A new arrival for the family, 18th January, you too will be loved.
A new arrival for the family, 18th January, you too will be loved.
You will be very much missed.
This is way off a final blog post (there will be at least two – one for walking and one for sea kayaking), but I felt it important to hang a few photos out as early as possible…
Da Kist, Muckle Roe, just one of many spectacular stacks and arches in Shetland
We travelled to Shetland overnight June 18th/19th, and the crossing, in a force six gusting eight, did not bode well for the early part of the trip – especially the last forty miles in the dark between Fair Isle and Sumburgh. A hearty breakfast didn’t entirely restore us after the lack of sleep, and all we achieved was a short walk round Ness of Sound and a wander through the museum and archives in Lerwick.
Wednesday proved much better (as were we after a good night’s sleep), but there was still much swell on the west, so we took ferry to Bressay and paddled round Noss in a somewhat lively sea beneath clouds of circling Gannets. Photos in preparation…
The weather turned back for the worse on Thursday, so we walked round Ness of Hillswick in a very gusty wind, peering down at the crashing surf among the skerries and stacks. Friday saw no real upturn, so we walked first round St. Ninian’s Isle. Some then visited the Textile Museum in Lerwick while I wandered about bagging squares for geograph. On Saturday, we reccied Unst with a view to a future trip round Muckle Flugga (looking pretty unlikely this week) and visited the UK’s most northerly distillery (Gin – whisky takes longer to set up). By Sunday, we were able to get out in sheltered water, and paddled clockwise round East Burra. The southern tip was quite lively, but the east coast once again in shelter. Here we added a bit of drama by finding a lamb stranded at the foot of the cliffs and proceeded, via an exciting landing on the rocks, in getting the lamb driven along a ledge until Clive could snatch it into his cockpit and be towed backwards out the geo. He (with half the group) then paddled it a kilometre or so north until there was a safe landing whilst I struggled somewhat to get my boat back into the water with me in it… and eventually followed. We managed to tell two different sets of people about the venture, and both promised to make phone calls to try to get the lamb back to its mum.
Monday saw an early walk round Esha Ness, with a late put-on to paddle round Mousa with the intention of seeing Storm Petrels at dusk. The paddle went well, and I certainly heard the Storm Petrels, in considerable numbers, in their nests hidden under boulders, but it seems that 8 p.m. was still too early to see their mates returning with food.
Tuesday and we were venturing out a bit further, this time on the east side of Yell, where there are more caves and arches than you can shake a stack at. The Horse of Burravoe proved as spectacular as nine years ago, and once again, I found my way through a narrow rift right through a headland, leaving me to paddle back round to let the others know where I’d disappeared to.
Inside one of the big caves on the east of Yell
On Wednesday, we were running out of time, so took the plunge of going exposed on the west. Although we couldn’t get close in among the stacks and skerries of Hillswick, we did nonetheless get right round the outside of the Drongs – a spectacular set of stacks about a kilometre out in St. Magnus Bay.
Clive paddling past the pink granite stacks of “The Drongs”
We cut inside the last skerry, heading towards Gordi Stack – even more impressive from the sea than from on the Ness, though, again, we couldn’t get close in among the skerries.
Heading for Baa Taing past Gordi Stack
Once past Baa Taing and the lighthouse, we quickly entered sheltered water and were even able to land for lunch with not an inch of surf. Thereafter, there were numerous caves and geos to explore until we returned to Hillswick.
We had time for only one more paddling day, and, since some had done Muckle Roe before, this was missed in favour of a trip from Easter Skeld. We had originally planned a shuttled trip to Scalloway, but with plenty of rock scenery to explore, had abandoned plan A in favour of a round trip as far as Hildasay.
Mary heading through yet another cave
Yet more caves, stacks, geos and arches kept us busy all the way round the coast.
