Monday, 24 July 2017

Isle of Jura Day 2 cont... Craighouse to An Cladach (part 3)

Tired though we were, we reluctantly packed our belongings back into the full hatches and set off once more into the emerald green shallow waters.  Our desire to circumnavigate Jura was still strong, but it would mean arriving at what would have been tomorrow's destination tonight, doubling our current millage...This was plan B.
Bows pushed on parting glassy waters mirroring clouds in the sky.  I stripped off my dry cag and allowed the splashes of salt water flicking off my paddle blades to cool my arms.  I set back into my rhythm,  the full laden boat sat low in the water tracking well.  My lower back ached but that wasn't what was bothering me.
I wanted to circumnavigate the Isle of Jura, that was the ultimate plan, but not like this. I wanted to take my time and experience the magic of the island, not rush around it for the sake of it. Since leaving Craighouse the feel of the trip had changed.  It was now a challenge.  The feel of achievement would be wonderful I'm sure but it wouldn't be won easily. Nevertheless I pushed on from the toes into the shoulders.
A caravan of goats grazing on the steep rocky shore momentarily distracted me from my aching bones.  Legend has it the goats made it ashore when ships from the Spanish Armada were wrecked nearby.  However, they are likely to be descended from domestic animals kept by crofters and abandoned during the social changes of the mid-19th century.
Swinging a full 90 degrees from south to west we rounded the most southerly extremities of Jura to enter the Sound of Islay. The tide that runs up to 5 knots through the narrow parting between the Isles of Jura and Islay, was in our favor.  However, the wind was not.
Our long bows drove on into the oncoming sea, drenching us in plumes of spray, I now wished I had kept my dry cag on.  The wind was funneling down the sound, every paddle stroke gained was hard fought. Any ground gained by the tide was lost by the wind.
Am Fraoch Eilean, once an important stronghold for the MacDonalds, commanding the sea lanes between the Mull of Kintyre and the southern Hebrides, now a haven for five weathered kayakers.  We welcomed the shelter beneath the 20 meter vertical defences and a chance to revise our plans.
We wade through the shallows of red kelp as an RAF Hurcules sours overhead, probably just taken off from from Islay airport.  Thankfull of the rest we secure our boats with our tow lines and explore the small island and the 15th century Claig Castle.
With no obvious track leading up the flat topped summit we go in search of an easier way up. The island is divided into two unequal portions by a narrow gully. The building rises directly from the lip of the gully. I dubiously follow Martins lead up the precarious looking crag to top out underneath the castle walls.

The remaining building comprises of just the group floor with 2.4m thick walls made of local rubble and originally dressed in fine sandstone from Arran.  The fortress seemed as if intended to guard the mouth of the sound, and was also the prison where MacDonalds kept their captives.
I can't imagine there are many visitors to the island, there were however plenty of evidence the deer dare to cross the fast flowing streams to feed on the dense vegetation.
We decided, to continue on to Loch Tarbert on the western coast was no longer viable with the increasing headwind. Progress would be painfully slow and I think a few of us shared the opinion that a two day circumnavigation was not what we wanted to get out of this trip.

Instead to plan C...A 3km crossing of the sound of Islay to An Cladach bothy to spend the night there.  My mood had lifted and suddenly my back was no longer playing up, although that might have something to do with the two painkillers I just necked.
We hauled up on the unspoilt pebble beach eager to explore our home for the night on the Isle of Islay.
The bothy is situated in an idyllic location, nestled between the hills in the remote south east corner of Islay. The bothy, like most bothies is in the Scottish Highlands, is a restored building that dates back beyond the Highland clearances.  The An Cladach settlement consists of three small rectangular buildings. At the waters edge are the remains of a slipway that suggests access to this area was by boat.
The name An Cladach meaning harbour suggests it may have been used as seasonal accommodation for fishermen.  It's nice to think two centuries later it's still being used for simular purposes, but instead of fishermen it now manly accommodates kayakers and walkers.
The only group shot of us all, chilling in the evening sun outside the bothy. From left to right we have Chris, Martin, myself Jules and Simon.

