Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Just grey rocks

On a trip with Douglas in January, we were treated to spectacular widescreen views of Scotland's west coast.  The beach below the bothy in which we stayed has some spectacular scenery of a much more intimate kind - just grey rocks but with some fascinating detail.

The rock hereabouts is schisty with sparkling mica embedded and is contorted and eroded by the sea in a way which exposes the slightly harder layers within.

Veins of quartz run like streaks of lightning through the bedrock

And where the sea has eroded dips and hollows, pebbles accelerate the shaping process as they are washed around the hollows.

Sometimes it's hard not to stare at the spectacular "big" view; but even grey rocks can have their interest :o)

Monday, 19 March 2012

A quieter place

I read this poem by Nan Shepherd recently.  Her imagery of absorption into the land and seascape struck a chord; especially since I'm working in one of the most densely populated parts of the UK where the soundtrack is relentless traffic noise.

                                                                                            Summer Isles from Little Loch Broom


Here on the edge of Europe I stand on the edge of being.
Floating on light, isle after isle takes wing.
Burning blue are the peaks, rock that is older than thought,
And the sea burns blue - or is it the air between?-
They merge, they take one another upon them,
I have fallen through time and found the enchanted world,
Where all is beginning.  The obstinate rocks
Are a fire of blue, a pulse of power, a beat
In energy, the sea dissolves,
And I too melt, am timeless, a pulse of light.

Nan Shepherd, October 1950

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A leisurely afternoon on Longay and Pabay

We regrouped on the east coast of Scalpay (Scallop Island); the wind had dropped and the sun was warm on our backs - this was more like it!

Most of the islands surrounding Skye have Old Norse names reflecting the Viking heritage woven into the history of the area.  We paddled eastward to the next island on our itinerary - Longay (Longship Island). To the northwest, the distinctive flattened summit of Dun Caan on Raasay came into view.

We landed on this small boulder beach on Longay's east side for first luncheon - the boulders on the lowest part of the beach were very smooth and slippy.  Longay was one of several islands utilised as  bases by pirates in the 16th century.

After a leisurely break we left Longay and made a crossing to the south, heading to Pabay (Priest Island).  By the 16th century priests had been replaced by pirates; Dean Munro in 1549 described the island as "full of woods, good for fishing and a main shelter for thieves and cutthroats"

The gently shelving reefs on the northwest of the island give rise to big waves in a northerly wind and swell, but no such excitement today.

We landed on one of the numerous boulder beaches and climbed up to some convenient slabs to take second luncheon.

Happy paddlers!

Fed and watered, we rock-hopped down the eastern side of Pabay and headed back over Caolas Pabay to the Skye "mainland".  A gentle southwesterly breeze was the strongest wind we encountered on the day.

One happy result of our leisurely pace was that the flood tide had filled the tidal inlet of Ob Breakish sufficiently to allow us to paddle direct to Gordon and Morag's back garden to finish our paddle with tea and coffeee.  Doesn't get better than that!

As we sorted out boats and kit, a very light shower produced a nice rainbow over the Ob.  We didn't need to go looking for gold; it had been a day and a weekend of memories to treasure.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Snow showers, clearing later

The forecast for Sunday was for lighter (Force 4) westerly winds and "snow showers, clearing later".  Overnight the remains of the windy weather passed over, followed by a period of rain and hail.

The widescreen weather forecast from Lower Breakish in the morning was encouraging.  There was a dusting of snow on the Red Cuillin hills in the distance and a cloud banner on Beinn na Caillich (old woman's hill).

By mid morning we were getting on the water from the old pier at Broadford.  As we were taking the boats off the trailer the dark cloud approaching from the west turned into a heavy snow shower.  Sitting in slush to start the day is such an enjoyable part of sea kayaking!

We planned a circular route taking in three of the islands in the Inner Sound; Scalpay, Longay and Pabay.   On our way out to Scalpay the snow shower passed us and headed eastward over the Applecross hills, completely blotting out the view in that direction.

To the west however, the view wasn't a bad one!  The hills of the Red Cuillin lack the ridges and drama of the Black Cuillin but are a very fine range in themselves.

Between the slopes of Beinn na Caillich and Beinn na Cro, part of the ridge of Blaven was catching the morning sunlight.

Scotland never looks better than with a bit of blue sky and some snow on the hills.  We paddled leisurely onward, just enjoying the view.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

To Absent Friends

After shuttling the boats back to Skyak's home, we got showered and warmed up, then enjoyed a most pleasant evening.

Everyone had been asked to bring a dish towards a "pot luck supper" for the Saturday evening, and my goodness we ate well!  Among the highlights was the pot of local Skye mussels prepared by Gordon; very tasty!

Ken and Douglas had unfortunately been unable to make the get-together, so one of our first thoughts was to toast "absent friends".  We also raised a glass to the success of the DVD which was filmed partly on our trip and which has (so far) won two awards

Our third toast was to another absent friend - the Saint who never was.

