Friday 21 October 2016

A Sunart stunner

After dinner at our camp on the Morvern shore of outer Loch Sunart we looked for a good spot below the tideline and got the fire lit.  As the breeze dropped the midges made their presence felt but were a minor inconvenience rather than a full-on attack.

The sun set over Ardnamurchan with a brilliant flourish and  a searing, glittering flood of light across the Sound of Mull. We'd hoped that our campsite would give us a good view of the sunset....we weren't to be disappointed!

The light show started almost as soon as the sun dipped below Ardnamurchan Point with an intense golden glow....

..which faded to a copper colour over about twenty minutes.  One of the advantages of sunsets at more northern latitudes is that they last a long time and this one was a full hour from the sun setting to the last of the light.

Once the sun was well below the horizon the cloud formations took on the brightest colours.... a gradually developing palette from bronze......

......through to purples and pink shades which were bright enough to reflect their clours on the water.

Almost an hour after the sun had dipped below Ardnamurchan, the sky was still glowing with colour.  The horizon itself was a smoky brown; a band of brighter light spread around the western skyline and above that the clouds took on a deep red shade.  It had been another of those west coast of Scotland sunsets during which we felt ourselves participants rather than spectators, and with some of the best seats in the house.

Minutes later the colour drained from the sky and the stars emerged.  Soon the only bright light was from our fire; we sat late into the evening chatting and reflecting on how lucky we are to have the opportunity of experiences such as these.  The darkness around us wasn't quite complete though - we were treated to the fleeting brilliance of several very bright meteors, part of the Perseid meteor shower.  What a stunner of an evening!

Tuesday 18 October 2016

The magic of a wild camp on Loch Sunart

By the time we reached Auliston Point we were in almost complete shelter from the southeasterly wind which continued to barrel up the Sound of Mull.  This had been one of the possibilities we'd discussed for our night's camp, so we gathered on the shore.....

...and climbed above the beach to a grassy meadow edged by basalt dykes with a great view across to Ardnamurchan. The ground was good for camping.......

....but the distance from the boats and the fact that the meadow was in the wind made it much less than ideal.  We decided to press on into Loch Sunart where we knew that there was good flat ground on the south shore of Loch na Droma Buidhe.  I was less than keen at the prospect of this spot for camping having previously experienced it in summer, and it would be completly sheltered from the wind which would very likely add midges and a flotilla of anchored yachts into the mix.

As it turned out, we found a great campsite before we arrived at Loch na Droma Buidhe; plenty of room on flat ground for our tents, accessible at all states of the tide and with a good supply of driftwood for the evening's fire.  We got the tents up and changed out of paddling gear, laying the kit out on the shore to air in the sun.  It had been a great day's sea kayaking in lively conditions, we could now relax into the evening.

David demonstrated his talents as a magician by first producing, like a rabbit from a hat, a collection of miniature bottles of Isle of Arran malt whiskies.

He then topped this - to the delight of the assembled audience - by making them disappear, one by one!.......

This was no sleight-of-hand illusion though,  there was magic in particular trick and the contents disappeared into our whisky cups!

This really is a big part of the magic of sea kayaking for me; a group of friends undertaking a journey together where the camps and the diversions are as integral as the distance travelled.  David's magic had been our pre-dinner entertainment and we were hopeful of a colourful evening "show".

Sunday 16 October 2016

Having a blast on the Sound of Mull

 A light breeze started up as we headed north towards Lochaline, making for a relaxed start to the day.

 The ruin of Ardtornish Castle is prominent on a grassy headland jutting out into the Sound of Mull.  Built in the late 13th century, it was held by the Lords of the Isles (Clan Donald) through the 14th and 15th centuries before becoming part of the MacLean possessions in the 16th century - the castle at Duart across on the Mull side of the Sound would have given them complete control over this important sea route.  Abandoned in the late 1600's, the Ardtornish lands were eventually lost to the Campbells.

 We turned off from the main Sound into Loch Aline where we landed near the ferry slip to enjoy second breakfast at the Lochaline Snack Bar.  The food was freshly cooked and very good - some of us visited the nearby shop to stock up on essentials and we refilled with water from the tap.

Lochaline is nowadays best known as one of the ferry ports serving Mull, but is also a working industrial centre.  A sand mine produces high quality white silica sand with a particularly low iron content which is ideal for the manufacture of very pure glass.  Opened in 1940, the mine operated until 2008 when it temporarily closed, reopening in 2012 under the joint ownership of Minerali Industrali and NSG/Pilkington.

 We waited for MV Loch Fyne to depart on her run across to Fishnish on Mull before following her out of Lochaline harbour.

 As "Loch Fyne" departed Loch Aline she passed a very graceful yacht on her way into harbour - by coincidence our friend Ronnie had crewed on her when newly built.  Ronnie left us at Lochaline but it had been really good to meet up with him and share the evening at Inninmore.

 We hoisted sails to take advantage of the freshening breeze, cracking along on a sparkling sea under blue sky.


