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The Secrets of Priest Island

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prstmapHigh pressure alert! No, my range of recreational leisurecraft weren’t about to blow, it’s the weather – and that’s not about to blow. Far from it. A high was about to lasso the north of Scotland with its concentric isobars. It may be mid-October but it’s been the sunniest and calmest spell up here for two months. Never mind Indian summer, this was turning into an Arapaho autumn. It all added up to good chance to make a break for that most troublesome and distant of the Summer Isles: Priest Island – or Eilean a’ Chleirich; ‘Island of Clerics’.

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Whichever way you look at it Priest looks way out there for someone used to staying within a mile of the shore. Mainlandwise, it’s over six miles out of Old Dornie, nearly four miles off Mellon Udrigle on the other side, and a bit more from the end of the Scoraig peninsula. Far enough out to need the full length of a good day and someone for backup. Luckily Jon thought so too and rode up late Thursday night with his Peckett & McNabb Scorchio LV.

prst-02Friday, soon after dawn we were putting in at the top of the tide at Old Dornie. ETA Priest north shore: 2.5 hours. The forecast was a 6mph SE till late morning after which time it was set to drop right off to the southwest.
Once clear of the back of Tanera Beg’s lee I expected things to kick up a bit. But what a difference it is having someone else along for the ride to quell the usual neuroses. Jon agreed that he too would be nervous of taking a run out to Priest alone, and he was sea kayaking by the book: UHF, spare paddle, bluetooth bilge pump and the Semaphore Handbook in six languages, including Gaelic.
Of course this was all in a day’s work for someone like Gael A who was up here a couple of years ago in an Incept K40 at the end of his Scottish Sea Kayak Trail when he wrote.

J4-1 - Slaggan Bay to Priest IslandI 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 emphasised 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.

prst-04Back to now and I was typically under-dressed, making a concession to the season with some Ron Hill leggings and my warmer pfd. It may have been mid-October but I knew I’d cook in my drysuit and as I guessed correctly, my high-waisted Kokotat overtrousers would complicate the inevitable pee breaks long before I got to set foot on Priest.
Good thing a calm was setting in then. As we left Old Dornie Jon asked me to pull down his jammy skeg, and in the ten seconds it took me to locate it, my arm went numb with cold. Falling in out there would really not bear thinking about. The cold shock would lock your lungs like a slamming safe door. As it was, once past the back of Tanera Beg the sideslap never got that unnerving and as we sploshed along I knew not to be concerned if the distant dark crags of Priest appeared not to grow any nearer.

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Only 90 minutes in the marker of Glas Leac Beag (small green rock – above) came up on the right. I visited the bigger counterpart, Glas Leac Mor the other week, but Glas Leac Beag’s consolation in an emergency was purely hypothetical as the only way to get on it would be to leap from a boat like a frog.
prst-05Still, we were going quicker than I expected despite the chop and corrections against the sidewind. The skeg-rudder idea of fellow Gumotard, Jim, would have been handy here. Every once in a while I had to give a double haul on the right. Jon’s hardshell worked by balancing the variable drop of the skeg against the force of a sidewind which would otherwise push his stern round: more sidewind, more skeg, or something like that. In that sense skegs are more like optional rudders on hardshell cheesecutters which have no need of directional aids like windprone IK bloats.
prst-08Looking a Priest with the low sun in my face (above left) it was impossible to discern any perspective to the foreshore – it was all one long dark line of crags. The map lay right in my lap but who looks at maps once they’re on the move? I failed to recognise that the bouldered landing beach we were aiming for was further to the east, while we were heading down to the western end. Once I realised that, we changed course and passed the tip of Priest and an arch (not the needle-eye arch on the west end) which only Jon noticed. And as predicted, the wind dropped off to nothing.
prst-10We were searching for the cobble stoned beach created by the island’s NE/SW glacial gouging. We put in up a cleft (left) and staggered ashore, but it was all wrong – we had made the deadly mistake of pre-emption, scourge of the hasty navigator! If we wanted to spend any time on land, the dropping 12-foot tide would make getting back out of the cleft tricky.
PriestIslandBack into the boats on the slippery seaweed boulders – surely the most awkward and risky part of sea yaking, short of tackling a typhoon. Soon we got to the correct stony beach I’d clocked on Google. A stumbly 5-minute portage from here would have led to the glassy half-km-long Lochan prst-15Fada which cuts right to the heart of the island, one of nine freshwater sources on the Priest. But, great picture though it may have made, I was a bit pooped and more interested in ham butties.
We sat on a hill overlooking the still lochan when Jon noticed the back of a signboard at the other landing beach. It was a plea by the island’s RSPB owners for visitors to be careful not to crush the burrows and eggs of the 2000-strong colony of storm petrels which inhabit Priest Island.

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As it happens that was made easier by a few paths leading from the two landing beaches. One led past the RSPB shed from where I carried on to the south side to check out the ‘prehistoric’ stone circles. The ones I saw (picture far below) looked more like rude shepherd shelters than mysterious Neolithic monuments (there’s more on Wiki), but to be fair I didn’t see the others just to the north. That was because it took a bit of reorienting to locate the island’s sole ruin, a substantial but roofless four-room bothy supposedly on the site of a sixth-century Christian chapel, suggesting an origin to the island’s name. I was curious to see this place as it’s said in 1975 a pair of unlikely criminals hid out here for a few months, on the run from a collapsing series of scams.millbell

pftpGoogle ‘Jim Miller and John Bellord, Southern Organs Scandal’ and you’ll soon find Geoff Green’s recent book: Paying for the Past. In it the author admits to falling under Miller’s mesmeric spell in the early sixties and eventually becoming one of the entrepreneurs’ close business associates. Along with many others, he was invited toalvis make a quick buck by investing into loans to supposedly supply churches with expensive electric organs, and was later drawn into a racy, high-profile lifestyle as the manager of Southern Organs’ GP sponsorship endeavour. Alvin Stardust (right) and other celebs were part of the gang, but then around 1975 the whole cosy investment scam which supported the racing sponsorship began to crumble.

millerbelordAlthough he knew nothing of the area, it was Green who came up with the idea for the pair to hide out on Priest Island. They jetted off on an long overdue holiday to Calais, sent postcards  back home saying they’d killed themselves, ferried back to Dover the same day where Green met them and drove up to Ullapool. He then RIB’ed over from Dundonnell to Priest, leaving them with provisions and an inadequate two-metre dinghy with an outboard.
I read the book curious to discover if this claim – that these urbane middle-aged gents (Miller lightly crippled with polio) could really have lived for ‘262 days’ on Priest Island, frying up storm petrel omelettes and brewing peat tea. Over eight months sounded far-fetched for two conmen fleeing a Rolls Royce-champagne-and-helicopter cjcjlifestyle before clumsily faking their suicides from Calais, like Reggie Perrin on telly, John Stonehouse the MP, Lucan and more recently, our hardshelled friend, Canoe Man. A desperate, ex-para axe murdering survivalist might have been able to hack Priest for that long. But with these two, insisting as they did on a chemical toilet, it all seemed improbable. Crofting on the mainland is hard enough. What chance on a 120-hectare island, even with half-a-dozen lochans? On their release they went on to explain in a BBC documentary:

… the island had reaffirmed our belief in the simple things and helped us to clear away a mass of valueless and extraneous paraphernalia with which we, like so many, has cluttered our lives.