Mary heading for a cave at the Needles, south of Rea Wick
After a first lunch stop at Rea Wick, we headed across to the series of skerries which linked together into a chain leading to Hildasay, a rather larger island. The tide being low, many seals were in evidence on the skerries, and we were often surrounded by curious faces as we threaded our way between the rocks. Second lunch on Hildasay preceded a longer crossing back and a briefer tour of the granite cliffs as we made our way back to Easter Skeld.
No-one believed we would have time for a paddle once packed up for the journey home, as we needed to be at the ferry terminal in Lerwick for about four O’Clock. Various plans were mooted, but Mary, Ann and myself were not optimistic about these, so formed a breakaway faction and went for a walk on Muckle Roe to at least get a view from above of the stacks and arches we had not been able to paddle. This proved a success, with us seeing not only the middle of the island on the outward leg, but also most of the spectacular west coast on the return. The Devonian age granophyre forms particularly attractive red cliffs with many stacks, geos and more natural arches than we were able to see through – and there were plenty that we could. It’s not a bad place for spotting wildlife, either
A Red-throated Diver on the beach of one of Muckle Roe’s lochans – her mate was further away on the water.
Back in time for the ferry, arrived in Aberdeen on time, with quiet roads early on Saturday morning, and home in time for tea.
Knoydart has been on my list for years – isn’t it on everyone’s ? But every time I’ve planned to go there the forecast has been dire and the couple of times I’ve driven towards the area without having heard a forecast, the heavens have opened as soon as I got close.
This time we were committed by having booked Kilchoan Estate’s Druim Bothy for three nights, along with the Inverie ferry to get us in and out. It was rainy on the way up to Mallaig, quite dismal while we were having our Friday night meal, and it started to rain heavily as we were on the way back out on Tuesday, but the three days in between were as good as one could reasonably hope for.
Descending from Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean
It’s a five kilometre, fairly level walk in to Druim Bothy, so just a stroll, even with heavy packs (for the second weekend in a row, I’d taken far more food than I could actually eat). Once established and unpacked, three of us (myself, Mary and Linda) decided to bag a peak, whilst the other three (Chrissy, Ursula and Kath) opted for a valley walk. Starting at 2:30 in the afternoon, we were trying to push the pace a bit to avoid being back late, and perhaps the ascent was a bit too rapid, but we got ourselves up the pathless SE slopes of Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean and onto the 796m summit in 2¼ hours, well inside our turnround time. Taking things a little more easily, we trooped on down the splendid SW ridge, with Inverie seemingly directly below our feet (700m below and 2km away in the photo above). Like many Corbetts, this was a really fine viewpoint with Skye and the Small Isles ahead of us, Ben Nevis away in the distance to our left, and many more high peaks in almost every direction. We’d slightly misunderstood the Corbetts guide description and thought a deer fence was pushing us too far to the West, so we crossed this and dropped down some rather unpleasantly steep pathless terrain to the Allt Slochd a’Mhogha, but once by the stream, it was a short and easy hack along the bank to the main track, and saved us over a kilometre compared with finding the correct path, so it worked out for the best. From here the just over 3½ km route back to the bothy was the same as our earlier walk in, so was dismissed in a short time, getting us back soon after seven, and before the valley walkers returned from Mam Meadail. Our numbers were made up by the late arrival of Pete who had sea kayaked in to join us.
There is no shortage of Munros in greater Knoydart, but even with a base in the area, most are long walks. Ladhar Bheinn was being kept for an approach by sea, so that the round of Coire Dhorrcail can be done, whilst a group in the east were too far to do from here (and the bridge over the River Carnach was out) so I have a paddle-in plan involving Loch Quoich for those. That left us the two central ones, Meall Bhuidhe and Luinne Bheinn. Whilst one pair set out to do a more leisurely version of our walk of the day before, the “A-team” set off at a cracking pace to bag the pair. Mary and I followed at a more sedate pace, being quite sure we could bag the first, but not convinced we (well, I) wanted to do the longer version.
