Wednesday, May 04, 2016

No room in the bothy and things that might have been...

 At the north end of the Sound of Islay the Ruvall lighthouse stands tall. It was built high so that it could also be seen from the south end of the Sound of Islay (see below). As we were discussing the lighthouse we noticed that the tide had turned in the Sound and it was now time to hitch a ride south.

The Jura coast line continued to amaze. At Alt Bun an Eas (burn with the waterfall at its foot) a deep V gorge has been cut through a raised sea cliff. the gorge is too big to have been cut by the current burn and dates from the days after the Ice Age when a huge torrent of meltwater made its way to the sea and the land rose as the weight of the ice sheet diminished.  The gorge has a series of waterfalls and infinity pools just above the beach.

Tony and I climbed up to these pools on a previous visit and Ian and I noted the possibility of a refreshing shower here the next day.

I never tire of this coastline and have paddled it 10 times now. This might not seem that much but considering how hard it is to get here from Glasgow it is a lot!

 At first the tide carried us gently down the Sound but the spring rate is 5 knots and...

 ...soon we were fair zipping along.

 The bottom of the Sound of Islay is very clean so despite the speed of the current, there are no overfalls and it only becomes rough if the tide is against the wind (as we would experience the following day!)

Although the water was like a millpond we passed the lighthouse at Carragh an t-Sruith (pillar of the current) at a casual 15km/hr!

We hit 16.4km/hr in the narrows between Feolin and Port Askaig where the Jura ferry MV Eilean Dhiura crosses. our destination was An Cladach bothy, which lies beneath the highest summit to the right of the ferry.

South of the narrows there were some great eddies which carried us off course but soon we arrived at...

...An Cladach bothy on the SE Islay shore (where Tony and I had stayed exactly a year ago). Unfortunately it was occupied by two couples and there are only 4 bunks. When we went inside the first woman said "Oh look they are all wet!" The second said "Oh look they are all wearing the same". It was then that I noticed the row of shiny polished boots by the door and a huge supply of food and drink including enough uncrushed loaves for a week. We decided to move on. One of the men followed us out and rather apologetically said he was the Mountain Bothy Association maintenance officer and they were up for a week to maintain the bothy.

Whatever the purpose of their visit, we saw no work clothes or maintenance materials. They had obviously been dropped off by boat rather than making their own way in. Parties using bothies for long term holidays seem to be becoming more common. When Ian and I visited Rum in the winter the warden warned us of two undesirables with bows and arrows who had set up residence in Guirdil bothy for two weeks. Exactly a year previously Tony and I had come across some Glaswegians in Cruib Lodge in Jura when we arrived after sunset. They told us they had been there for 10 days. Fortunately because it was outwith deer shooting season the estate side of the lodge was unlocked and they were in there. So we were able to stay in the MBA side. Another sea kayaking friend came across a man and two alsatian dogs who had been in a non MBA bothy in the Sound of Arisaig for 3 weeks! Whatever, I would only stay a night or two in a bothy as long term residence effectively decreases the number of people who  can take shelter there.

The sun had just set on the shore so we paddled down the rocky coast looking for somewhere to land and set up camp before dark. Mike and I landed in a little rocky inlet and were just about to explore when our VHF radios burst into life. It was the ferry MV Finlaggan warning the "warship in the Sound of Islay" to keep clear while she berthed at Port Askaig.

 The warship very politely assured Finlaggan that there would be no obstruction to berthing.

 The warship proved to be a Royal Navy type 23 frigate, HMS Iron Duke, which was also involved in Joint Warrior. This was her on her way south after live firing exercises at Cape Wrath in which she used her 4.5" front mounted gun. Unfortunately the wash of both vessels trapped Mike and I in the gully for some time and the sun...

 ...had well set before we were able to launch and found somewhere more suitable to set up camp. If you enlarge this photo, you will just see the light from Ruvaal lighthouse 17km away to the NNW up the Sound of Islay. The photo also shows what would have been a glorious sunset when viewed from the little cove between the dykes of Jura, where we had last stopped and were tempted to camp.

 It does not pay to think of what might have been, either golden sunsets or warm bothy fires, instead we concentrated on getting the loaded boats up the beach and setting up...

 ...the tents in the light of the gloaming and a full moon.

Not only had we brought tents we had also brought wood and a bag of charcoal, we soon had a warming fire going. What might have been a very uncomfortable night passed in great comfort, no doubt helped by some generous snifters of malt whisky. Another disaster was realized when I realized I had left the flask of Islay malt (Caol Isla) in the car. Fortunately reserve supplies of Jura and Speyside malts were available!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Rendezvous with a swarm of oxymoronic priapic dykes on the SW coast of Jura

Leaving the mouth of West Loch Tarbert we made our way along the SW shore of Jura towards the northern entrance of the Sound of Islay.

No sooner had we entered the Sound, which is guarded by the Ruvaal Lighthouse on its Islay shore, than this otter popped up right by Mike's bow, what a treat.

As we travelled over the turquoise and ultramarine water of the Sound, the Paps of Jura increasingly...

 ...dominated the landscape, heaving high into the sky above a sea cliff which was now high above the current sea level. Unseen in this photo, there are raised beaches of cobbles above these old cliffs. The land and seascape of Jura is unique, even in a country of such varied geology as Scotland.

The cliffs are broken by a swarm of dykes that march down the hillsides and down into the waters of the Sound.

This particularly fine priapic (if that is not an oxymoron when discussing a dyke) specimen is a potent landmark which can be found to the WNW of Loch na Sgrioba (loch of the furrow).

