Report: Surfing must be the very best activity ever on a windy Saturday in September. Normally undertaken in short maneuverable craft, sea kayakers occasionally find themselves having to land or leave through surf. So surfing in sea kayaks gives a combination of tremendous fun and sea kayak training.
South Bay, Ardrossan is an excellent place for safe surfing. It is a crescent of soft sand of around 1km between two rocky headlands backed by grass with easy beach-side parking. We parked right behind the toilets in the centre of the beach by the ramps on to the sand. Advice: Take a trolley as it can be a longish walk over the sand.
The car journey in both directions was excellent and took about 70 minutes.
The beach faces south west and we had a strongish force 4 from the South West. The tide had just turned and was on the way in over the shallow beach which resulted in extensive but not huge surf over a very large area, giving long runs. One of us was stationed on the beach the whole time to help with any capsizes (and to take photos).
The paddle out was energetic and wet with kayaks either riding the waves or carving/smashing through them.
Trying to figure out which waves would give a good ride was difficult as big waves were too frequent and broke too readily. The tactic used was simply to keep paddling and try (desperately at times) to hold the line. Normally on a run in you caught a big one and hurtled towards the beach as long as you could hold it with your selection of stern rudders , low brace supports/turns and high brace supports.
Both Gordon and Geoff experienced very wet (upside down) exits and rather slow swims back to the shore. Equally we all had great runs and the satisfaction of conquering a hostile and at times quite frightening environment.
We had around 90 minutes for both morning and afternoon sessions, enough to get in around 16 runs each, more than enough. All in all a near perfect day.
Paddlers : Steve W, Steve T, Colin, Innes, Gordon and Hugh
Weather: Max 17 deg C, light SW wind falling away to nothing in late afternoon, sporadic sunshine/overcast.
The plan initially included an overnight stop on the W side of the Corryvreckan at Bagh Gleann nam Muc (Bay of Pigs) but as departure approached, the forecast weather for the second day carried too high a risk of not getting back out in the morning. And so a long day was planned for Saturday such that only a short run-in was required on Sunday.
On arrival at Easdale there were several cars in the car park with empty kayak racks and three lady kayakers about to depart for the Grey Dog via the islands to the W of Lunga and Rubha Fiola. Transpired the youngest was an instructor at the centre on Lunga and so well experienced in the area. The sea mist had been giving us second thoughts but seeing the ladies depart we felt rather sheepish to have done so. Departing some 40 minutes late due to deliberating, we headed out to Belnahua even though at that point we could not see it.
A quick stop of 10 minutes then down the Sound of Luing with the flow to the Grey Dog. On the way in an otter surfaced close to one of the kayaks but did not seem to be disturbed.
At the Grey Dog the 6.5 knot (as low as it gets) current was tamed by Gordon and the two Steves who managed get up the S side and rattle down the N side.
Our time contingency had been used before we got started and so we pressed on round Scarba to the place that strikes fear into most amateur mariners, the Corryvreckan. It is no faster than the Grey Dog (8.5 knots max.) but the overfalls generated by an underwater ridge on the flood are positively dangerous to small craft and must be avoided. Where eagles dare indeed, we had seen two of them.
On arrival at Bagh Gleann a Mhaoil some 40 minutes after target we could see no movement of the water but a group of paddlers could be seen hugging the shore apparently having just come through the gulf from the W. Pushing on to Rubha Righinn it was obviously slack water but crossing the gulf from here and getting back would take 25-30 minutes. The total time of slack was estimated to be about 50 mins but we could not accurately determine when the slack started (it was originally intended to watch it) and so the double crossing was reluctantly abandoned and we headed back to the safety of the SE bay for lunch and a look at the bothy.
On arrival there no less than 12 kayaks were on the shore and two of the owners sitting on a log in the light drizzle. The group of some 4 ladies and 8 men were simply a group of friends (some ex SCA Touring Committee) including our own member Grant Montgomery.