Looking back towards the bothy from the slopes of Meal Bhuidhe
The ascent was pathless, but not too rough or wet, and soon enough, we were on the 826m outlying western point, by which stage a decent, if at times faint, path had appeared – and we could see the A-team on the final summit ridge about half an hour ahead of us.
Dropping into the Bealach an Torc-choire on the way up Meall Bhuidhe
The 60m loss of height in the bealach was not appreciated by everyone, but the path improved and three hours total saw us on the summit. This, at 946m, is barely higher than the eastern top (942m) which we visited next, and which is craggy enough to look almost as if it was the “real” Munro.
The short ridge between the two tops of Meall Bhuidhe
Beyond the last top, we parted company from the longer route – a distinct path headed northeast towards the Bealach Ile Coire, and the others were long gone along this. A much fainter path could be seen heading southeast towards Sgurr Sgeithe, and we threaded our way down this way until the crag-encumbered slopes to our south became tenable. We avoided all scrambles and odd Haggis traps to reach a traverse back to the Mam Meadail with essentially no height loss, and then headed down the good path, 5 km or so back to the bothy where we arrived first.
Having taken the easier option on the second day, I was definitely up for the big Corbett to our south, Beinn Bhuidhe. Since Linda had found a guidebook description of a shorter route than the full west-east traverse, it turned out that everyone else was up for this walk, too (except Pete who was sea kayaking out today). We took a fairly direct though possibly not optimal route up towards the ridge. Not optimal in that we crossed a deer fence easily at the valley floor, but then had to cross back out in the coire where there wasn’t such an easy way over. There are no paths at all here, and it turned out that this area was so little visited that I was able to claim a geograph (first) point which was an unexpected bonus. As a big mixed group we took our time up Coire Gorm, and eventually reached the ridge via a small snow patch, about half a kilometre west of the main summit, which was then an easy ascent.
Approaching the top of Beinn Bhuidhe from the west.
Despite a little more cloud today, the ridge provided splendid views over its entire length – which was a little more up-and-down than some had hoped for, with a very well-built cairn on one rather random point not much higher than the ridge either side.
Looking east to Sgurr na Ciche from a little lochan along the ridge.
From the final point, Meall Bhasiter, steep ground dropped to a little lochan with a choice. Mary took the left whilst the rest of us decided it looked easier to traverse right, avoiding what looked like rather rough ground. Mary won this one, but we were soon all reunited at Mam Meadail, with the same descent to the bothy as yesterday. My legs had definitely taken the hint to get fitter, and made double the pace of the previous day despite a longer walk overall. In fact it got a teensy bit competitive at the end as Mary tried to out-sprint me the last 50m. The others took a somewhat more leisurely approach and arrived in two subgroups up to half an hour behind.
We walked out to Inverie Tuesday morning, and the inevitable rain came in as we were crossing back to Mallaig. Perfect timing for our weather window !
If you have been following the blog, you’ll no doubt notice that the boat shown on the Bute trip is the Nordkapp I bought in June last year. I haven’t posted about any of the trips this boat has done since the “New project” post, so I guess an update is in order.
Starting to cut the original footrest brackets
As expected, removing the existing footrests was an awkward job, working with a saw at arm’s reach inside a small cockpit, generating fibreglass dust. Taking out the forward bulkhead was even harder ! With both of those jobs done, the boat was no longer seaworthy, so adding a new front bulkhead was the next priority. Not being able to sit in the boat and measure to my feet via the front hatch simultaneously, I was a bit conservative about the placement of the new bulkhead, and it is an inch or two forward of the ideal. However, it still adds several inches more cargo space forward. With a two-inch thick piece of foam added, the boat is a nice tight fit for me, and could be sold on to someone a bit taller. I had decided not to add adjustable footrests as this would not increase the forward cargo space by as much, and I was wanting this boat to carry more kit than my others.
