Friday 27 July 2018

Laid down at Bay of Laig

The west coast of Eigg is just as spectacular as the east side, great cliffs providing a backdrop to the shoreline. We had a spot in mind to camp and paddled steadily southward towards it.

A party of kayakers had set up camp on level ground above a boulder beach - a great location with a good view, but neither Mike or I thought it would make a good landing or launching spot with heavy boats, and would be difficult to leave if the swell got up on this exposed coast.

Our firs option for camping was at Camas Sgiotaig, but as we rounded the point which forms the north side of the bay, we became aware of a low but powerful groundswell pushing up the Sound of Rum from the open Atlantic.  The swell was roaring across the reef of Bogha na Brice-nis - which I didn't capture very well in this image.  We were already noting that the swell direction was straight into Camas Sgiotaig when we spotted that a lone kayaker was already camped on the shore above the beach.  A slight concern for the swell combined with not wanting to disturb an idyllic camp for someone else made our decision - we would push on a little further to our second potential camp,with the option to return here if necessary.

A couple of kilometres further on we landed at Bay of Laig in flat calm, the swell wasn't reaching around into this bay.  It had been a long day of paddling, some 36km and nine hours since leaving Glenuig, but what a great day it had been.  We quickly found an ideal camping spot and pitched our tents before the slight breeze died completely and the first midges we'd seen this year came out to play - the warning of the Yellow Flag Iris had been correct!

The houses in the distance are at Cleadale, and I was able to pick out Lageorna, the wonderful B&B which Douglas and I had stayed in on our winter trip.

As the sun set, the outline of Rum was reflected in beautiful shades below a soft cloudscape, just lovely.

We gathered a little driftwood to add to some logs we'd brought with us, and with the use of a Wilcox Ignition Aid(TM) we soon had a fire lit, the smoke going some way to deter the midges. 

We lit the fire well down the beach to avoid any risk of stray sparks igniting the tinder-dry ground; and due to the location of our other camps on this trip it would be the only fire we'd light. Fire lit, sports recovery drinks to hand and dinner consumed, life was particularly agreeable -  the midges even gave up after an hour or so to allow us out of our protective mesh jackets.

Our last view before turning in was the faint afterglow of a sunset reflecting on the wet sand in the late evening dusk.  I was asleep almost as soon as I lay down and slept soundly in this wonderful spot.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Cracking the north of Eigg

Mike and I set out from Kildonnan in late afternoon heat and headed north.  The coast from Kildonnan to the north tip of Eigg is rugged and dominated by a line of cliffs falling steeply to the sea - there are almost no viable landing places and those which do exist require flat calm conditions.

We were glad of the shade provided by the cliffs as the heat was terrific - not usually that much of a consideration in Scotland!Sheep were grazing right along the talus slope below the cliffs and we were regularly entertained by the antics of small lambs dashing about playing "hide and seek" and "king of the castle" with each other, their bleats echoing off the steep rocks.

Rubha nan Tri Chlach (point of the three stones) provided perhaps the only reasonable landing opportunity on this coast, but we decided to push on towards our intended camp for the night.  The map at the link clearly shows the vertical flanks of the pitchstone ridge forming the spine of Eigg, from An Sgurr in the south to Dunan Thalasgair in the north, giving the island its distinctive profile and character.

As the north tip is approached there's a subtle change and the steep rock falls straight into the sea.  Near Sgorr Sgaileach (appropriately, peak of shadows) the skeleton of a boat has been wedged into a cave entrance by the power of the sea.  This is possibly a section of the Puffer "Jennie" which sank after hitting rocks here in 1954 - or maybe part of the "Lythe" which sank whilst trying to retrieve "Jennie's" cargo.  The heavy plates and riveted construction would certainly be right for the way in which puffers were constructed.

Rounding the point we came back out into the evening sunshine which lit the basalt columns of Eilean Thuilm beautifully.  Suddenly, from having paddled a couple of hours in close proximity to the cliffs, the view sprang to widescreen and we were treated to........