greenPaying for the Past is a bit light on clerical details and dates as, after dropping them off on Priest one stormy September day (a slightly over-written episode with some implausible embellishments, IMO), the author (right) was never to see his friends again. It’s only towards the end of the book that Green suggests they may not have been on the island anywhere near as long as he claims, and once recovered to the mainland, probably used their well polished charm and remaining cash to secure local support in Ullapool, as explained in the book.
This video is part of a documentary that portrays the events from the point of view of a psychic detective who was hired by the Express, though it wasn’t shot on Priest Island. And for all our man’s alleged clairvoyance, it was simply the police tip-off from Geoff Green (under pressure from legions of debtors and with leniency guaranteed) that got the two arrested in Ullapool. Ironically though, it was Miller’s similar esoteric beliefs in radionics, among other ‘faith healing’ therapies, that founded and then funded what became the duo’s glamourous empire.
prst-19When I found the ruin in which they say they hid, it was clearly not your average Coigach crofter’s bothy, but a more substantial dwelling supposedly built on the site of an old chapel, either by a sixth-century monk on retreat, or a banished russellsheep rustler with a talent for masonry. As a sign (right) we saw on the Dundonnell Estate near Scoraig last week proves, ovine rustling is still an issue here in the wild nor’ west.
islandyearsThe way Green tells it, it was his auspicious discovery and reading of Frank Fraser Darling’s book Island Years, Island Farm (1943, left) which gave him the bright idea for the pair to hide out on Priest Island until it all blew over. Apparently Miller and Bellord had holidayed in Ullapool and were fond of the area – that was all it took. Any bushcraft savvy they could pick up along the way. Darling’s Island Years mostly deals with experimenting with sustainable crofting agriculture on Tanera Mor (left) tmordin the early 1940s (Island Farm), but he and his resilient family first tried to give a go for a few months on Priest Island a few years earlier. Having now read that book I wouldn’t say the account of Arctic-grade tents being torn to shreds would evoke a great place for a hideaway holiday, but as we know with northwest Scotland, when the weather is calm it’s brilliant, and when it’s not you just knuckle down. The Fraser Darling family went on to camp on the Treshnish even endured a spell on North Rona where the author had been funded to study grey seals and their effect on commercial fishing.
prst-18Miller and Bellord come across as an intriguing pair and you can see why their background, interests and activities captured the attention of the media, and why Geoff Green’s 2014 book has gone down well with readers.
In this video published by Green a couple of weeks ago he returns again to Priest Island, but in it he mistakes the hut circles I saw (left) for the bothy which appears on the 25k OS map shown on this page, and even more clearly on Google aerial imagery. It remains as intact as it was in the first, 1979 BBC Everyman documentary featured at the end of the video above, with a bit of unsightly plastic rubbish in the adjacent burn – a job for the next RSPB volunteer visit, or anyone with a bin bag and space.


PriestIslandAnyway. Enough true crime confessionals.  We returned to the boats and headed southeast across the big bay towards some interesting looking cliffs and clefts. One chasm led deep into the crag with promising daylight peaking out the far end. We edged in deeper, pushing off the sides, and between the swells got far enough through to see there was no way out at this point, halfway down the tide. We tried from the other end, slipping behind the outer stack visible on aerial images, but that too needed at least another foot of water to paddle through. Finally at Aird Glas, Priest’s eastern extremity, we managed to paddle behind a stack and commence our glide across the now mirrored water to Bottle Island.

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prst-26It all seemed so effortless. We could have aimed at any Summer Isle we chose – over to Carn nan Sgeir even – and paddled straight there with ease. prst-30What was all the fuss about? On Bottle I was hoping to lead Jon through the southern passage I found last year, but as on Priest, the water was too low to pass through the narrower exit tunnel (right).
prst-33All that remained now was to follow the island chain over to nearby Carn Iar/Deas and from there pass over the sandy green channel of Caolas nan Sgeirean Glasa (I throw all these Gaelic names about like I didn’t just type them carefully off an OS map).
prst-32We pulled in for tea break on the jetty of Eilean Dubh, ahead of the final six-mile surge back to Old Dornie. I found this handy refuge last year and we agreed that a: the jetty was a bit short for the tidal span and b: even if it’s nice to have a secluded island cabin (right) well sheltered from the prevailing winds, it had a comparatively ordinary view back towards Achiltibuie and a chilly, sunless aspect this time of year.
prst-37The tide was on the turn now as we passed Tanera’s tidal lagoon and crossed Badetarbet Bay on home ground. I’d been asked to pick up some heavy bags of winkles somewhere on the north side of the bay prst-35on Rubhan na Buaile and drop them off at Old Dornie. But clambering along the grubby shore while Jon towed my boat, neither of use could find any trace of them. There was clearly a need for some CCTV surveillance round here, too.
prst-40We got back to Old Dornie just as everything was getting bathed in the same rosy-orange glow it has been when we set out, nine hours earlier. And after 30 clicks of sea paddling and very little similar exercise, I wasn’t as shagged as I’d expected to be, something that I’d partly put down to a lack of tension of not doing it alone.
The Bottle Island run last year was 22km but pushing the bow of the Amigo had been enough of a slog to make me buy the Seawave. I think there’s barely one kph in it, but that’s nearly 20%, and with the Seawave’s many other benefits not least  its sharper bow, I can conclude that, like the name suggests, it’s a better all-round sea boat, and also that Priest Island would be a great place to revisit.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Back in the sunny Summer Isles

Here we are back in the Summer Isles for the duration. Temptingly calm and sparkly out there right now, and we’re told it’s been fabulous weather these last few weeks.
On his blog, this chap reported 28°C a couple of weeks ago near Lochinver just north of here. Check out his pics, because through all the windy days you get up here, seemingly lit by a 25-watt bulb, when it’s fine and calm and bright you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, in or out of a boat.
As you may know the south of the UK is getting a hammering – storms in Cornwall, floods in Wales then Sussex, and the wettest April plus coldest May since EMI set up shop in a Kilburn garage. On the drive in to the Coigach, streams like the Osgaig looked distinctly boney, the adjacent lochs failed to join up like they used to, revealing instead hitherto unseen sandbars, and the moors are the colour of bark not rotting lettuce – terrible news for midge lovers. There was even a bushfire on Tanera Mor island (left).

And as you’ll read on here soon, on his second attempt, French aventure-gonflateur Gael A successfully completed Stage Two of his run up the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, from Skye to Ullapool via the Summer Isles in his Incept K40 (the same one featured here) – and he did so it seems without any dramas.
 Left, the commitment-requiring Rubha Reid headland which he didn’t even reach in 2011, and right, Tanera Mor ablaze in sunshine, as opposed to burning peat.
It seems this prolonged spell of reversed weather in the UK could be down to the jet stream which, according to a BBC report, has flipped and is talking a southern course along the England Channel, instead of straight above here on its way to Murmansk (right). As a consequence (and as HMtQ found last week) that translates to a low pressure  over England which I do believe results in the top end of that low drawing in hot and dry continental air westwards across Scotland, not the usual southwesterly Atlantic mush that’s fit only for wind farms. Can’t be at all sure I’ve interpreted that correctly, but Scotland’s been getting it good for weeks, so here’s to the jet stream continuing to water the shires of England while we live it up here in the far northwest.
While schroling through the backposts at …kayak.fr I spotted this semi-interesting slideshow of the history of Zodiac dinghies. Well over a century old they are, and they even made a super-wide IK just before WWII. What was interesting is that they didn’t give a mention to our old friend Bombard’s Atlantic crossing in the early 50s, something he managed while relying almost entirely on seafood, seawater and rainwater. Instead, golden boy Jacques Cousteau gets a shot with what I believe is a huge, 20-metre hyper-Zodiac causing a traffic jam en ville. It dwarfs the 8-metre Grand Canyon support rafts we saw at Lees Ferry the other week. Apparently the hyper-Z took so much air to inflate it that locally, asphyxiated birds would drop out of the sky. Here’s another still of a sleeping croc with its paws affectionately draped over the Zodiac which probably finished him off.
I read also that at one stage Zodiac Marine bought out (or perhaps produced?) the execrable Sea Hawk slackrafts with which a mate and I paddled the Chassezac river last year. It’s no exaggeration to say his survived undamaged for about five minutes.
Back to the Isles, I’m told that sea kayaking has really kicked off so far this year, with weekenders regularly putting in at the new Port Beag campsite, right opposite Isle Ristol.
Meanwhile, my flaccid K40 is sunning itself on the lawn, easing out its creases after being rolled up and shoved in a dark cupboard since its not-so-successful Ningaloo outing in Australia last September. Amazingly it still looks pretty fresh and hasn’t been eaten alive by microbes. Time soon to pump it up, see if it holds air, and take it out for a spin.