The new forward bulkhead seen beyond traces of the original bulkhead
I removed the seat and added a foam one, then put some little cleats at each side of the cockpit to add a backrest from an old whitewater boat and be able to tighten this up once in the boat. This is effective, but the amount of space to get your fingers in once sat in the tight cockpit wearing full drysuit etc. makes it very fiddly. Closed cell foam knee bumps, currently Gorilla taped in place to see if I have got the position right (the left one isn’t quite right yet), do ensure that the paddler is well-connected to the boat (which is easy to roll) and will eventually be made into something more robust and permanent. Current experience getting in and out of the boat has slightly put me off the idea of a knee tube, but this partly relates to the shoulder injury skiing last year, so if getting out of the boat gets easier the idea might resurface. The next job was to reduce cockpit volume by adding a bulkhead behind the backrest (and adding a day hatch to make that space usable for kit). There is a deck fitting in the middle of the deck which made the space available for hatch rather small, and as the deck is quite curved, I needed to fabricate a laminated wooden annulus, sanded to a curve on the underside, to provide a flat surface on which to mount the hatch. This proved a little time consuming, but did produce a visually satisfying result. Unfortunately, the hatch is not big enough for some of the stuff you’d naturally think to pack in a day hatch. It also seems to leak rather a lot, which seems to be that water is getting past the O-ring because I didn’t get the mounting surface flat enough. Some trips it hardly seems to leak, others it is quite annoying. That may relate to how much the boat get cooled down (reducing pressure inside the compartment) when putting on the water. More work needed here – the central deck fitting is really not doing anything useful, so I may decide to start again, build a recess, and go for a bigger VCP hatch like most modern boats have here.
The day hatch being epoxied in place – temporary bolts are far longer than ones finally fitted
The forward hatch seems to stay almost dry, but the aft hatch also leaks a little. It is far from clear if this is a hatch cover not fitting tightly enough or if there is some leakage in the hull. As the hatch covers were supposedly almost new, a bit of testing is going to be needed here. I’ve decided that there isn’t space to fit the footpump. I’ve not converted the existing compass fitting into something for a GoPro, as I have just managed to obtain an old Sestrel Junior compass (for which the recess was designed) and will be fitting that once I figure out a way to keep it removable so it doesn’t get scratched during transport of multiple boats on the car roof.
It became clear when the seat was removed that the boat had a history of seating mods. Along with some paint removal inside, I also got rid of a lot of glass and resin which was not contributing to the structure and eventually sanded well down into the final layer of the original fibreglass. Then, when the bulkhead went in (made from three pieces of 6mm ply with 4 oz glass on the back) it was covered with a single piece of 6 oz glass that extended right over the seat area, compensating for any structural weakness that had arisen over that history.
The new aft bulkhead and day-hatch cover fitted
However, the boat is in a fully usable condition (as one would be packing stuff in drybags anyway) and has had a few trips out. First up was going to be a three day trip from Lochaline to Loch Sunart, so this first test was with the boat loaded up with a lot of kit. Conditions were windy, but there is not a lot of fetch in the Sound of Mull, so waves were small and choppy. Unfortunately, one member of the party wasn’t able to make enough progress into the headwind to get us to our intended camping spot. The wind was forecast to change the next day (which would give us a following sea and then shelter once in the Loch), but we were very uncertain of being able to complete the trip in time to meet another participant’s on-call commitment the day after. So rather than continue under time pressure, we aborted and headed back to Lochaline. The wind did indeed change, as forecast, so this was once again straight into a headwind. The boat was great, but not really very tested as the distances were short and the pace quite slow. I was now confident that the boat was stable when fully loaded, but knew that its reputation for being wobbly and difficult came mainly from people paddling them empty.
