Tag Archives: Ben Mor Coigach

Flat Calm in the Summer Isles

A few pictures from a 5-hour, 22-km paddle round the Summer Isles on a rare day of near-zero wind and hot, sunny skies.
From Badenscallie I went south past Horse Island and Iolla Mhor to Carn nan Sgeir, a quick loop around Meall nan Caolach, just a mile from the south side of Loch Broom, then right across to Tanera Beg to revive the legs with a walk up to the summit, and finally back to Badentarbet. Noticeable is the lack of fatigue when there’s no wind or waves to cut through. I’d have been more tired walking the same distance. A few days and a bit more wind later, I did a 14-km lap round Tanera Beg and was pooped.

Glistening, brassy kelp round the back of Meall nan Caoloach, or Sheep’s Hill.

Strange dangular life forms you only see at very low tides.

Chestnutty limpets.

Faults and folds on Carn’s south side.

View north to Ben Mor on the way across to Tanera Beg.

South of Tanera Mor, the cabin’s roof on Eilean Dubh.

Landfall at Mol Bheag on Tanera Beg. Should I worry about the rising tide? I’ll only be gone half an hour. (Sorry – bit of lens smudge from here onwards.)

On T.Beg’s 83-m summit looking ENE towards Achiltibuie and the Assynt mountains.

Southwest, the curious wedge-skerry of Stac Mhic Aonghais – Cliff of Angus. Must try and nip out there one time.

Boat still there with two rocks on the anchor line.

Looking SE: Carn nan Sgeir back left; Eilean Dubh on the right. A trawler passes by.

Storm-mashed tin can.

I find a superb crate/bench from a Fraserburgh trawler, and a massive pearl, too. Incredibly, this one is pre-threaded for a necklace which makes it even more valuable.

In just 40 mins the tide has risen a metre. I forgot that at mid-flow the rate of change is much greater. I wade in up to my shorts and clamber on with my treasures.Round the corner I come across the Tanera Beg arch.

Enough to pass under, but not enough to get right through.

The birds are disturbed.

The sandy green depths between T. Beg and Eilean Fada Mor – aka: Caolas na Gainmhich.

Crystal-clear reflections – but always the racket of a boat somewhere. Makes a change from wind, I suppose.

Back towards Badentarbet after a great half-day out.

I notice several beer bottles bobbing around near the pier and sink them. Better that than smashed on a beach. Left last night by some beach campers, I suppose.

As tradition requires, I pass under the prematurely condemned pier. They say the new owner of Tanera Mor (who already has the diggers in), might replace Badentarbet pier with a floating jetty to serve his planned island restaurant. Currently, Old Dornie jetty is twice as far and tide-limited.

On the beach the owner of the cute Salmon Bothy is trying to locate an oystercatcher nest.

Can you spot the eggs? ETH 3 weeks.

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Part 3 ~ Skye to Ullapool

Part 1 2010 • Part 2 2011

g32glafIn 2011 I met Gael after he ran out of time and weather to complete the second stage of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail he started in 2010 in his Grabner H2. According to the guy who wrote the guidebook, the SSKT is a 500-km run through the Inner Hebrides from the Isle of Gigha off the Kintyre peninsula to the Summer Isles, but with no shoreside  infrastructure as such, most just follow their nose with the book’s help.
jetstreamIn 2012 Gael returned to Skye for another go, now in the ex-demo Incept K40 be picked up from Sea Kayak Oban. In March that year Scotland experienced some very fine weather while England got the converse – a result of a misplaced jet stream (right). And so it was for Gael who managed a comparatively trouble-free run all the way to Ullapool where he rolled up his boat and bussed back to his car on Skye.

Day 1 – Kyleakin to Uags
J1 - Kyleakin to UagsThe trip began rather badly. I arrived around midnight in Kyleakin after an interminable drive from Paris with an exhausting final crossing through the Highlands mostly in the rain. I set up my tent quickly on the grass by the hostel’s backyard. Once in my sleeping bag, I fell asleep right away, lulled by the pounding of rain on the canvas and the rustle of leaves in the wind gusts.
Early next morning I woke up with my feet feeling cold and wet; during my deep slumber I’d pushed them under the edge of the tent. Fortunately my sleeping bag fill is synthetic and the nylon shell water repellent enough and with relief I found it was still dry inside. The ground all around was drenched and I could now test the effectiveness of my new Seal Skinz socks.
It was still raining, so I donned my foul weather gear right away before proceeding with the usual pre-launch routine (inflate kayak, rig the accessories, sort food and equipment before closing the bags). Like last year I went to Kyle of Lochalsh Police Station to report my departure, then to the Co-op to stock up on McEwans in case I got ship wrecked.
P1000022TEarly in the afternoon, after a quick snack, I launched in Otter Pond by the Skye bridge. A fresh easterly was blowing out of the Loch against the flowing tide, raising the inevitable chop. I crossed the channel towards Kyle, then let myself be blown under the Skye bridge, leaving Eilean Ban to port. I paddled to Erbusaig Bay through the relatively sheltered Black Islands but decided not to proceed directly to Uags under the current crosswinds. Instead I hugged the coast upwind towards An Dubh Aird from which the crossing would be much shorter.
After vain attempts to take a picture of the two little otters which turned around me, I left the lee of An Dubh Aird and rushed towards the south coast of the Applecross peninsula. Two thirds of the distance into the crossing I bore away and took a direct course to Uags, pushed at speed down the wind blowing along the axis of Loch Carron. Sadly I couldn’t surf the best waves though because the stern was too heavy with the beer. I landed around 6pm in Uags, and moved into the empty bothy.

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Once installed, I hung my tent and sleeping bag to dry, then I rewarded myself this interesting first step with a hot tea and a thick slice of chocolate cake. Outside rain was still pounding.

Day 2 – Uags to Red Point
J2-1 - Uags to Rubha na FearnaI woke up at dawn feeling numb as my old foam sleeping pad had been of little comfort on the floorboards. The temperature was 5°C; so much for this jet stream. I went out to stretch my body and surprised a little doe grazing in the meadow below the ruined Uags hamlet. It scampered away before I could fetch my camera (this is a double entrendre called ‘lacking reflex’). But – it had stopped raining, the air was clear and visibility was excellent. The snow-capped peaks of the Cuillins stood out beautifully against the sky (below left) but the chill air from the northeast soon sent me back inside.

j2snowy
Once on the way from Uags an unexpected SE tailwind pushed me gently toward Sgeir Shalash but the breeze then turned NE, as expected. In the protected lee of the shore I paddled on north without difficulty, up to Camusteel, but when I reached the mouth of Applecross Bay, I had to fight against the wind. It funneled unhindered along the valley, whipping up the waters and raising an uncomfortable chop, until I reached some shelter in the lee of Rubha na Guailne.
From there the long way north to Loch Torridon seemed a never-ending trudge. The wind had picked up to the point of pushing me hard offshore whenever I got 50 meters from the shore. I kept hugging the coast, despite the uncomfortable chop and the occasional breakers, because the wind was shifting SE, thus pushing me northward. When I eventually passed Rubha na Fearna I found myself facing the wind blowing right out of the Loch.
j2bootLoch Torridon greeted me with one of its customary gusts of which I’d had the humiliating experience the year before. I took shelter as soon as I could in a tiny cove hidden behind a natural breakwater. I badly needed a feed.
After a snack and some rest I pushed off to cross the Loch. I paddled a mile inland to gain an upwind margin of safety then I headed north. j2windWedged into the seat, with my legs holding tight on the thigh straps and squeezing the foot rest, I blithely crossed the choppy zone, kept an eye on the most threatening peaking waves and checked off some landmarks in transit which I used to control my leeward drift with the other eye while admiring the spectacular scenery of the mountains towering over Loch Torridon (yes, all at once).
j2 swilI returned to quiet water in the lee of the north shore, laid the paddle across the boat and started bailing. My open decked Incept kayak had ridden well on the waves but had shipped a fair share of water which was now swashing in the bilge. I pulled ashore in the early evening on a beautiful beach near Red Point.

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The j2campebbing tide had just retreated beyond the tombolo that connects Eilean Tioram islet to the mainland, thus forming a placid lagoon. Some cows and sheep were grazing in the dunes undulating behind the beach. I pitched my tent in a hollow, barely sheltered from the chill NE breeze and crashed out.

Day 3 – Red Point to Slaggan Bay
J3-1 - Red Point to Seana ChamasThe night had been cold but the clear morning sky made me hope for a warmer day. When I shoved off I didn’t know that I was about to enjoy one of the most beautiful days of my paddling life.
Passing Red Point I noticed with satisfaction there was almost no swell. For once I wouldn’t be shaken by the rebounding waves and could explore the nooks and crannies of this craggy coast.
j3-dThe sky became overcast and the NE wind picked up as I approached Loch Gairloch. The temperature dropped rapidly and I paddled more vigorously towards Carn Deag in an attempt to stay warm. I made a brief stop on the beach at Big Sand (left) but the chill breeze urged me on. I passed downwind along Longa Island with the hope of discovering a sheltered cove for lunch but found none.
I then went on across Caol Beag, passed Rubha Ban and kept paddling north with my stomach gurgling. The beauty of the coast was worth the inconvenience of being cold, numb and hungry;  huge sections of sandstone cliffs that had fallen in the sea provided an extraordinary maze of narrow passages that I enjoyed threading through. Erosion had also cut multiple geos and caves also worth exploring (I didn’t know what a geo was before reading the SSKT j3-fguidebook). I eventually reached Seana Chamas beach, largely uncovered by the outgoing tide and where I landed and dragged my kayak a few yards on a carpet of seaweed.
The sea was empty except for birds and a view that stretched westward to the Outer Hebrides. The Shiant Islands were clearly visible, standing out like a motionless line of battleships. I finished my lunch just as the tide returned up to my boat. The sky began clearing as I left and when I got past Melvaig all around me glistened under the sun.
j3-gAfter half a mile of boulders the coast turned to sandstone crumbling cliffs again and I could resume prowling in and out of caves and geos under the bright light of this sunny afternoon. Quite suddenly behind another headland appeared – the dreaded Rubha Reidh and its striking white lighthouse.
J3-2 - Seana Chamas to Slaggan BayI felt the mid-tide current pick up as it dragged me over to the other side of the promontory. The whitecaps of a faster tide rip were visible out to sea but right under the lighthouse the sea was rippling gently against the reddish rocks. One of the most exposed stages on this route passed without event.
The NE wind that had been blowing since I left Kyleakin had dropped too, but there was still some swell from the north, preventing me from sneaking through the rocky labyrinth that stretched between Rubha Reidh and the beautiful beach of Camas Mor.
j3-zBeyond Rubha Reid to the east the extraordinary snow-capped skyline of the Wester Ross mountain range rose from the horizon (left). Put in a trance by this sight, I carried on on an eastward course and arrived at Caolas an Fhuraidh. I took stock at the mouth of Loch Ewe before an exposed 4km crossing over to Slaggan Bay.
To the SE lay Rubha nan Sasan still with it’s WWII bunkers and gun emplacements. At that time Loch Ewe had been the starting point for many Russia-bound convoys and a haven for Allied shipping. There’s still a NATO base there today. As I paddled to Ploc an t-Slagain I hoped I’d not be rammed by a nuclear submarine entering or leaving Loch Ewe; I’d read reports elsewhere in the Hebrides of these subs rising so fast the resulting wash tipped sea kayaks bow over stern. I reached Slaggan Bay at 7pm finding another perfect landing place, a crescent of fine sand surrounded by empty dunes.