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Part 2 ~ Raasay to Loch Torridon

Grabner H2 report • Part 1 (previous) • Part 3 (next)

Scotland 2011
Raasay – Rona – Loch Torridon

On Saturday May 14, I left Paris very early and drove all the way to Scotland (save the channel crossing on a ferry). I arrived in Kyleakin on Skye very late the same day. The last leg between Fort William and Kyle of Lochalsh had been tricky because some large animals were standing in the dark by the roadside. I pitched my tent in the grassy backyard of the Backpackers hostel and eventually enjoyed some well deserved rest.
Morning after, I checked the weather forecast to find out that it was expected to be rough during the next 36 hours, before improving on Monday afternoon.
My plan was to complete in about 10 days the last section of the SSKT, the Northland section, from Kyle to Ullapool. Last summer I had paddled North up to Applecross, visiting the Crowlin Islands en route, as well as Loch Carron up to Plockton and the Black Islands. Instead of following the same route, I intended to visit Raasay and Rona before crossing the Inner Sound to Loch Torridon. This detour would also keep me sheltered from the Westerly winds in the lee of Skye.
SSKT2-01Before putting off, I went to the police station in Kyle of Lochalsh to inform them about my intended trip. The officer in charge was very helpful and helped me to turn a « going to the hills » form into a float plan. He took note of my leaving my car at Kyleakin : I did not want to be reported missing in case somebody would draw wrong conclusions after noticing a foreign car left unattended for several days.
I launched in Otter Pond after lunch and started paddling westward, hugging the shore which offered some shelter from the SW breeze. I thought I could reach the SE corner of Scalpay by the end of the afternoon and set camp there, but the wind decided otherwise and grew stronger as I was passing Palbay on my starboard beam. Rounding the low features of Rubha Ardnish I felt the full force of the SW gusts freewheeling across Broadford bay. It would take way too much energy to reach the other side, so I decided it was wiser to call it a day and returned to the lee of Rubha Ardnish. 
SSKT2-02It was high water time. The sea had just risen up its highest, flooding large expanses of grass and patches of sea pinks (armeria maritima). I landed on a bed of flowers and installed my camp at the foot of a rocky SSKT2-03bluff offering a natural protection against the wind. Soon the rain forced me to hide in my tent. Cooking outside was impossible so I carefully light my tiny can stove inside and prepared some hot soup.
SSKT2-04I took to sea at high tide the following day. Very early then. I had to because the shoals around Rubha Ardnish dry out not long after high water, meaning a long and tedious portage should I miss the time. Crossing Broadford bay against the still fresh SW breeze proved to be a effective warming up exercise.  
SSKT2-06I stopped on the gravel beach in the small drying harbour, protected by an old and crumbling stone pier where some fishing boats were moored. Through the windows of the hotel nearby, I was watched by guests having breakfast in shorts and t-shirt.
SSKT2-05Surprisingly as I left Broadford behind me the wind eased off and I paddled through Caolas Scalpay on mirror like flat water. This bliss did not last and I crossed the mouth of Loch Ainort buffeted by the usual SW gusts. I probed into Caol Mor to assess the conditions for this 2 km passage. I found it challenging enough to make my arms feel weak. I postponed the crossing to later in the afternoon, let the wind blow me back around and retraced my last paddle strokes until I could land on a seaweed choked boulder beach for an early luncheon. One hour later the receding tide had left my boat SSKT2-07high and dry but I could easily drag it back to water on the thick and slippery layer of kelp covering the boulders. The 2 km crossing to Raasay went fairly well. To my great satisfaction I was whisked by the wind around Eyre Point then to Rubha Na’ Leac. I landed in the small bay behind this headland, hoping to find a camping spot. There was none so I had to paddle on along steep hillsides and stately cliffs all the way to Brochel.
SSKT2-08I landed on a pebble beach below the conspicuous ruins of Brochel Castle. Above the beach was a grassy ledge where I pitched my tent. The evening was calm and dry, so I could enjoy my dinner in the open, watching the Applecross hills across the Inner Sound. I paid a visit to the Castle (which is unfortunately falling apart), but it was too late to have a walk to Ardnish along the famous Calum’s Road. 
SSKT2-09Forecast for the next day, provided to me by Chris, was light breeze no rain until 7 pm. There were even patches of blue in the overcast sky. I paddled to the north tip of Raasay, entered Caol Rona and turned into the narrow passage between Raasay and Eilan Tigh. A SW light breeze pushed me across Caol Rona and later helped me against the current ebbing out of Acairseid Mhor between Rona and Eilean Gharb. Acairseid Mhor is a natural harbour, and a former smugglers haunt.
SSKT2-11Rounding the North tip of Rona amongst a maze of skerries, I involuntarily scared a score of seals which scrambled into the water from the rocks where they were sprawled. The visibility was good and I could see Rubha na Fearna 9 km away to the East. I looked up to the lighthouse and noticed the flag flying in the wind next to it. SSKT2-12The flag was showing that the wind had backed South. That was bad news : I would have to paddle for about two hours in side wind pushing me towards open sea. But the wind was not expected to pick up before the end of the afternoon SSKT2-13and I should be safe in Loch Torridon by then. So much for the easy downwind crossing I had hoped for. Two hours later I rounded Rubha na Fearna with a heavy sigh of relief. The wind had alarmingly picked up while I was still in the middle of Inner Sound. The current was running against the wind, inducing some uncomfortable yet manageable chop. I stopped on the sand of a tiny inlet and had lunch.
SSKT2-14When I set off again, the wind had backed to the SE. While probably still blowing from South outside, it was funneled along the direction of Loch Torridon. So I trudged along the shore, feeling the wind blowing stronger as time passed, and reached Aird, a headland separating Loch Torridon from Loch Shieldaig. I rounded the north tip of this headland then set a course to Shieldaig island some 4 km away. The wind suddenly accelerated and stopped me in the passage. The water around me became white. I tried hard to move forward, to no avail. I gave up and let the wind push me back out of Loch Shieldaig into Loch Torridon.
SSKT2-15Hugging the shore of Aird I paddled into Loch Beag under the pouring rain. I landed on a narrow slipway at the very head of the inlet, next to heaps of creels. Exhausted, cold and miserable I staggered up to a shed were some people were sorting shellfish. The building had an upstairs platform above the working floor accommodating an office, a cloakroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. I was granted permission by the foreman to spend night in the kitchen. This room was also a closet cluttered with various things. The cloakroom stank because of the fishermen oilskins and wellies hanging there, but it was heated and I put my stuff there to dry.
SSKT2-16The foreman came back at 7 next morning. I was ready to go and had washed the floor before leaving. Through his binoculars I could see the white crests of rough water outside. However as the wind had veered to SW, it should not prevent me to enter Loch Shieldaig this time.
Again I rounded Aird. As expected, I was sheltered from the SW wind. Nevertheless I kept hugging the shore to avoid any risk of being pushed away. I landed on a tiny pebble beach near a shabby cabin. I walked up a soaking wet footpath to explore the woods. There I found an ideal campsite, flat, dry and sheltered by the trees.
SSKT2-17I was short of drinkable fresh water. There was plenty of water dripping all over the place but I was not in the mood for going through the process of purifying it, not for setting up a rig to collect rain water, even though I had nothing else to do actually.
Instead I decided to paddle another 2 km to Shieldaig, get some water there and return to my secret campsite. I was halfway across to Shieldaig Island when a powerful SW gust hit and I had to paddle like mad to keep on my course to Shieldaig jetties. I filled my 10 litre waterbag and bottles at the tap conveniently located on the creel-choked platform, after a local confirmed it dispensed drinkable water. I paddled the shortest distance to the sheltered opposite shore and returned to campsite.
SSKT2-18The forecast that Chris texted me for the following days was still depressing. There was too much distance of west facing exposed coast on my way up north that I could handle in high winds. So I decided to leave the SSKT here, and accepted Chris proposal to pick me up in Shieldaig the next day. I hoped the weather would improve after the week-end and allow us to explore the Summer Isles. It did not happen.

A wet weekend that turned windy

 Gale warning 23 May 09:53 UTC
Violent storm force 11 veering northwesterly imminent, decreasing gale force 8