They had left Easdale at 0930 and entered the W end of the gulf on the last of the ebb. This was a brave decision because there are only 3 places to get out safely over a distance of 5k and that distance will take the full period of slack water. They had had to tolerate some turbulence at the SW point on Scarba to get the benefit of the flow. They too had reservations about the forecast for Sunday and like us were heading over to camp on Luing.
After a leisurely lunch and a look round the bothy, which has seen better days but in a storm in that area could be the height of luxury, we headed back up the Sound of Luing on the N going tide with the intention of putting in at Cullipool. However when we got there it was decided by the majority to head back to Easdale and stop off in Oban for something to eat on the way home.
A fair paddle which, with the help of tidal streams, covered an estimated 33k (17.8 Nm).
A quick chippy meal in Oban and back in Helensburgh before midnight with all having had an enjoyable day.
Post Expedition Note Re Tides.
As we all know tidal streams can often differ from prediction due to wind, barometric pressure and even weather some distance from the location therefore the best way to get accuracy is to eyeball it. We could not on the day due to the gulf being slack on arrival.
The predictions for the day for slack water used for the plan were;
Reeds Nautical Almanac 1343 – 1435
Tidal Stream Atlas (interpolation) 1325 – 1425
Clyde Cruising Club Yacht Pilot 1405 – 1455
On the day the most accurate proved to be CCC Pilot since we were still sitting in the gulf with no apparent movement close to 1500 but could not risk a further 25 minutes for a double crossing with the W going flood imminent.
The 12 kayak group entry to the W end of the gulf was estimated at 1355 and they confirmed tide was still running E on entry. So again CCC Pilot seems most accurate. A word of caution; Reeds gives slack water times while the CCC Pilot gives the start time of flow after slack water for both neaps and springs. The Tidal Stream Atlas has to have half the slack water time subtracted from and added to the calculated time of change. There are other sources of tidal stream information available for divers and kayakers but it is questionable whether they have greater accuracy.
Paddlers: Hugh, Geoff, Steve W.,Gordon, David and Innes
Weather: Grey windy and wet getting better over the weekend.
Route: Port Askaig-Craighouse-Port Ellen
Report: Saturday 18th
We had spent the previous week mulling over the weather forecasts which varied from poor (wet and windy) to extremely poor (very windy and wet). In the end, despite wind forecasts of F4 we decided to go ahead but without the long crossing from the mainland. The plan involved an 06.30 departure from Helensburgh to catch the 09:45 for the 2 hour 10 minute crossing from Kennacraig to Port Askaig. This proved to be excellent timing. Trolleys were required for the walk through the car park and for loading on to the ferry
Low cloud and drizzle accompanied us throughout the day but thankfully the wind was relatively light. We made use of the steep slip into the old harbour and were able to get away shortly after the tide turned. It was important to catch the tide as it runs at at up to 5 knots. Thus we were carried quickly down the sound to our first stop, the rather pleasant MBA Bothy at An Claddach.
From the Bothy we headed across the Sound to Jura and, at the behest of Hugh, headed for a “Chambered Cairn” marked on the map.
The landing was not easy but, on the basis of hill shape, the search began. This involved a long trek through deep undergrowth covering an extremely rough deforested area. At its politest it would be true to say that enthusiasm for the search massively outweighed map reading ability and as a result failed. Closer inspection of the map showed “standing stones” marked at the site on earlier editions of the OS Map and eventually we all agreed that the two small white stones close to our landing point was the reputed chambered cairn. The details of the cairn can be found at https://canmore.org.uk/site/38244/jura-cladh-chlainn-iain
The rock formations along the coast were spectacular with gashes, towers, twisted rocks etc. At one point we were joined by a female kayaker from a small group of houses who was anxious to share her love for the area.
We had agreed that, with rain continuously threatening we would stay at the excellent campsite at Craighouse, used previously on one of our trips. We arrived at about 19:00 and pitched, which was not a pleasure with the light rain mixed with clouds of midges. However the adjacent hotel provided good food, beer and shelter and a convivial evening.
