Mountain and Sea Scotland
Hillwalking and Sea Kayaking in Scotland
Thursday, 25 May 2023
Blown away by Knoydart
Thursday, 4 May 2023
When I started this blog back in 2009 it was primarily to create a record and to share some of the sights and experiences in Scotland's outdoors. When things got busy with work or family life, the natural tendency was to post less, but lately I've really let it slip. The last posts were some eight months ago - and they were recalling a trip in April 2022! "Retirement" from a long career at sea in March 2022 was quickly followed by setting up a new venture in "retirement", so there has been a lot going on.
In my defence, I've been posting a lot on the Mountain and Sea Instagram page and while enjoying the ability to post more or less instantly, I have missed the research and reflection that blogging offers.
It's not like I haven't been getting out and about whether solo or with friends.... There have been some great sea kayak trips....
In the very heart of Scotland, here on Loch Ericht.
And in the far northwest, a here in Assynt.
The hills haven't been ignored either, whether in challenging weather
or in fair weather.
Tuesday, 20 September 2022
Pinned on Pabay
The morning weather was as lovely as the evening had been, clear and calm. The view to the Cuillin of Skye was our constant companion on this trip and one of the highlights with changing light and angles subtly altering the colour and form. We've all got great memories of climbs on that great arc of ridge - exhilarating and sometimes downright frightening!
We had a leisurely breakfast and got on the water - within a few minutes we were back ashore on a tiny island with a "now you see it, now you don't" sandy beach which disappears at higher states of the tide. We'd wanted to stop here because it's rather a fine viewpoint; the first image in this post was taken from the beach.
The view near to hand wasn't bad either - vivid orange lichens glowing in the morning sunshine, set off by a few Thrift flowers.
Orange seemed to be the theme of the morning; we returned briefly to Kyleakin to collect some things and whilst preparing to get back underway we noticed a bright orange vessel passing under the Skye bridge.
She's the "Mikal With", a 67 metre long palletised cargo vessel. On most marine vessel websites she has a blue hull and a different owner than recently. She's either owned or on charter to MOWI, a Norwegian aquaculture company.
We set out again from Kyleakin and aimed for the island of Pabay, which we intended to use as a stepping stone on our way to an intended camp on Scalpay. The breeze had been slowly building and once clear of Kyle Akin it became quite strong from straight off the Skye coast (our port quarter).
We put our sails up to take advantage of the push and were absolutely blasted across towards Pabay. I found this a really great sailing run, but was certainly not prepared to stop paddling in order to take photos! Our average speed on this blast was 9.4km/h, or nearly twice cruising speed.....
Although a fast passage, it had been an energetic one - it is paddle sailing rather than just sailing! We were all ready for a lunch stop by this point.
Approaching Pabay the wind seemed to ease a little and we dropped our sails to paddle into the tiny harbour area. Donny had motored along to Broadford in his F-RIB and made a direct crossing from there to Pabay; he had a pretty wet ride!
One of the iconic sights on Pabay (Norse: Priest Island) is this post box. It seems incongruous since there are only a couple of houses on the island but is here because the island issues it's own postage stamps for mail which is transferred into the Royal Mail system in Skye (from where it needs Royal Mail stamps).
Sheltered from the breeze (which was becoming stronger) we lazed in warm sunshine, surrounded by clumps of Primroses. The pale yellow of the flowers set against the blue of sky and sea was gorgeous.
Above where we lunched a pair of Bonxies (Great Skuas) watched us warily. These impressive piratical predators had picked a nest site with a great view over the low lying island.
One of the features of Pabay is its geology which is shales intersected by dykes of harder rocks. The whole island is almost flat and nearly doubles in size as the tide falls from high to low water, leaving the geometric patterns of dykes.
Another feature is that, despite being flat the island has virtually no wild camping spots accessible from the water. The rock layers from a barrier and the softer rock gives good growing conditions for brambles and tangled low undergrowth.
This gave us a problem; we were pretty much pinned on Pabay. The wind had continued to rise and in the Sound between Pabay and Scalpay was approaching a Force 6. None of us was keen on trying the paddle across unless we really had to, but despite trying along the sheltered parts of Pabay by kayak we could find nowhere to camp. We returned to the harbour to have a re-think. Douglas and I walked up to the "big house" which is undergoing renovation by a new owner of the island. We explained our situation and asked if we might camp near the harbour. The Access provision in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act is wide ranging but does not cover access near to houses or infrastructure. The owner was most kind in allowing us to camp for the night and it was really appreciated by us.
We pitched our tents in areas which wouldn't affect access to and from the harbour itself and found a spot out of the wind to cook dinner - preceded by fresh soup. The day had been recovered but our plans would need to be altered. The forecast was for the wind to drop almost completely by morning, so we decided on a paddle to the Applecross shore via the Crowlin Islands.
Friday, 1 July 2022
A perfect pitch
It turned out that our day could and did get better! The camping spot we'd originally planned on was a few more kilometres up the coast, and given the wind direction we realised that it would be right in the wind. So when a flash of white sand backed by bright green woodland caught our eye at the back of a small bay, we had to take a look.
Landing near low water we found ourselves in an enclosed bay, sheltered from the wind and in full sunshine. A few folk were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, indicating that the bay was fairly accessible, but it did look very promising as a wild camping spot. Our preference is for fairly remote areas which are little used, but never look a gift horse in the mouth!
As the day visitors started to leave, we pitched our tents, Donny and Douglas pitched on the level turf above the beach itself - where there was even a picnic bench......
