Friday, May 20, 2011

Love where you live

So often I get drawn into believing that in order to get the best out of my time I end up chasing for hours to go paddling or biking.  Now this does allow me to enjoy some of the finest outdoor environments but I do wonder whether the 4 hours you can spend driving could be better spent elsewhere.

With this in mind I've headed out to explore the wilds of Shrewsbury on my bike.  The mighty Haughmond Hill was the location for the 1st exploration.  With the fine weather still holding I headed out after work following the National Cycle trail out along the disused canal to the bottom of the woods.  Soon I was winding my way up a hard packed trail through the forest, moments later I caught a glimpse of an opening in the undergrowth and dived in.  The trail was barely wider than my tyre, winding through the trees parallel to the main path but invisible but for the small entrance.  Eventually the trail spat me back onto the forest road dropping to the far side of woods, again the singletrack opened up and I dropped in again following the snaking trail through the end of the bluebell flowers.  Badger setts lay off to the side of the trail and there were signs of the them digging up the plants surrounding the trail.

It couldn't last and I dropped onto the road, the cars waking me from my thoughts.  The short climb over I passed through the dogging car park and tucked into a twisty, rooty section.  When I'd done this before it was a wet soggy mess, now the dust was kicked up behind me as I twisted through.  As I reached the viewing point back towards home back over Shrewsbury, I found the entrance to a trail I'd never spotted before.  It gradually dropped back down the hillside in a series of quick drops and turns. 

Soon enough I was back onto the cycle path heading home, an hour and a half riding.  It's great to get out on the built trails but managing to get out for a full ride on some deserted singletrack in the time it'd have taken me to to drive just one way to Coed-y-Brenin really opens your eyes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Right Royal Paddle

As William prepared to take his bride up the aisle Claire, Mark, Bill and I decided to avoid the hoo ha and take advantage of the fantastic conditions to round Rubha Hunish.  The big sub sat out of Staffin Bay meant that we were feeling qite small as we started out.

Setting off from underneath Duntulm Castle we were faced with a tough put in, loose slippy rocks and a low tide.  An eagle circled overhead keeping an eye on us as we started out.

A solid breeze was pushing offshore, this meant we would be rounding the headland with wind against the end of the tide and then a cross/head wind all the way down the east coast; Nice! Strangely as we got to the headland the wind disappeared never to return, it appeared to be localised as it was still there when we ran the shuttle at the end of the day.

As we rounded the headland the paddle started show it's nature with huge cliffs, stacks, gullys, caves and rocks, a sea paddling playground just begging to be threaded and explored.  We duly obliged and could have spent all day here but knew that we needed to meet Ruth in Port Gohblaig.

Claire in the rock garden

Unfortunately my camera gave up the ghost and ended up with water behind the lense after trying to get photos of anemones under the water in one of the many caves so I didn't get many photos of what was my third awesome paddle in a row.

We picked Ruth up with excited stories of a fantastic paddle little knowing the best was yet to come.  The section down to Staffin has the best rock features on any paddle I've ever done through caves, arches, stacks, caves, and islands everything we'd seen around the headland but better.  It's like Pebrokeshire on steroids.

All I can say is you have to do this paddle if you are on Skye, it is the most fun area for rockhopping, scooting down narrow channels between huge rocks then heading through caves.  The particular highlight was the through cave with three exits out as you went through, which route to take?  Decisions decisions, the answer is simple explore them all.

We pulled out onto the sand in Staffin bay but by now the dinosaur footprints are well covered. so we packed up and headed to the old inn in Carbost for a slap up meal to celebrate a fantastic holiday.

In the footsteps of Hamish MacBeth

After a day off exploring the Quiraing and the Trotternish peninsula I headed off with Ruth for a short sheltered paddle as there was a breeze blowing from the West and neither of us was feeling tip top.  We decided that a pootle round the islands around Plockton followed by a bit of tourist action was in order.  Crossing the bridge it soon became apparent that the wind was not blowing on the East of the island.

After a bit of cow wrangling at the rail crossing we launched from Portneora, a quiet bay to the West of Plockton, and made our way out into the small islands.  We bumped into a group out with enjoying the fine conditions, the local seals circling round us like indians round the wagon train. 

With the fine weather, mirror smooth seas and beautiful scenery we decided that we'd take the opportunity to head out to the Kishorn Islands. It was the most surreal paddling experience, the water was so smooth that it was difficult to judge your speed as there was not a mark on the water and with the difference in scale between the high mountains and rocks all sense of depth of field was lost and with it the ability to snese speed.

Not a breath of wind.

We made our way to the south end of the line of islands that cross Loch Carron leading from Plockton into Loch Kishorn.

The lighthouse to the South

Ruth watching the seals half way across.