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Day 4 – Slaggan Bay to Isle Ristol
J4-1 - Slaggan Bay to Priest IslandUnder ideal paddling conditions I hugged the coast towards Greenstone Point, the last critical passage of the SSKT. The Point was flat and bare and proved even less dramatic than Rubha Reidh, although its rocky shoreline was wild and beautiful.
From Greenstone I paddled on to Rubha Beag. In the distance the conspicuous peak of Ben Mor Coigach was towering over the horizon and to the NW lay a scattering of islets; the long-expected Summer Isles.

j4sum

I headed towards the closest, Priest Island some 5km away. Halfway through the passage, the wind died off and the sea glassed over. The uncanny cries of the guillemots emphasized the eerie atmosphere; I felt like I was entering an unearthly space. From the SE tip of the Priest Island I carried on around the west side. It was another paddling paradise with endless features to explore  in the good company of seabirds and seals.
j4beeOnce I completed this circumnavigation I paddled back to a cove called Acairseid Eilean a Chleirich (it’s quite a challenge to try to explain to other people the places I visited) where I pulled ashore onto a tiny uninviting boulder beach (left).
As the afternoon progressed I uneventfully hopped through the convenient chain of islets lying between Priest Island and Tanera Mor, the biggest of the Summer Isles. I had intended to land near Althandu J4-2 - Priest Island to Ristolas I needed some of the facilities of the Port a Bhaigh campground, mostly their electrical hook ups to charge the batteries, fresh water and even a shower, why not? There was also a pub close by.
But as I paddled through Old Dornie harbour I came within sight of the campground and within earshot too. The place looked packed and was definitely too noisy. After four days of solitude with no other sounds than the sea and the birds, I couldn’t stand it. So much for the camera, shower and a beer. I swung my boat south towards the lovely nearby beach of Traigh an t-Sean Bhaile on Ristol. I pitched my tent on thick grass which promised a comfortable night and the chilly cold kept any irksome midges from hatching.

j4-z

Day 5 – Exploring the Summer Isles
J5 - Summer Isles-1I devoted this day to exploring the archipelago as all these islands offer the type of craggy shore most sea paddlers are looking for. The sea conditions were again at their best for squeezing through narrow channels between rocks, under arches or into caves with almost no swell and light winds. I proceeded anti-clockwise around Ristol, paddling along its west coast then circumnavigated Eilean Glas Mullagrach and Glas Leach Mor.
j5slotShags had built their nests in the crevices of the cliffs overlooking the sea. They were not easy to spot as their colour merged with the cliff but their unmistakable angry squawks betrayed their presence above me whenever I got too close. From Glas Leach Mor (the ‘large green stone’ a good description actually) I crossed to Tanera Beag. Here I gave a wide berth to a skerry occupied by a large group of singing seals that I didn’t want to disturb. The haunting sound suited the scenery perfectly.
j5caveTanera Beag is considered the most beautiful of the Summer Isles by the experts. Close to its SW corner is a cave deep enough for a the tourist boat to get in and with a very high ceiling after which it’s called Cathedral Cave. Its SE corner is adorned with an elegant j5archarch, which is another place of pilgrimage by all paddlers visiting the isles.
After completing the circumnavigation of Tanera Beag I pulled ashore for an overdue snack and a nap in a pretty little cove where the outgoing tide had left a broad sandy beach. Between Tanera Beag j5beedand Mor Eilean Fada I entered a kind of shallow lagoon of clear water. The tide was low and I saw my kayak’s shadow skip along the sandy bottom.
Later I landed  in the Anchorage on Tanera Mor, a sheltered bay that opens to the east and filled with salmon pens. There is a floating dock for the tourist boat but the tea shop/post office where I’d intended to indulge in a brew and some piece of cake was closed. j5gpoTanera Mor (currently for sale) enjoys an offshore status which allows this tiny post office to issue its own stamps but no brew, no cake and no stamps for me today.
I hopped back in the boat and crossed the Anchorage diagonally and skirted Rubha Dubh, the east corner of the island. Here I entered a narrow cove choked with seaweed and backed with a pebble and boulder beach. High spring tides and gales had filled the depression beyond the beach thus forming a lovely pond, An Lochanach.
I pulled ashore soon after two other kayakers. The guy didn’t look very happy to see me and curtly turned down my offer to help them to carry their heavily loaded sea kayaks. So I minded my own business, as I had just been advised to do. His wife came and offered remorsefully to give a hand, but I declined politely.