Sunday was drier, brighter but windier.From Craighouse we retraced our route and then had to make a decision on whether to go back up the Sound for a shorter but less windy crossing or take the direct route. We chose the latter and for the next 80 minutes were pummeled by a strong northerly wind hurling down the Sound.
As usual photographs do not convey the instability and tension induced by rough weather. Who takes his hand off the paddles in those circumstances? Eventually we landed by Proaig bothy (not MBA) for lunch and readings from the amusing Bothy Books.
The weather had been steadily improving with wind dropping and a hazy sunshine. The next section of the paddle was sea kayaking at its best; remote, rocky and fragmented coastal scenery backed by high hills coupled with lively conversation between the paddlers.
Rock Hopping close to the shore also provides both amusement and shelter provided you do not hit any.
In our quest to keep inshore we cut inside a pair of islands (Eilean Mhic Mhaoinoire). As is shown on the map the channel does not dry out but, unknown to us, does get so shallow we were forced to wade for a few hundred metres.
The next task was to find a camp site. To minimise the paddle on the Monday and ensure we caught the ferry we decided to head on past Ardbeg to Lagavulin and camp there.
Dunyvaig is a spectacular ruin that is, unfortunately, inaccessible for safety reasons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunyvaig_Castle gives the history.
Unfortunately there are no good camping sites there so we headed on to the island of Texa where we were greeted by a large herd of goats. The Camp site on Texa was very rough and there appeared to be no wood. However we managed to find enough to have an excellent fire and with fine dry weather and few midges a good evening was had by all.
Monday dawned dry, bright and almost windless. With more than enough time we decided to explore the island and, in particular the two caves marked on the OS Map. The island is not very interesting (see https://www.islay.blog/article.php/islay-texa-island ) for further information and we were unable to find the caves. Que Sera.
The paddle into Port Ellen was once again, beautiful and Port Ellen is now a very attractive village with a couple of excellent sand beaches. Camping looks quite possible.
There is a good slipway to the east of the ferry berth where we landed, changed clothes and loaded the kayaks on the trolleys. We caught the 12:45 boat and had Cal-Mac’s excellent Fish and Chips for lunch. Unpacking the kayaks and loading the cars took over half an hour and we eventually left Kennacraig at 15:30, arriving back in Helensburgh at 18:00.
Wildlife included 2 separate sightings of Sea Eagles, 2 Otters (at Craighouse) and hundreds of seals, particularly on the rocks on the second day.
I noticed, in this report, how often I had used the term excellent and this word really summarises the whole experience. This was an excellent trip with wonderful companions in a relatively unknown and thoroughly recommended area.
Paddlers: Steve W., Annie, Charlotte, Myles, Colin and Geoff
Weather: Perfect. Clear with a light breeze. No moon
Report: We met at 10pm at Luss car park with some new and some rare faces. with the expectation of dark at 10.30. In fact, despite the absence of a moon, there was enough light not to use torches/light until the unpacking, tying on stage at 01:30.
We were meant to call in at a beach on the south side of Inchmoan but the site was occupied so we pushed on to the long beach on the SW corner of Ichmoan. From there we paddled on through the Narrows and on to the mainland towards Luss and the cars..
Double click on any map or photo for full size. “Back” to return.
Paddlers: Colin, Steve W, Geoff, Francis, Robert
Weather: Fantastic. Sky Blue, Hot Sun and some quite strong breezes from all quarters to make life interesting
Saturday: Developed as a weekend alternative to the Outer Hebrides, the trip proved to be wonderfully successful. In part this was due to the fantastic weather and in part to the excellence of the scenery and the camp site.
After meeting at 8am, stops at the Container and Finnart for boats and people we left the are at 8.45 arriving at about 10:45. Unloading the cars and packing the boats added another 30 minutes so that we eventually got away by around 11.15 for the longest paddle of the trip, the crossing from Claonaig to Lochranza, a distance of 9km. The sea was surprisingly bouncy but without any big swell and the 2 hours soon passed. The only incident worth recording was the rafted stop to allow Colin to pump out his boat, which was gradually sinking because of a crack in the deck.
