Friday, 30 September 2011

One Last Paddle on Skye


Today we are laving for home and typically the sun comes out!  Winds are still strong however.
Can't wait for the comfort of my own bed.  Clothes still wet from the first day!
We bid farewell to the camp site and park up along the slipway in Portree for a last look around the shops.  I brought my Easky with idea of getting my dad out on it one calm evening to show him the eagles.  Last chance now dad what you say?
Like anyone new to a sea kayak he found it a little twitchy.  He has done some river trips a long time ago  and been out once at an Up&Under demo evening.  At first I didn't think we would be going anywhere so we did a quick lap of the harbour.
 After a quick warm up and a little more confidence we're off out towards the headland.  A little more interest and scale in my pictures now, had  enough of the front of my boat shots. 
He's doing really well because it wasn't exactly flat out there.  The wind was still strong out past the headland.  My concern was on the way back, it's hard to grasp the feeling of waves coming from behind for most people when they start.
We spot two eagles fly off from the cliffs and head over to the opposite headland, probably lunch time.  We spot a shelted beach just before the three caves and decide to land to see if we can get a better look.  A bit of an awkward landing, although it doesn't look it the beach was quite steep which provided a tricky (wet) exit for my dad :o)
Dad posing! sorry dad had to put that one on.
We scramble up the side of the cliff to get a better view of the cliffs along the headland on the look out for eagles.  My dad bought a new lens for his SLR especially, its a pity it hasn't been better to get out.
It's looking windier further ahead and time is pressing on so we decide to turn back.
Going back is a little quicker with the wind on our back.
Nice seeing my old boat back on the water again where it belongs.
A nice little introductory paddle to sea kayaking for my dad on our last day.  I have to buy him a pint now to clam his nerves.  Have I tempted him, I think so, Flat Holm next apparently. 

We leave sunny Skye behind and make our way for a two leg trip home stopping off at Loch Lomond for a few pints at the Drovers Inn and another night in the van.  Although the weather did hinder things again this year it was still and amazing adventure, which I will be looking forward to again in 2012.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Portree Wildlife


Morning at base camp and the weather has returned back to normal.  The mountain tops come and go beneath the dark clouds threatening more rain.
This was to be our last day on the Isle of Skye with the aim to leave tomorrow lunch time.  We try to save what petrol we have left in the tank so my dad dropped me off at our local harbour in Portree before venturing further down the road to Sligachan.   The wind today was coming from the south east.  For my last trip I had hoped to cross over to the Isle of Raasay and head along its west coast to it's norther tip.
All my kit unloaded my dad leaves me aiming to get back near the usual time around 5/6pm .  Above: The two headlands marking Portree harbour and the Isle of Raasay beyond.
Reaching the end of the headland the SE wind whips across the sound.  With the added swell it looked rather choppy.  I just knew the far side would be lovely and sheltered.
Looking north to my intended destination I decide to pull the plug and give it a miss.  The wind was just as strong as it was earlier in the week and this time with added height.  Squally showers and increasing winds forecast I thought it was for the best.  Now what? I'm trapped in the harbour with about 7 hours to spare.
I cross over to the other headland passing by the fisheries on the way.  Hundreds of fish leaping in the air, don't ask me what they are because I ain't got a clue.  It's about 1 nautical mile separating the heads of the harbour.
Weirdly open to the full exposure of the SE wind this side seemed quite sheltered.  I keep a keen eye to the cliffs for White Tailed Sea Eagles that are known to nest in the area.
 Looking back over I zig zag my way across.  The incoming wind and waves make for some great surfing in a following sea.
 I land on a rocky beach just after a soaking from a squally shower.  What to do??? I don't want to go back and sit in the pub for hours.  Last year I spotted a lot of eagles here on the cliffs so I decide I'm not going back until I found one.
Back on the water still in the little bay around the beach a dolphin and baby pop up.  I only manage one photo out of a load of blank water.  The experience was much better than the photo's, as they head my way popping out of the water every so often for air.  Good start, my hopes are slightly lifted. 
I scan the cliffs as two charter boats wave fish about trying to tempt an eagle off the cliffs.  I didn't want to get to close to the cliffs and disturb the viewing for the charters.  The eagle is having none of it and one of the charters heads off.  I paddle up to the other for a quick chat.  Once again the experience much better than the photos.  Last year I was able to get right up to the cliff but with this swell I have to keep my distance.  Also didn't help I had the settings on 8mega pixels instead of 14mp.
Three caves, I get rather close the swell doesn't seem to be coming in here.  That said a wall of green heads my way and manage to turn and get over the lip just before it breaks.
If you can't spot it, it's near the center of the picture on top of the rocky outcrop.  The charter is off around the corner of the head to where the pairs are nesting.  That is also where I had the best shots last year so I follow them around.
Typically the one I was just photographing takes to the air, I manage to catch a shot as he clears the tops of the cliff.
Once again sorry about the quality, it was lumpy as hell and I was at some distance from the cliffs.  This one seems a bit more interested in the waving fish.  It takes to the air, and glides in on the target.   The landing gear comes down, huge thick legs must be the size of my arms and plucks the fish from the water.  In this jaw dropping moment I grab my camera and decide to film it as I would probably miss a photo.  Very poor photography but you can make out what it is, sorry if you feel sea sick watching it.