We made it across just before the Hebridean Princess hauled her anchor and headed out across our route.  We sat on An Garbh-Eilian eating lunch revelling in the fact that we had found the perfect conditions watching the birds around us and trying to spot the otter that had been leaving spraints all over the rocks.  It was obviously a shy one so we left and carried on along our way.

The view back out towards Skye was truly amazing.

Ruth with Skye in the background.

We rounded Kishorn Island passing another group from Plockton Sea Kayaking before heading back towards Plockton.

We put our noses into Plockton bay to see what was there to see, a quaint little village relatively unspoilt by it's brief flirtation with fame back in the nineties.

by now Ruth was getting tired so we decided to call it a day and head back to the van before it floated off, we'd parked on the beach and I was fairly confident I was above the high water mark but I was relieved to see it where I left it.

Ruth heading home

This was a fantastic hidden paddle, off the beaten track on Skye, without the start name mountains but filled with lots of small islands to explore within a sheltered area.

Into the arms of the Cullin

The day dawned to a still air and bright sunshine. Bill, Claire, Mark and myself made the early start to drive to Elgol; Ruth, Kath, Lee, Bethan and Murph were following to get the boat out to walk.

Arriving in Elgol the sea was mirror calm and the Cullin ridge was clear across the water, the size of the mountains making the paddle over seem relatively small.

Claire & Mark playing spot the otter
We were on the water a little later than we intended but the complete lack of swell and wind made the paddling easy and we made quick progress for about 500m until we came across a pair of otters playing in the water.  Typically they sat out of range of the cameras ducking and diving with very little care for us watching.  Eventually the swam away and we continued on our way.

Me with the Cullins in the background
Bill heading towards Camasunary Bay

Soon we found ourselves heading into the arms of the Cullin with some of the finest views available anywhere.

Mark under the Bad Step

After playing in the outflow of the Scavaig river we pulled out on the rocks under the bothy and had a bite to eat.  Refuelling done we headed off to explore the area, feeling a little conspicuous in our paddling kit whilst the rest of the tourists wore shorts and t-shirts.

You'd pay loads for an infinity pool like this in a hotel

We ended up spending a few hours just generally mooching and soaking in the atmopshere.  As we we're preparing to leave the boat with all the others arrived and we then spent a little longer revelling in the surroundings.  A tourist boat arrived scared all the seals and then proceded to pipe the guests to dinner out of tune and time, the saga equivalent to some yoof in a saxo with drum and base thumping.

We escaped away from the saga louts and paddling towards Soay but always taking one last look back.  On any other paddle the scenery we faced on that section would have been outstanding but after the views on the way in this section was knocked off fairly quickly as we headed towards Soay Harbour and the shark factory.

As we sat on the rocks we were shaken from our thoughts by the most almighty screech as a Golden Eagle launched from trees nearby before circling over the harbour and then heading off.  This set the herons and other birds off but soon the bedlam died away and the peace was restored.

Having started late and spent more time in Coruisk we decided we were running a little late to head round the back of Soay so headed back down the Sound and crossed back to Elgol.

We arrived back in Elgol in time to see the others arriving on the boat having walked all round Loch Coruisk.  It appeared that we missed a pod of porpoise as by a few minutes as we headed across from Soay but given all we'd seen that day it didn't seem so bad.

It'd have been nice to get round Soay but I don't regret the time spent in Loch Coruisk, I could have stopped there all day.  This is probably the best paddle I've ever done, the scenery is just stunning.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wiay Man

Sunday night saw Bill arrive following an epic solo drive up from Kiddi, and Alex head back across home.  With the change in group and the light forecast (although not showing on the ground) we decided to look into Loch Bracadale with options allowing us to vary the paddle depending on the conditions that we came across.

Kath, Ruth, Bill and myself drove across to portnalong, the Talisker distillery was a distraction to several of the group but we managed to keep them heading on to the pier.  We arrived at high water and were just able to launch from the end.  We quickly paddled out round the Ardtreck point and looked out into the bay across to Oronsay.

The wind was blowing strongly from the South West with occassional white crests being whipped up and with waves breaking over the eastern point of Oronsay.  We decided that we would paddle across to the isthmus between Oronsay and the mainland and from there get a better look at the conditions.  A strenuous paddle across saw us making little progress into the wind as we ferryglided over.  Kath was looking a little uncertain as we made our way over and a quick glance over the other side of the island showed that there was no easing off. 

A quick scan of the map and we had a new plan of attack.  We headed across to Wiay, but instead of heading around the South side as planned we tucked into the calm to the north aiming for Camas na Cille.

