Monday, 11 February 2013

High and dry on Inchmarnock

There haven't been too many opportunities for paddling since the turn of the year; either I've been at work or the weather has continued its windy, wintry pattern. But a break in the weather coincided with a visit to relatives on the Isle of Bute and it looked good for sea kayaking.

On a grey but calm afternoon, I arrived at Kildavanan on the west coast of Bute, aiming to paddle around the small island of Inchmarnock which can be seen in the centre of this image, the hills of Arran beyond.

A steady 45 minutes paddling on glassy calm water got me to the north end of Inchmarnock where I landed on a tiny shingle beach.

A nearby brown "rock" turned out to be a Golden Eagle - I'm not sure which of us was more surprised to see the other appear at close quarters!  One cool glance at me and the bird took off effortlessly, circling once before moving off down the east coast of the island.

Inchmarnock has a interesting history.  It is named for the Celtic monk Saint Marnoc (the name also cropping up in other place-names of the south-west of Scotland such as Kilmarnock).  Near where I landed on the north end of the island, a stone "cist" (burial container) was excavated to reveal a female skeleton buried with a jet bead necklace and a dagger.  The remains were carbon dated to 3500 BC, and the Bronze Age lady re-interred behind a pane of glass.

More recently, local stories claim that Bute's 19th century drunks were dropped off on Inchmarnock to be cured by "isolation and deprivation" - an early form of rehab clinic!  In keeping with these unfortunates, my small bottle of malt whisky remained in the boat....

Heading off down the west coast of Inchmarnock, a short reef lies offshore.  the falling tide was just exposing the rocks, named Traigh na h-Uil.  This reef is home to a rare type of habitat - a maerl bed.  Above the water, this seemed to be the wreck of a vessel, the large section being riveted iron.

Inchmarnock is, in some ways, a smaller version of Bute.  It has a similar shape, and like Bute has a wooded east coast and a west coast featuring raised beaches and occasional shingly beaches.  Also like Bute, there is a rocky beach in a bay at the south end of the island, and I stopped here to explore a little.

This lichen on the granite rock had a very delicate lilac colouration.  I wondered how long it had taken to grow to its current size of about 10 centimetres across - maybe a century or more.

On a heavily featured granulitic rock a little farther up the beach the lichen was a vibrant yellow; the colour all the more vivid in the subdued light of an overcast day.

The bay in which I landed is a peaceful, bird-haunted spot.  I saw Eider, Red Breasted Merganser, Shag, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and gulls on the shore itself, whilst Wrens and Rock Pipits were singing further up in the brambles.  The view across to Arran is particularly fine; the bay between the low headland and the higher hills beyond is Sannox Bay, the destination for a crossing to Arran a little over a year ago.

The Spring tide was still dropping towards low water, I didn't linger too long before getting back on the water so that my boat wasn't left high and dry on barnacle-covered rocks.

On the way back down to the shore I came across this fish skull, also high and dry.  It was quite a size; I could have fitted my fist into the fearsomely-armed jaws.  I thought that it maybe belonged to a Conger Eel (Conger conger), but I've since had advice that it is in fact the skull of a Cod (Gadus morhua).  It's good to know that there are such large specimens still around the Firth of Clyde waters.

The light breeze dropped to nothing as I made my way back up to Kildavanan in fading light, the only sounds the odd wailing of Red Throated Divers and the small splashes from my paddle.


  1. I often contemplate the lichen's story as well. Nice to see someone else who looks at these little amazing things. beautiful pics!

  2. Hi Lee,

    Agreed - it's the small landscapes which are often the most fascinating :o)

    Hope the recovery is going well - not long until you'll be back on the water yourself!

    Kind Regards