.......the rugged outline of Rum and its Norse-named peaks silhouetted in the eye of a brilliant sun. Great "reveals" like this are one of the joys of paddling amongst island groups - a real thrill.  The good visibility across the Sound of Rum was quite a contrast to when Douglas and I last crossed this stretch of water

Mike and I were now pretty tired, we'd paddled a fair distance in warm conditions to crack the north of Eigg.  Fortunately, from Sgorr nan Sgaileach it wasn't too far to where we hoped to camp for the night and we still had hours of daylight on a long Hebridean summer evening.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Flags and stones at Kildonnan

We carried our boats well up the beach above the rising tide to give us time to explore Kildonnan.  Behind the beach an area of usually boggy ground was quite dry after a few weeks without rain.  The sword shaped leaves and bright yellow intricate flowers of Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) were well in evidence.  A typical plant of wet ground, the plant has many common names and a few medicinal uses.  Our friend Douglas points out that the Irises on the west coast flower just as the first midges of the summer appear - and he's right - in which case it should perhaps also be known as The Warning Flag"!

As we climbed the slope above the beach the unmistakable outline of the Sgurr of Eigg came into view, surely one of the most easily recognised of Scottish hills.  Mike and I had agreed that it would be great if we could incorporate climbing the hill into our trip.

But that was for another day; ahead of us was the first point of interest for which we'd landed at Kildonnan.......

This finely carved cross stands in a prominent position near the graveyard of Kildonnan.  The "Kil" prefix common in Scottish and Irish place names is an anglicisation of "Cille" meaning a religious cell or chapel. The carving up the cross shaft is foliage representing the tree of life and is still very clear and well preserved.  The head of the cross is missing; the replica at the base is cast in concrete and was copied in part from the Oronsay cross.  The Kildonnan cross is believed to date from the 14th or 15th century and is typical of those produced in Iona around this time.

We wandered from the cross through the graveyard, reading some of the stones as we went, towards the ruined church of Kildonnan.  Donnan was an Irish monk who brought Christianity to Eigg in the 6th century.  He and all his monks were killed in 617 but a new monastic community was founded and flourished until at least the 9th century.  There's no visible remains of the original buildings which would have been of timber and earth with thatched roofs.  The current ruins have elements from the late Middle Ages to the 16th century.

Some of the grave slabs preserved within the church walls date from the 8th century, a very early date.  Interestingly, it seems that Vikings re-used some older burial mounds to inter their own dead from around the 9th century, despite being firmly pagan at that time.

The interior of the church is typically medieval in plan, but with later additions.  After the Reformation the church fell into disuse and the church became a graveyard.  A tradition emerged of Catholic burials in (initially) nine rows inside the walls and then immediately outside the church, with Protestant burials in a graveyard to the south of the church near the cross - it's a tradition which has persisted into modern times.

We left Kildonnan and walked back past the cross, facing out across the sea to the Arisaig shore as it has done for over 800 years.  Though not religious, I find places associated with faith, belief or superstition fascinating.  Exploring the places of interest along a route is, for me, one of the best parts of a sea kayak journey and really adds to the whole experience of a trip.

Kildonnan is a place of real interest and historical significance, well worth a visit and easily accessible on foot form Eigg's main settlement at Galmisdale.  THere's a really good information page here.  If you visit Eigg, try to include it in your exploration.  If you get a stunning day of sunshine with a soundtrack of Skylark song and a profusion of wildflowers underfoot, then so much the better.

Friday 20 July 2018

A crossing to Eigg

Scotland's weather in Summer 2018 has been some of the best in living memory with long spells of settled, warm and dry weather. In the first part of June, Mike and I decided to take advantage of a settled forecast to make a trip which would involve a couple of long crossings.

We met at Glenuig mid morning on a glorious day with the temperature already in the mid 20's Celsius.  We were disappointed that our good friend Douglas didn't feel up to joining us on this trip whilst he continues his recovery from a shoulder injury and an illness.  Glenuig has been the staging point for many great trips over a number of years, and we hoped that this would be another one.

After a leisurely packing of the boats we got underway at around midday and paddled out into the familiar waters of the Sound of Arisaig.  A small breeze moved the air, keeping things from being really hot and encouraged us to hoist our sails to catch some assistance.

In the distance, beyond Mike in this image, lies the island of Eigg.  Our planning for this trip had been deliberately flexible; we would cross to Eigg, then let conditions and our inclination guide us for the remainder of the trip.  We discussed crossings from Eigg to Muck or Rum as possible options, but that was for the days ahead.  In the meantime there was the not inconsiderable crossing out to Eigg to be tackled.  The straight line distance from Glenuig to the coast of Eigg is 20km, but the crossing can be broken up into two legs by first heading across to the north side of the Sound of Arisaig before heading west to Eigg.  This option adds about 5km overall but breaks the distance into two legs with a break in between......

