Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Bute, an island of contrasts

Kildavanan Point where I had my lunch stop is a significant point not just on Bute but also across Scotland.  It lies right on the Highland Boundary Fault, a geological faultline running southwest to northeast across the country from here in Bute to Stonehaven on the North sea coast.

To the north and west of this line the rocks are generally hard metamorphic types which give craggy landforms and support thin, acid soils - typically Highland scenery.  To the south and east of the line the rocks tend to be softer sedimentary types (Old Red Sandstone on Bute) with more rounded landforms and supporting much more fertile soils.  There's further interest at the southern tip of the island where the landforms are quite different.

It's these contrasts, not just north to south but also in the contrast between the sparsely populated west coast with its sandy bays, rocky shoreline and small shingle beaches and the more populated east coast with villages and woods which make paddling around this small island so rewarding.

Looking across St Ninian's Bay, where several yachts had anchored to enjoy a windless afternoon, the rich farmland was buzzing with activity as a cut of grass was being taken from the fields.  It's no surprise that the usual interpretation of the name "Bute" is from Ey Bhoid - Island of Corn.

Earlier folk obviously felt that the island was a good place to live.  There are Standing Stones and hillforts dotting the coastline, and the ruins of the sixth century St Ninian's Chapel, itself sited on an earlier pagan burial ground.  St Ninian is Scotland's earliest saint, a missionary monk who preached Christianity among the Pictish people.  He is most associated with the monastary of Candida Casa in Whithorn, Galloway but there are numerous sites which also bear his name.

All that remains of the chapel is a low turf and stone wall; this adjacent ruin is sometimes mistaken for St Ninian's chapel, but it is much later and may have been part of a fisheries enterprise

Both buildings are on a splendid site; it's on a narrow promonotory with a bay for landing boats right beside it, and a great view to Arran.

Setting off southward again, I saw a group of five kayakers in the distance, heading for Inchmarnock and then met with Caroline and Kevin who were also paddling around the island.  We chatted for a while, mostly about how good it felt to be paddling in sunshine and light winds!  They were looking for a camping spot whilst I would paddle around the southern tip of the island to finish for the night at Kilchattan Bay.

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