2018 saw a sea come-and-try-it day at Runswick Bay, so I took her out with no ballast at all. There wasn’t much wind, but there were waves and a little surf to play in, all of which she handled fine. I then noticed that a group of paddlers had decided to head across to Kettle Ness, and promptly gave chase. This demonstrated that the boat can be paddled quite fast, as I caught up with the group well before they reached the destination. Conditions were never really lumpy though, so not a great deal was proved here. The next trip was to be from Amble to Boulmer, via Coquet Island if conditions suited. The boat wasn’t quite empty (I took lunch and a few bits and pieces of kit) and conditions were quite windy, so were not deemed suitable for the addition of Coquet Island. However, we did get a surf landing (and launch) at lunchtime. Playing among the rocks after lunch exposed us to some surprise waves and a bit of reactive paddling in addition to the wind, and the boat continued to prove easy to manage.
With the addition of the Bute trip, I’ve now had the boat on the sea for eight days, two empty, six loaded, one solo. Despite not having an adjustable skeg, the boat is consistently close to wind-neutral, though she seems hard to turn up into the wind when loaded. The big fixed skeg at the back makes her track solidly when you want to go in a straight line (I’ve found it very easy to keep on a transit) but a lot of effort to turn when playing among rocks. She turns to a lean well when going at speed, but less so when moving slowly. Compared to say, the P&H Cetus which I paddled with a very heavy load in Alaska, she needs a lot more edge to turn, and doesn’t turn noticeably more easily on the top of a wave. So at some stage I think I am going to start paring away at that fixed skeg. Whether I then feel the need to fit a drop skeg will be an interesting experiment.
One of the ideas behind buying an old Nordkapp in the first place was to take the lines and use those as a starting point for my own boat design, to strip-build, assuming I liked the Nordkapp itself, of course. Despite the 1970’s description of the Nordkapp as retaining the rocker of the Anas whilst adding volume, I don’t think that really stacks up – the sheer line is really rather straight and the keel not as rockered as the earlier boat. Adding rocker will add stability, but also fore and aft windage, which makes wind-neutrality more trim-critical. I guess that if I derive a boat based on the Nordkapp but putting back (some of) the Anas rocker, I will end with a design which does need a drop skeg, but should be a bit more manoeuvrable among the skerries and a bit more stable for photography whilst still being able to pack gear for a long trip. Whether that also proves capable of handling the really rough conditions under which the Nordkapp is known to excel will depend on my acquiring the skills to get the most out of the Nordkapp and then tweaking the design successfully. Many hours of fun ahead !
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 !
and finally, here’s a synoptic chart for midday (GMT) on Saturday giving an idea of why we were battling with SSW force three:
For some time I’ve been wanting a more expedition-orientated sea kayak capable of carrying gear for longer trips than the Mistral (no more than a week) and the Cormorant (five days is definitely the limit). I paddled a Cetus for the ten days in Alaska, and whilst conditions were never challenging, I definitely felt the boat was very pedestrian. The received wisdom is that if you don’t try a Nordkapp, you will always have nagging doubts about whether you missed out on the best possible expedition boat. Nordkapps have a reputation for being unstable and unforgiving, but this arises largely from people paddling them empty when they were designed to carry a big load – up to 90kg – and were never intended for casual day trips. The boat has also suffered from “genetic drift” over the years since the 1975 original, such that even Valley describe the early twenty first century versions as a “caricature” of the original design. For this reason, in 2015, they introduced the Nordkapp Førti, with the benefit of an original boat repurchased and measured. This is widely acknowledged to be a far better boat than the models which preceded it. Of course, two and half grand is a lot to pay out for a new boat to see if you like it, and even enough trips in a demo boat in increasingly challenging conditions is going to set one back by more than the cost of an early model boat on ebay.
Hence, I’ve been watching ebay for a while, and when a 1970’s Nordkapp HM came up fairly locally, I was definitely in there bidding. Remarkably, no-one else seemed to be keen, and the boat was mine for a song, and seems to be in remarkably good condition. As with many of these old boats, the pump behind the cockpit has either failed or been deemed useless and removed, replaced with a rather ugly metal plate. The bulkheads are in positions which leave a huge volume of cockpit to fill with water in a rescue, and the old failsafe footrest is still in place. The boat (which appears to have been originally orange like a lot of these older kayaks) has been thickly painted white above the sheer, and red below. I’m in two minds as to whether to go to the trouble of removing this paint (which would save a bit of weight) and restoring the gelcoat. Much of the other work is already decided and some of the bits and pieces already ordered.