He flies back up on cliff to devour his catch.  You can clear see where they get their name from from this shot.
Cheesy grin on my face I head back to the harbour after a few hours of eagle spotting.  If anything the winds picking up.  I some how manage 8.67 nautical miles just dawdling around the harbour entrance after 3hr 15 mins on the water.
I sit on the edge of the harbour with a book and some inquisitive gulls waiting for my dad to come off the hills.  I sit in the pub for one watching the news of some miners back home trapped in a mine near Swansea.  My dad text to say he's come off early, perfect! Otherwise I'd be pissed and scint by 5pm.
We head back into town for our last night on the Isle of Skye, homeward bound tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Loch Coruisk & Soay


Last night over a few pints we discussed where we should go on what could possibly be our only good day of weather.  Where else...

If you only get one good day on Skye this is the place you come.  Starting out from Elgol my intentions were to explore a little further on last years trip.  I wanted to get out to the Isle of Soay, a trip straight from the guide book and a place many would recognise from the Gordon Brown DVD.
This for me is Britain's best view, or at least best launch spot.  The small car park was chock-a-block, everyone has had the same idea.  I apologise now for the amount of photo's, this ain't the half of them.  My dad rushes off to board the next boat as I kit up and launch only moments before.
Flat calm, not the force southerly 3-4 I was expecting!  With the little wind and swell I try to keep pace with the boat, comfortably hitting 5-6 kts.  The boat pilot said 'he's flying along over there' to my dad.  Feelings were flying high, what a difference the sun makes.
Thanks to my dad for some cracking shots from the boat trying to keep up :)
Getting closer...It looks deceptively close on the water, until you see the boats getting smaller and smaller up ahead.
There's a picture for scale and that one's still quite a bit offshore.
I make the harbour entrance just as my dads boat is disembarking.  I didn't paddle into this cove before.  No beaches to land.  My dad gets some more great shots from the shore...
Look how clear that water is.  It's mesmerising watching fishes swim above the white sands below as you paddle along.
The amphitheatre that is Loch  na Cuilice.
I paddle back around the corner to where there should be a glistening white sandy beach for me to land.
A deer makes a brief appearance up on the ridge. 
High water and no beach.
A short but very boggy walk, with the rain we've had, up into Loch Coruisk.  Two other kayakers had carried their boats up and were planning on camping the night by the looks of it.  I had fancied bringing mine up but it would be impossible on my own.
A quick picture and we both set off again on our way.  I wanted to get around Soay and my dad had planned to walk back.

