Friday, 17 May 2013

Loch Coruisk & Soay

The sun was set to return today along with the wind, forecast northerly 3-4 gusting 7.  We ate breakfast in the warmth of the sun for the first time and as this was the last day I was committed to getting on the water. 
We arrived at Elgol with the wind blowing across the water from the north.  Three sit on top kayakers were loading their boats for a night at Loch Coruisk launched just before me.

I took off into the wind for the 6.5km crossing to Loch Coruisk while my dad boarded the boat.

I waisted no time aiming to beat my dad over on the boat.
It was hard work into the wind but managed a 45min crossing entering the bay just as my dads boat docked up.
The 'bad step' and a new noisy rib tour boat.
The seals and birds didn't seem to mind however.

I had a quick chat to my dad before parting ways, he was looking to walk around the Loch.

I headed off around in search of the beach to land.

The white sands of the beach could easily be seen just bellow the waters surface so I landed briefly on the rocks. 
As soon as I was out of the boat my dad re-appeared promising a white sandy beach around the corner so I got straight back in to meet him.
A few deer were spotted grazing up on the hills.
There was no beach so rather than make another awkward landing we parted ways again and I was on my way, the island of Soay was calling.
On my first visit in 2010 I had completely missed the island out.  On my second visit in 2011 I paddled up the north shores of Soay and explored the north harbour before returning to Elgol.  This time I wanted to get around the whole island and explore the south harbour.
The wind was now behind me and pushing me along at a good pace.  I paddled up the sound and around the  north west tip into new territory with great views of the islands of Canna and Rum, the latter looking temptingly close.
A surprised pair of White Tailed Eagles left the cliffs as I rounded a rock outcrop to circle high above me.  
Now sheltered from the wind on the south easterly side of the Island I didn't stop to explore.  The wind was forecast to increase into the afternoon and strong wind warnings were given over the radio.
I paddled into the southern harbour eager to stop and rest.  I picked out a beach, each one with it's own house, some occupied others vacant.  
I sat in in the sun nursing my blisters after paddling hard after so long in a boat.  There was washing blowing on the line on the house nearest me but no sign of life.  It has a very eerie feel about the place, almost post apocalyptic.  I believe the once populated island is now only home to a few families.
Back on the water and out of the bay straight into a gusting wind.  White horses blew off the tops of the waves over the 2.5 nautical mile open crossing back to Elgol.
 I took one last photograph of the western shores of Soay and began my crossing, in this wind it would probably take 45mins to and hour.
At first it was a bit of chop and a strong gust.  Out into open waters it was a case of bracing against side broaching waves well above head height.  I really didn't fancy having to do a roll or re-entry in this wind so kept a focused eye on my destination.
Finally landing at Elgol I thought my dad must be worried about me.  He was not on the first boat to come in so I ditched some kit and grabbed my helmet to head back out for a play in the waves.
My dad boat finally came in, the captain making it his last, informing my dad he wont be going out tomorrow due to the weather.  I couldn't help thinking about those sit on top paddlers and how they were going to manage to get back tomorrow.
16.12 nautical miles over 4.19hrs.   
It was early evening by the time we got back to camp and showered before heading in to town one last time.  The rain held off in the morning long enough to pack up the tents.  On the way home we discussed next years trip, Mull, Arran or even the possibility of south west Ireland.  

So not much kayaking but got some good walks done, spending more time with my dad.  It took me back to when we used to go youth hostelling around north Wales, Scotland and the Lake District.  Looking forward to next years adventures and what ever they bring, thanks Dad.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Macleod's Maidens

Yesterdays disaster ended in the pub musing over '50 Great Scottish Sea Kayaking Voyages' with a pint of Black Cullin.  The forecast promised a southerly force 3.  A circumnavigation of Rassay was discussed over a few pints with a couple of local sea men but I decided on a shorter trip from Portree to Staffin.

After a very cold night we woke to a cold, wet and windy morning.  The motivation to get out in the boat instantly gone.  Something I've struggled with this year so far.  We discussed a coastal walk to Macleods Maidens, three sea stack on the south west coast.    
It is a 5 mile walk to the end of the headland from the nearest road through forestry and moorland.  As we set of it continued to rain.  The waters around Loch Bracadle looked gusty and uninviting, I think I made the right decision.
The showers quickly passed but the coat remained on, anticipating another down pour.  We made our way along a forestry road beneath Macleods table south, one of two flat topped mountains.
Flora and fauna was in abundance.  Willow catkins blowing on the wind. 
Tadpoles in the puddles.
And a cheeky highland cattle.
White Tailed Eagles soured high above.
A Smooth Newt.
The path climbed and fell through wild landscape with great sea views over the islands of Loch Bracadle.
Along the path is a memorial plaque to Joe Strummer, front man of the legendary band The Clash.  Strummer was a keen environmentalist and helped set up the Future Forests Charity.  He decided he would have his own forest planted to offset the carbon emissions from his CD's and became the first carbon neutral artist.
Remains of old croft buildings.
Mid walk there was a welcoming bench with a fantastic view over the islands of Wiay, Harlosh and Tarner.
Harlosh and Tarner Islands.  The path seemed to go on forever but finally we arrived at Idrigill Point which fell steeply toward the sea and there they were...
Macleods Maidens are impressive sea stacks, the taller rising over 200ft out of the sea.  Legend has it that the three stacks were so named when the wife and two daughters of the fourth chief of the Macleod Clan were shipwrecked and drowned at the stacks on their return to Dunvegan from Harris, where the chief had been mortally wounded in battle.
We sat at the edge of the cliff for our lunch taking in the views of the Maidens and the Outer Hebrides on the horizon.
Views to the east.
Macleods Maidens.
We retraced our steps back along the path avoiding troding on the local wildlife.  My dad randomly pointed out to sea, apparently spotting whales, dolphins and seals, which more often than not turned out to be rocks. BUT on one occasion he was finally right.  Sure enough a Mink whale was spotted on numerous occasions seeming to be hunting up and down the sea loch.  Unfortunately we failed to get any decent shots. 
As late afternoon dawned the weather became settled and warm.  Clear views of the Cullins we seen over now calm seas.  It was too late in the day but I finally had the urge to get out on the water.  Our final treat of the 10 mile walk was a seal wrestling with a huge fish or eel near the shore of the bay as we returned to the van.
We had a quick shower at the camp site and walked into Portree for the first time without the umbrella.  

The waters within the harbour were tempting me to go back up and get my boat as they reflected the coloured houses on the waterfront.  The town was busy and everyone seemed happy to be out enjoying the afternoon sun.
We sat alongside the harbour risking loosing our fish and chips to the gathering gulls.
Moods were on a high, yesterday I wanted to go home, today I wanted to stay forever.  What a difference the sun makes.  We spent the night chatting to a friendly chap from Glasgow until the barmaid finally hurried us out of the door just after last orders.  

Tomorrows forecast promised a hot sunny day but strong winds once more.  This would be my last day on Skye and I was going to make the most of it...