j5z

It had been a hot afternoon and I’d paddled without cag and without cap for the first time in five days. But cold came back after 7pm and the Franco-Welsh relationships in the cove did not improve. Although our respective pitches were located 300 meters apart, each on one side of the beach, no invitation to share dinner was exchanged. It nice to be alone of course, but I like chatting with other paddlers too. Another time perhaps.

Day 6 – Tanera Mor to Ullapool
J6-1 - Tanera Mor - Camas MorOn a beautiful sunny morning I headed SE towards Loch Broom and Ullapool. Sunny but cold, chilly indeed, so chilly that I had my breakfast in my sleeping bag.
In the meantime the wind had shifted SE so I slogged against it all the way to Horse Island. I paddled through the tidal gap which divides this island from its northern tip, Meall nan Gabhar. Once through I pulled ashore and found a very convenient pitching spot.
I regretted not having carried on to this place yesterday, instead of staying next to unsympathetic paddlers. So seemed to say the half-dozen seals romping about behind me. The sky was promising some fair weather j6grathat had been a long time coming. As the breeze didn’t abate I took shelter in the lee of Acheninver. But as soon as I got past Rubha Dubh Ard I fought the headwind again until I reached the base of Ben Mor Coigach.
Then I paddled below the sheer slope of the mountain, until I got to what looked like the white sands of Camas Mor beach. Actually it’s a pebble beach facing Isle Martin and the guidebook said amethysts can be found here, but I didn’t find any. By 2 o’clock clouds covered the sky and some chill air forced me back into my cold weather gear.
j6ulaI shoved off shortly after lunch and enjoyed passing the last natural monuments of the Trail. I rounded Rubha Cadail, addressed a last salute to Ben Mor Coigach and entered Loch Broom. The wind unexpectedly veered NW and pushed me gently towards Ullapool.
Once ashore I pitched my tent under the stares of some motorcyclists wondering where the hell I’d come from. A leather-clad fellow told me the owner was already gone and would return early next morning to J6-2 - Camas Mor - Ullapoolcollect the fee. Meanwhile I washed the Incept to remove the grit scattered in the bilge, wiped it dry, deflated it, rolled it and pushed it into my huge 160-l Ortlieb Kanurucksack. The K40 doesn’t fold as compactly as my good old hypalon H2 but I was relieved it crammed into the bag.
I enjoyed  dinner at the water’s edge overlooking at the now placid waters of Loch Broom, glowing in the satisfaction of my achievement. It has taken three years and two different boats, but I’d completed the SSKT in an inflatable sea kayak along one of the Europe’s most striking shorelines. Celebrations continued at the Ferry Boat Inn where I e-mailed friends and family, sipping some good beer, the sound of music replacing the soothing sound of the sea lapping the shore.