The landing by Lochranza pier offers toilets, a bench and table and an excellent sandwich shop. A long stop, witty repartee and a bit of self congratulation on successfully negotiating a serious crossing, followed.
The paddle down the west coast of Arran was much calmer with time to admire the scenery and photograph the sea rowing boat that passed by
We had a break at Pirnmill for beer (off-Licence) and Ice Cream. There is now no pub, only an unlicensed restaurant which to Steve’s disgust does not welcome dogs.
After a laze in the sum it was on towards a potential camp site at Whitefarland Point. The shore here is covered in boulders that stretch around 100m, very unpleasant to try and take gear and canoes across. However just on the point of giving up we espied a stretch of sand, clearly a place where someone had removed the boulders to allow boat access. It was near perfect
At the end of the path was a flat tufty area of tall grass, ideal for the tents. In addition on the beach was a ton of well dried driftwood ideal for the fire. The only negative was the kittiwake nest with three speckled eggs just at the end of the path from the water. Discovering this we moved tents and kayaks a bit away and eventually the mother returned.
The evening was the normal mix of eating, a short walk, midges and a big fire to keep the midges away. The addition was a swim(!) anda glorious sunset over Kintyre.
Sunday: If anything the weather was even better, certainly breezier. The plan was to get up at 7 and try to leave by 8 for breakfast in Carradale but this proved impossible and at 8.20 we were ready for the trip across Kilbrannan Sound to Carradale. Rather to our surprise as we progressed towards Kintyre the swell got significantly larger with the occasional wave breaking over the boats. It is less surprising that there is no photographic record .
We reached Carradale at 9.30, just over 1 hour for the 4.5km. Carradale is an attractive village with an excellent harbour and landing beach.
The tearooms, hotels etc do not open until 10am so we walked up the village high street before returning to the tearoom for breakfast on the lawn.
There was a mix of purchases; bacon rolls, full Scottish, Scrambled Eggs and so on all washed down with tea and coffee.
After a very lazy couple of hours we were off again heading north for Grogport. The wind had eased and veered west and the coastline was excellent.
Things were going so well we decided to press on to Cour Bay for lunch, a lovely remote sand beach.
We took a long lazy contented lunch before commencing on the final 10 plus km leg back to Claonaig. We were helped by an increasingly strong westerly and arrived back at the pier at almost exactly 5pm.
Packing up took the best part of 40 minutes but we managed to just beat the car ferry that deposited its cars at 5.40. Fish and chips at Inverary and home just after 9pm, an excellent weekend and a recommended destination.
We had 5 taking the course , Alex, Harry, Cammie, Lewis and Sandy, and they had 10 pool sessions and 7 paddles in the loch, sea and river. These included
Luss, Lomond Shores, Kidston (and Rosneath) , Royal Northern (Canoes), Craigendoran (Polo) and the River Leven. The course finished with a Canoe Camp on Loch Lomond. Our conclusion is that, once again, it proved very successful.
Paddlers: Euan, Geoff, Alex, Jenny, Jessica, Rebekah and Paul
Weather: Good on Saturday, Brilliant on Sunday
Report: The choice of canoes and sea kayaks was intended to give more experience to the Paddlers in a run up to the 2 Star assessment. For the record the sea kayaks unsuprisngly proved the more popular.
We met at Aldlochlay at 2pm and were away before 2.30 for the first leg over to Inchtavannach and Inchconnachan. At this time there was a good breeze from the north.
We stopped at Inchconnachan to investigate the old summer house and hunt wallabies. The former was more successful. The summer house is gradually rotting away but some rooms are still OK including the one with the mural
A very gentle paddle through the narrows took us to our camp site on Inchtavannach.
A long rest and we were off for an evening paddle. Our first stop was Inchgalbraith, a tiny island with an old ruined castle eminently climbable.
On to the long sand beach on Inchmoan for a stroll.
