Monday, 24 April 2017

Squeezing out the last drop

 We weren't sure if the the weather would be conducive to paddling on the last day of our short trip based at Glenuig, but the morning turned out fine if windy.  Rain was forecast for midday, so we felt we could squeeze in a short paddle before heading home.  We headed straight out of Glenuig and turned south down the coast.  Our plan was simply to paddle towards the north channel of Moidart before turning around and heading back to Glenuig.

 It's always an interesting stretch of coast and despite the overcast conditions there was plenty of colour to enjoy.

 It was a strenuous push against a freshening F4-5 wind to reach a beach where we could stop for a short break......

 ....on a beach of pale sand......

 ...backed with tide-formed strips of shells - the stuff which would eventually become sand.

 I wandered down the beach and looked back to see the others enjoying the view out to the Small Isles, in a pose very reminiscent of a well known sculpture!

We decided to paddle just a little further to round the skerries in the North Channel of Loch Moidart, where the tide was absolutely pouring out - along with the wind.  Three of us just managed to get over the shallow sand bar.....

 ...but Allan, who was just a couple of minutes behind us found that the last drop of water had run out; he had to wade into deeper water to get back afloat.

Our run back with the wind behind us was pretty quick and we were soon back at Glenuig Bay.  The low tide made for a bit of a carry with the boats, and as we finished securing them onto the cars, a few fat drops of rain were followed by a deluge - we'd squeezed the very last drop from the weather window.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A change out of the blue

Stuart, Allan, Lorna and I continued up into Loch nan Uamh, it was just about low water and approaching spring tide exposing forests of laminaria weed.

As the head of the loch approaches, there's a view to the viaduct which carries the Fort William to Mallaig railway track - the road actually passes under one of the arches of the viaduct.  From this angle the left hand end seems to disappear into solid rock where the railway builders blasted a way through a boss of tough Gneiss rock.  The whole section from Mallaig to about Glenfinnan traverses some really unlikely railway terrain, it's rugged country with steep slopes which had to be overcome and is a real monument to Victorian engineering and perserverance.

The Loch nan Uamh viaduct is one of the earliest concrete constructions, and earned it's designer, Robert McAlpine the nickname "Concrete Bob" - the viaducts on this rail line also built his reputation and became the basis for a successful and enduring business.

During construction of the central pier there was an accident which resulted in a cart falling down into the pier, dragging a horse with it.  A 2001 survey using state of the art techniques showed the skeleton of the unfortunate animal standing on top of the cart in the base of the pier.

We continued our circuit of the loch by paddling back out along the Ardnish peninsula shore which is steep and rocky with few landing opportunities.  In winter this shore gets almost no direct sunlight and it can be a cold and gloomy place.  On this day the sun was streaming over the cliffs above and making for some nice lighting effects.

We'd planned to land at Sloch for a look at the abandoned settlement but at this very low tide the landing would have been straight onto barnacle encrusted boulders so we paddled on.....

......along the seaward face of Ardnish with its sloping slabs and gullies.....

....and into the outer part of Loch Ailort where we knew there would be a landing on one or other of  the small tidal beaches just inside the entrance.

It was still warm and sunny as we approached the beach, but the sunshine was becoming a little hazy.  Any thoughts of relaxing in the sun were soon dispelled.....a sudden and dramatic change in the weather was happening.  In the space of ten minutes, the blue sky was replaced with something quite different........ a sheet of cloud formed rapidly across the entire sky and the temperature dropped markedly to something more in keeping with late March.

It seemed that the spell of exceptionally good weather was over.  Strangely enough, we've experienced weather dominated by shifting clouds here on more than one occasion

Friday, 14 April 2017

In the pink on Loch nan Uamh

Another fine and calm morning greeted us - hard to believe that this was late March!  We carried our boats the short distance from the Glenuig Inn to the water and got underway - an eight kayak group.

Our plan was to head over the Sound of Arisaig to the north shore, then explore the Borrodale Islands.  After that the group would split up as some were heading home - one team would cross back to Glenuig and one team would paddle into Loch nan Uamh.

After a leisurely crossing we arrived at a pebble beach where a brief leg-stretch was taken.

I've always loved this beach for the pebbles - on an ebbing tide the uniform grey seen at first glance resolves into an array of subtle brown, green and grey shades plus the occasional polished quartz pebble as the shore is left wet.

Just around the corner is a piece of rock scenery on a different scale.  This swooping exposure of 3 billion year-old Lewisian Gneiss at the edge of the sea is a striking formation - and the pink colours of the rock matched the snazzy trim on Douglas' boat too!

The Borrodale Islands are a group of seven or so small islands at the mouth of Loch nan Uamh (Loch of the caves).  All are quite rugged but each has a distinct character.  It's possible that one of the largest, Eilean nan Cabar, has long been wooded; Cabar (Caber) is a roof-tree for a house.

It was well nigh time for a first luncheon when we landed on a beach below "Prince Charlie's Cave".  There are a multitude of such caves around the west coast of Scotland in which Charles Edward Stuart is alleged to have hidden whilst a fugitive after the disaster of Culloden in 1746. 

The cave here has a better claim to authenticity than most, the Prince was no stranger to Loch nan Uamh.  It was here that he first set foot in mainland Scotland when he was landed from a French frigate on 25 July 1745, from here that he escaped to the Hebrides  in April of 1746 ten days after the defeat at Culloden; and from Loch nan Uamh that he was taken off by a French frigate on 20 September 1746 having been a fugitive for six months. He would never return to Scotland.

It's unlikely that Charles Edward Stuart enjoyed fine food when he made his final visit.  David, however, kept the pink theme of the morning going with a luncheon of smoked salmon, fruit and a sports recovery drink - no squished sandwiches in this group!