Ullapool to Kyleakin 
g32The weather was set to improve in the following days and I wondered whether to paddle north and round the Point of Stoer, take the ferry to Stornoway for a glimpse of the Outer Hebrides, or complete the exploration of Raasay and Rona that I’d started the year before. The first two options required maps that I was not sure to find in Ullapool. and I was also missing sailing directions.
j6motSo I packed all my gear in my three-bag travelling arrangement: boat and paddling gear in the 160l Kanurucksack, camping gear and clothes in the 59l XPlorer bag, food, cooking gear, books, maps, tools and all the rest in the 49l Rackpack.
The result was portable but heavy and I had a half mile walk to the bus station by the ferry terminal. Luckily the owner came by for the fee and gave me a lift. Soon we were en route to Inverness by bus; an alternative would have been leaving the bus at Garve railway station, halfway to Inverness and hopping on a train to Kyle of Lochalsh.
J9-2 - Around RonaEventually I decided to park up in Kyleakin on Skye and undertook a very enjoyable three-day tour around Raasay and Rona. The year before I’d experienced the charms of these islands despite the unsettled weather – this time conditions were ideal.
Back at the pier three days later, I was giving the Incept a wash on the slipway when a Land Rover towing a trailer full of sea kayaks turned in. A party of men got out of the truck, unloaded the kayaks and started putting paddling gear on. As they carried the boat to water they came over to say hello and asked about my boat and my trip. They were attending a kayak class beginning this very day. Their first day program was a shakedown paddle in sheltered waters before a guided multi-day run to Sandaig. The guide joined the conversation and yet again I endured the usual hardsheller’s drivel about IKs. Ten minutes later I watched the student awkwardly clambering in their kayaks; for some of the clumsier it took quite a while. I told them they were lucky modern kayaks had such larger cockpit coamings – but not as big as mine!
By the time I got to my car the temperature inside was like an oven, despite the screen I’d fixed over the windshield. My chocolate bars had melted. In northwest Scotland? Whatever next.

jr

Kayaking Summer Isles to Ullapool

Weather data from Ardmair Point Campground

Right now the skies are slate grey while white horses gallop across the sound and the washing hangs horizontally. Ardmair just recorded 49mph. But as often happens up here, Sunday was forecasted as sunny with winds of just 4-5mph; a perfect day to paddle the 15-odd miles to Ullapool.
Come the morning the predictions had inched up to 6-7mph, still manageable. Even the three-metre tide was with us, turning as we set off from the awkwardly rocky shore below my place (below right) for a run that we figured would span the six hours until high water at Ullapool.
Six of seven mph winds don’t sound much, but coming right at us from the SSE it was enough to raise a chop of up to a foot over which my K40 slapped like a RIB. Jon’s Scorchio LV cut stealthily through the wavelets like a blacked-out  commando with a knife in his teeth. You got to hand it to these proper sea kayaks, they look as good as they go, until you need to hop in or out of one or carry it on your head. As it was in the conditions we had we were pretty evenly matched.
An hour later we were abreast of Horse Island and heading out into mare incognita. But not before I’d lost half my paddle. I was just thinking I really must get a leash for this thing for windier days, even if it means yet more entangleable cordage lying across the cockpit. As I made this vow I decided to wipe the sweaty right grip in the crook of my elbow, and in doing do popped the button and flung half the paddle over the side. Mayday-mayday! Jon took a while to manoeuvre his 17-foot cheese-cutter into position, although I probably could have retrieved it using the single paddle. Must remember not to do that again.
As we entered Horse Sound the wind rose into double figures and white caps formed so we bowed our heads towards the point at Rubha Dubh Ard opposite the guillemot-clad skerry of Iolla Beag (see map). We then passed the last of the dwellings around Culnacraig and edged towards the 2400-foot mass of Ben Mor Coigach which tops out just a mile from the shore. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the steepest summit-to-sea gradient in the UK. Slip up there and you’d roll uninterrupted straight down into the sea with a huge splash.
Two hours hard work on deck and it was high time for a refuel, so we set our sights on a beach formed by the creek which runs off the back of Ben Mor. But with more slip, slap and slop over the waves, it took twice as long as it looked to get actually there (left). It’s since occurred to me why. In this pic the ordinary-looking mountain seems quite near, but its actually an unusually big 2400-foot (730m) mountain far away. Or we were just slow.
After the spell of fairly intense paddling, walking on the stony shore took some adjustment, but it was good to unbend. Up above a lone walker was pacing the thin path which runs along this steep, exposed coast east towards Ardmair. During a snack I kicked about among the usual enigmatic flotsam: a giant tennis ball, a baby elephant’s welly and a Filipino flip flop. I picked up a bit of old rope to sell on ebay later while Jon pinched some nice stones for his giant aquarium back home.
During our break the wind had abated a little and as we set off again through a seal patrol, Isle Martin helpfully blocked the wind-borne fetch from the southeast. The creased, folded and weathered sandstone of guano-covered red cliffs drifted by, suggesting a second visit on a calmer day, but it was after 2 o’clock so we decided to save our energy and clipped the edge of the Isle. We didn’t want to leave it too late and end up paddling tired up the narrow part of Loch Broom on a turning tide and a headwind.
As it was I was hoping to snatch a quick sail (left) as we turned briefly southwest towards Rubha Cadail lighthouse, but while I did creep forward perceptibly, it was hardly worth it; bad angle and too much lee off the point. Still, the good thing with the Pacific Action sail is that it’s light, lies out of the way and is no effort to flick up on the off chance of a breeze.
Rounding the stumpy lighthouse near Rhue, (below right), we could look back across outer Loch Broom to Polbain and the Summer Isles – maybe we should have planned the day in the opposite direction. Whatever, now it was time for the final 3.5-mile stomp into the wind to Ullapool jetty, hoping that the afternoon ferry from Stornoway wouldn’t sneak up from behind and wash us into the middle of next week.
I observed that Jon typically cruised at four strokes for my five and put it down to the superior glide of his hip-wide LV. In fact he was deploying a textbook exemplification of PPT or ‘proper paddling technique’, instilled by his personal paddling trainer (also PPT). I’d read about this technique in books: put blade in by your feet while turning torso and pull back by re-pivoting the torso, not just pulling on the arms like an ape climbing a vine. It worked; I was a bit faster but it all felt a bit stilted and robotic, not the way I naturally paddle, for better or for worse.
However you do it – ape-vine or PPT – it’s fun to paddle a little kayak into a port used big boats coming and going from who knows where. Ullapool sea front milled lightly with late-summer tourists and it’s possible to interpret one’s arrival as faintly heroic in their eyes, at least compared to a gannet floating beak-down in an oil slick.
Sunburned, crusted with wind-dried salt and not a little stiff, we pulled our boats ashore just over six hours after leaving Polbain. With probably five hours of actual paddling to cover what was indeed only 15 miles but felt more, that’s a fairly ordinary 3mph moving average. Not something to get Ullapool’s summertime bunting in a flutter. Had the headwind been stronger it would have turned into a right old slog, but always with the option of a take-out and ice cream at Ardmair then an a hour’s walk to the car.
We did wonder what it must be like doing this day after day out here as say, Gael has done lately. We celebrated with a creamy cappucho and a slab of buttered fruitcake at the Ceilidh Place (as good as it gets in Ullapool). Recharged and with the anatomical creaks re-oiled, we reckoned we could have pushed on for another three hours if we really had to. But we didn’t so we popped into Tescos for more saccharine tucker and drove home.