We were later joined by two walkers who by the sound of it had had a long day. Jules and Martin kindly gave up their bunks to camp on the beach and we shared a few storeys with them over a bit of whiskey later that evening.
Inside there are two bunks sleeping five and plenty of floor space if you needed to sleep a few more. There's a kitchen area and even a small library of books. We settle in hanging our damp kit outside in the sun and start to get dinner on the go. On tonight menu is tined curry with cous cous, bombay potatoes and naan bread.
Simon (left) and Chris fashioning their new headgear, in all honesty the midges weren't all that bad.

We head out in search of fire wood on an already well combed beach. Bothy rule number one, replace fire wood for the next guests.  Failing to find anything substantial we happen upon the instruction to find blocks of dried peat. I love the smell of peat burning on a fire.
"At 220 degrees from the rear of the building you will see an orange marker on the hill" this is where the peat was cut, dried and stored. A few hundred yards from the bothy and knee deep in bog we give in and head back. The orange dot above right of Jules in the picture above is the marker.
We did manage to salvage some dry sea weed and a few pieces of driftwood to burn to warm our feet against and a few wee drams of Jura whiskey to warm the soul.

It had been a long day since leaving the mainland shores at Carsaig bay early this morning.  What an adventure it has been so far. If the forecast remains true it would be a short one, tomorrow would be our last day.  Who knows what the forecast holds for now, for tomorrow at least the adventure continues...

Isle of Jura Day 2 Cont... - Tarbert Bay to Craighouse

Having left Tarbert Bay feeling refreshed we continued our journey south west with the ebbing tide along Juras east coast.  Sticking with plan A  our aim is to make it to Craighouse, Juras main settlement and home of the Jura Distillery.
The east coast of Jura is mainly low lying forestry and grassland.  Dominating the view for..well the entire trip, are the Paps of Jura.
The Paps of Jura consist of three conical quartzite mountains rising to 2575 feet.  The word 'pap' originates from the Old Norse word meaning 'breast'.
Photo by Simon Ford - Myself and Chris - The Paps (tits) Of Jura 
The hope is to get up onto the Paps tomorrow evening when we plan to camp at Loch Tarbert.
We take a brief refuge with the birds after being caught by unexpected localised downdrafts coming down off the mountains.
Moving on however with barely a clouds in the sky the winds dissipate.
Myself and Jules leave the remainder of the group briefly to bag another shipping Buoy - Nine Foot Rock, but also out here there may be more chance of spotting some sea life.
To the south eastern horizon stand the mountains of the Isle of Arran, another one for the bucket list, maybe next year.
Approaching the Small Isles just off Craighouse we are once again mobbed by Arctic Turns as well as a few common seals. 

Drifting into Craighouse Bay there's actually a lot more going on here than I imagined.  The shoreline is dominated by the white buildings of the Jura Distillery and neighbouring Jura Hotel.
Feeling quite shattered having been up since 4:30am, we stretch out on the grass, get the kettle on and make ourselves some lunch.  Our plan A would see us camp here and spend a few hours looking around the small settlement, maybe even pop in the distillery for a tour.  However...
Simon got talking to a local fisherman as we landed who's words were.."have you seen the forecast for Wednesday?"..."and Thursday...and Friday?".   We check a number of forecast sites while we have a little signal.  There be a storm coming and it's here to stay a while.  Time for plan B...

Isle of Jura Day 2 - Crossing the Sound of Jura

Lying in my sleeping bag, it's the end of July but it's cold this far north as the rising sun lights up the clear sky rousing me early from my slumber.  I manage to catch a few more minutes before Simons alarm sounds a few feet away, it's 0430am.  Four hours ago we were solving the worlds problems with a few beers on the beach...I should have gone to bed early.