Late 1970s Nordkapp HM bought 2017-06-22
I planned going up to Scotland at Easter to meet up with Sarah (working for a few weeks in Fort William) with a view to an overnight sea trip. I’d injured my shoulder skiing in February, and hadn’t paddled since New Year, so wasn’t sure how fit I’d be. We weren’t wanting to paddle the whole bank holiday weekend, which was just as well since the forecast was not very promising. By Thursday the weathermen seemed to think that Easter Sunday would be the worst day, so we were aiming to get off at a reasonable time on Good Friday, paddle as far as we saw fit down Lismore, and if that was far enough, round the southern tip and back on Saturday. To this end we got ourselves to the big layby opposite Shuna and fafffed about packing. Sarah hadn’t packed for an overnight trip before, so we weren’t expecting this to be quick and were not too disappointed to be on the water by eleven (or so…), though this did mean we were a bit later in the tide than ideal.
The Eilean Musdile Lismore lighthouse hoves into view as the headwind increases
At this stage we were expecting it to be windier today (supposedly from the northwest), getting better and being calmer tomorrow, so we headed on down the more sheltered eastern side of the island. We didn’t make bad progress for someone who has not paddled much on the sea and who had found her previous longest trip of 14 km (out to the Farnes) pretty tiring. We had a decent stop for lunch and continued on south into an increasing but not overwhelming headwind. We got far enough that we both ended with our determined heads on and could see that we should be able to make the end of the island. Conditions worsened, the rain set in and the headwind got stronger, but we were still making progress. As we got to the corner where we would turn right, we expected that the wind (which seemed to be much more from the south than forecast) would stop being directly in our faces, but we were wrong – there was now a really stiff breeze blowing right through the gap between Lismore and Eilean Musdile. The lighting over the Sound and Island of Mull was fantastic as we fought into the sunset pelted by rain and with a rainbow behind us, but that last half mile was a real battle and it started to feel as if the bay with the good camping spot would never materialise. Finally it opened up on our right and we could run the last 100m into the beach.
Coming in to the beach at the southern end of Lismore
We had cut it finer than ideal, but still had enough daylight to get the tent up and gear sorted (most especially head torches) before cooking a seriously blow-out meal which we both felt we merited. I found that my aft hatch had leaked and my toughest drybag, which I’d specifically chosen for my pit, was perhaps not as intact as I’d believed. Fortunately, I’d chosen to bring my five-season hollofill bag, which is still effective when damp, so a reasonable night was passed. However, we weren’t exactly crisp on Saturday morning, and by the time we’d breakfasted and packed up, the race had built up. It was also still blowing plenty. We both fought our way successfully against wind and tide through the gap, but one good look at the more exposed western side of the island convinced us that we were not going to have an enjoyable day if we did a full circumnavigation, so we backed off and dropped through the race back to the sheltered side. You’d kind of hope that with the wind still blowing the same way, it would now be helpfully behind us, but in fact it must have backed a little further and we were pretty much in shelter. The tide was not with us (thought it is pretty weak hereabouts anyway) until after lunch, when it started to pick up and push us along. We had a rather chilly lunch huddled in the group shelter cooking the pancakes we’d decided to skip at breakfast time, which certainly cheered us up. Back on the water, the tide really picked up as we passed the northern tip of the island and headed across the short sound towards the scattered islands to the north. We were now almost home, with just the short crossing to Shuna ahead. This was exposed to the west and quite windy, and the flood tide here runs on a diagonal, so was partly helping us, and partly kicking up in the wind. As the depth varied and the flow changed, it was quite interesting keeping our transit to arrive just east of the southern tip of Shuna. Now we could relax in almost flat water with just a tiny bit of tide on our side. With the Van in sight ahead, the day was rounded off by an Otter, who must have been fishing at some depth, since when he surfaced the second time he shot almost clear of the water !
