Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Pedalling not paddling

I haven't done a lot of paddling this year, partly because of the miserable weather but partly because I was training for a bike tour.
I'd taken a notion to a bike tour in Europe, probably somewhere in the flat northern bits, which would allow me to visit family. With the road atlas out, however, I noticed an interesting line of roads through the Alps. Having had a glass of whiskey or two, I then rather rashly booked a flight to Nice and a return from Geneva.
Over the next few days I began to realise the enormity of the plan. I seriously didn't know if I was up to propelling a bike and camping gear over a selection of the the biggest baddest passes in France.
Lots of painful training ensued, culminating in an arrival in Nice on a late August day, with the temperature at 30 degrees. I was hot, bothered, and didn't have a plan B. The next day I was meant to be travelling the highest paved road in Europe.
Seven days later I made it to Geneva. It was the toughest thing I've ever done on a bike, and I still can't sit down quite right. Here's some pictures.

First night, grotty campsite, feeling ill and deydrated

Highest road in Europe. Still feeling ill and dehydrated
Handy road signs

Somebody's been here before

It cooled down. A lot.

Journey's end
At the top of the Col de l'Iseran, at high altitude in evening gloom and gathering clouds I encountered a strange Dutch lady who brought me down to earth. I guess she was about 70, and she was built like a sparrow. She had a mountain bike from the 1980's, with 35kg of baggage. I suspect she was pushing her own weight again up these enormous passes. Far more impressive than all the youngsters on their carbon fibre. She thought I was a bit of a lightweight. I guess I'd better go back to paddling.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Black rats, blue men and 2 kinds of rhubarb

Camus Mor, north of Uig on Skye, has a fine, but basic, campsite. I'd pitched up with a couple of days free but no exact idea of what I was going to do. The forecast was wet, and I was suffering from a very sore neck. I was hoping to go to the Shiant Islands, but wasn't yet certain if I would manage to paddle the length of the bay.
The Camus Mor campsite is home to the Macurdie exhibition.

Much as I like Skye and the Scottish north-west, I wouldn't like to live there. I suspect a degree of cabin fever gets in to the locals over the winter, and the Macurdie exhibition is a symptom of this.

The brightest part of the day was just before I settled down for the night.

Breakfast proved to a major disappointment. Mrs CWW makes some excellent rhubarb jam, and I'd brought a jar to add to my porridge. At least I thought I had. It turned out that I had actually brought the equally delicious, but not so appropriate, rhubarb chutney. I discovered this after the addition to my porridge, which was a bad start to the day.
There's a handy slipway a couple of hundred yards from the campsite. My boat was pointing straight towards Fladda-chuain. After taking kidney killing doses of ibuprofen I set off, still with the option of returning to Skye if things weren't going well.

Fortunately, the paddling seemed to help the pain as well as the ibuprofen did, and as long as I didn't look backwards I was fine.
Though I was paddling with a neap tide, I was also against a mild breeze and gentle swell. This caused quite a lot of ructions in the water and dissuaded me from exploring the cliffs of Lord MacDonald's Table. On a better day the islands here would be lovely, but it was grey, wet, unseasonably cold, and the swell off Fladda-chuain was being ramped up to a considerable size by the opposing tide. Once in it I was definitely not going back to Skye! It was quite some time before I could relax for the miles out to the Shiants.
Arrival was quite a relief. There is a wonderful camping spot beside the bothy.

Just as I arrived, I met Nick. He was about to depart in the opposite direction. He's on a quest to paddle round all the life boat stations in Scotland, which knocks my trip in 2013 firmly into the long grass. He can be followed on Twitter (@LifeAfloat).
There were a couple of ornithologists staying on the island. They were tracking razorbills by attaching GPS trackers to them. This seemed a bit rough on the razorbills to me, but they explained that the devices were a lot smaller than mine, and they only used the biggest, toughest looking birds (ie, ones over 80g).
There's an interesting book about the Shiant Islands, called "Sea Room". It was written by Adam Nicholson, who I think also runs the website about them. The book details the remarkably long human history of these fairly small rocks.
The website also has some information on the plan to rid the islands of black rats, which presumably arrived from a ship wreck. They are decimating the bird life, and visitors have to take precautions about food robbery. A bit like bears in America, I think. I wondered if they were responsible for the skeleton in front of my tent.

