Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Big Paddle. Onwards to Oban

The weather forecast was all over the place for the coming week, but chiefly it was bad. Paddling round the Mull of Kintyre was clearly going to be out of the question, so Kevin and I decided to head north from Arran to Tarbert, then do a Viking style portage across the narrowest part of the Kintyre peninsula (the name "Tarbert", in Scotland, always denotes a place where the Vikings dragged their boats across land).
Our first day turned out to be beautiful. Still waters with the sun out, and otters playing on the north shore of Arran. To begin with, it was the most relaxing day of the trip, with an early stop for a second breakfast by the clear waters of Lochranza.

The relaxation stopped when the portage started. We carried our heavily laden boats up a steep bank to the road past Tarbert harbour, then loaded them onto our trollies.

My trolley has never been a great success. It's fine with an empty boat, but with a lot of gear on board it turns into a frictional nightmare. We had only 2 km to go, but with the first wee hill I was grinding to a halt, almost literally. This portage may be short, but the pub is at the wrong end. Perhaps taking the refreshment before the effort didn't help too much.

We finally arrived at a spot close to the sea. With great delight we pulled our boats onto the shore, which turned out to be made of particularly nasty sucking sticking mud. As we struggled to wade through this, hindered by having to retrieve our boots every 10 seconds, the water receded quickly with the ebbing tide. By the time we caught up with it I was exhausted. A very slow paddle to the first available campsite followed.
The next morning truly miserable weather had arrived. It was cold and wet, the only blessing being that the wind was chiefly in our favour. Once out of West Loch Tarbert we headed north on a following tide. I was very glad to have a companion- some of the day was very rough, and if I'd been alone I'd probably have had a short day.

Tides are very strong on the passage from Kintyre to Oban. We were fortunate that they were in our favour during office hours, and there was no worry about unduly early or late starts. We missed the fine views of Jura, due to the drizzly murk, though, and the camping was a bit damp. Despite the cold, we enjoyed our passages through the infamous Dorus Mor and Grey Dogs, though neither was at their fiercest. A short halt on Fladda, one of the slate islands, risked hypothermia but gave a grand view of the sea rushing past at about 8 knots- a very impressive sight.

A big advantage of Kevin's company was that he brought proper food. My planning allowed me to carry enough for 10 days, but it was hard tack which didn't really keep up with calorie requirements and risked scurvy. Kevin prepared meals which smelled good (dehydrated meals just don't smell) and tasted better. Nevertheless, I was determined not to let any potential cafe spot go past, though it was, at times, a bit embarrasing to wander in dripping wet.

The continual rain and cold was taking its toll on me. It was hard to stay warm, and I was wearing all my dry clothes in my sleeping bag at night.

The camping sites were, however, mostly wonderful.

Mrs CWW was meeting us at Oban. She had seen the forecast and thankfully had booked us a caravan to stay in. After 4 wet nights of camping it was a relief to be able to warm up and dry out. We had a day being tourists and walking round Kerrara before she departed with Kevin. That night the wind was ferocious and the caravan felt as if it could take off. I was up in the middle of the night to tie down my boat. Another weather bound day was in store, but at least it was in comfort. The extra day of rest was is some ways a bonus too. Having come through some reasonably tough conditions, I was now much more confident and optimistic about the next stages. Enthusiasm was high and I was looking forward to getting back on the water. The weather wasn't about to let up, though.

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