 That storm hit some 200 miles west of here in Rockall, but you get the picture; it’s kite-shredding weather round here right now. Friday afternoon Ardmair near Ullapool recorded nearly 100 kph (62 mph), while we sat at the window and watched the sound run with streaks of foam. The way it’s blowing now I’d not be surprised if it gets over a 100 this week. As it turns out, along with us, the weather station up the loch went down in a 4-hour power cut at the height of the storm, but by then I read it reached 100 mph (160 kph) on the other side of Scotland.
A week ago intrepid French IK sea kayaker Gael A. set off from Skye (right) to complete
the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail (SSKT) which he started last August and wrote up for this blog. At that time he managed a fair chunk of the route before the weather turned. This time he was far less lucky; after a record hot April in the UK, May is turning into a bonanza harvest for wind farmers. By last Tuesday Gael had crossed over from Rona island to the mouth of Loch Torridon (above left, midway on the 9km crossing) and got up as far as he could before the fierce wind forced him back to camp. Next day he reached Sheildaig, at one point noting the spring tide flooding a patch of wildflowers (right). The forecast summaries I was texting him were not promising: days of F5-7 ahead. He was in a fix because from Torridon he had an exposed 45-km section past Gairloch to get around Rubha Reidh headland before turning east towards Loch Ewe, the Summer Isles and Ullapool, the finish line of the SSKT. Providing we could handle the conditions, Jon and I had hoped to meet him ‘after the scary bit’ somewhere around Loch Ewe and paddle for a couple of days together.
Gael is pretty experienced – 40 years sea yaking man and boy – so by Wednesday night he knew the game was up in the time he had left. Next day I drove down to pick him up and take him back to his car on Skye, if for no other reason than it’s a fabulous drive across Wester Ross that I’d not done before. On the way I eyed up the meandering River Bran which ran along a railway line (left) as a possible train-shuttle day trip with raft or IK. Glencoe? Schmencoe. There are scores of dramatic valleys like that up here and Loch Torridon itself is a fabulous spot I’d like to return to with my packboats. The whole of the northwest above Skye really is something else as the many touring bikers and pushbikers were no doubt finding out for themselves. The tiny hamlet of Sheildaig is a time-lost, lobster-pot fantasy tucked up an inlet. It didn’t take long to find Gael so we went over to his camp by the jetty, loaded the car and headed to Skye.
The Sound of Sleat off Kyleakin (left) was calm enough, but out beyond the bridge the sea had a bit of a head on it. We had a 1970s-era lunch, Gael checked out with the police in Lochalsh and decided to hang out up here on the off chance the weather improved and he or we could make a little tour of the Summer Isles. He was also keen to try out my Incept as his Grabner was showing the years. In fact is was he who last year pointed out that Incept K40 had evolved since I last checked it out. For me it was also a good chance to interrogate an experienced sea kayaker about the Ways of the Sea. Among the many skills I feel I lack is the judgement to know when it’s safe to got out and when I ought to turn back: interpreting clouds and wind changes, forecasts and sea states. It’s a lot of stuff to understand so we spent Friday chatting while refreshing various forecast websites: Saturday looked like a bit of a lull so Jon came up to for a paddling threesome.
We did the best we could on Saturday and set out from the campsite beach (left) to plant our flags on the calm side of Isle Ristol (which you can walk to at very low tide). Old Dornie was standing room only that day as a local skiff racing regatta was on, postponed from last weekend when Jon and I spent our time daring ourselves to do something and go somewhere.
Sat in the back of his aged H2 Grabner like a canoeist, Gael was far more confident than us – pushing out over some surf raised by a reef while we scurried away, appalled. We beached on Ristol for lunch then turned round into the wind blowing through Old Dornie harbour, dodging the skiffing crews (right) hauling out to a buoy and back to the cheers of the crowds until – to quote Gael – it got at least as ‘lively’ (below)  as the previous weekend when we’d taken a while to get the hang of it all. Hauling against the wind the two clicks to the main Summer Isles looked a bit of a reach.

We turned back to the campsite launch as it filled with tooled-up sea kayakers who I fear were not going to have the great weekend’s paddling they’d come for. We headed over to Achnahaird Beach on the north side which ought to be either sheltered or with an offshore wind, depending on how you looked at it. Once in, I pointed to a Point and said let’s go there! but the Wise Old Man of the Sea advised we keep along the leeside cliffs in case the wind picked up as was predicted. The sea was flat enough between gusts but had a big, rolling swell which was an odd sensation I’ve not experienced before. I wasn’t sure if I should be anxious or just enjoy the ride.
Once in a while a series of bigger swells rolled by and churned around the outcrops, or crashed against the red sandstone cliffs, but without any real danger to a boater as there was no surf. We’ve all seen impressive sea kayaking long lens shots like that; relaxed yaker in profile with a backdrop of white-foam carnage. Even under skies which looked like they were about to collapse under their own weight (choose any pic nearby), it was a nice end to the day, running past the moss-clad cliffs and spooky caves from which pealed unrecognisable squawks. A lone seal popped up from a distance to check us out and to the east rose the naked spurs of Suilven, Cul Mor and Stac, carved out of the Assynt’s bedrock during the last Ice Age.
Jon glided along in his LV like he was on rails; you got to hand it to these hardshell SinKs, they may be a pain to carry on the Tube but they sure look good on the water – viewed from the stable-as-a-cow-pat perch of an IK, of course! Heck, it all felt like proper sea kayaking. Further up, around Rubha na Coigach headland I dare say it all gets pretty hairy, but it sure would be nice to cruise further along this coast with the Mrs some warm, calm and sunny evening.
And before the weekend was done, Gael got onto Sea Kayak Oban and bought their K40 test boat which I tried out last March. He got a great deal all things considered; I’d have bought it myself had I not already ordered my yellow boat. So that’s at least two K40s in action on the high seas; mine, his and maybe yours too soon.

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Part 1 ~ Gigha to Skye

Gaël Auffret

Grabner H2 report  • Part 2, May 2011 • Part 3, May 2012

I was not actually used to camping in the rain. My personal survival mode turns on with the first rain drops. I started worrying about staying dry when I heard the rain drumming on my tent that first morning in real Scotland. When I had decided to do a paddling trip along the Scottish west coast I knew what to expect. I was prepared and had enough room in my tent to dress and pack critical items such as my sleeping bag in drybags. Removing the inner tent gave me even more space to have a comfortable breakfast. When I broke camp the only wet thing was the tent flysheet. Yet I still wondered how long I could cope with these conditions. I had spent this first rainy night in a campground near Luss, on Loch Lomond west shore. I had arrived there at dusk the day before, after a long drive from Paris. The beauty of the landscape made me forget the weather as I drove along Loch Fyne. Inveraray was packed with tourists despite the showers. The rain didn’t stop until I reached Tayinloan on the west coast of Kintyre. I thought I’d find the Oban tide table in the tiny shop but I was wrong. I had to return to Tarbert where I should have stopped earlier. There I found the Oban tide tables at the tourist office. I bought some midge repellent, bread and peanut butter.
It was still early afternoon and I had enough time to cross to Gigha and set camp at the Ardminish boathouse, but I had to solve the problem of where to leave my car. According to the SSKT guide book I could leave it on the ferry car park but I didn’t want to worry about it during the next 2 or 3 weeks. So I decided to go to the Point Sands campground and get permission to leave my car there. I pitched my tent on the grass just behind the beach and spent the rest of the day preparing next day’s navigation on maps.

First paddle strokes in Scottish waters
No rain this Sunday morning. I inflated my Grabner IK (inflatable kayak), sorted out my gear, packed it in the appropriate drybags and carried it all down the beach. It was low tide. The sea was calm but the low and dark clouds looked ominous. I was ready to push off at noon. Soon I was riding the small chop of Gigha sound, and I relished this moment that I had longed for for many years.
The 5km crossing to Gigha was the first leg of the trip. It was neap tide so the current in the sound was negligible. The paddling conditions were good so I could skip stopping at Ardminish Bay and paddle on towards the northern tip of Gigha. Thanks to the excellent visibility I could see the Gamnha Gigha rocks and light, and identify Rochanan Point in the distance. I took aim and paddled across the sound again and had a first encounter with seals on Gamnha Gigha. They are the same color as the rocks so I noticed them only when they started moving.
I landed on Rochanan Point after 4 hours at sea. I was hungry. A NW breeze took up while I was having lunch. The wind and the chop were manageable and I crossed Loch West Tarbert with reasonable effort. I went around Ardpatrick Point then to Rubha Cruitiridh across Loch Stornoway. This bay was a possible landing if the conditions worsened and prevented me getting round Kilberry Head. I stopped on a small beach to relax, have a snack and empty the boat of the water that had splashed in during the crossing. The wind kicked up again around Kilberry Head and the clapotis rocked my boat in all directions. The rodeo-like ride went on until I passed Port Ban.
Soon I landed in Miller’s Bay on a postcard-perfect sandy beach. Behind it I found a grassy spot occupied only by two sheep, half a dozen cows and many rabbits. I pitched my tent, gathered wood, cooked some noodles and watched the sunset. My first paddling day in Scotland was almost over. I had paddled 32 km (20 miles), overcome the head wind and ridden the clapotis.  I had faced the same conditions many times before, but for some reason I had thought it would be more difficult in Scotland. Of course I was wrong.

Through the Dorus Mor
I expected to meet the same conditions along the following sections of the route. But Kilberry Head was the last exposed stretch of coast before a safer area of inshore waters. I was now protected from offshore weather by the high paps of Jura. The conditions that usually make this place tricky are strong currents during spring tides and south westerly wind. Tides were neap so the current was negligible, and the wind was just a light northerly breeze. Fortunately for me the danger that the SSKT book warns against were non-existent and the crossing to Point Knap was like paddling on a pond.

