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!

The Colours of Bennachie

Our local hill is Bennachie, a very prominent granite outcrop in Aberdeenshire. The main summit is 528m, but by far the most noticable feature is the "Mither Tap", a 518m summit. I climb the hill very regularly as it's just a few miles from home. On a very misty day, I set out through the woods. The light within the wood was startlingly green - a multitude of shades.

In some of the more open parts of the wood, Oak saplings were glowing yellow and gold against the more muted colours, and seemed to be amplified by the low light levels. At this time of the year it's easy to think that life is in decline, but today I saw more birds in the wood than I've ever done before. A flock of up to 1000 Song Thrushes were moving through the Spruces, a Jay called in alarm and sent them up into the mist. Bullfinches, Siskins and other small finches were also on the move, presumably migrants arriving in northeast Scotland from Scandinavia.

On the Mither Tap, all was misty and damp with a cold wind. As so often in Scotland, the view from the inside of one cloud closely resembles the view from inside any other cloud!

Coming down from the higher ground, I dropped below the mist in the valley between Bennachie and Millstone Hill

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Making Fire (or not)

Aside from the Crannog itself, there are numerous reconstructions of tools and rudimentary machines which would have been in use in the Bronze Age. From drop spinning and looms to lathes, and including this counterweighted drill. A device like this would have been used to bore holes through stones which could then be used as weights for looms or fishing nets. Although slow, it was amazingly effective.

Of course, everybody's favourite is the art of making fire! Our guides, Marion and Dirk, demonstrated the fire bow method

With a great deal of success

at some considerable risk to a beard.....

Regrettably, my own efforts at emulating the Celts and Ray Mears fell somewhat short. Lots of smoke but no fire - more practice required!

The Crannogs of Loch Tay

This is a reconstructed Crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre. It's taken a number of years and lots of trial and error to build, but is a fantastic building. The guided tour is very informative and thought provoking.

First there's the slightly slippery log causeway to negotiate!

Inside it's amazingly spacious. Much of the interior layout is informed guesswork, which is then tried out using what is termed "experimental archaeology" - try it and see if it works. Current thinking is that both people and a small number of livestock lived on the Crannogs, and that the people who built these structures in the Iron Age were farmers as well as hunters and fishers. Probably they were built for defence against animals and marauders as there's evidence of drawbridge type structures on many of the submerged artefacts. There were several hundred Crannogs in use all over Scotland during the Iron and Bronze ages.

Our kayaking senses switched on at the sight of two log boats alongside the Crannog. These are reconstructions based on remains found in Loch Tay and elsewhere. Paddles have also been discovered which look amazingly modern in design, and a larger paddle which may have been used for steering, or in the same manner as a Stand Up paddle. The boats aren't just for show either - they work!

Thursday 1 October 2009

A Rock Puzzle

This marvellous split boulder sculpture is on the shore of Derwent Water in the Lake District. It's both massive and intricate at the same time, and is easily missed if you don't know it's there (I didn't, but was shown by my friend Dave). Normally it sits in the water, note the water mark, which would make it even more striking.

The low level of the lake allowed us to study it closely - a really impressive piece of art using natural materials