Leaving the Black Cullin in my wake as Seals and Shags slip into the clear waters.  The boat guide mentioned Killer Whales have been coming in recently to pick off the seals.  There have also been sightings further north near Staffin.
Up ahead unknown teritory..Soay.  Excited but a slight sense on nerves.  Where was this wind? It had gone from gale force to what must be bordering on force 0. 
Hardly a ripple in the water.  The shore line seems to slope of gradually, quite a way out you can still make out the sea bed before it turns almost black in the deeps with the rays of the sun fading into the darkness.
The sound of Soay.  High cliffs and rising mountains to my right and the Isle of Soay on my left.  The tide runs continuously west through the sound, but it is barely noticeable.
Crossing over the sound I am greeted by Soay sheep along the shore line eating the sea weed.
A different view of the Cullins from the shore of Soay.  I am looking for the harbour, a narrow neck roughly in the middle of the isle.  I paddle past what may be it but carry on around the next little head.  Too far!
There's no mention of this in the guide book.  A line of very shallow water moving out with the ebbing tide crosses the entrance to the harbour.  I make it over with a slight scrape and a push off the bottom with my paddle. 
The old shark fisheries.  Set up by Gavin Maxwell in 1946 the island was a base for hunting Basking Sharks which flourished in the rich surrounding waters.  The venture was abandoned after only three years.
There is a feel of still eeriness here.  The thought of huge shark carcus being hauled ashore, the blood and the smell send a shiver down me.  All abandoned and left to overgrow into the landscape. 
A bit of an arduous climb to get up onto the harbour walls I was kinda expecting some hillbilly to come out of the shadows and sling me up.  Very spooky on my own.

The old engine used to process the shark oil still stands rusting away.
The crab pots were all brand spanking new, still with the shop tags.  Someone must still operate from here.  A couple of small boats were also tied off on the mud bank.  Not helping the ideas of someone jumping out on me!
I was tempted to find a way through to the other side of the island, possibly a short portage with my boat as a short cut.  A squelchy walk through the overgrown bracken and marsh and a knee deep in bog puts that idea to an end.  Time is pushing on and I decide there's not enough time to do a full circumnavigation.  So I head back in the direction I came.
A fishery, once again looking deserted.  The steel walkways ahead all twisted and beaten by the weather.
Not quite the huge sea stack of Macleod's Maidens a few miles from hear.
Finally a decent shot of a Heron.  You don't know how long I've persisted. 
On the south eastern extremities of the island it's time to paddle out into the dark deep waters and cross back over to Elgol.  Not before I sit for a while and take in the beautiful stillness that surrounds me.  Huge towering Munros to my rear, the isles of Rum, Canna and Eigg on the horizon, Soay to my right and and open expanse of still water to my left.  Above clear skies and a lowering sun, bellow are white sands dotted with kelp and reefs of fishes swimming between.  I'm in heaven.  I take a short video clip to try and capture the moment.

I struggle to leave this place.
I thought to myself paddling across the open expanse of clam glassy water, if ever I should see a Basking Shark, whale or pod of dolphins now would be the time.
I thought it may be a bit late to catch a sight of a basker.  The usually hang around until September but it's been more this October lately so I wouldn't be surprised if they had all packed up.  Twice I caught sight of a definite fin ahead of me, only briefly before it disappeared.  Only just breaching the surface moving steadily across the water, sweeping  slightly.
This was the outcome of a picture I took not quite in time.  The dark ripples midway between the boat and the bottom of the picture where it had been were all that I managed to catch.  My heart is pounding in my chest and my knees have gone all weak.  As much as I would love to share the water with such a giant on my own out here I would probably utterly shit myself at the same time. 

I aim out from Elgol to the end of the headland where Prince Charles's cave can be found. 

The swell becomes more obvious here against the cliffs so I take the opportunity to do a bit of rock hopping in the shallows.

My dad once again catches some great picture of me coming in.

Not only the best place to launch but also the best place to land!
Truly magical!  A must do on anyone's list.  Simply the best paddle ever.  My dad is now talking of us both paddling over and camping at Loch Coruisk next year.
One last look down upon today's paddle.  15.22 nautical mile roughly 30km.  It makes the 640 mile round trip up all the worth while!