Rubha na Cille
I stopped for a quick lunch near Rubha na Cille and indulged into a short nap before taking to water. The sea was flat now. The breeze died as I was ploughing my way towards Carsaig Bay. Paddling on this mirror-like water would have been boring save for the fantastic landscape I had around me. I had never met such incredible skies, nor such mountains towering above such a glistening sea.
I didn’t find a camping spot around Carsaig Bay but had enough time to pass the Dorus Mor with the end of the flow. The, dead calm conditions were ideal for this passage. From Ardnoe I took a course to Garbh Reisa, the island marking the entrance of the Dorus Mor. This passage is a dangerous race in spring tides. The instructions given by the SSKT book were to reach the entrance at slack water and go with a beginning tide. They were valid for spring tides, but it was neaps and my plan was to cross at mid-tide to take advantage of the fastest current and add more distance to today’s mileage. I was late and I started feeling some current only when I reached the north tip of Garbh Reisa. To the west appeared the gap between Jura and Scarba, the infamous Gulf Of Corryvreckan, where a deadly whirlpool forms in spring tides. I gently glided around Craignish Point then turned north, expecting some push from the remainder of the flow. I looked to the shore to assess my speed: I was stuck, even being pulled slightly backwards to Craignish by some invisible eddy. I was not sure of the right move to make, get closer to the shore or away from it and closer to Reisa Mhic Phaidean. I had read that currents might be surprising in this area so I took the first option. I followed the shore until I found a suitable landing and camping spot in Bagh Dail nan Ceann, where I arrived just as I began feeling sore arms.
After pitching my tent in the tall grass, I picked some wood for the stove. I found a rather big piece on the pebble beach and used my folding saw and Finnish knife to split it into kindling. I kept my Yak paddling suit on as a camp suit and it worked well, keeping me warm and dry without overheating while paddling or shivering while on the shore.

Inshore waters
I woke up to the song of rain and wind. No surprise; the forecast had announced moderate wind save for squalls from the West. I had company under the tent flysheet: slugs and frogs were having a morning meeting on my face.
The first effort of the day was to get out of my sleeping bag, the second was to put on my Yak trousers inside the tent. They were cold and clammy and making my feet break through the latex ankle seals was a chore. The rain stopped and as the sky cleared I enjoyed the view on distant islands to the west while sipping some hot coffee.
After an easy crossing to Luing via Shuna south tip, I paddled northwards hugging the shore of Luing to dodge the ebbing current in the sound. I stopped in Toberonochy where I could get some water from a gentleman who stopped some masonry work to fill my water bag. I went around Torsa in company of seals and rode a convenient eddy created by the current ebbing from Cuan sound that brought me to Seil. There I stopped to wait for the flow at the entrance of the sound of Seil.
I entered Clachan sound not long after low tide but there was enough water for my kayak to glide over the kelp. Soon I passed under the famous bridge over the Atlantic, then through a narrow and shallow canal, and eventually emerged among some islets just north of Puilladobhrain. There I met a group of kayakers from Oban.  Their leader came over to say hello. She even added that my kayak was nice. I was surprised as most hardshell sea kayakers usually find any IK ugly. We parted company and I headed to Kerrera taking a direct course to Rubha Seanach, Kerrera’s southeast tip. It was an open passage, out of the protection of any island. Mull was too far away to offer any significant shelter from the westerly breeze but it was manageable and I liked to feel the moves of the swell again after two days of lake-like conditions.
The impressive Gyllen castle came into view and soon I entered Port a’Chaisteil. There a confused clapotis was stirring the water, making shooting pictures difficult. It was no better in Port a’Chroinn, the beach on the southeastside of the Castle. I went out of the bay, turned left around Rubha Seanach and entered the relatively flat waters of Kerrera sound where I paddled downwind up to Little Horse Shoe Bay, looking for a suitable campsite.

Crossings – Kerrera to Kilchoan
I was thinking about today’s route while spreading a thick layer of peanut butter on a Breton pancake. I had water for at least another 2 days, food for another 2 weeks. I had OS maps covering the coast up to Lochalsh and the Skye bridge. I needed no additional equipment. In short needed nothng in Oban. So why bother? I decided to go around Kerrera clockwise instead. The west coast of Kerrera was rugged and beautiful. The view over the firth of Lorn to Mull and the distant Morvern hills was promising. There was no shipping traffic except some fisherman and a barge or two. The ferry traffic was concentrated in Mull sound, going to and from Oban on a route that passes between Lady’s Rock and Lismore. I stopped on a shingle beach in Slatrach bay. This place offered superb camping and I promised myself to return and spend some time here. During spring tides the crossing to Mull has to be accurately timed in order to avoid being dragged in the race that forms between Lady’s Rock and Duart Point. It was still neaps, the tide was ebbing and I would just need to compensate a slight southbound current. I took a course to Grass Point against a moderate headwind. The visibility was excellent until I reached the middle of the 6.5 km (4 mile) passage where I saw thick cloud rolling down the slopes of Mull to the head of the sound, progressively concealing the landscape. I watched Lady’s Rock lighthouse as it started fading in the haze, while Eilan Musdile lighthouse was already invisible. I was now facing the situation I feared so much, being caught far from the shore in the way of large ships with little or no visibility. I knew it was strongly advised to have a VHF radio ready in busy waters, but I didn’t think it could prevent a collision. I ought to be wearing a fluo jacket but I had forgotten it in my car. I had the one solution every sea kayaker has left to escape the danger zone: paddle faster. So I did until I reached some fishnet buoys which were a sure sign that I was out of the shipping lane. I reached Mull and hugged the rocky shore. The wind picked up and showers became stronger and more frequent. I paddled under the conspicuous crenellated tower which ornates Duart Point; a heavy shower prevented me to take a picture of this famous landmark. As I came closer to the tip of Duart and entered the Sound of Mull, I was hit by a strong northwest breeze which was funneled between Mull and Morvern. I struggled harder to make headway and reached the foot of Duart Castle. I managed to take a picture of it although I was tossed by the waves and carried away by the wind. I turned into Duart Bay and landed on the beach. I had lunch in the shelter of some bush. Then I huddled under my poncho and fell asleep, impervious to the showers lashing down around me.
Returning to the beach after a walk to the castle, I found that the wind had dropped and although it was already late in the afternoon I had time to paddle further to the west. The receding tide had left my kayak high on the sand and I had to perform the whole unload-carry-reload process before launching. I went against the now reasonable headwind and after crossing Craignure Bay I found a suitable campsite in a meadow close to Scallastle golf course. Two eagles hovering over the shingle beach and a group of deer strolling nearby were my only companions. I cooked my dinner behind a bush that protected me from the cold wind before showers pushed me in my tent to eat my noodles.
Next morning brought more showers and gusts. I crossed to the Morvern shore as a cargo ship was coming from the west. I thought I had plenty of time to hop from Glas Eileanan lighthouse to Eilean Rubha and Ridire skerry, but once in the middle of Sound I saw the ship features alarmingly growing fast so I sprinted out of the way.
I followed the beautiful Morvern shore and had my first encounter with otters. At first I was surprised by the sight of two long-tailed furry animals running on the kelp then jumping in the water. I stopped nearby hoping to spot more otters while having lunch, but none showed up. Despite the intermittent drizzle the place was lovely. Further up the Sound I landed in Lochaline near the ferry pier. For morale building I had a coffee and a scone at the small coffee shop.
Another 14 km further west I crossed again the Sound from Dun Ban to Rubh’an-t-Sean Chaisteil. I landed on a shingle beach next to a stream to check for a possible campsite. Up above the beach I found a flat grassy shelf at the bottom of the hills, a perfect spot obviously often used by other kayakers. Several cairns had been erected by previous visitors and pipes were arranged as benches around a fireplace and there was dry wood stored inside, of which I used only a few twigs.
The wind had backed to southeast during the night, bringing lukewarm but wet weather. Paddling through the Doirlion a’ Chailbhe narrow channel, I entered Tobermory under a low grey sky. Fading in the hazy drizzle the famous brightly painted houses lining its main-street appeared paler than usually seen on postcards. I landed near the harbour office. My paddling suit was dripping on the floor as I asked the weather forecast from the woman behind the counter, drawing disapproving gazes from the tourists. She produced a printout of the met office web page. I had no glasses and she lent me hers. She called me back as I started walking away still wearing them. The forecast confirmed light south to southeast winds all day, perfect for crossing the Sound then Loch Sunart mouth to Kilchoan, then skirting Ardnamurchan. The wind would carry me directly to Kilchoan but I had first to cross the shipping lane. Although there was less traffic than the day before, I thought the direct route was not safe, so I decided to cross the Sound from Calve Island to Auliston Point. On the way I checked the waves were not breaking on Big and Little Stirk, a clue that the sea would not be rough around Ardnamurchan. Three otters welcomed me at Auliston point. I went on across Loch Sunart to Maclean’s Nose, the wind and the waves pushing me gently to my destination and I landed on a skerry just outside Kilchoan.

