Wednesday 23 December 2009

The Ring of Brodgar

Just along the road from Stenness is the magnificent Ring of Brodgar, a very large stone circle set on a gentle rise, visible from many miles around. The stones make a dramatic skyline and have a tangible presence. When in use, the circle must have been a very potent place.

Some are fallen or missing, but the outline of the outer ring of stones is very clear.

Like Stenness, the stones slope at the upper edge, mirroring the Ward Hill on Hoy

The stone itself is very characterful, and doesn't come from the immediate vicinity

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Stones of Stenness

In the summer we spent a week in Orkney. It turned out to be a wet and windy week so we didnt't do as much sea kayaking as we had hoped. We more than made up for it in exploring Orkney's fabulous ancient monuments.

We were utterly blown away by the standing stones, stone circles and remains. Set in the stark yet very green Orkney landscape, they retain a powerful and emotive presence. This is one of the Stones of Stenness. A blade of rock transported and raised at great effort. It and it's companions dominate the narrow neck of land between Lochs Harray and Stenness

The stones seem to have been placed where they would be visible to all the inhabitants of an area. From Stenness one can see the chambered tomb at Maes Howe and several other stone circles and monument sites.

The great majority of the stones have a sloping top, and the slope is almost always in the same direction. This seems to mirror the slope angle and orientation of the Ward Hill on Hoy; which is visble from all of the stones. It can surely be no coincidence that the midwinter sun sets behind this end of the Ward Hill - the winter solstice was one of the most momentous times of the ancient year.

Thursday 3 December 2009

A Maiden Voyage

Back in early summer we took delivery of my wife's boat; a Rockpool Alaw supplied by Karitek. We decided on a nice place for the first paddle - Ardmair near Ullapool. We launched from the curving shingle beach and headed off in very calm conditions.

Ben Mor Coigach's summit was just in cloud as we paddled between Isle Martin and the mainland to explore the Iron Age fort below the hill's flank.

The new boat sparkled in the sunshine and seemed to match the colour of the sky on a beautiful day for a maiden voyage.

Monday 16 November 2009

Evening Light, Skye

My paddle around Scalpay had been very leisurely. I'm about to go to work abroad for four months, so I wanted to savour the moment. The sun was dipping fast and made a dramatic silhouette of Beinn na Caillich on the Skye shore.

The shafts of sunlight angling from behind a cloud added to the reflection

But as the sun continued to sink, it was time to leave Scalpay and head back to Corry.

The sun was setting and the temperature plummeting as I arrived back at Corry Pier. The 30km circumnavigation had taken me nearly seven hours; the slow pace suited the day - it wasn't to be rushed.

It's days like these that keep me going until the next time!

Rocks and Birds

Near to the spot I stopped for lunch was this small island. It's called Eilean Leac na Gainimh which translates as something like "Island of the Sand Slab"

The island is an outcrop of very soft sandstone with pebbles embedded as a matrix, seemingly defying gravity.

This isn't a great photograph, I was so blown away by getting a view of a Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)from less than 20 metres that I forgot about the camera! The bird didn't immediately fly off, and gave me a stunning moment; I could see every feather and clearly read the bird's wing tag.

I reported the sighting via the Scottish Sea Eagle Project run by Scottish Natural Heritage, and found that this is a nine year old male, hatched in Wester Ross. He's part of a breeding pair who have successfully raised a couple of chicks of their own.

I've not been priveliged to have had such a close view of a Sea Eagle before, normally I've seen them at a distance. There's something very satisfying in the knowledge that they are on the increase and recolonising former haunts. The birds surely add to the seascape and the sky of Scotland.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Reflections, Scalpay

November often brings stormy weather, but sometimes there's a period of calm, settled conditions. On just such a day I started out from Corry Pier, near Broadford in Skye, to paddle clockwise around Scalpay.

