A lengthy account from Neil “Dickens” B
For those of you who read last year’s Skye Trip Report, you may remember that I rather raved about it . . . at length.
Well, get ready for more of the same.
FRIDAY 22nd June: We were 12 paddlers in total, 8 of whom were there for 8 days (Stuart Clark, Steve Bell, Derek Dougal, Billy Buchanan*, Kenny* & John* Leinster [*christened The Smurfs by Celia], Angus Crozier and me, Neil Bennett), and 4 of whom had to miss a day or two (Celia Gray, Brian Fox, Paul Gregory and Tim Dempster).
I got up to the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut (actually a large granite house) in North Ballachulish a bit early to get the fridges fired up for an influx of grub from all those hungry paddlers. I then headed off to meet up with the guys at Cuil Bay, about 5 miles south of Ballachulish on the Oban Road.
We enjoyed a very sunny ‘sort-out-the-wrinkles’ paddle around the very picturesque Eilean Balnagowan encountering some seals with tiny dark pups and seagulls with grey fluffy chicks and someone spotted an otter.
At the AMMH our paddle (as they would all week) fully justified humungous volumes of dinner and a drop or five of wine or beer, while putting the world to right and damning North Lanarkshire Council for their part in getting us barred from the park (and access to our storage unit) for 42 days in the name of just 7 (yes SEVEN) days of competition at the European Championships.
Tim and Brian arrived to swell our ranks to 10.
SATURDAY 23rd: 10 of us headed to the long lay-bye north of Port Appin and round the north end of Shuna on a mixed day – overcast then sun, but dry all day. We played for a good while in eddies we encountered between the numerous skerries just off Appin.
Great chance to practice crossing the eddy and ferry gliding and very interesting to just sit in your boat and experience the many weird things that moving water can do to a kayak.
We also spent about an hour on towing with lines and contact tows in various formations. One of things we all think we have down, until we do them and find we are always learning.
Lunch was on one of the small islands just north of Lismore where Prof. Tim held a rapt audience, while we ate, explaining how the island we were on, at around 800,000 years old, made Skye just a baby.
We paddle round the beautifully sited Castle Stalker the across the Sound of Shuna to see Castle Shuna. After an uphill scramble through a field of brilliantly coloured wild lilies it turned out to be one overgrown, ramshackle wall. Still, it gave us an even better view of Castle Stalker.
10.30 to 16.30
SUNDAY 24th: Steve had spotted a great put-in just across the road from the hut and had OK’d it with the guy whose property bordered it. A two minute carry and we were all on a lovely rocky shore on Loch Leven, on the seaward side of the bridge.
The day was sunny and warm all day, but most had drysuits on as we were looking to do the tiderace under the bridge and some strong eddy-crossing.
Alas, the tiderace was not as strong as anticipated and the eddy was weak too. Undaunted we paddled on down Loch Leven to the lovely Isle of the Dead, burial ground for the MacDonald Clan.
Last time I saw it, it was covered in snow. It was equally beautiful bathed in sunshine. When we landed for a wee snoop about, we found 4 kayakers already in the bay.
We now faced around 40 minutes of hard paddling against the tide which was now running much stronger, to get back to the jetty by the bridge where we would pick up paddler #11, Celia.
Clearly not wasting her time, we found Celia chatting up a young kayaker who, although he came from Carluke, had not heard of EEKCC. Tim hit him with his sales chat.
After lunch, and with much more moving water that the previous day, we spent quite a while ferry gliding back and forward under the bride before heading off into the bay in front of the AMMH as we had spotted some white horses to play in.
Once back at ‘our’ beach, Steve, Stuart and Derek had a self-rescue session. Not content with the calorie-burn for the day, Kenny, John and Billy went for a run before dinner.
Content with our calorie-burn and equally with our calorie intake at dinner, Brian and I went for our nightly ‘Cigar Walk’ – we are tough guys and braved the midges, knowing that the cigars largely keep them at bay – but the minute you’re done, it’s a mad race for the door.
Today’s paddle ran from 10.20 to 15.30 after which Tim had to head back to work.
