Paddlers: Hugh, Sue, David, Robert, Ken and Geoff

Route: IMG_0103

Report

Jura is a wet, windy, midgey lump of granite and peat bog and offers some of the best sea kayaking in Scotland. As those who have attended Hugh’s Sea Exped course will know, to the north is the dreaded Corryvechan whirlpool, to the south the tide races up and down the Sound of Islay, to the east is the fast running Sound of Jura and to the west an unforgiving coast exposed to Atlantic swells and high winds. Circumnavigation, our original plan, therefore needs excellent, calm, stable weather. Sadly it was wet and windy, Corryvechan looked to be too dangerous and we had to retrace our steps. The following describes our journey and hopefully generates both interest in doing the circumnavigation and some useful information if trying it.

Day 1: Saturday  A major consideration was getting on a south going tide (and the north current up the Sound of Islay after low water). The choice appeared to be a very early start from Helensburgh or an evening drive and an early start the following morning.  With a strong wind from the SE forecast for Saturday we opted for the evening drive. The three of us who ate in the Tayvallich Inn would strongly recommend the food. The chosen departure point was Keilmore jetty (on the Sound) but there was no available parking for 1 car let alone 3, so we came back to Loch na Cille where there is a launch point and some adjacent rough camping. The rain rained and the midges swelled their stomachs. The agreed departure time was 08:00.

Camp 1

Camp 1: Loch na Cille

Day 2: Sunday

At 7.15 Hugh and Ken arrived from their superior site just up the road and by 8am we were away into a  foggy but wonderful peaceful and calm environment.

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A misty morn

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Peace

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Heading South

We headed almost due west across the Sound being gradually taken south by the tide.

After 3hours we took our first break on Jura, some 20km from our start point. There was an unusual urgency about the trip because of the need to make the tides. In the next period we wanted to be at the islands at the mouth of the Islay Sound by 2pm so we pressed on past Craighouse to the boathouse at Ardfin where there is a small beach just to the west of the jetty and, importantly, a picnic table.

The Boathouse at Ardfin

The Boathouse at Ardfin

Jura is a very strange place with a total population of 196 for an island of 367sqkm, the lowest population density in Scotland. For comparison Lewis has a population density 20 times that of Jura. On this remote place an Australian financier is building an 18 hole golf course for “his friends” which stretches down to Ardfin. At the boat house in 1992 the “acid house” pop band KLF burnt £1m in notes as a cultural/artistic gesture. More stupid than £2m a golf course?

From Ardfin we were helped up the Sound by the tide passing Port Askaig (and its tiny Jura counterpart) Feolin, stopping for a further break at Bunnabhain.P7240047

Seals

Seals

Passing Port Askaig and the Lagavulin distillery

Passing Port Askaig and the Lagavulin distillery

From here it was another 18km heading west into a strengthening wind and then north west. The cliff scenery was excellent but the wind and intermittent rain made for a tough few hours.P7240050057jura 016

We finally arrived at our target, an excellent beach at the end of Glen Battrick at the mouth of Loch Tarbet. We were all surprised to find in this very, very remote spot (18km by hill track from the nearest single track road and 21km from Port Askaig) a family holiday home, with putting green and some rough cut fairways and greens. We sought permission from the cook/housekeeper to camp on the mowed green area adjacent to the sea and quickly settled down to a meal and bed. Like all of Jura there was no wood for a fire, rain and 10 million midges for company. A rather grim end to a tiring day (60km in under 12 hours). {Note: It appears that the family due was that of David Cameron. Samantha’s stepfather, Viscount Astor (or to be precise an offshore trust based in the Bahamas) owns this part of Jura. There is a video of Cameron taken at the cottage at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-23754357 which gives views of the surroundings, house and camp site }.

Arriving

Arriving

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camp site 2

Day 3 Monday

As forecast  a brisk F4/5 wind from the west was blowing and it was decided to explore Loch Tarbet. This is a huge sea loch that nearly bisects Jura and effectively has 3 parts. The outer and middle are joined by a wind exposed channel that was “lumpy” as the strong westerly hit the outgoing tide. Inevitably the photographic record does not include the roughest passages.loch tarbert

The inner is reached by a thin passage between cliffs; a quite extraordinary feature. Inside the wind was less of a problem. At the far side of the inner loch a good track runs to the road providing, we were glad to note, an escape from the hostile west coast.

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After a luch in the inner loch we headed back out and tracked across to the MBA bothy Cruib Lodge.

Cruib Lodge

Cruib Lodge

From Cruib we battled in to the wind back through the narrows and the outer loch to an excellent beach and camp site near a ruined farm called Ruantalain. The wildlife consisted of 5 Black Goats and 20 million midges. What do midges live on when humans are not around?110124

Looking across to Camp 2

Looking across to Camp 2

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Despite a massive search for driftwood none was found. Where does it go on Jura? And so to bed.

Day4 Tuesday

A major problem always faced is when to turn back. Corryvechan is safe in calm conditions for about 1 hour at Neeps. In an F5 or outside the slack it is dangerous. There is usually a period of light wind in any system (e.g. in the early morning) but it has to coincide with the slack water. The forecast was continuing north westerleys F4/5 eventually switching to north easterlies. It seemed likely that if we had carried on in fairly rough water, we still could not have gone through and quite possibly have been stuck for  2 or 3 days or even more. So it was decided, with some regret, to retreat.  The paddle back was windy but we caught the tide in the Sound and were back at Ardfin for a late lunch.138

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From Ardfin the travel north was both windy and very wet and the stop at Craighouse very welcome.

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Camp site 4 (&5)

The campsite at Criaghouse is adjacent to the shore, perfectly green and flat, well sheltered and has excellent showers and a large dryer. It is adjacent to the pub (where you pay and get the shower block key) and at £5 per tent it is excellent value. A shower, good meal, dry clothes and a beer then bed.

Day 5 Wednesday 

The tide north finished at 11 and did not restart until 5. If we were to get back we needed to either leave early or at the latest 5pm (unless we wanted to paddle at night). Sadly a strengthening wind made both impossible and so we spent a pleasant day waiting for the wind to drop and debating about when to go and what to do if the strong winds did not ease. For reference the eventual escape route plan involved the drivers going on the afternoon Craighouse-Tayvallich Rib service and a taxi back to Loch na Ciche whilst the others got a trailer down to Feolin with the kayaks and carried them on to the Feolin (Jura) and afternoon Kennacraig (Islay) ferries. The drivers would then drive round to Kennacraig.

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Waiting

 

Thankfully by the late evening the wind had eased and an early morning (6am) departure was agreed before the winds got up again and the tides turned.

Day 6 Thursday

5am in Craighouse was flat calm and grey. With relief we managed to be packed up and ready to go by 6am, just as the only sun of the day broke through the clouds.DSCN0858P7280063267

We paddled north and after a short break after 2 hours crossed the Sound. As on most of the trip we were often accompanied by seals, both grey and common.

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The crossing was uneventful, the only slight difficulty being locating the entrance to Loch na Cille.

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By 10 am we were back on shore having had an excellent few days.

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Lessons and personnel

The key lesson? Do the most difficult, weather dependent section (in this case the Corryvechan) as soon as possible when the forecasts are most reliable. It is still not clear when we could have got through safely given the wind changes. The second lesson is that even in adverse conditions, sea kayaking is wonderful.

This last section is simply to provide space for photos of colleagues taken on the trip

 

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