 After a while we became aware of a strange buzzing noise, and then were surprised to see a drone flying close above with its camera filming us - it got really quite close to Phil's mast.

 The wind had really freshened as we headed up the coast and by the time we reached the small bay below Caisteal nan Con (Castle of the Hounds) it was up to the top end of a F5 with gusts well into F6 - time to take down the sails as we risked damaging the rigs in the stronger gusts, particularly with loaded boats.  Built on the site of an Iron Age hillfort, the ruin is of a 17th century tower house which was also known as Killundine Castle and is believed to have been built by an Allan MacLean, tacksman of Killundine.  The building was damaged by bombardment by a British warship in 1719 when Jacobite rebels were garrisoned here and was subsequently abandoned.

 We found a spot on the shore to shelter from the wind and take first luncheon, watching the trees on the adjacent shore bending in the wind.  Then came that buzzing sound again, as the drone reappeared and hovered above where we were sitting.  This really felt intrusive, particularly as it got closer to us.  Just as we decided to throw rocks at the annoying object the operator, wisely, flew it away.

 We battled back out of the bay and turned north again with a full F6 wind at our backs.  Out in the Sound, the MV Clansman was battering along with spray flying from her bow, on her way to Oban from Coll and Tiree.

 The conditions demanded full attention, swell was building at an awkward quartering angle and the wind strength was an insistent pressure.  It was exhilarating sea kayaking of the very best sort though - blasting along in bursts of spray.  We'd hoped to have crossed over to Tobermory on Mull for a visit, but the crossing would have been a real challenge - Donald ventured a little way over in his F-RIB and reported the conditions to be more than a little exciting.

We pressed on northwards and as a corner near Drimnin was turned, we came quite suddenly into shelter.  Just offshore the white horses continued to pile past but we were in much more benign conditions.  Ahead and across the mouth of Loch Sunart the view was dominated by the impressive cliffs of MacLean's Nose on Ardnamurchan, meaning we were nearly at the second "corner" of our journey around Morvern.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Midge avoidance at Inninmore

South of Glensanda superquarry the scenery returned to "normal" as we paddled steadily towards Rubha an Ridire (Knight's point), the southernmost tip of the Morvern peninusla and the turn from the Lynn of Morvern into the Sound of Mull.

The water here was thick with Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) to the point where it was difficult to paddle without striking them.

Around the point, a little way into the Sound of Mull we headed inshore towards the welcome sight of Inninmore.  A privately owned property, Inninmore is left open by Ardtornish Estate.  One of the more enlightened rural landowners, Ardtornish has an arrangement with the Mountain Bothies Association who maintain bothies on the estate - but Inninmore isn't one of them.  A notice inside the bothy asks visitors to abide by a few simple principles - essentially the Bothy Code.  We met our friend Ronnie on the beach (along with about a million midges) and since we were a party of seven, most of us camped outside to allow any other potential visitors space, though in the event nobody else turned up.

Inninmore is a fine building in a super position on a wide bay with views up the Sound of Mull.  The bothy is in the main building, the smaller building to the right is an estate store.

Propped against the outside wall was an interesting agricultural artefact, a Coulter (plough) which would have been pulled by horse with the ploughman following behind.  Items such as this really do give a view of what life was like here - this isn't just a random building in a remote location; it was home to generations of folk.

The main room of Inninmore is small but perfectly formed.  We cooked outside, protected by midge hoods and jackets, and ate inside - later we lit a most effective fire and sat chatting long into the summer night.  A simple shelter, good food and the company of like-minded friends - it really was a pleasant evening and a huge relief to be able to retreat inside and avoid the midge swarms.

One of the pieces of furniture at Inninmore is this chest of drawers made from old fish boxes.  It must have some age because all modern fishboxes are made from plastic. As a piece of "statement furniture", it's a gem.

I slept very well in my tent outside Inninmore, waking to a quiet morning.  The midges were just as bad as the the forecast wind had failed to materialise by the time we completed packing our boats.  It was about this time that we noticed......

...that all six kayaks were by a single manufacturer - P&H should have had their publicity department on hand!  We tried hard (unsuccessfully) not to admire Ronnie's new boat too much - a Quest with a black deck and carbon hull set off with red trim.  There were several "ooohhh!" noises heard......

We left Inninmore just as the slightest of breezes began to stir, heading up the Sound of Mull towards a second breakfast.....

Sunday 9 October 2016

How to remove a hill - one load at a time

We paddled on down the Morvern coast past Loch a'Choire and took a short break for first luncheon on a beach of pale pink granite pebbles. 

The shoreline here drops steeply into Loch Linnhe and feels quite wild, until.........

...a corner is turned and the landscape is instantly industrial.  Glensanda quarry is, quite simply staggering. The operators, Aggregate Industries describe it as a "superquarry" and it really is that, in every sense of the term.