Around the Ardnamurchan peninsula
There was a small celebration in Kilchoan. I could see it from the skerry where I was having a quick lunch. The forecast I had looked at in Tobermory’s harbour office announced a north wind tomorrow while confirming a southerly light breeze for today. Therefore the best time to go around Ardnamurchan was Right Now! From the map and the guide I knew that between Sron Bheag and Ardnamurchan lighthouse there would be no escape route for about 10km. That was at least two hours strung out below bleak cliffs from which waves bounced back creating an uncomfortable clapotis of mixed-up water. I hoped to encounter dolphins or even Minke whales as promised in the guide book, but the sea around Ardnamurchan was empty save for the usual birds although I did see the fin of a basking shark. Even though I had ideal conditions for this section, I was relieved when the tall figure of the lighthouse came into view.
Sandy Sanna Bay lived up to its description and I relished paddling among the scattered skerries and along its perfect beaches. I carried on past Sanna Point because I believed it would be more difficult tomorrow when it would be exposed to the forecasted northerly wind. However, I could not find a safe landing spot in the bay east of Sanna Point so I came to the Bay and landed on the smooth sand of a west facing beach protected by a barrier of skerries. It had been a long day on the water. I was tired but happy to have overcome this major headland so easily. The hard part was still to come.
Next morning the expected northerly was on and the sea was scattered with whitecaps. I launched in incredibly transparent water, glistening under the sun already high in the blue sky. The Small Isles were clearly visible to the north. Leaving the shelter of the last skerry I ploughed into the steep waves around Sanna Point then paddled a long 8-km stretch of beautiful though threatening jagged cliffs.  I could tackle the beam sea but the ride was pretty wet as some waves crashed over the port side of my kayak and took enough water to feel the cold around my ass.
I landed on the tiny beach in Fascadale Bay, timing the wave pattern to avoid being dumped in the sand. I needed a short rest before resuming my struggle to prevent the wind and the waves hurling me onto the rocks. I bailed the water from the Grabner, launched and went out punching through the chop, taking on as much or more water in the process. Some day I should rig a deck cover to this boat! As I paddled to Rubha Aird Druimnich headland a sudden and stinging hunger hit me. My paddling pace and my speed dropped alarmingly as the power in my arms and upper body vanished. I devoured a handfull of nuts and sultanas and all my sesame bars, sucked most of my water bottle and resumed paddling at a slower pace until I felt my strength back. Rubha Aird Druimnich seemed discouragingly far and I felt like I’d never reach it. But stroke after stroke it slowly loomed larger until I could see the cormorants drying their wings on its top. I rounded the point and enjoyed the wind and waves pushing me towards the conspicuous beach of Camas an Lighe where I noticed a narrow opening cutting into the rocky shore. I paddled through it and entered a pool which formed a perfect natural harbour, sheltered from all sides. Above the beach among the trees were an abandoned cottage and a decayed boat house. It was the beginning of the rising tide so I moored the kayak, took my day bag, found a convenient rock to sit on and had the lunch I’d been longing for for hours.
Castle Tioram in Loch Moidart is an impressive building. Except at high tide it is accessible from the mainland, so tourists were coming and going. Although there was a flat patch of grass providing an adequate campsite just near the little beach I decided to find another place to pitch my tent. I eventually landed on Riska island. There was a great camping spot but the ground was soaked. At least I could verify that the floor of my inner tent was watertight.
Next morning I was invited to have a coffee on board of a Polish sailboat. I had met Jeff, her skipper, on Tioram the day before. He had sailed single-handed from Gdansk. We had both been alone for a long time so we were both happy to have a civilized conversation with another person (after 2 days alone I start speaking aloud to myself). Time passed without my noticing until when looking over the rail I saw that the tide had reversed. I jumped in my kayak and pushed off. I paddled out of Loch Moidart through the south channel, for the eastern section of the north channel was dry. As I was rounding Shona’s southeast corner I went across two cruising Wayfarers heading into the Loch with the flow.
I stopped for lunch on a lovely beach facing south on Samalaman island, then carried on to Glenuig where I refilled my water bag at the inn. Instead of heading to the northeast I paddled east up to Eilean nan Gobhar at the mouth of Loch Ailort. My goal was the Iron Age fort supposedly crowning this rock but I did not see any. Then I set a course to Eilean a t-Snidhe and paddled towards the declining sun setting behind the Small Isles. The conspicuous Sgurr of Eigg provided a perfect landmark to aim for.
Soon after rounding the southwest corner of Rubh’Arisaig, I started looking for a campsite. I noticed two dinghies which had been hauled up the beach. I went closer and recognized the unmistakable features of the two Wayfarers I had met earlier near Loch Moidart. Four tents were pitched on the grass shelf above the beach. I assumed there would be room for a fifth one so I went ashore. I walked up to one of the larger tents where a group of eight people were having dinner. I said good evening and asked permission to share the place, which was joyously granted. Meanwhile a herd of cows came to inspect my boat. They soon invaded our camp until we drove them away by yelling and waving arms frantically.
The Scots invited me to join them around the bonfire they had lit on the beach. We swapped boating stories while sipping cider. They had caught only one mackerel which was being cooked on a flat stone put close to the fire. The kids were grilling marshmallows on sticks. As one boy was trimming his stick with the tiny saw blade of his little SAK, I handed him my Fiskars folding saw saying “you’d rather use a real saw”. Then his father produced a beautiful folding bucksaw out of a bag and said “THIS is a real saw!” Never underestimate the amount of gear a Wayfarer crew can carry. Those two families had sailed their Wayfarers from Glenuig to Eigg and Muck. They were just returning from these isles when I met them this morning. They used to stop on this beach every year. I heard that Dougal, one of the boys, was a piper. I told him I’d like to hear him. A moment later he was back with his bagpipe and played standing in this darkness so particular to places where the sun set in the sea. Huge and low black clouds invaded the sky to the west and we felt the rain drops and the wind started a song that meant it was time to go to bed.
I pushed off late in the morning after waiting for a southwest squall to calm down. The sea flattened and the sun broke through the clouds. I entered the Arisaig skerries at low tide and there was not enough water left to get to Luinga Mhor. I landed on the sand and had lunch under a sunny blue sky. My Wayfarers companions had told me there would be many kayakers in this area, but I only met one group of half a dozen French paddlers who was picnicking not far from me. I paddled up Loch nan Ceall with the rising tide. My timing was right so I could land just in front of the Spar store in Arisaig. I pulled the boat onto the seaweed and moored her to a rock. At the grocery I indulged in some candy bars and a pack of beer as a treat for my birthday, packed the supplies in my daybag and put to sea. I paddled two miles against the southwest wind and the tide before turning north. There was enough water to take the short cut passage between Eilan Ighe and the mainland. I hopped downwind from skerry to skerry along miles of white sand beaches until I reached the bay of Morar. The map didn’t show any convenient landing till Mallaig, so I turned back and went ashore at the tip of a headland located near the famous Camas an Daraich, landing on a tiny beach tucked between rocks and grassy dunes providing shelter from the southwest breeze.
The wind had veered to northwest again during the night and the temperature dropped significantly so I was shivering when I stopped in Mallaig. I expected this place to be bustling with tourists but I was alone on the slippery slipway in the southeast corner of the harbour. My initial plan was to leave the boat there and to walk to the Fishermen’s Mission for coffee and scones. Forget the coffee, I pushed off and vigorously resumed paddling in order to warm up, motivated by the beauty of the landscape offered by the Cuillin hills rising in the northwest and the Knoydart mountains across the mouth of Loch Nevis. There were no boats on the water, just a fisherman raising his lobster pots off the Knoydart shore. He kept me company to Doune, where I landed on the pebble beach one hour before low tide. The sun came back out and I spread my tent to dry on the boulders. Above the beach was an array of wooden bungalows so I went exploring. A chambermaid explained the place was a kind of hotel where the guests come by boat since there are no roads. She showed me to the kitchen where the cooks refilled my water bag. They were preparing scones, cakes and other good stuff. It was smelling so good but I was not offered anything except a shower. I felt slightly ashamed of my stinking, but only for a split second.
As I paddled past Airor I enjoyed a short spell of dead calm. To avoid overheating I took off my PFD and cag. It lasted all of 15 minutes before the wind picked up again from the north and I had to put it all back on. From Rubh’Ard Slisneach I took a course to Rubha’ a’Chaisteil on the north shore of Loch Hourne. The north headwind slowed me down so I had plenty of time to gaze at the beautiful Loch Hourne mountainous backdrop. I reached the opposite shore, paddled on to Sandaig and landed on the beach to take a picture of Gavin Maxwell’s cottage. I was mesmerized by this place. After a nautical exploration of the islands in company of ubiquitous seals, I landed and made camp on one of them.