The day was perfect, cool but not cold and very calm. Although it had initially been overcast, the sun began to break through and light up the slopes of Beinn Dearg Mhor and Glamaig. Caolas Scalpay framed the view beautifully.

As I paddled along Caolas Scalpay, I passed this cottage on the shore. It's called Narrows Cottage and is one of the holiday cottages on the island. It's in a great spot.

The water and air were so still that reflections were rendered perfectly and every sound was amplified. Shortly after this spot, I heard a commotion on the shore and saw an Otter with two well-grown and boisterous cubs.

I emerged from the Caolas (pronounced "kyles" and meaning a strait or narrow channel) and went around the north end of the island. Soon I found a nice bay to stop for lunch. It had plenty of fresh water for making tea, and a lovely view across to North Fearns on Raasay; where I paddled earlier in the year. A couple of seals were curious enough to approach within a few yards of the shore and another Otter, this time a large dog, swam across the bay. It was idyllic and I kept having to remind myself that this was November!

Tuesday 3 November 2009


The end of Logie Head is composed of a huge blade of rock with a small window through it. A pair of climbers were gearing up to do some routes on it when I passed.

I arrived in Cullen, home of the famous Cullen Skink
The harbour was very peaceful with none of the summer bustle.

The bow of a traditional boat was reflected perfectly in the still water. This is a closed deck fishing boat of a type once common on the northeast coast.

On the way back to Sandend, the swell bursting on the rocks was creating another kind of soup

Thursday 29 October 2009

Findlater Castle

Today I paddled on the Moray Firth, from Sandend to Cullen and back. It's a short trip of around 14km, but there are so many opportunities for rock-hopping that you actually cover far more distance. Right from the start, a big swell was breaking on the rocks. One of the features of this coast is the relative lack of shelter and there are few safe landing places.

I managed to land in a rocky bay below the dramatic Findlater Castle. This castle is perched on a cliff in a most dramatic position. There are records of a fortification here before 1245. The site was repaired and improved by King Alexander III in preparation for an invasion by the Norse King Haakon IV. Ironically, the castle's name comes from Old Norse - "Fyn Leitr", meaning White Cliff, and it was held for a while by the Vikings. Most of the visible remains are from the 14th Century.

The castle is a superb viewpoint. This is looking west to Logie Head; Cullen is in the bay beyond.

It's possible to scramble down into the part of the ruins. There are two main rooms and a tower in reasonable condition. The roofs of both the main rooms are vaulted, but look to have been constructed at different times. This is the view out over the bay below. Must have been a draughty place to live!

The castle is connected to the main cliff by a narrow neck of rock, guraded by a type of battlement. It must have been a great defensive site, but doesn't seem to have had a water supply.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Paddle 09 at Perth

We spent most of the weekend at Paddle 09, the SCA's annual canoe and kayak show, held at Bell's Leisure Centre in Perth.

There was lots to see. Our personal highlights were the premiere of the "Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown" DVD, and an outstanding illustrated talk by Dr. Douglas Wilcox, which showed some of his wonderful photographs to great effect on a large screen in a side hall. The talk covered trips to Colonsay and to Coll & Tiree, and included a graphic account of Douglas having to reduce a dislocation to his own knee on a remote beach in the Sound of Gunna- cue 150 people squirming in their seats!

Above is the Karitek stand, with a selection of SKUK and Rockpool boats one side, and their skeg and handling products displayed on the other side. The blue boat in the foreground attracted some attention, it's a Rockpool boat made from "Carbonite 2000". This material looks like a composite, but is actually a type of thermoformed ABS. It's certainly light and is rumoured to be pretty tough. Perhaps a material which will become mainstream in time. Rockpool aren't the first to use it; it's been in use by Eddyline kayaks for some time, but if a well respected UK manufacturer starts to use it, others may follow.

There were some interesting bits tucked in amongst the retailers and manufacturer's stands. This is the Tiderace Xplore-X used by Patrick Winterton for his Scotland to Faroes paddle with Mick Berwick. The device around the cockpit is an extended cover to allow sleeping in the boat.