A few statistics:

Glensanda produces ten million tonnes of crushed granite each year.  There are estimated to be 760 million tonnes of rock still to be quarried.  The rock is quarried from the mountain 600m above the shore and the super-sized hole is masked by leaving the face intact, thus minimising visual intrusion.  A 1.8km conveyor grades and washes the quarried stones, placing them into a pile of up to half a million tonnes, where the aggregate can be washed and further graded.

Whatever your view of the environmental pros and cons, Glensanda is impressive.  Of course, having quarried all this aggregate, you need something big to put it into.....

...and this is it.  MV Yeoman Bridge at 200m long, 38m beam and drawing some 15m is a very big ship.  Her size is matched by an impressive capability - she is able to carry 97,000 tonnes of aggregate at a time and has a self-discharging capability of 6000 tonnes per hour.  The granite she carries is so hard that her holds need a very specialist coating to withstand the abrasion of loading and unloading.  In service since 2006, she's carried some 35 million tonnes of granite away from Loch Linnhe so far.

Yeoman Bridge's bow gives a hint of just how big she really is when seen close up from the water.....

....and paddling past her was like travelling alongside a red wall.

The granite from Glensanda is used across the UK and Europe - some recent projects such as motorways in Poland, ballast for a high speed rail link in southern France, the Elbe tunnel in Hamburg, the Channel Tunnel and a new port on the Thames are detailed in the quarry brochure.

Just past the heavy industrial landscape of the quarry, the ruin of the 15th century Glensanda Castle is a  more traditional use of the local granite.  A one-time MacLean stronghold, Glensanda looks out over Loch Linnhe and almost seems to have its back to the quarry.

Slowly, as the quarry receded behind us the scene returned to something more natural, and as we turned another corner....

.....the quarry and deepwater facility were no longer visible - just the view back up Loch Linnhe.  The process of removing a whole hillside one shipload at a time is never going to be either gentle or unobtrusive, but I'm guessing that few people guess the true scale of Glensanda, or even know it's there at all as little is visible from across the loch. 

Thursday 6 October 2016

Not quite an island... not quite the mainland

Morvern isn't quite an island, though it has the feel of being one.  Shaped roughly like an inverted triangle, it's almost surrounded by water with Loch Linnhe to the east, the Sound of Mull to the south west and Loch Sunart moating the majority of the northern flank.  Only at the north eastern corner is the peninsula attached to Ardgour, itself almost surrounded by water, by the 11 kilometre Glen Tarbert (from old Norse and meaning "draw boat"- an indication that boats could be portaged between bodies of water)

Adding to the island feel is the fact that the simplest access is by ferry from Lochaber. I've paddled most of the Morvern coast but not previously done the journey around the peninsula as an "integrale" trip.  A rather changeable forecast had prevented Douglas and I planning anything exposed to wind and swell, but we thought that the general easterly airflow might suit this trip.  Douglas has done the route previously and really enjoyed it, which is recommendation enough!  We were delighted that our friends Mike, Phil, Donald and David could join us, and quite by chance I met Ronnie in the ferry queue - he was on a separate trip but could meet us for one night of the journey.

We met up at Inversanda Bay on a rather drizzly mid-August morning and carried our boats down to the beach.  Inversanda should indicate that this is the mouth of Glen Sanda, but curiously, it's actually the eastern end of Glen Tarbert and where the River Tarbert enters Loch Linnhe.  It's possible to park a couple of cars off the road here, but care needs to be taken not to block the farm track.

We shuttled a car over to our planned finishing point of Strontian at the western end of Glen Tarbert and were ready for the off.......

...wasting no time in getting underway as our first day would be quite a long one.

For all except a short stretch, no road goes down the Loch Linnhe side of Morvern and there's an immediate feeling of a wild coast.  A long and wide sea loch, Linnhe has much to offer the sea kayaker and seems relatively overlooked.

A bonus was that the drizzle ceased and the cloud began to clear away.  We began to warm up in our waterproofs, so a second breakfast stop seemed in order.....

....where we removed waterproof jackets to the delight of the waiting midges, not entirely unexpectedly!  Donald could at least get offshore in his F-RIB and create his own breeze, the rest of us had to put a spurt on once back on the water to leave the little blighters behind.

A little further down the coast, I spotted a stone building tucked into the hillside above the shore.  An investigation seemed worthwhile, so Douglas and I climbed up the grassy slope to take a look.

The building proved to be "Pirates Store", a bothy belonging to the nearby Abernethy Trust centre at Kilmalieu.  The Trust is a Christian organisation which provides outdoor adventures and has bases around Scotland.  Inside the bothy is a notice welcoming visitors and asking that the place be left tidy - in effect the same principles as the MBA Bothy Code, though Kilmalieu is privately owned.

The others had paddled steadily on ahead while we looked at the bothy, and we caught up with them a little further on......

....where they were waiting on a shingle beach below wooded slopes.  The scenery here is wild, with the only man-made elements a tiny road and a line of power lines squeezed hard against the shore , but to the south of here we knew that there was perhaps one of the most incongruous sights on any sea loch.