "MacPhail's Anvil".  The largest of the rocks are up to 10 metres above high water but many are hidden and for every rock and hazard which shows above the surface there's as much shoal water below.  Hamish Haswell-Smith, in his indispensable guide "The Scottish Islands" describes the Torran Rocks as "scattered over a wide area like dragon's teeth.  They lurk menacingly just below the surface, occasionally showing themselves in a froth of white spittle".

Part of the reason that the Torrans are such a hazard to shipping is that they lie right in the track of vessels heading to and from the Firth of Lorn and up and down the west coast of Mull, as can be seen from this large scale map.   It was in response to the mounting toll of shipwrecks in the 19th century that the Northern Lighthouse Board authorised Thomas Stevenson to build the Dubh Artach light, one of the great "sea lights", it bridges the gap between the lighthouses at Rhinns of Islay and Skerryvore.

There is a passage between the Torran Rocks and the Ross of Mull, normally used by smaller vessels.  Coming up over our right shoulders, a rather larger vessel was rapidly overhauling us.....

 ..she's the Northern Lighthouse Board's tender "Pharos", one of two large vessels operated by the NLB.  She's 84 metres long with a beam of 16.5 metres, but a shallow draught of just 4.5 metres which enables her to operate close inshore.  We figured that if any vessel would have knowledge of the intricacies of the coastal routes around Scotland, it would be "Pharos"!

 We next came to Eilean a' Chalmain (Dove island), a rocky place where we found this rock formation resembling a frozen wave.

 Hidden on the east side of the island, Douglas knew of a possible landing place, and sure enough a flash of white sand backed with grass was tucked into in a corner of the island.

 At first the landing appeared to be blocked by boulders.......

 ...... but we found a strip of sand just large enough for us all to land and stretch our legs.

We now decided to head a little further along the coast to visit one of the two beaches named "Traigh Geal" (white beach) - there's always time on a  sunny day for another beach!  As we left Eilean a' Chalmain though, the sky to the north told of a coming change in the weather as a cloud-sheet reached across the Ross of Mull towards us.  Perhaps our luck with the sunshine had run out....

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

In the pink at Erraid

 We reconvened on the beach at Martyr's Bay after visiting Iona's abbey in order to finalise the route for the rest of the day.  Our general plan was to head along the south coast of the Ross of Mull in order to paddle in relative shelter from the forecast northerly wind.

Once again we crossed the Sound of Iona, using the South Cardinal channel marker as an aiming point.  The UK buoyage system conforms to the IALA (International Association of Lighthouse Authorities) Region A model, so a South Cardinal mark indicates that safe navigable water may be found to the south of the buoy.  Although the depth isn't an issue for sea kayaks, we passed south of the mark anyway.....

...en route to the skerries to the west of Erraid.......

 ...and then south through Tinker's Hole to gain the south coast of the Ross of Mull.

 Once again we resisted the temptation of several lovely little white sand beaches..... our sights were set on the head of Balfour's Bay.....

 ...with the promise of a sheltered spot from the breeze, and a landing on white sand fringed with crystal clear water - it's a hard spot to pass by!

 We intended to spend a leisurely hour at Balfour's Bay in order to enjoy the place properly.  I wandered around exploring first the beach itself.  The sand here is fine, clean silver white stuff, broken down from granite and glacial deposits.  I collected a jar of it and found it amazingly clean and constant in grain size.  The receding tide had etched ripples across a broad band of the beach, the lines of which seemed to continue into the fissured pink granite outcrops forming the arms of the bay.

 Douglas and I have both frequently referred to "pink granite" in this series of posts - so it's time to take a closer look....

 The granite which forms the Ross of Mull is about 414-420 million years old and was formed by the intrusion of a huge mass of silicic magma into the Moine rocks when they were still buried deeply during the Caledonian Orogeny (mountain building) period. 

The total mass of the granite intrusion may be as much as 50 square kilometres, with about half of this below the current sea level and half of it exposed to form the Ross of Mull.  Geologists describe it as "massive" and "coarse-grained" - the typical grain size is 2-5mm indicating that the rock cooled slowly within the Earth's crust.  In technical terms it's a K-Feldspar (Potassium Feldspar) granite and the predominance of K-Feldspar over white Plagioclase (another type of Feldspar mineral) gives the characteristic pink colour.  The dark crystals are a mix of biotite mica, smoky quartz and titanite.

The Ross of Mull granites typically form rounded outcrops but break naturally along joints in the rock which makes it convenient to quarry while its hard and consistent nature make it ideal for precisely dressed blocks.  The Stevenson lighthouses at Hyskeir, Skerryvore and Dubh Artach are all constructed of Ross of Mull granite - and it's no coincidence that these are the probably the most exposed of the "sea lights".  Other well known buildings to be constructed of granite from the Ross of Mull include Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars Bridge in London, also the docks at Liverpool, Glasgow and even New York.

Under sunshine the granite is a striking warm pink and a great contrast to white sand and blue sea..... fact we were so taken by the colours before us that we accompanied first luncheon with a small dram of Jura Superstition in order to toast the view......

....which was declared by unanimous verdict to be one of the very best!