Landfall on Horse Island

Sadly it looks like the amazing start to the summer may be over up here – or rather it’s back to normal. Since March it’s been one of the driest periods for years. June just gone was the driest ever while down south in places it was the wettest ever.
But the jet stream has flipped back into position and so it’s business as usual: the south is getting its overdue share of sunshine again while right now the wind howls periodically, it’s lashing down and I can barely see a mile across the bay.
It was the same deal last weekend, but midweek the winds dropped and so did the pressure of the finishing the current job. So I slipped out one evening across Badentarbet Bay to try and thread a loop through Horse Island.
Not having paddled for weeks, as usual I went through the usual neuroses as I parted with the shore (“Crikey, this water really looks dark and deep”. “I really must take a spare paddle.” etc, etc…) while cautiously tracking some low cloud or mist coming up with a southern breeze.
Horse Island is actually further than it looks, about 5km from the pier, and once I decided I’d survive the crossing I planned to slip through the gap between Meall nan Gabhar (see map, above) and head back. The passage is no longer pictured right by Gael who passed that way a couple of months back in his Incept at the culmination of his epic run up the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail.
As I rounded the corner and frightened some seals with a splash, it turned out Meall (a ‘hill or mound’) is a separate island only during the top half of the tide. On my arrival with the tide bottomed out, a bank of seaweed-coverege boulders rose two metres out of the sea (below), creating a broad causeway between Meall and Horse.
No matter, it made getting out easy and as a seal popped up and eyed my movements, I scrambled up the knee-high heather and scrub for a look around Horse, finding a broad grassy platform with various sheltered nooks for a sheltered camp. It’s said local farmers periodically drop off their sheep here to graze, but the only presence was the high-pitched caw of a large bird of prey hovering over its nest up on the hill. The clouds parted briefly to shine onto Ben Mor (above) and pleased with my offshore excursion, I powered back to the pier.

