Mull, Little Colonsay, Staffa and Iona; June 6th/7th 2019

Paddlers: Steve W., Gordon, Geoff, Hugh, Colin, Bill, Innes

Route:

Last year the paddle to Treshnish and Staffa did not reach Staffa, owing to the weather see http://www.helensburghcc.org.uk/2018/05/18/treshnish-isles-5th-7th-may-2018/  This year the primary objective was Staffa with Iona as a secondary, with a start just opposite InchKenneth. There were also plans to paddle around the end of the Ardmeanach peninsular, the NTS property known as Burg, where there is a fossilized tree embedded in the cliff and a cave system. However, because of the forecast, we also left a car across the hill from our start point at Kilfinichen Bay.

Report: The Friday was a horrible day for weather and when we arrived at Clachandhu, opposite InchKenneth on Loch na Keal, wet cloud hung over Ben More almost to sea level. However as we camped and shifted cars the cloud slowly lifted and we had a calm beautiful twilight.

The view from the campsite across Loch na Keal to Ulva

On the late evening walk we encountered 3 otters playing on the rocks by the campsite.

Saturday started with a bank of cloud that gradually broke up as the wind increased giving an increasingly pleasant day.

Launch beach with InchKenneth in background

Rather than go directly to our first objective, Little Colonsay it was decided to go north to the coast of Ulva, partly to chow the group the Bothy at Cragaig. More details of both the bothy and Little Colonsay (and InchKenneth) can be found on the report of the 2014 trip http://www.helensburghcc.org.uk/2014/05/28/magical-puffins-magnificent-caves-and-a-couple-of-strops-staffa-and-the-tresnish-islands-may-2014/

The landing at Colonsay is a rough boulder field and is far from easy. One of us slipped and had a bath, albeit wearing dry salopettes.

The “Beach” at Colonsay with our start point in the distance

From Colonsay we headed to Staffa. The wind was picking up, the swell was increasing and Staffa seemed a long way away.

The group head out from Little Colonsay on right with Staffa in the distance

In fact, although the sea was becoming increasingly rough, the paddle was quickly over.

Half Way and increasingly rough.


Staffa is an incredible experience for all and even better for kayakers as the cave systems are really only available by small boat and, most of the time, because of the turbulence, only available to kayaks. The unique feature of Staffa is the octagonal design in the rock and the world famous basalt cliffs.

Goat Cave
Bill and Basalt

The Clamshell cave is actually now a tunnel through/natural arch through the cliff. It was truly wonderful.

Lunch was taken on the only “Beach” on Staffa, followed by some exploring of the island . Tremendous views including a far off Iona

By the time we got back the tide had descended leaving the boats high and dry. This led to a tricky descent over rock and weed and a terrible launch pad.

The most famous feature of Staffa is undoubtedly Fingal’s Cave, a large cave apparently supported by columns built by the giant Fingal , also the supposed creator of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland.
The actual reason according to Wikipedia: It is the nature of basaltic lava cooling that allows this to happen: this lava is hotter and moves faster than other kinds. As it cools from the bottom up and from the center outward, long fractures form columns that at times take on astoundingly clear-cut hexagons. The whole process is called columnar jointing. On Staffa this is uniquely displayed.

A lot of tourists come over from both Iona and Ulva Ferry and struggle round the base of the cliff to reach the entrance. It is worth it for non-kayakers but if you do get an opportunity to kayak here take it.

Most guides suggest the trip should only be made in calm weather. We were faced with an F4 wind and a large following sea and the next two hours were not comfortable.At times 3 or 4 large waves swung boats and threatened capsize. Rather like driving fast on single track roads it was the concentration and focus required that was very tiring rather than the physical exertion of paddling 10km in an hour and three quarters.

We landed on the most northerly of the west coast beaches and set up camp using any rock shelter we could find. At the top was the huge skeleton (plus?) of a large whale. which, whilst interesting robbed us of a potential sheltered area. Steve had got permission from the local landowner (although we probably did not need it) but he appreciated the information and visited us in the morning.

Bill’s plateau site
The camp site

After a coffee we decide to walk into the village for some culture, a couple of drinks and a meal. Iona is a very, very special and beautiful place with a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquility, albeit in a fairly active wind. The walk in and, more particularly back were special. The Abbey is, as might be expected, again special and beautiful.

We ate in St Columba’s Hotel just past the Abbey which had outstanding views down over the sound to Mull. As must be fairly obvious I just love Iona and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Dinner

As we walked back the sun finally dipped, even as the wind persisted on through the night.

Sunday: The plan had be to be on the water at 8am, but the wind said otherwise. During the night it had risen a notch to F5 and did not seem likely to abate to allow us to carry on our planned route. After a lot of gazing at the sea, the rocks and the breakers, alternative plans were developed, the most extreme of which involved a awful lot of carrying. However around 10 the wind eased to F4 and the tide had risen. This allowed us to avoid the very worst sections by using a short portage. That said the sections that remained were quite nasty and one or two of the group indicated they would probably not go across the sound and definitely would not go along the rocky north coast of the Ross.

In fact the crossing of the Sound was relatively easy and we were soon on the beach at Fionnphort looking for ways to get back to the cars.

After trying taxis from around Mull to no avail, we managed to get a lift in the community minibus back to our projected landing place to pick up the one car and then go and get the other two. Close on two hours later we were loading up and, with a short (but extreme) detour to Carsaig Bay and a meal in the Craignure Inn, caught our boat and arrived back in Helensburgh shortly after 10pm.

Despite the wind and the truncated Sunday paddle, it was a fantastic weekend in incredible scenery. I hope, and expect a return to the area next year, possibly to do the south coast of Mull.

Note: On a computer the photos are best viewed in full screen by linking to the Google photos file https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipOEzRCVE_C_Eawv4s5R9CHIBVf6xEIBczPUJ51B95Qbq3p34d5oFGpzQFJYGBZKLg/photo/AF1QipMzZqSHjbjsTuQ2rfL0Os1GFGM7F5eAZedUjsi9?key=cTZ2ZGFzVm1icHdWdFY2bnFzeHB0NUFKSUI1bnRB