Sunday, 9 February 2014

It's a bit splashy out there

Though I guess folks from south west England wouldn't rate it.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Back on the Sea

Since my big trip last year I've barely been on the sea. It's been hard to get the motivation up to venture out for a day at a time. Kevin chased me out, however, and on a fine clear January day we launched from Crail, with Trevor (who has the good fortune to live there).

There was enough swell going to give me a slap in the face when we were barely out of the harbour. As always, I'd been a bit late in closing my cag, and a good chunk of cold water ran down inside.
With a short day in mind, we headed out past Fife Ness, the former site of Fife Coastguard, before reorganisation.

From there it was out to the North Carr beacon, though Kevin stopped to do some negotiations over lobsters.

He put these in his cockpit, an act which shows great faith in the power of rubber bands.

The North Carr is a pretty infamous spot for shipping. It has a sad history. It looks pretty innocuous in this picture, but that's because I wasn't taking photos when the bigger swells came past.

At the small harbour at Fife Ness, the remains of the lighthouse building project can be clearly seen in the rocks. It wasn't the best day for getting into the harbour, though.

The tide helped us back to Crail, and a fine end to a short winter day.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Summer is fading

For me summer began all of a sudden, in late May, in Ullapool. This evening it seems to be getting dark very early.
The Tay is lower that I have ever seen it. Little Miss CWW and I had a gentle morning.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Big Paddle. Heading Home

While resting at Dornoch I had the sad news that my mother in law had died. This was sudden, but not surprising. It would be a couple of days before Mrs CWW could collect me for travel to the funeral, so I headed onwards across the Dornoch Firth to round Tarbat Ness. The weather here was considerably worse than forecast. The nautical chart shows an underwater feature called the Tarbat Ledge, which I guess accounts for the fact that it was remarkably rough. Landing was also very troublesome, due to bands of rock that fringe the shore. With some difficulty I finally got ashore and camped close to a restored castle.

Next step was a 20km plus crossing of the Moray Firth. Planning was a little difficult due to the fact that I was using a hand held compass to plot a course across 2 diagonally aligned OS sheets laid out in two foot high grass. As the crossing unfolded I was pleased at how well this had worked. My main problem on this crossing turned out to be keeping awake. My energy levels were definitely still on the low side.
The tedium was relieved a little by views of the distant Cairngorms, still with considerable amounts of snow after the long cold winter and spring. Just before landfall at Findhorn some dolphins came to have a look at me. I'm always impressed with how large sea creatures always seem to be observing humans more curiously than we observe them.
A coffee in the Findhorn watersports centre revived me, just as the rain began to fall.

A couple of hours, and one rather unnerving encounter with large unidentified finned creatures, later, I pulled into Hopeman to wait for Mrs CWW.
At this point I wasn't at all sure if I would be finishing my journey. There was the funeral ahead, I was tired, and the remaining days were not in the grand scenery of the north, north east and west coasts. I didn't expect to find fine wild camping spots either. Mrs CWW was well, however, and three days later I was back in the boat.
The Moray Coast has its attractions, however.

There are some fine spots and pleasant villages. Troup Head has a spectacular gannetry. There was a fierce offshore wind as I passed under it. Downdraughts off the cliffs made life very difficult for me and the birds. At one point I saw guillemots flying backwards!
The attractions of this coast run out at Rosehearty. It's a nice name but a grim wee place. The municipal camping site at Fraserburgh had a police presence when I arrived. After wandering round the town to look for a shop I decided not to go the pub that night. Having survived the journey so far, it seemed unwise to risk my life in any of its bars.

With only a few days to home, I was putting in some long days. There are some long beaches on the way south to Aberdeen. Long beaches rank with open crossings in terms of dull paddling.

Curious seals tended to follow me for long distances, though it was a bit unsettling to find a couple of dead ones in the water at the mouth of the Ythan river.
Camp spots were mostly better than I had expected. I had a particularly good spot in the mouth of a burn close to Slains Castle.

The following night I was in the carpark of a tiny harbour south of Aberdeen.
Montrose Bay was atmospheric and wild,

and at Arbroath I was hiding beside the railway line.

From here there was a temptation to put in a very long day to get home. I was weary, though, and the weather wasn't particularly good for the crossing to Fife. My rather old map of home still marks the lightship on Abertay sands. It has long been replaced by a very large buoy. Here I paused to let a ship pass. The skipper came out to give me a friendly wave, but I'm pretty sure he is meant to be on the other side of that buoy.