....and when the break between open crossings looks like this, why wouldn't you choose this option?!  Port nam Murrach is justifiably well known, it must feature on most tourist brochures.  A beach of dazzling white sand enclosed by arms of rock and backed by cropped turf, it's an idyllic spot.  In summer it's also very well visited by from land and from the water and can be busy - as we found it on this day.  At least 25 people were enjoying the sun, sand and sea on the beach, possibly the most folk I've encountered here at one time.

By the time we set off for the crossing to Eigg the breeze had died completely and the heat was considerable.  Fortunately after about half an hour another small breeze started up and moved the air; as a bonus it was from the east and we hoisted our sails to take advantage.  Our speed notched up and we would complete this crossing at an average speed of over 7 km/h.

We slowed our speed to allow the trawler "Fear Not II" to pass ahead of us.  Built in 1986, she's had along life of fishing northern waters.  Now bearing a Campletown (CN) registration, she originally had a Peterhead (PD) registration, as in this image.

We gave plenty of space before crossing astern of Fear Not since she was trawling at a steady slow speed.  She continued north towards the Sound of Sleat off Skye, her engines were audible for many miles in the calm conditions.

As we drew nearer to Eigg the detail of the east coast began to open up.  This was the only part of Eigg which Douglas and I didn't paddle on our 2013 winter trip to the Small Isles, and I hoped to explore this piece of the coast on our present trip.

Our landing point was the sandy beach at Poll nam Partan below Kildonnan.  It felt really good to arrive on Eigg - and we'd chosen Kildonnan for a reason....

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival

Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival is held annually and has grown from a small event to a large celebration of food, drink, music, coastal rowing and of course traditional boats. This year's event was held on 30th June and 1st July and was the 25th festival, a notable landmark.  The staff of Mountain and Sea Scotland visited on the Sunday with a family group ranging from 8 to 80 something years old.  The festival occupies the whole harbour area, surrounding streets and the village green - and there really was something for everyone to enjoy.

We arrived quite early, and at low water which gave an opportunity to view some of the vessels in the harbour.

There were some absolutely beautiful craft on show, many of which would have been a regular sight when Portsoy was at its busiest as a fishing port.  Fish are still landed, processed and sold here; a fish seller has a shop in the newer part of the harbour.

In the very traditional harbour setting, the boats look entirely "in their place"

The coastal rowing races were a real draw, featuring crews from all around the UK and further afield - a Dutch crew were very much in evidence in the races.  This sport has really caught on and the numerous small harbours of Scotland's north east coast nearly all have rowing clubs and boats.

Boats are crewed by four rowers and a cox'n and race over a variety of distances.  A strong breeze and choppy conditions had limited the races to shorter distances arranged as out-and back legs....

.....which resulted in some close and exciting racing.  Crews are of all ages and compositions, coastal rowing seems to be one of the most inclusive of sports.

In the boatsheds near the harbour examples of traditional boatbuilding and nautical skills were much in evidence.  But the festival isn't all about boats....

It's also a celebration of the best of local food, drink and music.  Two full areas were dedicated to food and drink, with lots of food vendors on site to refuel hungry visitors.  On the harbour side, spars full of haddock tied in pairs await the magic which will transform them into....

.....Arbroath Smokies.  The haddock are cleaned at sea, then salted for a time to draw excess moisture from the flesh before being smoked in a half whisky barrel over a fire of beech or oak shavings, when the time is right the barrel is covered with a hessian sack to retain the smoke.  The result is sensational; tasty, fresh and healthy.

What these images don't show is the crowds of people at the festival.  We'd arrived early to avoid the busiest time but it was still a busy, vibrant day of sights, sounds and tastes. The music stage featured some great performances and by all accounts the Saturday night had been a real party.  2019's festival is scheduled to take place on 22nd and 23rd of June - it's a great day out.

And if all this nautical theme isn't for you.......

...then check out Hamish the "Coo Van" at the Visit Scotland stand!