Jura really is a stunning place to paddle but it was now 14km since we had had a decent stop so we took a break...

...on a little cobbled beach that nestled within a swarm of dykes. We took our second luncheon with our backs to a sun warmed basalt dyke which sheltered us from a cold north wind. We toasted ourselves with a further snifter of Jura Superstion. We had plenty of time as the tide was still running north.

We attempted a little coastal exploration while waiting for the tide to turn.

We managed to get through some arches and ...

...scrambled up some ledges but turned back above these dykes as we were on steep sloping grass that ended above some cliffs.

From our vantage point we spotted a French mine warfare vessel, possibly M642 FS Cassiopée. She was taking part in the Joint Warrior NATO exercise.

Back at the beach, the tide had turned, it was time to set off on the last leg of our journey...

Monday, May 02, 2016

A stinking end to a stunning trip on the north west coast of Jura.

 From Shian Bay to Ruantallain on the west coast of Jura the coastline consists of an...

 ...unbroken wall of raised beaches and dry cliffs caves and arches. At sea level there are sharp reefs in an almost unbroken band for six kilometres.

 Rounding one headland we caught sight of Islay and the northern entrance of the Sound of Islay. The north going spring tide was running until early evening so we planned to wait for the south going tide somewhere on the Jura coastline to the SW of the entrance to West Loch Tarbert.

 This was truly superlative sea kayaking. We paddle sailed almost effortlessly under blue skies...

 ...and sparkling blue seas.

 As we travelled south the Paps of Jura heaved above the horizon. The rain that falls on these...

 ...mounds drains into the burns that are used to make our favoured tipple, Jura malt whisky.

 Headland after...

 ...headland sped by. We did try to land... Brein Phort (stinking port) but since the map was drawn, what was shown as sandy beach is now just a boulder beach.

 A little further on we rounded the headland of Ruantallain, which marks the northern boundary of entrance to West Loch Tarbert, a deep sea loch which nearly bisects Jura. Under the cairn on the skyline is the cave of Corpach Rubh' an t-Sailean (place of the corpse at the point of the inlet). This was one of the caves where corpses were stored until safe passage could be made for burial on the holy island of Oronsay. No doubt by the time the corpses could be transported they would be stinking to high heaven. Perhaps that is why the local port was called stinking port, or perhaps it was because the port gathered seaweed washed up after winter storms, who knows?

As we crossed the wide mouth of West Loch Tarbert, the British sail training brig STS Stavros S Niarchos drifted up the Sound of Islay being carried by the tide. She spent the night anchored off Colonsay and we would get a better view of her the next day as she made her way back down the Sound of Islay on her way to her current home port of Greenock.

Tony, Phil and I have crossed wakes with the Stavros S Niarchos several times over recent years such as on this occasion on 24/5/2012 off Ailsa Craig in the Clyde. She is named after a Greek shipping tycoon and philanthropist.

 As the wind sped us down the coast of Jura, we could see a great plume of smoke...

...rising from two muir burns on Colonsay. Impressive though this plume was it would have been dwarfed by the plume when our ancestors visited Colonsay 9,000 years ago. In one autumn they cut down all the hazel trees on the island then roasted all the nuts in a huge fire pit, then left. Scorched earth or what?

When we crossed to the south side of west Loch Tarbert we had covered 9km without a break. We badly needed a stop to stretch our legs so we landed at an unnamed beach beside Rubha Lang-aoinidh (the falsely steep point). Well judging by both Ian's and Mike's  expressions they were rather disappointed at their first arrival on Jura's west coast. Indeed I propose to name this beach. From this day forth, let it be known as not as disappointment beach but as Brein Phort Deas (south stinking beach!). Holey Moley this beach was stinking. In fact it was fair minging. I couldn't see rotting corpses of any ancient Juraburghers so I suppose it was just a collection of rotting seaweed. Whatever, we did not stay and I could see that Ian and Mike both thought the highlight of their day had already passed. However, I knew better, I had been this way before (several times before in fact)!.....

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Corpach Bay to a stag do at Shian Bay, Jura

 We had hardly left Corpach Bay before...

 ...we came across another stunning beach backed by a huge dune system at Traigh a' Mhiadair. (beach of the meadow). The dune system is enclosed by a wall of steep cliffs and the rabbits here are all black.

In a rock arch at the south end of the beach, the environmental artist Julie Brook lived and worked for a year between 1993 and 1994.

 The northeasterly breeze began to pick up and to the north the distant hills and mountains of Mull looked magnificent in the clear air.

 However it was the amazing cost of Jura which held our attention.

 The only other sign of human life on this stretch of coast was the creel boat Challenger SY46 from Skye.

 As we passed beach after beach, the Paps of Jura...

 ...gradually came into view.

 The sea became shallower as we approached Shian Island and...

 ...the clear water made it look like the reefs were...

 ...just inches from our keels.

 Our sails sped us on under a glorious blue sky which was broken only by...

 ...a pair of honking greylag geese.

 We were now within the reef system which guards Shian Bay (stormy bay).

...the turquoise water in this bay was stunning. Ian and I were tempted to stop for a swim and second breakfast.

However, there was still a cold breeze so while Mike enjoyed his lunch with a view to Colonsay, Ian and I had a quick, actually very quick, dip in a pool of the Sruthan Glac na h-Atha (burn of the narrow valley by the drying kiln). Feeling very refreshed I enjoyed the view with Mike while Ian went beachcombing.

He was delighted when he found an antler from a stag. Unfortunately it was not one of a pair but... became a feature of Ian's back deck for the rest of the trip!