Stuck in Sandaig
I was in the last phase of my breaking camp routine. All gear was packed and I just had to pull off some pegs and take down the flysheet of my tent. But suddenly the wind picked up in a series of gusts and showers. The sea to the northeast was all whitecaps and the temperature plummeted. I was expecting a spell of fine weather from the building of a high pressure shoulder on the area but this was evidence that a front had found his way around the high pressures. The resulting gradient just meant stronger wind blowing from where I wanted to go. So much for a triumphant arrival in Lochalsh today. I was stuck in Sandaig.
Bound to stay in my tent by the rain, I spent this forced day off reading, planning future navigation, making a list of supplies, but mostly dozing, stunned by the hammering of frequent downpours. I could not use any stove inside tent, so I ate cold meals of Mediterranean cereals, a kind of couscous that only requires some water on it. It’s ready after half an hour once the cereals have absorbed the water. I had also cheese, saucisson, bread, butter, dry fruits, neither requiring any heating nor cooking. Nevertheless I indulged in a big chocolate bar for morale building. Water was leaking in the tent because of two toggle straps sewn through the flysheet. I attached plastic bags with small rubber bands to the toggles so the water wicked inside the bags instead of splashing inside the tent.
Next day I woke up to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach at high tide. It was not as loud as the day before though. Staying in bed and enjoying some oatmeal in the warmth of my sleeping bag, I listened to the sounds of nature outside. There was other evidence of weather improvement: no rattling of the rain, and ess flexing of the tent under the pressure of the wind. I looked out and watched the sea and the sky for clues which would help to make a right go/no go decision. The wind was blowing from northwest, so it would be at least a one-hour struggle to Skye across the two-kilometre wide Sound of Sleat. I put to sea from the lee side of the islet, paddled to the last bit of protected water, took a breath, sucked a large gulp of water and rushed forward. I battered into a short and steep chop, the prow rising on the crest of the oncoming wave then falling heavily in the successive trough. After I’d crossed two thirds of the distance I reached the point where the mountains of Skye started providing shelter. The wind decreased and the sea gradually flattened as I came into the island’s lee. Close to the shore the water became like a pond barely rippled by gusts of air falling from the hills. I landed on a pebble beach, bailed my kayak and relaxed. Looking back to Sandaig islands in the distance, they seemed incredibly far.

Through Kyle Rhea
I landed near the village of Kylerhea and the tide was ebbing at full speed now. Ten minutes earlier it had stopped me near the Glenelg ferry landing. I had met the southerly current when rounding Dunan Ruadh but I had been able to paddle on thanks to eddies running northward near the shore. From my vantage point I watched the seething water rush along the opposite shore into Glenelg Bay.
I pushed off at slack water. I expected the flow to help me through the narrows but I reached Sgeir na Caillich before the current had built significantly. There I was greeted by a strong northwesterly breeze rocketing down Loch Alsh. After skirting Rubha Duibhe I gave up heading directly to Castle Moil and paddled close to the shore hoping there would be shelter in the lee of Loch na Beiste. The wind proved to be the same but the chop was much smaller, making the ride much more comfortable. I came along the rusty wreck of HMS Port Napier. There I met a tourist glass bottom boat, the Atlantis, the only other boat I could see on the water. I passed Castle Moil and crossed the mouth of Kyleakin harbour to the slipway. I paddled into the harbor and docked my kayak along a pontoon. The hostels along the pier were full so I found a berth in a backpackers. I returned to my kayak, paddled out of the harbour into Otter Pond and landed on the shingle beach in front of the hostel. I stored my boat in the hostel’s backyard, got out of my clammy kayak outfit, and went to the bathroom for a well deserved shower. Once neat and clean I went to Saucy Mary’s, the pub and lodge next door, with a fellow French traveller. We enjoyed a hearty dinner, some pints of local ale, good music and good company.
Early next morning I took a bus to Lochalsh. I had to wait till 10 o’clock in the supermarket because they can’t sell beer before that time. I left my bag of supplies to the cashier and went to the tourist store to buy some maps. I had reached Skye much sooner than planned despite headwinds. The forecast was promising a spell of fine weather thanks to the high pressure shoulder.  Should it last a week I might be able to make it to Ullapool. My initial plan was a finish in Skye, so I’d not taken OS maps to cover the area farther north than Lochalsh. Unfortunately I could only find one map, the one going up to Applecross.
I returned to Tescos, paid my supplies including a six-pack of McEwans and walked over the famous Skye bridge back to Kyleakin. The wind was still blowing from northwest and got even stronger in the afternoon. I didn’t want to stay there any longer, but I couldn’t head north in such conditions. So be it, I launched in Otter Pond and paddled downwind through Loch Alsh then Kyle Rhea. At the ferry landing I met a group of kayakers led by the other famous Gordon Brown. They clearly looked down on me, as all so called real sea kayakers do when they meet an IK-er. Nevertheless I engaged conversation with GB and he warmed up a bit when I told him I was from Brittany. I carried on along the rugged and beautiful Skye shore. The sky was blue, the whitecaps glistened in the sun on the choppy waters of the Sound of Sleat. I glided to the mouth of Loch na Dal. The view to Loch Hourne was extraordinary. The water was whipped by the gusts. I turned towards the head of the Loch instead of crossing to Duisdalemore. I found a lovely campsite by a stream and under the trees, well sheltered from the wind.

Last days
Twenty four hour later I was passing between the pillars of the elevated road leading to the Skye bridge. I scoured the Black Islands looking for a suitable campsite to no avail, as all islets were covered with impenetrable scrub. It was a tad too late to cross to the opposite shore so I carried on toward Plockton until I eventually noticed some inviting meadows above Port Cam near Drumbuie. I entered this tiny inlet and soon I saw a red sea kayak apparently suspended in the long grass of the meadow which sloped down to the beach. I took this as a positive sign and landed on the shingle beach. I checked the spot expecting to meet a party of fellow paddlers but only found a kayak trailer, which was still attached to a car casually parked by the farm track. Later I saw some people coming down the footpath in the dark. It turned out to be a girl and two guys. The girl said she had noticed some movement near her car from her house up on the hill, hence this visit. I explained what I was doing and asked if I could try one of the kayaks next morning. This request was not received with a great enthusiasm so we said good night and I was happy to be alone again under a fabulous starlit sky.
It had been a very cold night, the coldest so far, but I quickly warmed up in the sunshine, happy to have a great summer day ahead. I was about to push off when I saw the small troop of kayakers who visited me the night before come along the beach, already dressed for paddling including spray skirts. I waited for them. I engaged in conversation and was curious about their gear. The girl was obviously the leader of the group. She did not propose I paddle one of their kayaks as I had requested. She asked me about my plans for today. To her visible relief I told her I would go to Plockton. Her group would go to Crowlin Islands, in the opposite direction. In fact my plan was to cross to Applecross peninsula from An Dubh-aird, a headland not far to the east. So I did. While in the middle of the passage I briefly saw the back and the fin of a minke whale, too far to take a picture. I landed on the shingle beach at Uags and walked to the bothy to reconnoitre. I loved the place and decided to arrange for a night here on my way back. Then I crossed to Crowlin Islands and landed on Camas na h-Annait for lunch. What a perfect lunch spot it was!
I carried on to the north until I reached Applecross. It was low tide and a large expanse of the famously red sand was emerging from the receding water. The sun was projecting my shadow on the shallow bottom. I paddled out of the shallow bay and turned back to the south. A gentle breeze picked up forum the southwest, so I could expect a midgeless evening at camp.
I landed on the white coral beach at Ard Ban. The man who was renting the cottage nearby gave me permission to camp in the meadow and showed me a kind of well where I could draw some water. The opening to access the well was obstructed by a large flat stone to prevent sheep soiling the water. Nevertheless it was strongly recommended to boil this water for drinking. The sunset on Raasay was awesome.
The weather changed overnight. It was a dreary morning with ominous clouds hovering low and dark over the grey sea. I left Ard Ban and paddled first to Sgeir Bhuidhe, then to Eilean Beag, the smallest of the Crowlin islands. I made a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Eilean Meadhonach, thanks to the tide that had risen enough to let me pass through the narrow channel between the two main islands. I stopped on the big island and walked up to the old settlement. There is little left of it, crumbling cottages scattered throughout the fern, some of them already turned into stone heaps.
I crossed again Caolas Mor to Sgeir Shalash and went up to the pier at the head of Loch Toscaig. It was not an inviting place and I stopped on a small shingle beach nearby. There was no wind and the midges attacked me while I had lunch. It started raining. I tried to find shelter under the canopy of the trees behind the beach, but the midges proved to be more a nuisance than the drizzle. My poncho solved the problem of staying dry while having lunch in the rain.
I paddled the last 4 km to Uags. The bothy was visited by walkers hiking the trails running across the Applecross peninsula. It offered them a convenient shelter for a rest and a hot beverage before turning back. Just two of them stayed overnight with me.
Torrential rains fell during the night and I was happy to sleep under a solid roof. I woke up to at the loud sound of what I believed to be a howling wind but surprisingly there was none of the usual other noises like the cracks of the roof structure under the pressure of the wind. I looked through the window and saw that the trees were not moving. I went outside and found out that the din was caused by the rain-inflated stream that ran in front of the bothy steps.
I left Uags and paddled east along the coast. Many streams were running down the hills and pouring over the shingle beaches. The wind had veered to northwest and pushed me across towards Plockton. I stopped on the Eilean a’Chait skerry which supports a lighthouse no longer in use. The owner was there with a contractor assessing work to be done to repair the tiny lighthouse building. I had lunch on the beach running along Plockton’s main street, busy with tourists. The wind cleaned the sky, and I could have lunch in shorts under a dazzling sun.
I left Plockton with the ebbing tide. Some WNW breeze picked up and I stopped on the lee of An Dubh-aird to put on my cag. The wind died an hour later and it was dead calm when I passed through the Black Islands, disturbing the seals basking lazily on the rocks. I came around the north of Eilan Ban and let the current take me under the bridge into Otter’s Pond. I landed in front of the backpackers hostel. This was the end of my paddling along the SSKT for this year. All I had to do now was to return to my car in Tayinloan.