Otter popping out of the water in Shuna Sound
With more tidal assistance and no headwind, we finished quite a bit earlier today, despite not getting a good start, so had time to find a nice restaurant with somewhere to sit (quite a feat on an Easter Saturday), just south of Balachulish. We’d clocked just about 21 km each day, so definitely a step up for Sarah, who despite the battle into the wind on Friday was still keen to do more trips. Typically, on Sunday, when we went for a photographic wander on foot round Arisaig, the predicted worst day turned out sunny and calm, with lots of sea kayakers out on the water. The wind and rain didn’t arrive until about five minutes into our bar meal sat outside the pub… Luckily, by this time, there were seats available inside so we hastily moved indoors to eat.
Looking across to Eigg and Rum on a much nicer paddling day
As the weather was once again fine on Monday, we found time for a jaunt up to the CIC Hut and back in the shadow of Ben Nevis.
Whilst in Aberdeenshire for a wedding, we’d have been daft not to bring boots. The weather gods looked very kindly on us all weekend, and as we were staying at the very foot of Bennachie, I walked it both on the day of the wedding (early with just the dog) and with Mary and Fern on the day after.
Fern wondering how we got up here so quickly on the first walk
With a wedding deadline to meet (and a shower – always needs a lot of caffeine to face) the first day was short, but done at a cracking pace, just up to Mither Tap and an almost continuous jog back down (Morocco must have done something for my fitness…). On the Sunday, we’d expected a few of the other relatives and friends to be up for a walk, but they all found other things that required their attention, so just the three of us decided to do a longer version, visiting various tops. First, back up to Mither Tap by the same route (and again, at a cracking pace).
Mary contemplates the view from Mither Tap
From here, we dropped steeply down to the west side by a little granite crag, and over some scree until a good path materialised once again. Bennachie is a miniature granite massif like a scaled-down version of the Cairngorms, but with excellent paths across the moor. Since we had sunshine, a slight breeze and shirt-sleeve temperatures, we made rapid progress to the west, soon gaining the final rocks of Oxen Craig, another fine tor.
Oxen Craig is the highest point, at 529m
Dropping southwest of Oxen Craig, the path was clearly a lot less well-trodden and in places had the odd boggy bit (being dryshod on the hill in Scotland in late October was a real novelty). After dropping 80m, its only a 40m or so reascent to Watch Craig, and a rather finer, rockier summit ridge than you’d guess from looking at the map.
Our westernmost summit, Watch Craig
We were still under 5km from the hotel, but had run out of mountain. A short retrace and then a path dropping southeast proved quite a bit rougher, but soon joined a main trail, Gordon Way, which contours around the south of the hills, and appears to be much favoured by mountain bikers. Below was much forestry and perhaps the views were not so fine this side. Gordon Way soon drops away, whilst we climbed partway back up Oxen Craig to join our path of ascent, which we followed for only a short way before turning off to visit another tor, Craigshannoch. This seems less visited, too, but had excellent paths in three directions. We set off heading back towards Mither Tap but soon branched yet again, to contour round and drop back onto Maiden Causeway and the route home.
The path back east from Craigshannoch
All in all a fine couple of part-days of hillwalking away from the temptations of reception lunches, and excellent weather for the time of year – now stalking is over, I’d normally be in Scotland for ski touring !