After lunch, David, Phil, Mike and Douglas headed back over to Glenuig to head home.  They'd enjoyed four days of superlative early Spring weather.  Stuart, Allan, Lorna and I would head up to the head of Loch nan Uamh before heading back to Glenuig as we were staying another night. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"Dolphin days" like these....

Just as we were leaving the beach we got a call on the VHF working channel  from our fiends Allan and Lorna.  They'd arrived at Glenuig at lunchtime and paddled across to explore the north side of the Sound of Arisaig.  We established where each group was and met up near a prominent island to paddle back across the Sound together

 The weather had been superb all day and it continued calm and warm as we made a leisurely crossing southwards with Rois-Bheinn as a backdrop.

 Our landing point was on a small beach just around the corner from the Glenuig Inn, conveniently close to high water which made for easy movement of boats over to the inn.

What a day it had been!

 A morning of stillness and pastel light quality.......

...and one of the most thrilling of wildlife encounters.....

...with a pod of dolphins who actively sought our company on several occasions.

 An afternoon spent paddling in crystal clear water over white sand...... stunning primary light......

...rounded off with an evening of good food and the company of good friends.

"Dolphin days" like these, they stay with you forever.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Caribbean Scotland

After the dolphin pod left us we paddled inside the Arisaig skerries, a complex of rocky islands and channels separated by white shell sand at the mouth of Loch nan Ceall. 

At a little after low water most of the channels are empty so we landed on the bed of one for first luncheon while we waited for more water. 

The tide in the skerries doesn't conform to the "rule of thirds" due partly to the complex topography but also due to the fact that the area of the skerries is a gentle dome separating the slightly deeper water of Loch nan Ceall and the open sea. The result is that rather than the strongest streams being at mid tide, the flood runs quickest in the first part and the ebb runs strongest in the last part as the water is forced through narrow and very shallow channels.

We didn't have to wait too long for the channels to begin filling and we set off to explore this ever-changing maze.  This area is immensely popular due to the sheltered location, white sand and wildlife - it's often busy with paddlers in the summer.  The guidebook Scottish Sea Kayaking - Fifty Great Voyages describes the Arisaig skerries as "the nearest you will get to paddling the Caribbean in Scotland".......

....and it's difficult to argue with that!  In fact, having paddled both; I can say that in my opinion this is a lot better....

One attraction is accessible wildlife; Seals are absolutely guaranteed here - a big draw for visitors as they often follow kayaks.

We exited the skerries at the north end and headed back south on the outside of Lunga Mhor, one of the larger islands.  A light breeze tempted us to put up the sails for a short while, but it was short-lived.  Ahead, a distinctive shape cut through the glitter and glare of the afternoon sun on the sea...

...yet more dolphins!  This was a different group to the one which had so enhanced the morning's paddling and seemed to be moving much more purposefully.

Nevertheless, they diverted to check us out and did a few circuits of our boats before continuing on their way north.  We had a small diversion of our own in mind on the way back........

....and really, why wouldn't we; did someone mention the Caribbean?!

Kayaks drawn up on a deserted white sand beach bounded by turquoise water - just idyllic.

We enjoyed a coffee break on the machair above the beach and had the place to ourselves - but if you come here in summer you'll be lucky to be able to do the same, it's a justifiably popular spot though somewhat overused by commercial groups for camping.  We restrict our visits to outside summer and don't camp here any more to reduce the pressure a little.  There are other spots equally beautiful and lots quieter within an hour's paddling.

Jennifer, Douglas and I can recommend a winter swim from this beach as a refreshing exercise - although we couldn't claim that the water temperature will match the Caribbean!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Dolphin "race"

We left the beach on which we'd enjoyed second breakfast and threaded between small rocky islands around Rubh Arisaig.  Our plan was to paddle through the Arisaig skerries on a rising tide, going where we could in the shallow channels.

We'd been back out in the boats less than ten minutes when the familiar sound of dolphins exhaling was heard - the pod had hung around for us and were heading back to play.  There's something uniquely thrilling about the sight of dorsal fins breaking the surface and heading straight for you at speed, this pod were clearly keen for company!

We were once again treated to close interaction as the dolphins streaked from one kayak to the other.....

...making close passes as they did so - it's behind you David!   Rather than sitting and waiting for them to come to us, this time we kept up a steady paddling speed.....

.....except when we were treated to aerial acrobatics!  We still didn't manage to catch a photograph of a dolphin in mid air, just splashes as they re-entered the water - it was fun trying though :o)

Image by Mike Connor

The dolphins had been attracted to Donald's boat previously, but he'd taken a different route to us.  As an experiment, I wound up to the fastest paddling pace I could manage - and this also worked.  My GPS recorded a sprinting speed of 11km/h - a mere jog for a dolphin and I was overhauled in seconds, enjoying the unique experience of one dolphin surging along each side of me at just a metre or so away, with another under the kayak.  

I clearly felt the hydraulic "lift" of its tail as it powered along below me.  This is the one and only time I wish I'd had a Go-Pro camera - it was an absolutely exhilarating "race".  Unfortunately I could sustain the sprint for just a couple of minutes......

...and when I stopped in the water, they came back as if trying to encourage me to have another go!

Eventually, as we made our way into shallower water, the pod left us to continue north.  A final flourish from our companions and they headed out into the glittering waters of the Sound of Arisaig - leaving us with priceless memories.

Any interaction with these wonderful wild creatures is a privilege; especially as the dolphins had initiated the contact.  It's impossible not to be uplifted by the experience and the two special hours we spent with this pod won't be forgotten by any of us.