Allan and I chose spots in a beautiful wood of birches at the back of the bay which was alive with birdsong. At the time and in the memory, this felt a perfect pitch.
Once we'd pitched up we wandered the bay, just enjoying the sunshine and the location. We came across this lovely piece of beach art which must have taken both patience and real creative talent to produce. Transient and perfect, it would be washed away by the evening's high tide.
Much of the beach was covered in pieces of white "coral" - actually Maerl, a corraline algae which when living is a purplish colour. When they die, the calcereous remains of Maerl are broken and crushed by wave action, then bleached in the sun to form dazzling white "coral" beaches such as this one.
A rare and fragile environment, Maerl beds have comprehensive protection, but are at risk from scallop dredging - one pass by a scallop dredger's bottom gear can destroy a bed which might be hundreds of years old. Loch Carron has some of the best examples of Maerl beds and as a result is protected by designation as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
In the wood, Primroses were in flower on sunny banks - perhaps my favourite of the early Spring flowers; such a cheery sight at the back of a long winter.
After dinner we wandered over to the edge of the bay and climbed a rocky outcrop to photograph the setting sun - it was a really lovely evening.
Our fire below the Spring tide mark was lit to get going while we took our photographs and brought snacks and drinks down from the tents.
Across the sea, beyond Skye and Raasay, the setting sun slipped down to the horizon to end a truly great day on the water. We sat with a dram by our fire and chatted into a glorious evening.
Note: Since we camped here, the bay and its beach have been featured in a national newspaper and on a well known travel website as "one of the most beautiful and accessible in Scotland". This is undoubtedly going to increase it's popularity and perfect as it is, we will avoid camping here for the foreseeable future in order to go a small way to reducing future pressure.
Tuesday, 31 May 2022
Over the sea from Skye
As we left the Black Islands we paddled into the breeze and so dropped our sails. After an energetic couple of kilometres of paddling we came into a lagoon with the most wonderful colour of water as the sun lit the white sand below our boats. Really - could a day get any better than this?!
Wednesday, 25 May 2022
Bridging the gap
We set off on a lovely Spring morning, heading SE from Ordgarff along the track which is signed as "Old Military Road". This simple statement has a deal of history behind it because this is a section of road built between 1748 and 1757 as part of a massive roadbuilding and infrastructure project following the 18th century Jacobite rebellions.
That said, the first of the bridges isn't typical of the "Wade Bridge", being a graceful, slender arch over the Allt Damh - seemingly defying gravity!
Just under 2km further along the track is Delavine Bridge. This is much more representative of the bridge construction on the 18th century military roads. Delavine was one of three bridges repaired and stabilised over three years from 1997 to 2000 to keep these scheduled monuments intact. A plaque on Delavine bridge records the work, placed on the outer parapet where it is particularly difficult to read without standing in the burn itself! It is typical of the larger bridges of the period in construction and in being 4 metres wide.
The familiar term is "Wade roads" and "Wade Bridges" in reference to General George Wade, a military Commander in North Britain from 1724 to 1740. Wade is actually the only person named in the British National Anthem - one of the more clunky verses which isn't used today reads:
The "Wade" road here is part of a 100 mile (160km) route from Coupar Angus to Fort George near Inverness via Braemar, Corgarff and Grantown on Spey. The whole route was built in nine years between 1748 and 1757, starting just two years after the final Jacobite defeat at Culloden Moor. For context, the 26 mile/42km Aberdeen Western Peripheral route took five years to complete in the 21st century!
By the time construction of this road was started Wade had long since left the Highlands and in fact died in the same year work on this route started. His successor, Major William Caulfeild (note the spelling, not "Caulfield") was appointed Inspector for Roads in Scotland in 1732. While nowhere near as well known as Wade, Caulfeild oversaw far more of the network: Wade was responsible for 250 miles (400km) of road, forty bridges and two forts; Caulfeild for 900 miles (1400km) of road and over six hundred bridges - an astonishing series of works.
A little over a kilometre further on the road crosses the third bridge of the section, this one spanning the Burn of Tornahaish. Here also the bridge required restoration works and all three bridges on the section are now leased from the landowner, Candacraig Estate, by the Gordon Trust on a 99 year lease. Smaller than Delavine and without a parapet, the span and height above what is a very small burn gives an indication of the volume the Burn of Tornahaish is capable of in spate.
The track climbs up from Burn of Tornahaish to join the A939 road, or more properly become the A939 road. From here the Military Road goes to Gairnshiel then on over the hill to Crathie on Deeside. We walked uphill for a short way before leaving the road on a track cutting back uphill, having bridged the gap of several kilometres between our previous walks. Here we had a choice of routes to reach Bellabeg. One route would take us over to link with a lower level walk we've done before while the other would climb up onto the high ground to cross the summit of Scraulac - a route done several times previously.
Cutting off the road just outside Bellabeg, a track descends around a wooded hill to the last of the historic bridges of our walk. Poldullie Bridge was constructed in 1715 by Sir John Forbes of Inverernan and crosses the River Don. A remarkably graceful single span bridge, the elegant form is best seen from above as in the images on the Canmore site. Sir John Forbes made a fatal choice in throwing in his lot with the Jacobites at the 1715 rebellion and was captured following the battle of Sherrifmuir. He died in Carlisle prison the day before the date of his execution. It was this rebellion which prompted much of the roadbuilding effort in Scotland in order to "pacify" the Highlands. Movie buffs might recognise Poldullie Bridge as it featured in the 2019 film "Mary Queen of Scots".