Monday, 5 September 2016

Arriving in Campbeltown with a bang

The weather pattern across Scotland in late July 2016 was unsettled with periods of dry weather and strong winds punctuated with short periods of complete calm accompanied by heavy rain. With the pattern seeming set to continue, Douglas and I looked to try and make the most of it by doing a trip which would start in the rain but then get some of the bright and breezy weather, but at the same time maximise shelter from the strongest of the wind.

On the afternoon of 24th July we arrived at Ardrossan ferry terminal in good time to catch the 1350 Sunday sailing to Campbeltown.  The three times a week Campbeltown service runs from the end of April to the end of September and has this year been put on a more permanent footing after a period running as a pilot scheme.  Aside from the advantage to both local businesses and car visitors to the Kintyre peninsula (access by road involves a very long journey) the ferry opens up great opportunities for cyclists and sea kayakers to start or finish trips - both bikes and kayaks travel free on Calmac services and users pay the pedestrian fare.

Our plan was to journey up the sheltered eastern side of the Kintyre peninsula, then cross to Arran to paddle around the north of the island and down to Brodick to catch a ferry back to Ardrossan.  We planned a relaxed pace with plenty of time to explore and had packed sufficient food for three nights wild camping.

Having packed our boats in heavy rain we were glad to be able to wheel them down into the vehicle deck of the "Isle of Arran" and head up to the to take luncheon in the cafeteria, both of us opting for the excellent fish and chips.  Boat trolleys are pretty much essential for using ferries, it just wouldn't be practical to try and carry loaded boats on and off the vehicle decks. Our KCS Expedition trolleys are tough and stable and can be dismantled easily to fit in a bag on the rear deck when the kayak is full with kit and food.

After lunch we went out on deck to find that although the heavy rain had stopped, the breeze had died too and the island of Arran was draped with very low cloud.  The occasional glimpse of blue sky gradually disappeared as we passed south of Arran and arrived in Campbeltown......

...where the rain resumed very heavily almost as soon as we wheeled our boats off the ferry.  As we stowed the trolleys onto the boats and prepared to get on the water there was an intense flash of lightning followed almost instantly by an enormous thunderclap, which had definitely not been forecast.  We appeared to have arrived in Campbeltown with a bang, and given that we both had carbon paddles and aluminium kayak sail masts we elected to wait awhile before getting underway; we had no desire to leave our earthly existence with a similar bang!

While waiting we watched a huge and very heavy section of a wind turbine being discharged from the cargo ship "BBC Holland" the weight of the section being loaded to a heavy truck obvious as the ship heeled a couple of degrees.  Ships which have large deck cranes to discharge and load cargo are particularly suited to harbours such as Campbeltown where there are no port cranes.

The turbine section left on a low-loader accompanied by a police escort bound for one of the large windfarms which are proliferating on the Kintyre peninsula.  As there hadn't been any more lightning flashes after the impressive single discharge some 30 minutes previously, we judged that it would be good to leave too.....

...and headed out of the harbour past the fishing pier.  The rain continued heavy and the scene was fairly grey and grim for a July afternoon!

As we left Campbeltown the rain eased to leave flat calm water and a cloudbase less than a hundred metres above the sea.

In these low light conditions any bright colour seemed intensified - while certainly not the ideal "summer" afternoon there was beauty in the scene as well as absolute pleasure in being out on the water at the start of another trip.

Campbeltown Loch is sheltered by Island Davaar, not a true island as it is connected to the shore by a shingle spit at low water.  At the steep north end of the island is Davaar lighthouse, built under the supervision of David and Thomas Stevenson in 1854, the light is a double white flash once every 10 seconds and visible for 23 nautical miles.

As we came level with the lighthouse our route turned north to head north up the coast of Kintyre into Kilbrannan Sound.  Our pace was leisurely - we had just over 15km to paddle and plenty of daylight in which to reach our planned camp site.


  1. Didn't know about the new ferry service from Ardrossan to Campbeltown but it's a great idea as that road get busier every summer. Admire your fortitude setting off in poor weather. Hope it improves.

  2. The Campbeltown service is a preety useful one Bob - seems that a good number of cyclists travel to there, then cycle up Kintyre to Claonaig to get the ferry to Lochranza, then cycle to Brodick and take the ferry back to Ardrossan.

    I'm generally pretty uninspired by setting out in rain (some call it "grumpy"!) and actually feel happier once the initial process of getting wet is complete :o)