Finally back to the camp for a swim, evening meal and a camp fire
The evening finally darkened at around 10.30 and we went to bed shortly after midnight.
The morning was glorious with Loch Lomond looking at its very best, which is as good as anywhere in the world if not better.
A slow lazy start but we were still away just after 10am.
We moved quite quickly and by 11am were opposite Aldlochay and decided to climb to the top of the hill (the highest point on Loch Lomond at 86m (282 ft). It is surprisingly steep but are rewarded with exceptional views south. The boats are just visible at the edge of the trees/loch on the right.
The climb is steep and the path poor/non-existent but still worthwhile but an excellent way to spend 30 minutes.
A quick paddle and we were back at Aldlochlay just before midday. An excellent and Hopefully instructive trip.
Weather: Dry with light winds. Sea Mist and overcast at times, otherwise sunny
Report: Day 1: Two hours is normally regarded as a maximum time for active exercise without a break. Crossings in excess of 10km, such as from the mainland to the closest of the small isles, Eigg, are therefore regarded with caution. We left Helensburgh just after 8am arriving at the Back of Keppoch Campsite, by Arisaig at 11.15. The campsite is thoroughly recommended with access directly on to the beach and no charge for parking. After packing the boats and lunch we finally set off about 12.30 into the sea mist that prevented any sight of Eigg.
Within 20 minutes our departure point had disappeared and with nothing in front of us we paddled on due west using the boat compasses. These are expensive but absolutely essential in these conditions. Two hours of blind paddling and the shape of Eigg started to emerge through the gloom
There is a shingle beach at the north end but camping is impossible there and Hugh was anxious to source a camping spot for future reference so we pushed on round the point to a potential area. Sadly landing was on to weed covered rock and the possible campsite turned out to be a small weed infested sea water based bog. After coffee we pushed on again into the mist surrounding our next target Rum.
As we paddled the mist slowly rose giving a beautiful late afternoon. The south of Rum has virtually nowhere to land and no camping spots until Kinloch, at the head of Loch Scresort.
The campsite is excellent but the infamous Rum Midge makes the place close to unbearable. If you come BRING A MIDGE NET. Pitching, eating and above all drinking were a pain so we went off to look for a bar. The hostel and associated bar/brasserie in the castle have now been abandoned with the hostel moving up to the pier and the drinking place to the island shop by the community centre. A very pleasant evening was had by all, with much story telling and vigorous debate, before returning back to the campsite and diving into the tent to avoid the ….,
Day 2: The midges were still there in the morning in even greater profusion. A quick getaway saw us on the water about an hour after exiting the tent and into the midge free zone on the loch.
At the mouth of the loch we were surprised to come across a couple of kilometres of quite serious water, with the meter swell occasionally breaking on to the boats.
From the point we progressed along to a beautiful sand beach only really accessible by kayak
A cup of tea and a laze in the sun was the order of the day before the crossing to Canna.
Before crossing we travelled a little further west to the sand beach at Kilmory, a farmstead that houses the Deer Research Station.
From there we set off on the 9km paddle across the Sound of Canna to the harbour at A’Chill.
The previous night Hugh had inadvertently stepped off a bank and jarred an already strained back. On the crossing his discomfort grew to a level that on reaching Canna made further paddling too painful and potentially damaging.
Canna harbour dries out and our camp site was over a large and growing sand/rock bank. Both Hugh and I had brought Lomo trolleys and it was thought that these could be used realtively easily to get the boats the 400m across the bank to the water and the camp site. Further discussion on our experiences with the trolleys can be found on http://www.helensburghcc.org.uk/a-note-on-trolleys/
The campsite itself is at the edge of another glorious silver sand beach and virtually midge free. What a pleasure!
The evening was spent repairing the trolleys and debating loudly.