MONDAY 25th: House moving day. After breakfast and cleaning the hut top to bottom, we headed off to Fort William to replenish our food stocks, having agreed to meet up again at the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut where we would also meet up with Paul (who was off doing a few Munroes or mountains the day before).
Everyone who hadn’t been there before was impressed by the fine kitchen facilities at GBMH.
The whole group was looking forward to a hot and sunny paddle down GB to the Viking Boatyard on Rubha am Dunain. Thanks to a kindly tide level, we were able to paddle into the first of the Viking Drydocks at the beginning of the channel up to the lochan – and here’s where plastic boats come into their own, Paul managed to navigate up to the ruins of the first sluice gate.
After lunch we investigated the huge stone wall they had built on the headland and Stuart nearly gave me a heart attack by catching his Lomo boot on a rock and pitching to the right . . . where there was a 100ft plus drop to the rocks.
In case anyone is interested, his self-professed cat-like qualities kicked in and he survived. I reckon after that that either Stuart or I have just 8 lives left.
After our flit, we got on the water at 15.30 and returned at 20.30.
TUESDAY 26th: 11 of us set off from GB on a sunny morning to drive up to Camas Ban, by Harlosh and were on-water at 10.30.
Last year Steve and I had landed, with some difficulty in a small cove with huge boulders, so Steve advised everyone that by the time we made it to the end of the bay and Macleod’s Maidens, that bay would not be an option for lunch and suggested everyone had say an energy bar or similar to keep them going while we crossed back to Wiay to a beach we knew there.
The far side of Loch Bracadale offers stunning cliffs and some large caves, including one thro-and-thro. The tide was out so some were not accessible yet, but some made it through the ‘doubler’.
The really big caves are right at the end of the north arm of Loch Bracadale and they were navigable, but unfortunately the two paddle-through stone arches didn’t have enough water at that point, to get through. However, a few more yards and the Maidens, 3 large sea stacks, began to make up for that,
Then Celia was the first to spot a large pod of porpoises which then surfaced at regular intervals right across the bay from right to left. Steve in particular got some great pictures of them.
Wiay was an easy enough landing but I think it witnessed the shortest ever lunch stop by EEKCC, we must have been off the island in 10 minutes or so, scoffing our food like folk in “I’m a Celebrity. . . “ only our get-me-out-of-here was because Wiay was Midge Central. The little buggers were merciless.
Back safely afloat and only now being bitten by a few hardy stragglers still on our faces or clothing, we circled Wiay counter-clockwise and boy did the stuff we found make up for the midges?
The weather had become overcast and a bit muggy but, apart from a few raindrops for 10 minutes or so, it stayed dry all day.
Some spectacular caves and towering cliffs, then we heard a thunderous crash and discovered a cave; maybe only 20 metres deep but with an abrupt ending and a flat shelf off which incoming waves would slam up throwing massive amounts of spray and a mini-tsunami.
A number of us took turns to venture in, each hoping that someone ‘out there’ had got a good picture of us.
John and Kenny though, provided the highlight of the day when they spotted a gap of maybe 30 inches under a rock, leading to open water. John went for it and got though, displaying admirable flexibility in lying down across his foredeck. Kenny, alas, got half way in when a swell came and threatened to squish him like a midge on the ‘roof’ of the rock. He reacted very quickly and threw himself to the side for a wet exit (who knows, maybe even some wet pants).
We were all concerned for Kenny, but John just found it hilarious . . . that’s sibling rivalry for you. So we made John do the rescue.
We then crossed over to Harlosh Island and round it back to Camas Ban.
10.30 to 17.30
WEDNESDAY 27th: We were like a bunch of Primary School kids about to go on their first School Outing – we were about to become Dinosaur Hunters today.
Sadly, Brian, who had suffered all week with a bad back and toothache, decided he had to go home (I later found out he needs root canal treatment . . . OUCHJ).
So 10 of us drove up to Staffin, one of three places on Skye known to have dinosaur footprints. Our luck seemed to be out when we arrived at the tiny Staffin Harbour with its even tinier car park only to find it full with several cars so thoughtlessly parked that they were wasting about 4 spaces.