Back to Tayinloan
I had to arrange my stuff in a strict packing set up to be compatible with bus traveling. I had a very large dry-bag for the kayak, PFD, paddling suit, pump, bailer, sponge, leashes, painter, compass. The paddles were secured to the bag with a pair of bungees and the blades wrapped into the folded seat pad for protection. The Ortlieb Rackpack bag contained the remaining food for about one week and small items like stove, pots, first aid kit, etc. Those two bulkier and heavier bags would go in the hold of the bus, while I would keep in the cabin the lighter and smaller Ortlieb Explorer which contained tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, some spare clothes and some snacks for the day. I could only walk a short distance with the large pack on my back and one of the other bags in each hand. It would have been easier with a cart.
The bus left reasonably early from Kyleakin. The road run alongside Loch Alsh then Loch Duich past the famous Eilean Donan castle. I had forgotten I wanted to go there by kayak.

The road to Fort William run through the dramatic Glen Shiel, then along Loch Lochy’s stupendous countryside. From my elevated seat I had perfect sights on both sides of the road and I enjoyed every minute of the trip, although it was raining and the mountains were hidden in low clouds. Unexpectedly the bus to Oban was due to leave Fort William much earlier than I thought and I had no time to visit the outdoor gear shop nearby.
In Oban the sun came out while I was waiting for the coach to Lochgilphead. Late in the afternoon the third bus dropped me at the entrance of the road to Point Sand, just in front of the deserted village school. A young couple got off the bus with their baby girl. They had no more luggage than a wheeled suitcase, a duffel bag and a stroller. They said they were going to the Point Sand campground too, so I proposed to go get my car alone while they would wait for me to pick them up. But they declined and declared they could walk with me. So be it. I hid my heaviest bag behind the low wall enclosing the schoolyard and set off to Point Sand with my three companions. Rebecca, the camp owner, was glad to see me back alive and handed me my car keys. I went to my car, started up and headed home.

Grabner H2 report • Geo-tagged photos • Map • May 2011 stage
 

Grabner H2 inflatable kayak

by Gaël Auffret

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail ReportMap of SSKT • Grabner overhaul • In Sardinia

When I decided to buy an IK back in 1998 there were not as many models available as today. And information about inflatables was very scarce. I intended to make multi-day trips with this boat, but the only paddler I had heard of doing so was the late Audrey Sutherland. In a Sea Kayaker magazine article she mentioned she paddled a 13-foot Semperit Forelle III for extended trips in Alaska. I wanted the same boat because it was obviously proven as a durable expedition craft by her many summer trips done there.
Doing some research on the Internet I also found a very convincing article by Marge Nichols. We got in touch by e-mail and she gave me valuable information about her Grabner Holiday, almost identical to the Forelle, but now manufactured by Grabner. The good news was that Grabner was a European company and they had a reseller in Paris so I could have a look at the boat before ordering one.
I wanted a boat that I could use for multi-day solo trips, and day trips in tandem with my wife, or for taking the kids around. The boat would be paddled mostly on the sea, wherever we would take it during our vacations. It would be transported by car, bus, train or plane. As we are living in an appartment in Paris, it would be stored in our small basement unit.

The boat itself is very well made and the material is very sturdy. It doesn’t take long to inflate up to 0.3 bars (4.5 psi); less time than installing the rudder. The aluminum tubes used for backrests look like crap compared to the hull, the rudder pedals or the rudder head. The plastic part of the backrest is attached with tiny screws that did not last long and I soon replaced them with bigger screws. The wooden rudder blade is tough but not very hydrodynamically profiled. I use the rudder in a following sea (backwind) to go straight, or in beam [side] winds as the rudder helps control drifting leeward.
Compared to my rigid sea kayak the H2 is a good 30% slower. But the main performance difference is that the H2 cannot be accelerated beyond 3 knots (3.4mph), while I can boost my rigid kayak beyond 5 knots (5.7mph) for a while if need be. In a following sea the H2 doesn’t surf without a steep wave. Paddling against a short wind-induced chop is a trudge as you can’t control it with hips and knees as in a SinK, it bobs like a cork on the waves, which is annoying if it lasts a few hours.

The 3.95 metre H2 floats high on the water. Even though this means more windage, it also means less water splashing in. It does take water so I always sit in a pond, but not to the point I need to bail, except after some hours being beaten by a rough chop. I was sometimes swamped by some dumping waves when paddling inside the impact zone along exposed shores but the boat didn’t sink and was still maneuverable. I just had to escape the impact zone then bail the cockpit.
IMGP6028Being 75 cm (29.5″) wide the H2 is very stable, even more when loaded down with gear, and I never felt I was on the verge of capsizing. Just in case I did some capsizing/re-entry exercises in deep water. It’s easier to get back on board using a looped rope hanging from the boat.
The H2 is short and highly maneuverable. It turns on itself with a few paddle strokes. Draw strokes work very well and there is no need to edge it on its chine to make a sharp turn as with a hard shell sea kayak. This makes exploring caves and rock gardens easy.
h2footrest
There are plenty of useless footrest adjustment fittings in the cockpit (left) and none for attaching gear. I bought some D-ring fittings from Grabner and glued them in the front on each inside of the bottom tubes. Drybags are maintained by shock cord and secured by a leash. In order to push the cylindrical bag further in the front, I deflate the deck. The dry bags buoyancy is enough to compensate for the loss of the front deck buoyancy.
When I stop on the shore while the tide is ebbing, if I don’t want the boat to be grounded by the receding water, I install a mooring fore and aft. For achieving this I use two painters and a netbag (made of a piece of fishing net found while beachcombing). I fill the netbag with pebbles and secure it to the aft painter. I put the bag on the rear deck so that it falls in the water if I shake the boat. The fore painter is attached to a rock or a tree on the shore. I push the boat off. When the front painter pulls the boat back, the bag falls in the water and anchors the boat. When I want to get the boat back, I just pull on the front painter and the boat comes dragging the pebble bag. Then I haul in the bag with the aft painter, remove the pebbles, tidy the painters and we’re done. When the wind is offshore I just need the fore painter.
Paddles I carry two identical two-piece paddles (one spare), 230cm long with narrow grp blades, Lendal grp shaft made by Plasmor, #1 sea kayak manufacturer in France. When traveling by plane, I carry a Lendal Kinetic 4-piece split paddle. I use shorter paddles, 218cm, with my regular rigid sea kayaks. But the width and height of the sides of the H2 require longer paddles for reaching water.

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