Anna’s trip to the Kyles of Bute was going ahead despite a forecast for a rather windy Saturday, when the proposed route would be passing round the southern tip of the island – the most exposed part. Her chosen put-in was Kilchattan Bay, then clockwise to take out at Kames Bay. This would avoid the most populated bit of the island, past Rothesay, and would work well with the tides.
I decided, partly because I didn’t really want the faff of the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay ferry, partly because I had no reason not to set off early on Friday, and partly because I saw a complete circumnavigation as somehow more satisfying, that I would do an extra day on the water, and save the the hassle of setting up a shuttle. Accordingly, I left 8 a.m. and drove via the little Colintraive ferry (only a five minute wait for a five minute crossing). A quick reccy to Kilchattan confirmed that a campsite within sight of their put-in was possible if my chosen location proved less suitable. Then back to Kames Bay and pack up, to be on the water at 15:40, just before high tide. It seemed as if I’d perhaps not got the trim right, as the boat was pulling to the right, away from the wind, but not enough to cause any real grief as I crossed the first bay. Rothesay Bay was only slightly more directly into the wind, but with bigger waves the problem went away. The issue here was that I could see that the ferry was in port and as it would take me twenty minutes to cross the Bay, I was pretty sure he would set off before I was across. As his route is close to the south side of the Bay, I was watching all the time and indeed he set off just at the time so that if I carried on at the same speed, I would be uncomfortably close. A sailing boat was also passing in front of me, so I aimed behind him, and hung around a bit… As the yachty passed and we exchanged cheery waves, I commented that all the traffic was a lot bigger than me, which got a smile. As I was setting off again, I noticed that the other ferry was now fast approaching on its way in. As he would be passing the outgoing ferry port-to-port I was now directly in his path, so put paddle to water with some alacrity.
Closer to shore and out of the traffic, I could relax a little, but not let up on the paddling, as I now turned even more directly into the wind. 8 km of this took me to Bruchag point, by which time I had been looking for a spot to camp for while – but everywhere was overlooked by various parts of the Mount Stuart estate or other farmhouses. However, I was keen not to use the spot I’d seen earlier from Kilchattan, as that would be exposed to the wind. Fortunately, as I approached the headland, small inland cliffs put the shore out of sight from the farm above, and a slightly rocky but manageable landing put me onto an area with really nice, short-cropped grass with a perfect flat spot for my tent. Perhaps not the world’s most scenic place, with a view of Hunterston nuclear power station across the Clyde, but certainly the best I could hope for on this side of the island. Plenty of dry-enough firewood ensured a pleasant evening after 2 hours 40 minutes of paddling. On most Bute trips, we cross the Clyde from Largs, so shipping is something to beware of. Here, I could watch the traffic with no worries, and soon the MSC Meraviglia hove into view. This turns out to be the biggest cruise ship ever to visit the Clyde (or any Scottish port), and the fifth biggest in the world, with room for 5328 inmates in search of exciting culture and beautiful scenery – at Greenock, “the cruise capital of Scotland” (I kid you not, see this news article). I’d somewhat over-catered for a four day trip, and thought my boat was a bit heavy, but dragging a 171,598-tonne ship up the beach would not be an option … besides, a 5.5m Nordkapp actually fits, where a 316 m long behemoth wouldn’t. I know which vessel I prefer (but then I hate not being the one driving).
Freedom Boat – Prison Ship, on the Clyde
On Saturday I was not quite as efficient as I’d hoped, but was on the water at five to nine – about the time I expected the others to arrive at Kilchattan. I shortly rounded the headland and as I got closer to the little jetty, I could see a car with sea kayaks – just before they spotted me, it turned out, as they started to unload the boats almost immediately. I’d intended to arrive after they’d had a bit of time to get packed up, so their waiting until they’d seen the whites of my eyes meant we were not off again for a while, by which time the water in the bay was completely flat, with the flags at the jetty barely lifting from their poles. Needless to say, this idyllic state did not last more than half a klick as we headed south. As the coast curved right, we got more and more headwind and correspondingly bigger waves as we fought our way to Rubh’an Eun. Headseas are hard work, but you can see them coming and stability is not an issue. We rounded the corner into beam seas, quickly concluded that it would be foolish to take a break in Glencallum Bay and got closer than was perhaps comfortable to Roinn Clùmhach. There are various other little coves with the name of “Port something” along here, suggesting that landings are possible, but none were really visible over the breaking waves inshore and we would have undoubtedly regretted heading in for a look, so we battled on another couple of kilometres to Garroch Head. Another corner to turn, and another change of conditions, as we now had a biggish quartering sea. This was new territory for me in the Nordkapp, which had so far felt very manageable in the conditions. Keeping a heading NW and not getting surfed towards the rocky shore proved no less hard work than struggling into or across the wind with the additional factor of the boat feeling a lot less stable. A couple of wobbly moments showed that the boat does have a reserve of secondary stability which keeps it up even when knocked so far over as the put hatch covers in the water – experience which will no doubt integrate itself into my reflexes and give me more confidence next time. This continued for another 2½ kilometres until we could round the corner into Dunagoil Bay where conditions were again flat calm. A lunch stop was called for ! This beach proved to be inhabited by cows (and a bull) which clearly have little to take their interest most of the time, so the appearance of four colourful people with boats provided them with the best entertainment they’d had in ages, and they made the most of it.