The weather continued improbably good, and with Ann off to get to a concert on time, we had all the maps and books out looking for a grand finale. It soon became clear that we couldn’t work the tides to paddle south past Neist Point to visit MacLeod’s Maidens and Idrigill Point (quite a long day, and not enough daylight), but that a trip from Staffin Bay round Rubha Hunish would have almost perfect timing if we got an early start. As Pete had particularly recommended this bit of coast, this was definitely a result, since not in our wildest dreams had we expected conditions to be good enough to head west in the tide race off the northernmost tip of the Island in September. We drove up past Portree and below the spectacular Storr and Quiraing to find the tiny road down to the slipway at Staffin. The shuttle to Duntulm went pretty quickly, and we were on the water by 9:30, heading out past Rubha Ban on Staffin Island in a northeasterly swell. A crowd of smaller seabirds mobbing something huge indicated yet another sea eagle (our fourth or fifth). A kilometre and a half of open sea led towards big breaking waves on reefs, which protected our passage through the gap between Eilean Flodigarry and Sgeir na h-Eireann. Although we were expecting some tidal assistance going north, I had the distinct impression of a bit of flow against us, just in this channel.
We now picked a spot at the start of the cliffs on the main island, and crossed a kilometre or so, to find the first of many caves and geos. Our early start (three quarters of an hour earlier than recommended by the guidebook) meant we had plenty of time to explore, and to watch no less than three more sea eagles hanging on the updraft or clinging to ledges on the cliffs above us. The swell gave us scope to rockhop through gaps, whilst not being so big as to keep us out of the caves.
Mary catching a wave through a gap among the basalt pillars
There were big caves, little caves and huge caves …
Caves with one entrance, caves with two entrances, and caves with many entrances framing views of stacks and rocks galore. One in particular only became visible as we paddled into another big yawning geo to its south, but had quite a long through trip with the swell gently lifting us up and down by a metre or so.
We had a particular tidal “window” to hit, so we stopped for lunch at Kilmaluag Bay to be ready for the tide to turn at Rubha na h-Aiseig. As a lunch spot, this could hardly be bettered, offering not only a bit of shelter from the westerly breeze, but also magnificent views both of the coast we’d just paddled and, over Balmaqueen, to the inland cliffs and stacks of the Quiraing.
We now set off round first Rubha Bhenachain and then Rubha na h-Aiseig, where several folk were fishing in the tide as it started to set west, pinched between Skye and Eilean Trodday, a mile to the north in the Minch. Crossing another small bay, we immediately reached more cliffs, and cave openings beckoned on all sides. One went off through a very narrow section to daylight beyond, back towards the way we’d come, but we opted to skip this one in favour of a darker cave ahead. Another one with daylight ahead led me in, chasing a seal. This had a big roof opening, and a breach back to the sea on my left. In the further and darker reaches, a small window back to daylight was too small for a boat, and ahead, as I struggled to retrieve a head torch, I could hear waves crashing in the dark. A bit of light on the subject showed it to end in a few metres, with some rough water, so I backed out to let the others have a look. Now we could see the swell breaking on and between the rocks of Bodha Hunish, but there wasn’t much tide movement in the bay between headlands. This soon changed as we started to give a wider berth to the crashing surf, and a lobster-pot buoy was trailing a wake as the race picked up. It was probably only up to two knots, and with wind more from the south than the west, didn’t kick up too rough. As we rounded the headland, our cornering was slicker than the tides, and the race headed away from the cliffs leaving us calmer water inshore as we turned south across the bay. With a headwind, and perhaps a bit of an eddy, we slowed quite a bit and Sgeir nan Garbh seemed to take a long time to pass astern as we headed for the sheltered side of Tulm Island. A fight again as we got to the south end and made our way past Ru Meanish below Duntulm Castle, then head down for quite a struggle to reach the landing in the bay.
We were still quite early so didn’t feel too pressured for the carry up the steep slippery cobble beach, and I walked up to the car, left a few hundred metres away where there was more parking space. Soon loaded and packed, and we headed back to Staffin to get Kim’s car and transfer his boat and kit. Kim was off back tonight, whilst we would head off early Sunday morning, passing many whitewater boaters on their way to the Garry at Wet West. Home by late afternoon, and what a fantastic few days paddling !