However, was this to be a good sign for the day as a large campervan immediately left and we all managed to squeeze in nose to tail . . . just.
It was a scorcher all day, at least 23 degrees, so short or no sleeves were the order of the day.
We paddled north about a hundred metres to An Corran and got out to find our Dinosaurs. Steve was first to find footprints, then I found what we think was a second print. I have to say, though, there were doubters in our camp.
We also found (we think) a different footprint from a different dinosaur) just along An Corran, but nobody was sure. Ah, where was Prof. Tim when we needed him?
We then set off to Rubha nam Braithairean (Brother’s Point) about 7km south, passing the impressive Kilt Rock and its waterfall.
As we approached RnB the group split into two lots – the ‘Hungries’ and the ’Hunters’. The first went to the second beach and pulled ashore for lunch while the first headed for the flat beach where the footpath comes down as this was said to be where more footprints were.
Once again it was Steve who spotted the first print and this one was a honey; very clear (and also different from those on An Corran). After studying it for a few minutes, he stepped backed and saw around 6 or 7 other possible prints which, if all correct, showed two dinosaurs heading across this flat area, in opposite directions, or of course one dinosaur who was heading home from the pub.
When the other group, some of whom had been swimming, joined us, once again there were doubters, but far fewer. This set was, for my money, 100% nailed on. In due course you’ll see some ‘prints’ (pun intended) and you can decide for yourselves.
The sea was flat calm the whole day and, when we headed back to Staffin, about a mile off shore to try to spot some whales, it was a uniquely quiet place to be.
Spotted today: another sea eagle, porpoises and a puffin
On the drive back to GB, John made an even better rescue than the previous day when he rescued every one of us. The Hut had run out of toilet paper and John and Kenny stopped and bought fresh supplies. Well done guys, you’re my heroes.
On-water 10.45, off 17.30
THURSDAY 28th: Last day of paddling – 7 consecutive days for some.
Steve, Stuart and Derek went off early to Lower Breakish where Steve was due to be assessed by Gordon Brown; Stuart and Derek were to be his pupils.
Paul headed off to tackle four of the Munroes opposite the Hut (in the end, due to the sweltering heat he ONLY managed three). John went for an open water swim in GB.
The remaining 5 (Celia, Billy, Kenny, Paul and I) decided to paddle back down GB and across to Gavin Maxwell (Ring of Bright Water) and Tex Geddes’s Basking Shark Station on Soay.
Again it was a belting day so drysuits were again not the order of the day.
The crossing was flat calm and we paddled into the bay to have lunch and scout about the old buildings. For some reason the midges have not heard of Soay and we passed a very pleasant half hour or so.
When we just managed to slide our way down a wee run-out from the Sharking Station Bay, we presumed we would have an easy run back to base. But the weather had other thoughts.
We faced a bit of a slog as a stiffening wind certainly reached Force 3 and produced regular white horses all the way back, about 13k.
9.45 to 16.15
Back at the ranch we learned that Steve had been successful and is now a Level Three Coach (forgive me if that is not exactly the right title). There’s an excuse right there to get the wine and beer flowing and to light up (outdoors, of course) some stogies.
Most of us decided (some having run out of food) to go and watch the Belgium V England match and have some grub at the Old Inn in Carbost on Loch Harport. The food was better than the game . . . big surprise.
Thanks to those who drove us and thanks too, to Steve for all his planning and tide work – and by the way, he is one helluva dinosaur print spotter.
Yet another fantastic summer week Adventure. I urge anyone developing as a sea paddler to work hard on your skills and fitness so that soon you can join us on one of these fantastic trips. The paddling and the Craic are first class.
FRIDAY 29th: I decided to make the drive south in a onnie (does stopping for one minute in Tyndrum to buy a Magnum count?) and made it all the way without incident until 300 yards from my driveway when I suffered a blowout on my front off-side type.
Thank heavens it didn’t happen on one of the faster sections of the road south.
Neil : 1st July 2018
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