That looks more interesting than grass – can we have a lick ?
Back out after lunch, conditions were more benign and we made quick progress up to Ardscalpsie Point. Rounding this, the sea was again a bit lumpy, but flattened off again once past. Very shortly, we cut across to Inchmarnock, where there were some other campers in the little bay at the south end. We couldn’t see any kayaks, so we didn’t deviate to go talk to them, heading up the east coast to our usual camping place just on the northern tip of the island. Here the sun came out and despite not being a weather-facing beach, we easily found enough wood for a good fire, so had a longish evening. There are cows here, too, but they didn’t seem anywhere near as interested or as brave.
Looking back across to Bute from Inchmarnock
Sunday dawned rather murky – most of the time we could see across to Bute, but even this view came and went. However, it’s a hard target to miss and we headed diagonally NE to hit the coast about 2½km north of St. Ninian’s Point. By now the visibility had picked up and a similar distance took us to the north end of Ettrick Bay where we landed on a wide and rather flat beach. Knowing the tide was on its way up, we carried and/or dragged the boats a long way up, to be sure they wouldn’t float away whilst we visited the café for hot chocolate as our elevenses. After an hour, we dragged them nearly as far back to get to the water… 6½ km on and we stopped at the same beach as on my first sea kayak trip to Bute fifteen years ago, by the North Wood of Lenihuline. From here the flood tide helped us on our way through the narrowest part of the West Kyle, round Buttock Point and so to the designated campsite for the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail. At first sight, this seemed good, though there is a not a huge amount of flat places for tents. There is a shelter with a fire pit, and a composting toilet which must, of course, help keep the beaches clean. The shelter had a little lean-to intended for Bute Forest to “seek to maintain a supply of firewood”. There was none here, though some previous visitors had dragged some logs from the woods into the shelter itself. Mostly, this had not had time to dry out enough, so our fire was not very successful (and we added more equally damp logs we’d sought out ourselves). The deep fire pit needs quite a big fire (which we couldn’t achieve) to actually put any heat into the shelter, and is a bit too far away. As the damp wood made it smoky, it did help to quell the unexpectedly early appearance of midges (sited by a stream in woodland, this must be really midgey through the summer), though even they found the air clear enough to remain a hazard at the back of the shelter. The composting toilet had bolts both inside and outside the door, but the lack of any handle on the inside made it all but impossible to get the door closed tightly enough to use the bolt. Two holes drilled and a bit of rope from any beach would be enough to fix this problem. Although there were bags labelled as additives to make the toilet do its composting, these were empty. All-in-all, it seems like a campsite designed with the best of intentions by someone who has not themselves actually gone and tested it. It looks as though the commitment to maintain it has lapsed – the first bank holiday weekend at the start of the summer season would seem like the time to check everything was in order. Very little work would be needed to make some significant improvements. A few more nails knocked into the shelter to hang up kit, for example.
One of the rare moments when flames showed over the firepit walls
After setting up camp and having a rest and a snack, we set off to tour round the local islands in empty boats. Despite being around slack tide, there were some quite strong little tide streams flowing among the Burnt Islands, providing eddy lines and ferry glides to keep us amused. A trip across to Eilean Dubh showed that the tide hadn’t really started moving in the Kyles away from Burnt Islands.
Anna in a little tidal rapid between Eilean Buidhe and a skerry
Monday dawned bright and calm, though cool enough that the midges hadn’t woken up until we were nearly ready to put on. We had a short day today, for a chance to beat the bank holiday traffic and get home in good time. We were still aiming to be on the water for nine, for the tide, which proved to be negligible close to shore south of the islands. The ferry remained idling on the mainland side until we were safely past and the wind stayed light as we cruised down the East Kyle. A brief stop at Ardmaleish point for a snack didn’t see us getting out of the boats. Shortly after, we rounded Undraynian Point and hove within sight of my car. I shuttled Clive to get his car from Kilchattan and soon we were packed up and on our way. A good trip with a mix of relaxing and challenging conditions – thanks everyone !
- Key to tracks: (total distance 70.7 km)
- Red Friday, solo, 13.0 km
- Orange Saturday, solo, 3.3 km
- Green Saturday, group, 19.3 km
- Blue Sunday, group, 18.5 km
- Magenta Sunday, group – empty boats, 6.1 km
- Black Monday, everyone, 10.5 km
and finally, here’s a synoptic chart for midday (GMT) on Saturday giving an idea of why we were battling with SSW force three: