Monday 21 January 2019

Pale beauty

It's been a weekend of pale beauty here in the northeast of Scotland.  Driving towards Banchory we were in atmospheric mist with shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees - and I hadn't brought a camera!  We stopped on the road which drops from Queen's View towards Coull where there's a wide sweep of the Dee valley below.  A photo on a mobile phone gives an impression of the almost ghostly quality of light.  Beyond the Dee the easternmost of the Munros, Mount Keen, was prominent as a dome of brilliant white against the pale blue of the winter sky.

On Sunday evening I took a walk around the local area and was returning home as the moon rose above the farmland.  Initially a shade of golden yellow, it rapidly became a disc of pale beauty as it cleared the frost haze; the temperature plummeted below freezing and continued down to minus 6 Celsius.  This full moon was a bit of a special one too....

I was up and about before 5am in order to catch a flight for work - but also to try and catch something of the lunar eclipse which reached totality at 0512.  Given the catchy title of a "super blood wolf moon" because the moon was at perigee (closest to earth and so appearing 7% larger than normal), the blood term from the expected reddish colour and "wolf moon" is a name for a January full moon.

The eclipse was so total that the moon appeared for a while as a dark disc - and my camera simply wouldn't focus on it; the image is included here to show the extraordinary colour.  The difference between the conditions during this eclipse and the very special solstice lunar eclipse in December 2010 was amazing - the ambient light from the snow covered landscape on that occasion must have made quite a difference. 

In any case, my images this time mostly showed nothing but a blur of reddish-brown at totality.  What I actually observed was a disc of deep brown with a reddish edge all round - it was incredibly beautiful.

Gradually the terminator (I love some of the astronomical terms!) crept down and allowed pale light to flood around a portion of the moon, just as a haze of cloud arrived and softened the light.

A post of rather dodgy photos, but hopefully conveying something of the pale beauty of this winter weekend.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Bacon rolls, coffee and cake - the art of suffering on Loch Ailort

I slept well in Peanmeanach - a quiet building in a quiet place.  Stepping outside in the evening, it was immediately obvious that our fire wasn't the only glow around these parts. A herd of Red Deer hinds uses the meadow below the bothy and they generally gather in the evenings.  Our headtorches picked out dozens of pairs of glowing eyes staring back towards us - and the animals seemed very unconcerned if we walked close by.

We felt no inclination for an early start and so didn't rise until it was fully light - about 8.30am.  The weather looked to be similar to the previous day with a grey cloudsheet overhead, but it was dry and not too cold which is as much as you can ask from a January day in Scotland!

A leisurely breakfast including bacon rolls (thanks Donald!) and fresh coffee made for a pleasant start to the day, breakfast made easier by being able to cook inside the bothy.  Once packed up we cleaned through the building and cleared the fire ashes for the next visitors, then got dressed into paddling kit.

Back on the water by mid morning, we decided to paddle to the head of Loch Ailort before returning to Samalaman to end this short trip.  The colours on this third day of the year were very muted and the light levels quite low; our boats seemed to be the only spots of brighter colour anywhere. 

Loch Ailort is a shallow "S" shaped sea loch guarded by islands at its mouth and has more interest than is generally supposed.  There are islands, narrow channels which change with the tide height and even some faster moving water in places.  We explored at a leisurely pace up to the head of the loch where luncheon was taken at the public jetty near Inverailort.

We planned to arrive back at our starting point near Glenuig at or shortly after sunset so didn't linger too long before setting off back down the loch.

On the way we stopped at a spot I've paddled past may times but hadn't previously landed.  A glimpse of flat turf aroused our interest and we got out to investigate.  Aside from Peanmeanach there are few decent spots to wild camp in Loch Ailort, or so we thought.  You'll need to find the place for yourself, but we felt that two or three tents could be pitched here on good, level ground - a useful recce!

We paddled back out of the loch past Eilean nan Gobhar and out onto the Sound of Arisag; An Sgurr of Eigg ahead of us was streaming a cloud banner as moister air streamed past it - quite different to the conditions on the summer day when Mike and I last visited!