Day 3 Although there was some recovery it was agreed that the risk of going down the exposed east side of Rum, which only has one very poor landing and crossing the Sound of Rum (which can be dangerous) to Eigg, a distance of 28km, was simply too risky. Instead we opted to take the ferry, the Glen Nevis, to Eigg. A very relaxing morning followed with a very gentle paddle to the pier and a coffee at the cafe/shop.
Using the ferry to avoid the long crossings is a very pleasant alternative. Fares are low (£5.90 Mallaig to Canna) and the kayaks go free. On the Rum-Eigg leg there were 5 different groups and 15 kayaks on the boat. A return to Canna with a circumnavigation is high on my “to do” list.
Adding to the pleasures of the scenery were the gastronomic delights of freshly cooked fish and chips washed down with tea.
After Rum the boat progressed on to Galmisdale, the focus of life on the island and our destination. The camp site is just across the bay from the pier and the excellent cafe/shop/bar. There is a very basic toilet and a lot of flat grass for free.
The chance find of a plank of wood and the deft use of the excellent saw on both plank and a colossal tree trunk, provided enough wood for the only camp fire of the trip.
Day 4: Time had improved Hugh’s back and he felt confident of making the crossing. The conditions were ideal; cool and flat calm.
The journey over took just under the expected 3 hours and was pleasant and uneventful.
The final problem was actually finding the campsite.The inlet is hidden from the open sea and our search was not helped by the high tide significantly altering the scene. We finally arrived almost dead-on three hours after we departed. Lunch, loading, a drive and a cup of tea in Ballachulish brought us back to Helensburgh by 6pm.
Overall it was a good trip with fantastic scenery and excellent weather. A return to Canna using the ferry is required.
It seemed like a good idea; sunshine forecast in the East, tide running west to east in morning, east to west after lunch and points of interest; Boness, Blackness Castle, Hopetoun House, the Three Bridges and the new aircraft carrier being assembled at Rosyth. The reality was Mud, More Mud and enough clapotis to worry.
We assembled at 08:30 and were away by 8:45 for the 1.5 hr drive. Our first delay was finding the sea at Boness but eventually we found, behind some factories, an excellent parking spot by the yacht club with a broad slip adjacent. Sadly the delays meant the water was already receding leaving 50m of glutinous, smelly mud between the end of the slip and the water. A test revealed a capacity to absorb boots, indeed potentially bodies, so we were forced to carry the loaded boats around a rough seaweed strewn, rocky beach for 800m to the water. Even here the mud led to an unpleasant departure.
The paddle down the Forth was pleasant if uninspiring. The mud made any investigation of the Roman port unattractive and even a visit to the majestic Blackness Castle was ruled out because of it. At Hopetoun we hoped to have lunch and a “hard” beach was only 10m from the water’s edge. Tim got out and suggested it was solid enough but this proved to be Fake News. Thirty amusing minutes of sinking in an oily quicksand, falling over into the water as boots got repeatedly stuck and generally getting boats, clothes and persons coated in mud followed. Sadly the water was so filthy it could not be used to wash off the mud. The retreat was sounded.
On then to a promised broad concrete slip at Port Edgar, beneath the bridges. Colin’s staked reputation was shattered as we found 1m of mud between water and end of slip and evidence that it was as disgusting as that we had already experienced. So we decided to cross the Forth to a potentially hard landing at North Queensferry. Beneath the bridges the tide swirls around the rocks and bridge footings which causes some worrying quite rough water. The beach however was excellent being fine-grained sand. On the beach the thickest mud was removed, the long-delayed lunch was partaken and the sun came out.
By this time an alternative plan to return to Port Edgar as the tide got up to the slip and then use a Taxi to get the car at Boness was adopted. The plan was to paddle back via the rail bridge and the South Queensferry slip but the turbulence was so worrying to one of our team that he made a beeline direct to Port Edgar without having a look at the fort at Inch Garvie. He did not miss much.
Back on shore the alternative plan was enacted, the car was collected (it is a surprisingly long way from Queensferry to Boness in a taxi) and we got home just after seven. A memorable day of around 20km but the Upper Forth is not recommended as a paddling destination except for hippopotami.