Looking back to Fladda Chuain

I set off to go for a walk, but didn't get far. The black rats had certainly not deterred the bonxies, which were nesting in great numbers. They made it abundantly clear that I wasn't wanted in the vicinity, and I certainly didn't want to be on the sharp end of their beaks. I started to come under sustained attack and retreated quickly.

The following day was grey and damp again, but very calm. I departed early for the Lewis coast.

My main priority for the day was to avoid the Blue Men, who infest this stretch of water. They are notorious creatures who wreck ships. It seems that no one who sees them ever survives (unless by quoting bits of poetry to them). Since I'm not too good at remembering poetry, I stayed ready to shut my eyes at a moment's notice. It didn't prove necessary, though. I think they only come out in bad weather.
Puffins brightened up the dull day, and though there were no blue men there was a green buoy (sorry, that pun only works in the UK).

I had thought about camping on the Lewis coast, but there was the prospect of Cal-Mac ferry strikes, it was raining, and I was still a bit discouraged by the porridge/ rhubarb issue. I therefore pressed on, pausing only at the ruins of Bhalamus. It's one of these haunting and melancholy spots which the Outer Isles have more than their share of. This house was probably build by one of the men who cleared the original crofters. It would take the best part of a day to walk to this spot.

Eventually I reached Tarbert, home of the most picturesque ironmonger in the world.

It seemed odd to be finishing a journey here, it's clearly a place to start adventures from. I trekked over to inspect the portage across the island. It would take no more than 15 minutes, and it might be my next trip. It cheered me to see that the local school kids were doing sea kayaking for their gym lesson. A wonderful place indeed.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Arbroath caving

Ian and Douglas have recently written about this stretch of coastline. I've not much to add- it is simply one of the most interesting bits of paddling within a short drive of the east central belt. We had a small club gathering at Arbroath today.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Hebridean Sharker, the final chapter

The hunt resumed, past steep mountains..

...rushing rivers..

..and ancient strongholds.

Finally, the quarry was sighted. A good end to the year's touring.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Hebridean Sharker, part 3

Having drawn a blank on the shark hunting so far, a change of plan was needed. After sitting out some horrible weather with Mrs and Miss CWW, I travelled the long road to Calgary Bay on Mull.

My destination was the island of Coll, said to be a hotspot for basking sharks.
It's about 15km to cross from Calgary Bay. The tide flows across the route at about 2 and a half knots. I only read up on this after getting home (true to form), and it would have been a useful bit of information to know. The consequences were
a. It was quite rough
b. I nearly missed Coll.
As it was, I landed up on a pleasant spot to camp at the northern tip of the island, with a fine view to Rhum.

The west coast of Coll looks intriguing on the map- a long series of rocky outcrops and beaches. It was, however, a grey day, and the low coast was pleasant but not exciting. With little inclination to stop, I found myself well on the way to a circumnavigation in a day.

Another fine campsite appeared, with a carpet of buttercups.

This bears a remarkable resemblance to the state of my lawn when I got home. Somewhere around, however, was a corncrake, and in the morning I had a brief glimpse of a dolphin leaping by. Seal families were playing just off the beach.
The following morning I paddled first to Arinagour, the chief settlement of Coll.. It's a fine wee place, but, story of my life, the cafe was closed!

So many times I have paddled or walked long distances for this to happen.
With my boat moored (always preferable to being beached, when paddling alone), I went to see the sights. A whale jawbone arch looks over the ferry terminal, and an old gun protects the yacht moorings.

The weather was strange. I had to set off for Mull on a compass bearing, but gradually the low cloud lifted, leaving a crystal clear day, with next to no wind. It was a mellow trip compared to my initial crossing, and I was pretty well outstripping the sailors.

My journey ended in Calgary Bay again. I don't think Tex Geddes would have rated me as a sharker, but perhaps the hunt is better than the kill.