The last hour of our paddle passed pleasantly as we upped the pace a little to arrive back at Samalaman Bay in the gathering dusk.  We landed at almost high water so didn't have too far to move our boats, which is always a nice bonus at the end of a day.  Kit packed up and boats loaded, we couldn't resist the lure of coffee and cake at the Glenuig Inn before heading home - an other nice bonus at the end of a paddle!  we'd topped and tailed the day with good food and with fresh coffee....who said sea kayaking  trips mean "roughing it"?!

This first overnight trip of the year had been just 32km of paddling over two short days.  In familiar waters and benign weather we'd enjoyed a pleasant and relaxed introduction to another year of sea kayaking - and shared with our friends Allan and Lorna a return to kayaking after enforced lay-offs.  Here's to lots more trips in 2019!

Friday 18 January 2019

An orange glow on Loch Ailort

Having said our goodbyes to Lorna and Allan at Samalaman Donald and I headed back out onto the Sound of Arisaig.  Th high pressure weather had introduced a cloudsheet which almost obscured the whole sky, but not quite.  Donald's distinctive orange Nordkapp was caught in a shaft of sunlight and fairly glowed against the muted shades of sea and sky.

You'll notice that even when I was close by, the light continued to pick out Donald rather than me....truly the sun must shine on the righteous!  Ahead of us lay the entrance to Loch Ailort with the outer set of islands which guard the approach.  To the right the familiar outlines of the Rois-Bhein (Roshven) hills form the southern skyline.

The largest island at the entrance to Loch Ailort is Eilean nan Gobhar (Island of the Goats) which was briefly lit by a patch of sunlight - the last blink we'd see on this winter afternoon.  The island has the remains of two vitrified hillforts on the highest parts, though you need to look quite carefully to find the fused sections of wall.  The outer (west facing) shore of this small but rugged island is subject to quite rough conditions from the swell which rolls in from the Sound of Arisaig and from the tidal stream which forces around the island but there's a boulder beach on the eastern side which offers a landing in reasonable conditions.

Passing inside Eilean nan Gobhar brought us to the outer part of Loch Ailort and to a beach on the Ardnish peninsula below our destination for the night.....

...Peanmeananch bothy.  One of the larger and more popular bothies,we were surprised to find we were the only "guests" - though another couple arrived about 30 minutes later having walked in from the north.  Peanmenach is looked after by the Mountain Bothies Association and as for all the bothies in the organisation's care exists "for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places".  I've been a member of the MBA for many years; the whole concept is a remarkable one - a place which belongs to the landowner, cared for by volunteers and open to all without charge or booking, subject only to a common sense code of practice.  The MBA plaque on a door is always a great sight at the end of a day!

Peanmeanach has two downstairs rooms and a floored loft upstairs.  Donald and I moved our kit upstairs and left the downstairs "bedroom" for Ollie and Leanne.  Over dinner we shared stories and experiences with our new companions.  Winter camping is a joy in itself, but it was likely on this cold night that all of us would have retired to our tents soon after dinner if we were camping.  No such requirement on this evening though...... we'd all brought fuel for a splendid fire!  Sea kayaks have great carrying capacity and we'd brought lots of wood and offcuts of oak casks left over from handcraft work.  Ollie and Leanne had carried in wood too, so we soon had the main room toasty warm and lit with another orange glow on Loch Ailort.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

First foot back in the boats on the Sound of Arisaig

Allan, Lorna, Donald and I met up on a chilly mid-morning on 2nd January 2019 for our first paddle of the year (a day later than we did in January 2018!).  The first paddle of 2019 was also the first day back on the water after a lengthy period for both Allan and Lorna who have been recovering from illness and surgery, it was great to be able to share this with them.  Douglas had intended to join us on this trip but had to pull out - so there's another "first paddle" to be done soon.

We met at Samalaman Bay and packed our boats before carrying them down to the water, the temperature encouraging us to get going - it wasn't a morning for standing around.

We were taking advantage of a huge area of high pressure over Scotland - the barometer showed 1040Mb during the day; unusually high for winter.  The preceding night had been so cold that Allan and Lorna's camper van froze up and they had the unusual experience of having to use an ice scraper on the inside of the windscreen!  The high pressure did bring settled conditions though and we paddled out onto a calm sea with the hazy outlines of Eigg and Rum ahead of us.