I had a final camp on the Fife coast, close to Kingsbarns. It's a lovely spot, within walking distance of good beer.

From here, an easy day of paddling took me to my finishing spot at Lower Largo. CWW junior (2) had paddled out to meet me, but,very strangely, we missed each other. Recovery operations for him took a wee while, but it gave time for the fizzy stuff to cool down.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Big Paddle. Turning South

It was late afternoon in John O'Groats and I had only a short distance, about 2 km, to go to reach my planned camp. Looking out to sea I very suddenly became aware of the Boars of Duncansby. This is a fairly notorious tidal feature, one of very few named on Ordnance Survey maps (the only other I know of being the Corryvreckan Whirlpool).
A visit to the Boars looks both very exciting and a shortcut to Norway.

They did look quite far out to sea, though, and I didn't think they would bother me much. There is, however, a small headland just to the east of J o' G. The tide was moving round this very quickly and for a short spell I was dodging rocks at about 15 mph and paddling hard to avoid being pulled further out to sea. Suddenly the Boars seemed quite close! Luckily this didn't last long, and I soon had a good camp within walking distance of the pub, which was full of cyclists celebrating the end of their journeys.

The following morning I rose early to catch what I hoped would be a big tide to carry me a long way south. In a few minutes I was racing round Duncansby Head, the most north easterly point of the Scottish mainland. I then seemed to come to a standstill. I presume this was due to a massive tidal eddy, but the upshot was a couple of hours of very strenuous paddling to gain only a short distance.
The north east coast doesn't seem to get a lot of mention in the paddling press, but in many ways is very spectacular. There are massive geological features, and the birdlife is more abundant than in any other place I have visited, other than St Kilda. It's very hard to capture this in photographs, particularly paddling solo.
It is also potentially a very serious place to go paddling. I was fortunate to have calm weather for several days, as there are long stretches where landing could be impossible in rough weather.

My first camp on this coast was in Sarclet bay, once a herring fishery harbour. This is one of the easier places to land!

Further south the landscape softens a bit. Dunbeath was a more relaxing spot to stop.

This seems to have been a bad year for sea bird breeding, but the sea and cliffs of this area were teeming with guillemots, razorbills and puffins. They seem to find kayaks fairly unthreatening, and it is easy to get close.

Four days from John O' Groats I hove into Dornoch. I was badly in need of a rest, having not had a day off since Ullapool. The campsite was remarkably pleasant for a large commercial site full of residential homes, and the owner went out of his way to find me a spot as close to the beach as possible. It was still a carry of about 400 yards, however, and that night I was exhausted.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Big Paddle. The North

The family left me at Durness, and I set off again straight away. A day's rest would have been good, but the weather was fair and I wanted to press on to reach the Pentland Firth before the biggest of spring tides. I was feeling a bit low, despite the spectacular scenery. Partly it was being on my own again, partly it was the anticlimax of having just completed an astonishing week which I didn't think could be bettered. In his one week holiday, Angus had done five of the routes in the "Scottish Sea Kayaking, Fifty Great Voyages" book.
A fine island campsite with a glowing sunset helped.

The north and north east coasts are full of caves and rock features. This is possibly the most wonderful part of the coast to go exploring by kayak. Journeying along, I passed more caves than I had ever seen in my life before, but there was only time to go into a fraction of them.

Strathy Point is a grand headland, but as I turned round it I had my first glimpse of Dounreay's nuclear golf ball and the vast windfarms close to Thurso. This dampened my mood even more, as it seemed that my camp in the Melvich dunes, with their view to the Orkneys, was to be the last in the truly wild parts of Scotland. The scenes of the following day were very contrasting.

Just outside Thurso I turned to pass inside a sea stack. Suddenly my stern rose and for a brief moment I thought I was going to be surfed into the rock wall in front of me. Then nothing happened. It was, in fact, an optical illusion produced by the sloping strata of the rock. The water in the channel appeared to be on a slope. Just another bit of the strange geology around here. The rocks have historically been good for making flagstones.

In search of a shower, I took a long detour into the Dunnet Bay campsite. This turned out to be quite posh, and my wee tent was rather lost among the camper vans. It did make a change to be one of the youngest people on the site, though. I had a look in the cemetery of the old church close by. Disconcertingly, a lot of the folk there had been drowned at sea.

Dunnet Bay was nicely placed for entering the Pentland Firth with a following tide. This swept me down to John O'Groats, where the compulsory photograph had to be taken. The place was hooching with cyclists, and I seemed to be the only person not dressed in lycra.