As I paddled out one midsummer’s evening

I took the K40 out across the bay for the first time since Ningaloo last September. As mentioned earlier, Australian UV being what it is, it did look pretty good after being rolled up for months. I put that down to lashings of 303. But it still went a bit flat in the few days between pumping up and paddling. Maybe I pumped it up on a hot day.
I topped it up in the water at Old Dornie, had a quick look for bubbles, took the pump with just in case, and set out back to Badentarbet beach. It had been calm for days and an ankle-high swell wafted along with a spring tide about to top out at about 3.5 metres. I passed the old ‘Wasp Factory‘ (left) still intact, and dithered a bit about crossing to the island, over-conscious about how the boat was moving on the currents that would barely push a wet paper bag. In the end Tanera Mor got close enough, and after a couple of minutes paddling I trailed the rocky shore of red Torridon sandstone for a while before heading back across the bay.
I found out later that the day before a boat tour had spotted a pod of half a dozen orcas (ropey video – start at 1:40 for the best action) right here. Someone suggested that because it’s been so dry, the salmon can’t get upstream to do their thing so have backed up along the shore where the killer whales come in for a feed. Video still below, more pictures here and see footnote.

With no dorsal fins towering over my head, I crossed the last mile over the bay with the rudder up to to remind myself it was do-able. The K40 took a bit more finesse and occasional hard yanking to keep in line, same as with the old Sunny when without a skeg. A smooth, steady style works best but what it really means is that you can’t go as fast; pull hard to escape from a killer whale’s jaws and you really need you’re feet and a rudder to get you back in line.
As my taxi came down off the hill I passed a cheerful buoy bobbing around. Stowing the paddle and using the buoy as a marker, I noticed how quickly I was drifting back on the unseen tide, but as always, with the water and wind moving against you, you get much more of an impression of speed which is satisfying. Battling the not so agreeable tail winds off Ningaloo last September, I lost my faith in the K40 a bit, but here on a calm Highland evening, the Tasman slipped along, just as it always did.
We climbed up onto Ben Mor (right) the other evening, from where I was reminded just how close Ullapool seems from a couple of thousand feet above sea leel. Looking out over Loch Broom, with one arm you can pat the Summer Isles, and with the other dab the lighthouse at Rubha Cadail (Rhue), south of Isle Martin and Ardmair (left). It’s some 13 miles or more, but with a get-out at Ardmair if need be, it would surely be doable within in the span of a tide, then to catch the afternoon bus back.
A few days later I decided my boat did have a leak in the floor somewhere. I hoped it might be a bit of easily expelled grit in the PRV and not the hull delaminating in some hard-to-get-to corner.  I filled it up like a paddling pool and sure enough, it was fizzing from around the edges of the PRV (right).
It took a bit of tracking down with Google (the menuless Incept NZ website is not the best), but it seems the cap needs prising off and the valves cranking down once in a while with a Halkey Roberts valve tool. Seeing as it’s not been done since new, that makes sense, so one’s on order and will hopefully do the trick. I never had to do that on the Gumotex Sunny in all its years, but the Incept does run a higher pressure and is a faster boat because of it.
A day after I wrote this, over breakfast we spotted a huge pod of [probably harbour] porpoises coursing across the bay. They’re not so unusual and half an hour what looked like up to 20 of them trawled a line to an fro off the shore of Tanera Mor, presumably hunting or feeding. This is the best the zoom could manage on a murky midsummer’s morning.