Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Autumn on Etive

Of all the seasons, autumn in Scotland is my favourite.  the colours are at their best and there's a tangible sense of change in the air - I've never thought it to be a season of decline or dwelled on the shortening day length.  Allan, Raymond and I were looking for a sea kayak trip during a period of settled weather in mid-October; we decided on paddling on Loch Etive which we hoped would give us a good trip and allow us to experience the autumn colours from the water too.

Loch Etive is a 30km long, fjiord-like sea loch with its entrance into the Firth of Lorn at Connel, just north of Oban.  When the glaciers carved out the loch and then retreated, a sill of rock was left near the entrance.  This sill limits the flow of water leaving the loch on an ebb tide, with the effect that the level of the water outside the loch drops faster than that in the loch.  From quite early in the ebb a tidal fall forms at Connel where the loch is spanned by a road bridge.  On a spring tide, which it was when we did this trip, the Falls of Lora were in full and spectacular flow.  We stopped to admire the spectacle, and to watch the river kayakers who use the Fall as a play spot.  We, however, had no intention of taking 5 metre fully laden sea kayaks anywhere near this spot on a spring tide and planned to stat our trip some way up the loch!

We gathered at Taynuilt where the loch again narrows but without the excitement of a tidal fall to contend with.  We'd need to paddle against the last of the ebb tide for a short while but were confident of finding eddies along the shore to help us past this short section.  It was a bright morning but with a chilly breeze which was forecast to drop during the afternoon.  Loaded and ready, we got on the water for our short adventure.

Approaching the narrows there are tantalising glimpses of the mountains which line both sides of Loch Etive and give it such character.  I've climbed the hills and walked one side of the loch but hadn't previously paddled here, so was looking forward to exploring as much as we could.

We got through the narrows with little difficulty, though against a bit of a breeze as well as the ebb stream.  The play of light on the hillsides, alternately lighting the rich autumn colours, was lovely - though we noticed a cloud sheet was beginning to form over the area.

As shafts of sunlight became less frequent their effect seemed more pronounced, pefhaps also due to the lowering angle of the sun at mid afternoon.

 All too soon the cloud sheet drew right across the sky, and though the scenery ahead was getting more spectacular the absence of vivid colour took something away.  We certainly weren't complaining too much though, this is a great place to explore by sea kayak - and we had an unexpected treat ahead of us.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

In Remembrance


In remembrance of all those men and women who have lost their lives in the service of their countries, those who still suffer the physical and mental scars of the conflicts in which they served; and those who are left with loss and grief.

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them"

Monday, 5 October 2020

Coming back to Ewe

We left Camas Mor with some reluctance.  It's a wild and beautiful spot and we'd been lucky enough to experience the place at its best in calm, sunny conditions.

We had a good distance to paddle back to our starting point in Loch Ewe and it was now hot in the afternoon sun. Our pace was steady, and why would we rush in such superb conditions?

Our friend the White Tailed Eagle was still in the same spot as we passed one of the higher points on the coast, taking off to become a huge shape just after we passed below.

At the mouth of Loch Ewe we landed on a skerry to take a break; it wouldn't be possible to land here on most days with swell running onto the angled slabs.  It was near here that the American liberty ship "William H Welch" was wrecked in a gale and snowstorm in the early hours of 26th February 1940.  Of her 74 crew only 12 survived.

We saw several other kayakers on our way back, like us taking advantage of a lovely summer afternoon.

The last leg into Loch Ewe was made much easier for us when an onshore breeze started up.  We had our sails up immediately and were soon scooting back towards our launch pint at a very satisfactory 8km/h with very little effort.

 Our route had been 27km and we'd enjoyed a simply superb day's sea kayaking in a fantastic location.  At the fourth time of trying I'd managed to paddle out to Rubha Reidh, and it had been so worth the wait!

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....