And this is the boat's shiny new siblings on the Tiderace stand.

All in all an interesting and well attended show.

Thursday 22 October 2009

A Flood

This is the River Don at its normal level. In early September there was a very wet day which brought the river to high levels, but that was nothing compared to the flood which has resulted from two days of persistent heavy rain.

This is taken from the same bridge. It's a frightening torrent of brown water, with uprooted trees hurtling downstream.

The surrounding fields and parkland are totally inundated

And the new bridge at Montgarrie is getting a serious test.

All over the region, roads have been washed out and cars stranded. Tragically, it seems that a farmer trying to get to some stranded cows at Kintore near Aberdeen has been swept away from his tractor, which was submerged in the burst River Don. It's a sobering reminder of the potential power of the river.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Autumn Bites Back

Yesterday I paddled on the Moray Firth from Whitehills to Portsoy and back. The weather was wet from the start, but the wind was light. On the way back, the forecast easterly fresh to strong wind materialised, and combined with the comparatively shallow water and rocky coast, soon built up some interesting conditions.

There aren't many pictures from this paddle!

Sunday 18 October 2009

A Grand Day Off - The Return Leg

We enjoyed the warm sunshine whilst paddling north to Smirisary, then around to Glenuig. Unfortunately, the Inn wasn't yet open, so we had to forego our mid-paddle refreshment.

The tide had now risen sufficiently for us to return via the north channel of Eilean Shona. We had a gentle ride down the tide, enjoying the autumnal colours reflecting off the water.

Our kayak bows were the only disturbance in the water.

All too soon, we turned back into Loch Moidart and Castle Tioram came into view.

We landed right by the vehicles at just about high water. A truly memorable day's paddling - good company and superb conditions.

Saturday 17 October 2009

A Grand Day Off

This is Liz and Simon. We shared a day of rare weather perfection paddling at Moidart. They've had a hectic year. First they paddled a route the length of Scotland's west coast and produced a guidebook, "The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail", which in my opinion is the most important contribution to Sea Kayaking literature in the UK in recent years. Not content with this, Simon has produced a DVD with Gordon Brown, probably the world's leading coach. I've just got my copy and can't wait to watch it.

This should have been a busy day of posting out DVD orders, but Simon and Liz decided to go paddling instead - great decision! In crisp, calm conditions we headed out past Castle Tioram, currently the subject of a bitter dispute between the owner who wants to make a home of it, and Historic Scotland, who are insisting it remains a crumbling, unsafe ruin.

We turned north out of the channel and headed up the west coast of Eilean Shona towards Smirisary. In the distance, Eigg and Rum looked marvellous.

Across Scotland

This is Charlie, met whilst paddling on Loch Sunart. He and his friend John are in the early stages of a quite remarkable kayak journey. They are travelling from Ardnamurchan to Peterhead via a route which will take them from Loch Sunart to Loch Linnhe, then to Loch Leven. From here they'll head to Lochs Treig and Laggan before switching to rivers. they'll use the Spey, the Isla and the Deveron before touching salt water again at the Moray Firth.

Their route clearly involves lots of portaging (moving the boats over land). They are also completely self contained and intend to do the trip without outside assistance of any sort. A proper adventure!

Monday 12 October 2009

Into The Light

As I climbed Millstone Hill, the cloud was beginning to lift and peel away. By the time I reached the summit, Bennachie's Mither Tap was clear and basking in sunshine. It's always a startling change when it happens quickly, and the landscape seems very vibrant.

Near the summit was this puddle with a very red colouration. It may be that there's some iron in the rock here, but strangely, the material in the water is mostly charcoal.

Heading down to the car park, the change in colours was really noticeable, greens mixed with rich autumn shades

There's a unique public toilet at the car park.....

Inside it's a miniature art gallery!