Breaking out of the fly sheet the cold air awakens my senses.  The waters velvet smooth apart from a bit of movement on a bed of seaweed close to shore.  A seagull stands patiently next to it..wait is that an otter.  My eyes haven't yet adjusted to the morning twilight.  I scramble for my camera, where is it??? my boats all packed up.  Stumbling down to the beach we notice there's another, maybe 20ft away, possible a youngster.  It's happily chewing on a jellyfish and not at all bothered by our presence.  Well this doesn't happen very often so I see how close I can get...  
Already I'm regretting not packing my SLR camera.  It sits there a while searching between the rocks before scurrying off into the undergrowth.  What a great start to the day. 
Time to get a shift on.  I shovel down the first of my rations, pre-packed porridge a handful of raisins and a coffee to wash it down and begin packing away the tent.  Seal the hatches, don my wet gear and I'm ready to go.  Just past 6am, spot on timing.  Lowing the boat onto the water, I'm not even sure if this things going to float with the weight on it.
Final picture, Jura here we come.
The flow on the sound of Jura flows at about 3.5 knots at springs (it was springs) and according to our calculations the ebb flow should have kicked off about an hour ago.
Out on the sound the water was glassy smooth, it doesn't get any better than this.
In all honestly we didn't really know exactly where we would end up or what our exact heading was.  Our aim was to simply make it across to Jura on a rough WSW heading, hopefully somewhere near Tarbert Bay, a small inlet on the far side. Martin was in control of our GPS, I believe we averaging about 10km per hr with very, very little effort.  We were enjoying the conditions, hoping for some disturbance in the silky water signaling a pod of cetaceans of some sort or another.

As we approached the shore there was a stiff breeze blowing over the Isle.  We had arrived at Tarbert Bay in about 2 hours and were looking for somewhere out of the wind to take our first break on the Isle of Jura.
We lazed in the sun for a while, there was no rush.  This was important for me.  I have done my 24 circumnavigations and long open crossings.  This was about exploring the island in its every detail, relaxing and enjoying the company I was with.  We were well aware the forecast for Wednesday (today was Monday) was likely going to mean a day spent ashore.  At the last check Thursday and Friday were also looking like a no-go but that was changing all the time.  For now we would stick with the plan and continue on to Craighouse, home of the Jura Distillery...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Isle of Jura Day 1 - Testing The Tides of the Sound of Jura

I have been spending the last few months preparing for a circumnavigation of the Isle of Jura and the day had finally arrived.  Joining me were Simon, Chris, Jules and Martin.  The trip came about simply by posting an open invitation on social media.  We allowed ourselves a week to complete the trip and the pre-trip weather forecast looked very promising however likely to change.  
The heavens opened as we crossed the border into Scotland however soon brightened up...

We stopped off on the way at Inveraray.  Here the Vital Spark, the fictional Clyde puffer.
A man down (Chris was traveling up the following day) we quickly pitched the tents at Tayvallich campsite and settled in the Tayvallich Inn on the shores of Loch Sween for an evening meal and a few pints.  

At kicking out time we stumbled up the mile long lane to Carsaig Bay, eager to get our first glimpses of Jura set against a starry sky.  We settled into our tents only to be woken by some inconsiderate campers who loudly chatted and played guitar until 3:30am.  We all agreed to a wild camp at Carsaig Bay the following night.   
We pondered over a few options for todays paddle and decided on a short paddle out from Carsaig Bay to test the power of the tides of the Sound of Jura.  We could then use the afternoon to prepare the boats and kit for the mornings expedition.
Setting out from the confines of Carsaig bay the entirety of Jura came into view with the Paps of Jura at its southern extremity.
Weaving between the small islands hugging the coast there was plenty of wildlife to see...

Approaching lunch we looked for a place to land.  Surprised by the amount of plastic and netting that littered the beach I combed the beach looking for anything that might catch my eye.  I found a large lower jaw protruding from the sand and seaweed assuming it to be a cow as is usually the case.  Levering the skull with a discarded broom handled I was quite shocked when 3ft of deer antler sprung from the sand.
Red deer outnumber people 30 to 1 on the Isle of Jura so I was hoping I might find an odd antler washed up on a beach, but to hit the jackpot on the first outing there was no way I was leaving it behind.
Heading back between the flow and the eddies a flock of Artic Turns were clearly unimpressed by our presence on the water.  Fascinating birds swarming in around our boats nattering and screeching as they went by within a few feet at times.
Back at Carsaig bay the deer skull attracted a lot of attention from passers by.
We settled for another night at the inn on the basis that it might be our last good meal for a week, Chris managed to join us after his long drive up.
We lit a small fire with what wood we could scavenge from the beach and watched the sun set over the silhouette of Jura.  It wasn't until gone 12 o'clock did we retreat to our tents, excited by the prospect of what tomorrow might bring.  Alarms set for 04:30 it was going to be an early start...