Thursday, 22 September 2016
There and back again....
Our camp site on the Kintyre coast had been a comfortable one and we woke to a morning which promised showers but occasional sunshine. After breakfast we packed up and got the boats down to the water.
We intended to cross the Kilbrannan Sound to the island of Arran and head to the north tip of the island, stopping at Lochranza for lunch. At the start of this trip we'd discussed various locations for our third evening, as we were making good progress we'd decided on a crossing to Inchmarnock and a campsite we've used before.
As we crossed the Kilbrannan Sound a lively breeze got up ahead of a shower which looked to be a very heavy one. Fortunately the rain passed up the Kintyre coast we'd just vacated, but we did benefit from a great sailing wind all the way on the 8km crossing. It seems that this piece of water is prone to meteorological interest, one previous crossing gave some of the most remarkable conditions either of us has kayaked in
We arrived on the Arran shore south of Catacol Bay and after a brief leg stretch on the beach continued north past Catacol village and the row of cottages known as " The Twelve Apostles". Built between 1850 and 1860, they were intended to house folk cleared from inland crofts to make way for sheep. There was considerable resistance to living in the row, possibly because the rents would have been comparable to the dispossessed croft ground and there was little land to cultivate nearby. The cottages were known locally as "Hunger row" at this time. The cottages are very similar, but each of the twelve upper windows is different. A local story is that the folk who eventually lived here took to fishing the Kilbrannan Sound, and wives could light a lamp in the window when they wanted their menfolk to return - the men would be able to make out which house had the lamp lit from the window configuration. Well, that's the tale anyway!........
Our next stop was at Lochranza where we took lunch in the Lochranza Hotel with a fine view to the castle. The tide was well on the way out here so we could take a leisurely lunch knowing that our boats weren't going to refloat for a while.
Refuelled and refreshed, we got back on the water and headed up to the north of Arran to start the crossing to Inchmarnock. Initially we had a pleasant push from a light breeze to help, but a glance over our shoulders showed an approaching wall of black cloud....and ahead of it quite a wind started up.
There were no more photographs taken on this crossing, which proved very uncomfortable. The flood tidal streams pouring up Kilbrannan Sound and the Firth of Clyde meet north of Arran and some confused water can sometimes be found here. Find it we did, and in combination with a strong wind from our quarter and some breaking wave trains in the great swirls of water I found this a challenging 11km crossing under sail. A couple of times I was tempted to drop the sail as it was driving the boat forward at a tremendous rush, but I'm glad I persisted.... the conditions in which I'd sail in the future a little extended by the experience. Close to the Inchmarnock side, a Dolphin surfaced in a welter of spray right between our boats and ploughed along with us for a few waves - an experience totally in tune with the wild ride we were having.
We arrived on Inchmarnock at precisely the same time as a quite violent rainstorm heralded the passage of a weather front - it absolutely pelted down. My awkward landing on the rocky shore in breaking water led to a soaking - things were going well! We decided to pitch the tents and to see if the rain would abate before moving our gear from the boats, which was a fortuitous decision. Tents up (if wet) and we took a moment to check the weather forecast online. What we read was quite a surprise.... the forecast had completely changed from that issued just hours earlier. We could expect the wind to drop to almost nothing overnight before becoming strong in the morning, when we planned to cross back to Arran.
One of the keys to good trips is flexibility in planning and being prepared to react to a changing situation. We'd had a difficult crossing and got our tents up - but there wasn't the slightest hesitation in our agreement that we should take them back down and re-cross to Arran straight away to avoid the F5-6 headwind forecast for the morning. As we restowed the tents and took a quick snack the wind began to drop, but the rain certainly did not and we got going again in a real downpour.
By the time we were half way back to Arran the wind had completely gone - the rain alternated between light,as in this image, and very heavy; in the absence of wind the heavier pulses were heard as a hiss of water hitting water (and us!).
We made landfall right at our target of the Cock of Arran, a place we knew we'd find a spot to camp. Strangely enough, the last time Douglas and I camped here was also accompanied by a drop of rain! Readers familiar with a west of Scotland summer will realise what awaited us on the shore given the lack of wind and low light levels.......
Midges. Millions of the little illegitimate insects.... Douglas' expression says it all - but my camera failed to pick up the miasma surrounding him - it was a really bad attack. As time was getting on, we cooked our dinner on the rocky shore in pouring rain and with our own personal clouds of biting insects. We could have camped here, but it would frankly have been a miserable experience. We thought that by paddling slowly along the coast either the rain would ease or the midge attack would abate as darkness fell. Somewhat improbably, the rain did eventually ease and we did manage to evade the midges - and passed a comfortable late evening on the north coast of Arran.