The plan was to paddle south down the coast to a favourite beach for lunch, then we'd return to Samalaman.  Donald and I would then continue on to Loch AIlort and make this our first overnight trip of the year.

We had a relaxed paddle down the coast.  Even with the short winter daylength there was no time pressure and the pleasure was in just enjoying being back out on the water.  Approaching our intended lunch stop, a cold wind blew from the shore, the wind pouring out of the north channel separating Eilean Shona from the Moidart shore - it was a stiff paddle to the beach for the last few hundred metres......

....but worth it.  Port Acadh an Aonaich is "port of the ridge field" in Gaelic which perfectly describes the place; a narrow point of clipped machair below a rocky cliff, it has small white sand beaches facing both north and south.  These beaches give the alternative name of White Sands - somehow a less ringing name than the Gaelic original.  Whatever the name it's a fine spot to pause for lunch.  We found some shelter from the wind and ate our lunch, followed by the statutory slice of Christmas cake of course!

After lunch we got back in the boats and made our way slowly back up the coast, exploring the rocky channels where we could and generally taking our time and chatting. We were back at Samalaman all too soon, where we would split up.  Allan and Lorna were heading home to Aberdeenshire while Donald an I turned our boats around for the next bit of the trip.

Sunday 13 January 2019

A "green winter" day in Glen Tanar

We took a walk at Glen Tanar today; the location chosen to maximise shelter from a blustery and strong north westerly wind.

Among the pines there's no obvious sign of winter - everything is green and especially so when the low sun lights up the trees.

A large pine had been brought down by recent storm force winds.  It had been moved off a path by cutting into sections and bodily dragged clear.  Someone with a very sharp chainsaw and a steady hand had been at work here!

The branches of the upper part of the tree showed the beautiful reddish colour of these iconic trees; it's not easy to get close to the upperworks of mature pines unless the fall or, as sometimes happnes, limbs become detached.

I gathered up a couple of handfuls of shavings from the tree to put in a spare food bag - this will be tinder for lighting a camp fire on a beach somewhere in the future!

So far, a "green" winter with generally mild temperatures, even some faint warmth from the January sunshine.  But there may be change on the way.  Subtle alterations in the stratosphere are giving weather forecasters indications of colder conditions towards the end of the month.

In which case this sign "Drive carefully down the hill" might be quite appropriate!

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Memories from 2018

The turn of a year is a time to look forward to the possibilities and challenges ahead, but also to reflect on the year just ended. While opportunities for longer trips have been a little restricted due to an alteration in work pattern, I've once again been lucky to have enjoyed some superb days in Scotland's great outdoors. As in previous years I've absolutely failed to narrow down just one memory of the year!

2018 was a year of meteorological contrast.  A more traditional winter than recent mild affairs gave large accumulations of snow and some superb conditions, even on lower hills.  The variety of light through the winter gave constant interest, and there were also some rather impressive full moon events.

The summer switched on in May and proved to be one of the best in living memory with lots of hot sunshine on offer.  A trip with Mike out to Eigg in June was made in really hot conditions....for once the white sand and turquoise water were matched by tropical temperatures!

As well as paddling out to, around and back from the island we climbed the iconic An Sgurr and found ourselves being fried on Eigg........

.......and of course there have been the sunsets!  So much of what continues to enthuse is the variety of light - solas - which Scotland has.

Autumn brought some great colours and the fulfilment of one of my "must do" paddles, on Loch Maree in the full glory of autumnal shades.

I made a conscious effort to visit bothies in 2018, including some which I'd not sen in many years and one to which I'd not previously been.  Visits included Gelder Shiel, Charr, Glencoul and Glendhu, the "Tarf Hotel" and Shielin of Mark.  All different, but all part of the wonderful institution which is bothying.

But...if pushed for a stand-out memory of 2018, it would have to be.....

..the utterly stunning week we spent in Harris.......

Light.  That's what Harris is about, and we were lucky enough to experience the arclight brilliance and startling clarity of Hebridean light at its very best.

And the colours were pretty special too!

I started this blog in 2009, nine years and almost 750 posts down the line I was startled to notice that just before Christmas this little corner of the internet had passed a half million page views!  Thank you to everybody who takes the time to drop by - I hope that it continues to provide some interest.

So, that was some of 2018 - and here's to 2019; Slainte Mhath!