Heading over to Wiay
In the lee of Wiay

As we paddled round the north of Wiay the sea calmed down and we were able to enjoy the fine views across to Macleods Tables.  Rounding the west side of the island we soon had wind in our faces and as I looked into the bay I was faced with breakers rolling in, not the place to put the group ashore.  We retraced our route back round the island until we found a small sheltered inlet with a steep stone beach in the back.  We had intended to return to paddle a circular route but no one was particularly keen to head back into the wind so I gave Lee a ring as we floated in the calm and arranged to get picked up at the head of Loch Caroy.  We grabbed lunch in the bay and looking out onto the Cullins, unfortunately as we lunched the tide dropped and the beach steepened causing a shore dump as we launched, it made for an interesting restart but we were soon all underway, dry and fed as we set off for Tarner island.

Impressive cliffs at the South end of Tarner Island

We cruised along the west side of Tarner, the swell keeping us out of the caves that punctured the cliffs.  As we passed Sgeir a Chuain the reef kicked up a nice little surf wave where Bill and myself passed a few moments before heading to the slipway where we met up with Lee closely supervised by Bethan.

Ruth headed off with Kath and Lee to fetch the car leaving me to make the most of my time.

Welcome to Dunvegas

It was still windy blowing from the south west/west and we decided that we'd head up to Dunvegan and paddle round to Stein.  This was always supposed to be a smaller group but with Sarah and Iain stuck in Portree with wonky wheels it ended up with only Alex, Claire, Mark and myself paddling.  The sun occasionally broke through and the wind was less prevanlent as we launched from the pier and headed up past the castle.

Paddling past the castle

Just beyond the castle we saw a seal on the opposite side of the loch porpoising as the tour boats razzed around showing the tourists the 'wildlife'.  Sure enough, despite keeping out of the way one of the tour boats felt the need to tear over to us, tell us not to go near to the seals as it was harmful for them to go into the water.  Fair enough we said and carried on on the opposite side of the loch to the seals only to have the boat turn round and come back through us at full chat.  There really are some arseholes in the world and these guys appear to be at the top of the list. 

We paddled out of the loch in Dunvegan and headed across to the Eilian Dubh/Mor.  Here we were met by seals taking their life into their own hands by swimming in the deadly water. We stopped and watched as they played around us before heading round the back of the islands.  In the shallow waters here there were sea birds a plenty and more seals than I could keep track of.  We mooched through the channels taking our time to see what was there but soon we had to head out and set off back to the eastern shore.

Looking North up Loch Dunvegan

As we crossed the sun gave up the ghost and headed behind the clouds for the rest of the day and we ended up slogging across the loch with the wind increasing as we headed out of the Lee.  In the distance we could see the coral beaches at the tip of the peninsula, and we carried on with the promise of lunch.  As we arrived we found that the coral beach was actually little more than a small strip coated liberally in squaking kids, dogs and masses of people.  We paddled round in the hope of finding somewhere a little more out of the way but with no joy.  Instead we carried on round to Lovaig bay and here we found a spot away from the madding crowds and finally managed to get a bite to eat.

By now no-one had any great inspiration to paddle out round Iosaigh so we headed downwind surfing the waves that towards the pretty little settlement of Stein.

I don't know whether it was a bit of a hangover from the drive up, the weather, the friendly welcome we received or just the fact that the trip just wasn't all that inspiring but none of us got off the water particularly impressed with the paddle since we had left the islands to the south of Loch Dunvegan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A throw away day

After an early start and a long drive we decided that we were going to have an easy warm up paddle on Saturday, just a short pootle in the shelter close to the cottage that we would be stopping in for the rest of the week.  With this in mind I wasn't expecting an awful lot from the 1st day and the increasing wind (F4 gusting 5) and the showers that had set in overnight did nothing to dipel that conviction.

A large group converged on the CalMac terminal in Sconscer Claire and Mark had travelled up from Shropshire a few hours behind myself and Ruth, and Alex had raced across from Aberdeen to stop at the Sligachan campsite.  Iain and Sarah (SCC ex-pats) had come across from Inverness and picked up Skye local Dave from Elgol. 

The wind was whipping out of the Loch as we climbed into the boats pushing us out into the Sound of Raasay.

Looking north at the low coastline I was still feeling a little less than enthusiastic at the prospect of a damp windy paddle.  but as soon as we reached the narrows the coastline was transformed and some shelter from the wind could be found tucked right under the cliffs.

As we headed up the coast a sea eagle circled overhead, it was a bit lumpy at that point and it was too far away so here's a photo of where it came from.

After taking lunch in the shadow of the mountain we headed out just as the rain started to properly lash down, the advantage being that the wind propelled us up the sound towards Portree.

Rounding the corner the cliffs started to become riddled with caves to explore whilst below the surface the clear waters allowed us to see urchins, anemones and starfish deep below us as though they were on the surface.  The wind was now funnelling out of the loch into our faces and we had a stiff pull into the harbour.

For a short simple paddle with out the epic scenery that Skye is renowned for this provided wildlife, interesting coastline and the poor weather provided a moody outlook.