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Cloudy on Cliseam

After a run of brilliantly clear sunny days, it was a surprise to wake up to a grey morning with banks of low cloud hanging just above sea level.  The forecast was for the cloud to lift gradually through the day and, hoping that this would prove correct, I set out to climb the highest hill in the Outer Hebrides, An Cliseam.

Most ascents are made from the A859 road immediately east of the hill, a straightforward "up and back".  This is the quickest and easiest way to climb An Cliseam, but misses out much of what's good about the hill.  I planned to do a full circuit taking in some of the outlying summits - and hopefully something of the view too.

I started out up Glen Bhiogadail on a well made track to reach the Bealach na h-Uamha (col of the cave).  At the bealach a view opens up down Loch Langabhat and across the rugged country to the north.

After crossing the rounded top of Mo Bhiogadail you're faced with a steep climb of some 300 metres to the summit of Mullach an Langa, the northernmost summit of the five which form the Cliseam horseshoe.  I was glad that the views were opening up a little on this climb - there was excuse to stop to look around!  Loch Seaforth is one of the most notable features of this part of Harris, cutting deep into the island.

I was marking the cloud level by surrounding hills, and true to the forecast the clag seemed to be slowly lifting.  Across a dividing glen the 729m summit of Uisgneabhal Mor was almost clear - which I hoped would mean just the top of 799m An Cliseam would be in cloud.

I eventually reached the base of the cloud just below the first of the narrow sections of the ridge, the 720m/2362ft top of Mullach Fo Tuath (the north roof), the cloud streaming in from the north on a cool breeze, quite a contrast to the previous days of heat.

There's a great section of walking along Mullach Fo Tuath and the cloud was continuing to lift, giving at least a clear view ahead and simplifying navigation.

At last, there was a blink  of sunlight and a clearance to the south.  This is a famous view, looking down the Sound of Taransay over Luskentyre - having paddled and walked in this area it was nice to get an elevated perspective.

A sharp dip in the ridge leads to the most technical section of the route, the scramble up and over Mullach Fo Dheas (south roof).  A couple were traversing the bealach, the only folk I saw all day.  The climb up to the summit of this fine ridge is easy and pleasurable, though with a strong wind blowing across the hill some care needed to be taken.

The descent to the bealach (col) betwen Mullach Fo Deas and An Cliseam is altogether more tricky; a steep drop leads to a pitch of about 10 metres which, if taken direct, needs careful downclimbing. I opted for a flanking move to the north side of the ridge where a small scratch of a path slants down before contouring onto the bealach. This flanking path is steep, loose and a little exposed, needing careful movement.

As I climbed the last rise onto An Cliseam the cloudbase had risen to just brush the summit.  The forecast had been absolutely correct and there was even some sunshine breaking through.  From muted tones and grey sky, colour was beginning to emerge.

The summit of An Cliseam at 799m/2621ft is the highest point in the Outer Hebrides and the only Corbett .  While they may not be high, the hills of Harris are rugged, often pathless and generally tough going.  A circular wall enclosing the trig point gave shelter from the wind - a summit view was so close, but the cloud just failed to clear the top whilst I was there.

My descent route went initially south east down the "normal" ascent route, with some great views down towards Loch an Siar (West Loch) and the Tarbert road.

Where the steep ground eases, I cut back left under the north face of the hill to gain a broad bealach, then up onto the domed top of Tomnabhal, which had granite slabs very reminiscent of some Cairngorm hills.  My route back to our accommodation would take me across most of the ground in this image, to the shore of Loch Seaforth.  If it looks a long way off, that's because it was!

An hour or so later I crested a final rise and descended wearily down the Harris Walkway path to the road.  I'd been looking forward to making the final descent on a good path, but the track is very wet underfoot, and this was in a period of prolonged dry weather.

The final 3km of my walk was along the A859 road in weather which had turned from the grey of the morning into a hot early evening.  You really earn your hills in Harris; my route had been 18 km with well over 1400m of ascent and descent - which is a lot for one Corbett - but what a great day out. 

The following day, our last in Harris, dawned fine and we drove along the road to get this image of the hill rearing into a flawless blue sky.

We'd had a superb holiday in Harris and Lewis; my hopes of experiencing the stunning light quality had been amply fulfilled.  It has to be said we'd been fortunate with the weather; apart from a day and a half at the beginning, we'd enjoyed dry, fine conditions.  It's a place towhich we'll certainly return.