Bass Rock

May is definitely the time to be visiting some of the more inspiring sea bird nesting sites – but a wide brimmed hat is essential! A request for Bass Rock had been honoured on the Swaledale Outdoor Club programme, and seemed to fit well with a potential leader being in Edinburgh that weekend. The best laid plans … but a substitute leader soon appeared and May 14th saw a small group assembling at North Berwick.

The golden sands of North Berwick, looking out to Bass Rock. Photo: Andy Waddington.
The golden sands of North Berwick, looking out to Bass Rock

Fidra, teeming with gullsA straight paddle to Bass Rock and back is a bit short, so we headed the opposite way along the shore, playing in the waves and dodging small islands, to reach Fidra, with shags and gulls nesting. We had a snack here as we thought we would not be able to land anywhere else later, but an attempt to walk up to the lighthouse with its webcam was thwarted as the gulls clearly thought it unacceptable.

Heading back east on the outside of a few larger islands gave some opportunity to play in the swell reflecting off the cliffs, and to note that each island seemed to have its own particular set of breeding birds, guillemots and razorbills being the most willing to share, but gulls, puffins and gannets keeping to their own patches. A large container ship coming down the estuary rather snuck up on us, and we were a bit disconcerted to find that it cut inside Bass Rock at quite a clip, giving us an interesting sea as its wake was at right angles to the swell. We hadn’t really expected to be crossing a shipping lane ! Fortunately, other ships seemed content to keep outside the island.

The final leg to Bass Rock was a long approach, with the white “snow” cap finally resolving itself into a huge number of gannets and their output. Gannets wheeled about gaining height in the updraught by the cliffs, and clearly a number came over to get a look at us (maybe boats tend to disturb fish ?) before heading off. At the foot of the cliffs, not only were gannets nesting on ledges almost within reach, but a sea cave seemed to contain a lot of hauled out seals, one of whom gave us a very careful investigation before we headed round to the south side with its lighthouse.

Crossing the shipping lane to Bass Rock from Fidra. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Crossing the shipping lane to Bass Rock from Fidra

Back across the channel to the mainland, we cut quickly across (still worrying about juggernauts), and then along the shore back to our start point. The island looks very fine from this side, and future trips might be better done in the opposite direction to avoid cricking your neck to look back at Bass Rock !

Around Gigha and Cara

Gigha is one of those places that don’t look that far north, but unless you take ferries across to Kintyre, it really is a long drive by the time you’ve been round the top of Loch Fyne and a lot of the way down Kintyre. So most folk arrived late Friday night, after the campsite owners had gone away. It was a bit of a challenge to find the combination for the locked door of the toilets…

Despite some recent high winds, the morning dawned with a glassy calm sea, and a group which set off ahead of us had vanished in ten minutes. We too were away and out of site of the campsite within a short time, making good time across the Sound

Pete paddling across the Sound of Gigha. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Pete paddling across the mirror-calm Sound of Gigha

Three days allowed us a pretty leisurely pace round the island, so we headed up the east coast to the northern tip where views opened up across the Sound of Jura to the Paps. There’s some fast tides in this stretch of water further north, but here there was nothing to trouble us at all.

Paddling past the northern tip of Gigha. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Paddling past the northern tip of Gigha

In fact, a bit of swell would have been handy about now, as we indulged in a bit of rock hopping. Without the lift of a wave, there’s not so much fun to be had in timing your strokes to get over the shallows. In float calm, it either goes or it doesn’t – no skill involved beyond picking a spot and steering the boat.

Clive rockhopping north of Gigha. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Clive rockhopping north of Gigha

We didn’t head too far down the west coast before finding a nice little tombolo beach where we landed and made camp. We seemed to have to walk a fair way to collect firewood, but then, suddenly, we seemed to have an awful lot. I hope the other paddlers who camped a short distance away managed to find some too.

Camping on Gigha looking back to the mainland. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Camping on Gigha looking back to the mainland

Further south, the west coast becomes a bit more rugged, and the weather was dull with more breeze and a few nasty showers, but some sunny intervals too. We found a bit of shelter for lunch and then paddled across a bay, watching a big wind turbine above the cliffs, apparently generating enough for the whole island. We kept a reasonably close group as we made the crossing in rougher water to Cara. It wouldn’t be far back from here, so we decided to camp at the northern end, but some of us faciend a bit more paddling, so circumnavigated the smaller island. At one stgae I was intent on rockhopping and took a channel between a small island and Cara itself, while the others went round the outside. The sun came out and I was surprised to see not one but two otters heading straight for my bow. They had a quick glance, then casually dived right under my boat and carried on behind me.

Camping on the north of Cara. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Camping on the north of Cara

The final day started with a crossing back to the southern end of Gigha, and made our way back up the east coast to Ardminish. We’d fancied lunch at the Boathouse resaurant, but it was shut, so we walked inland and found a nice teashop instead.

Final landing on Gigha. Photo: Andy Waddington.
Final landing on Gigha

The crossing back to the mainland of Kintyre was uneventful and we were soon packed up and heading back by various routes. Mary and I drove the long way, but some of the others crossed by two ferries to end up south of the Clyde, saving a lot of driving.