Sunday 21 July 2019

Home run

The wind was already quite brisk when we got on the water, the warming effect of the mid morning sun more than countered by the cool easterly wind pouring out of Loch Moidart's North Channel.  We've found this to be an area which often funnels wind between the mainland and Eilean Shona, most noticeably in a easterly.

Although our day's paddle would be quite short there was still plenty of time for a stop along the way - white sand beaches are hard to pas by!  This one's a regular stop for us and was one of the camping options we'd considered, but not used.  There's good reason for this; any time in the "season" (although for us this is year round!) the place gets over used by groups.  As this was the second day of a holiday weekend we'd anticipated that it would be busy......

.....and we were't mistaken in that guess.  There were at least eight tents, guides with clients, walkers and a couple of dogs, one of which raced up to us snarling and barking.  Any sense of solitude or a wilderness experience would have been absent here and we were doubly glad we'd chosen Shoe Bay for our final camp.

After a break for coffee we continued north, the breeze now at our backs and pushing us up the coast into the Sound of Arisaig.  Douglas was testing the new model of kayak sail from Flat Earth Sails and was driving along at a very brisk rate.  The air seemed very sharp in the southeasterly wind - it was a great morning to be out but we could detect the first signs of the forecast increase in wind speed as whitecaps began to appear to seaward of us.

All too soon we pulled around the corner into the familiar surroundings of Samalaman Bay.  Our trip was over, and it had been another great journey from the head of freshwater Loch Shiel down to the salt of Loch Moidart and the to Loch Ailort. This is a trip we've now enjoyed several times, and it continues to be full of interest.  We've paddled in Spring, late winter and early autumn - and undoubtedly we'll do this journey again, perhaps as a full winter expedition.

We'd run a shuttle down here at the start of our trip and had capacity to take all of us and our boats back to the start at Glenfinnan to recover the other vehicle.  We were very glad we hadn't planned to bring just one vehicle and rely on bringing the others from Glenfinnan.....

...because on the holiday weekend the place was busier than we've ever seen it.  At least two kayak clubs and several small teams were all setting out on their own journeys, there's very limited parking and the road was almost blocked with cars. 

We heard later that the wind had indeed got up during that afternoon and into the following day, pinning some groups where they'd landed and causing others to alter plans, but that all had enjoyed this brilliant sea kayaking area.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

A thin skin over rock

Our camp at "Shoe Bay" had more than lived up to expectation and had been well worth the slog into a stiff breeze the evening before to get to this lovely spot. Our friend Tony was up early to paddle around Eilean Shona then back to Acharacle as he had to return to work in Glasgow.

 Lorna, Allan, Douglas and I had a more leisurely start while discussing plans. We all had an extra day available to paddle, but also all had reasons to head back home too. A forecast of strengthening wind in the afternoon into the following day made up our minds for us - we'd paddle up to the Sound of Arisaig and get off the water before the stronger wind arrived. After breakfast Douglas and I walked up behind the beach into the tangle of rock outcrops and hollows above.

There are clear reminders that this hasn't always been an empty place.  All that remains of this house is a chimney breast and a built up platform - there's little enough flat ground around here. Once the eye attunes to the surroundings the outlines of field boundaries and animal enclosures can be made out among the bracken and brambles which have now largely taken over.

If this house had to be built on a platform built by human hands, in some places it was possible for the inhabitants to use what they found in unique ways....

This well-built house initially appears to be similar to other ruins up and down this part of the coast...but look at the gable end and something remarkable emerges.  The lower half of the gable end across the width of the house is one huge tilted boulder.

This view from above shows the size of the boulder.  Apart from giving something to build against the boulder is at the west end of the house, in other words at the weather side, which must have helped to windproof it to a degree.  The drystone work on the other three walls is really fine work and features quite large window apertures and the rounded corners which are a feature of many of the old buildings on this part of the coast.

This could never have been an easy place in which to scratch a living.  The ground is either boggy or a thin skin of peat over rock, the coast exposed to gale and storm and access is less than easy.  Some of the former inhabitants may have been pushed off better ground to make what they could of this place....their fields and houses are now part of that thin skin of history over the rock.

The view is superb, but a view won't put food in your family's bellies.  As ever when among these remnants of communities my mind tried to imagine what life was like for the people who called this home...for all the distance in time and the trappings of the modern world, the motivations, emotions and hopes of their lives are surely not too far removed from our own at a fundamental level.

We returned thoughtfully to the beach and finished packing our boats.  We've stopped here many times and will do so's a small jewel of a spot.

Monday 1 July 2019

A cinematic event at Shoe Bay

From our camp at "Shoe Bay" Douglas and Tony climbed a nearby rocky hill to watch the evening's cinematic entertainment.

The show began as the spotlight came up behind us......

...and cast a lovely pale light over Loch Moidart.  Beyond the loch, Beinn Resipol seemed almost translucent in the evening light.  But the rise of the full moon was just the curtain-raiser - the main event was underway in the opposite direction. a smoky sunset coloured up the western sky.  As it set beyond the low outline of Muck, we speculated as to whether the sky would develop into technicolour shades or not.

A little further along the horizon, the silhouette of Eigg sailed the western sea - it's always reminded me of the outline of a ship.  Eigg and Muck have given such superb days, whether on the sea or on foot - they really do feel like old friends I'm privileged to have an acquaintance with.

There would be no technicolour blaze across the horizon on this evening, but we weren't complaining....every sunset is subtly different and this one was a slow, smouldering affair.

Below the rocky perch I'd chosen, the sand of Shoe Bay turned ghostly pale in the evening light and the colour of our boats seemed to really glow.

We created our own blaze and glow as the evening progressed....sitting around our fire and reflecting on just how fortunate we are to be able to experience evenings such as this in special places like these.