Friday, 1 July 2016

A couple of kayaking cafes

Angus and I set off for a hill walking holiday, fitting it in before Oxfam sends him back off to some desperate part of the world. We took boats too, thankfully, as the rain in Glenelg was so heavy that paddling seemed likely to be drier than walking. There is an excellent launching spot at the very end of the road that winds round to Arnisdale. The community hall has open toilets, a covered verandah, a fresh water river for rinsing, and, above all, Sheena's tea hut. It really is a hut. When three cyclists arrived it was a tight fit, but there's a stove, wi-fi and huge slices of chocolate cake.

This is now high in my list of all time favourite cafes.
Loch Hourn was grey but calm. We pottered about, visiting Barrisdale and a couple of the holiday cottages on the south side of the loch. At high tide the thift at Barrisdale was growing underwater.

The following day brightened enough for a good scramble on the Forcan Ridge

After that we fled the rain to the east coast, and a dolphin hunt at Ardersier. We did indeed see some dolphins, but it was a bit rough to be taking pictures. The tide does odd things as it zig zags betweeen Fort George and Fortrose, and there was a fair breeze too. The big find was the Rosemarkie Beach Cafe, another great spot for a paddler refreshment.

All in all, not a bad trip despite some miserable weather.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

There and back again

OS Landranger sheet 76 is possibly the worst value map in the range. It's mostly blue.

That must be it, then.

It's a long drive to the Clyde from my house, and a long paddle to Ailsa Craig to follow. It was a bit disappointing, therefore, not to be able to get my boat lifted up the rocks to escape a rising tide. I had about 2 minutes ashore for a quick exploration of some of the strangely colourful navigational relics.

I'm still feeling a bit on the sore side.

Friday, 6 May 2016

The May in May

It's one of my favourite places, and this is a great time to visit, just as the seabirds are returning. Today was a bit hazy, but young Trevor and I had a mellow trip out.

We just beat the tourists to it.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Kayaks and Corbetts

Corbetts seem to the way to go for climbing hills. For the uninitiated, they are Scottish Hills between 2500 and 3000 feet high. They can be collected, in the same manner as folk go Munro bagging (that's the hills over 3000 feet), and they have some distinct advantages. They are much less frequented, often better viewpoints than their larger neighbours, and with better weather. Many of them are best visited with the aid of a bike or a kayak, adding to their interest. With this in mind I set off to paddle down Loch Ericht to climb a Corbett called Stob an Aonaich Mhoir. Loch Ericht is normally seen from the A9 at Dalwhinnie, from where it can look pretty uninviting. It's at an altitude of over 1000 feet, so a little unusual for a sea kayak.

Access is easy, and there's a pretty intimidating bit of white water if you want it. Despite its bleak appearance from the main road, it's actually a lovely loch. I meandered down the south east shore, below crags and birch woods. There were some attractive looking camping sites.

Parking my boat for a while, I climbed my hill, which had some fine views.

Then it was down to the haunted bothy of Ben Alder Cottage. A bit to my surprise, and also my relief, there were some other folk staying. I say relief, because it's a spooky place to be on your own.

I've heard one perfectly level headed outdoor person say he would never stay here again, and I'm a bit prone to hypnagogic hallucinations, which sometimes tie in with the imagination to give pretty terrifying experiences. The ghost may be of a stalker called McCook, who once lived here. There's a good article about him in the SMC journal.  I suspect it must have been a grim life here. He doesn't look too cheery in this photograph.

Fortunately the night was uneventful, and I set off for my return trip with a good tail wind and a mix of sunshine and showers.
On the way along the north west shore I passed the fantasy fairyland that is Ben Alder Lodge. Owned by a Swiss polo player called Schwarzenbach, it boasts it's own recently built cathedral. In the middle of nowhere, it even rings bells to mark the hour.

There is also this underground bunker. I waited for a while, hoping to see Thunderbird 2 emerge, but had no luck. I suspect it is actually just a garage for a two helicopter family.

The day finished with a fine blast back to the head of the loch, with even a bit of surfing to liven it up. Loch Ericht really isn't as bleak as you might think.

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.