Monday, 5 March 2012

A wild ride to Kylerhea

On the first weekend in March, ten of us met up at Skyak's Lower Breakish home in the Isle of Skye.  This get-together was a reunion of the team which made a memorable trip to St Kilda to film part of the "Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown Volume 2" DVD in the summer of 2011. 

After a late evening chatting, we had a fairly leisurely start and got on the water at Isleornsay just before lunchtime on the Saturday.  Our plan was to paddle through the narrow tidal channel of Kylerhea to Kyleakin.  We would have the tide behind us and a push from the fresh southerly wind, which was forecast to markedly increase towards dusk. 

As we got on the water, the breeze was already quite strong, the saltire flag on the hotel giving a good indication of direction.

Heading out to the lighthouse on Isleornsay gave us a first view of the open water beyond.  It looked very lively.  Hats were pulled down and we prepared for the downwind run.  Little did we know what a downwind run we were in for!

This picture looking our from the shelter of Isleornsay acorss the Sound of Sleat to the Munro of Beinn Sgritheall (scree mountain) was the last photograph I took for some time.  We had a quartering sea and wind on our way towards the mouth of Kylerhea and conditions rapidly started to get interesting.

It was clear that the wind behind was going to be strong, but there was also a wind coming from the mouth of Loch Hourn across the Sound of Sleat.  As we moved out into the open water the wave height increased dramatically and conditions went from choppy to rough and the engagement level rapidly accelerated from "interesting" through "exciting" to "exhilarating with a fair degree of buttock clenching"!

Wave crests were racing past beneath the boats, alternately dropping us into troughs and then lifting us up into the wind on the crests.  Every few minutes a much larger set of swells rolled past, hurling us forwards.  Surfing these wasn't an option for me; I just braced and let them go.  Paddlers just a wave away were disappearing from view completely in these bigger sets - it was a wild ride for which the only possible soundtrack would have been "Ride of the Valkyries"!

The conditions demanded absolute concentration; the 12 kilometre run took a little over an hour and a half with the tide and the now rising wind behind us.  At the first boulder beach which offered a little shelter, we pulled in to regroup and eat.  I was relieved to hear that others had found the conditions challenging - everyone had looked a lot more relaxed and in control than I'd felt!

In the short time we were on the beach, huddled in the shelter of some boulders, the first of a series of large squalls of rain and hail began to sweep past.  The wind increased to the point that the boats were starting to lift - it was time to go.  The ferocity of these squalls is hinted at in this image: the waves approaching the beach are being blown into the air as they break.  We estimated that we now had near-gale conditions.  Our plan now consisted of getting to the slip at Kylerhea and running the shuttle back to Isleornsay from there.

We were simply blasted along to Kylerhea.  We were sheltered from the swell but the wind had us flying along; the only strokes required were stern rudders and the odd corrective sweep.

All safely on the slipway, we rang Gordon to change the pick up venue and prepared the boats for the shuttle.  It had been a wild, wild paddle and although the conditions had taken me past my comfort zone and into the "elastic zone" I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Warmed three times at the Shieling of the Grey Water

Following the club meet at Roybridge, Dave and I travelled back over to the eastern side of Scotland for an overnight bothy trip.  Despite being close to where I live and having visited it many times, I'd not previously stayed in the bothy at Glas Allt Shiel (shieling of the grey stream) on the shore of Loch Muick.

The bothy is in an outbuilding of the grand shooting lodge built by Queen Victoria.  It's maintained by Dundee University Rucksack Club and is in a very good state of repair.  Although not a bothy administered by the Mountain Bothies Association, the same "Bothy Code" is expected.

This is the burn which gives the place its name.  Clear and cold, it rushes down from high on the slopes of Lochnagar and through a pine wood into Loch Muick.  A set of fine granite steps were placed at an offshoot of the burn for water collection.

We didn't intend to be cold on this February evening with all the available firewood surrounding the area!

The building and land are owned by Balmoral estate (i.e. by the Queen).  the estate request that dead standing wood is left alone as it is such an integral part of the wood and an important resource for wildlife.  Following the gales of late December there was more than enough fallen wood scattered within a half mile of the bothy.

It's well known that firewood warms a body three times - once when it's collected, again when it's cut and finally when it is burned.  We proved this saying completely!

Once we'd cleared the grate of an excess of ash in order to build a good base we got a geat fire burning.  Feeding it a little at a time our fire lasted all evening and we left plenty of dry wood for the next folk.  We were toasty warm when we retired to the upper floor to sleep.

The following morning dawned wet and windy.  We lingered in the bothy drinking coffee and chatting in our sleeping bags until mid-morning when a gradual improvement could be seen.

The walk out was very pleasant in a mixture of sunshine and showers, with a rainbow thrown in for good measure.