We've had a prolonged period of anti-cyclonic weather and the coastal forecast for Saturday 1st October 2011 was for wind easterly becoming southerly F1-4, gusts up to 19kn, sea state slight, visiblity moderate becoming good. Tides were fairly high, just after Springs. As seemingly nearly always at Borthwen, the bay was very sheltered and the water near flat. Just the right sort of day for a paddle....
Paddling out of Borthwen we turned northwest and immediately hit the chaotic waters often found on the way up to Rhoscolyn Head, an area where tidal flows frequently clash. No photos here then! Rounding Rhoscolyn we entered the relative shelter of Porth Saint where this geo can be found. It's very narrow and I went in backwards, not realising there was an almighty seal right at the back on the cobble beach. I heard a bit of a splash, a little louder than many of the other splashes, but thought nothing of it, until this massive
seal swam under my kayak and stuck its head up at my bow, then dived again. I quickly exited to leave it in peace. It bellowed at me as I paddled away, the sound reverberating off the walls of the geo.
From Rhoscolyn to Trearddur the sea was chaotic close inshore but much more amenable further out. The swell was very variable and every now and again a massive swell set would come in, washing up the cliffs. There were many fishermen on the cliffs herabouts and it wouldn't have taken too much more on some of the waves to drag them in.
It was high water when we reached Trearddur and we had lunch on the thin strip of sand between the sea and the promenade, if you can call it that, with about 60 other people. While we were there the RNLI IRB launched and headed off in the direction we had come from. Setting off back to Rhoscolyn I resolved to try and get some more pictures.
We frequently lost sight of one another as the large swell sets came through.
On the way out we avoided paddling through the white arch due to the swell but on the way back we decided to give it a go. Paddling in to the arch the swell was coming at us from the right and breaking immediately before the entrance. Careful timing and judgement was needed to get through this zone and under the arch.
The exit required a 90 degree turn to face the incoming swell, which was breaking badly on the cliffs either side but holding good in the middle. Obviously you go for the middle if you are sensible. Fiona was on the other side of this beasty and I was very hurridly putting my camera away after this shot. I had somehow managed to not hit the shutter button on several occasions before this picture. I can't think why! There are cliffs to my left and right and also at my back.
We paddled on to Rhoscolyn Head, where a party under instruction were holding station before going in to the cave one by one. Shortly after, Fiona decided to breakout of the chaos of the inshore passage and head to the beacon, so naturally I followed. The water was much better behaved in the lee of the rocks, but chaotic on the other side of the outer island. We went through the middle and along the southern edge.
Just off the inshore side of the rocks was a SoT with two people on. No BA's, wearing jeans and jumpers, just sat there on more or less flat water! Within a 100m in a 180 degree arch the sea was foaming. Fiona and I were pretty damp, even all kitted up. Roll-on Bothwen!
My family are Lancastrians and since being a young'un I've been fascinated by the concept of the county being split in two, Furness (now part of Cumbria) lying to the north of Morecambe Bay and the rest of the county to the south of the bay, with a bit of Westmorland (also now part of Cumbria) in between.
For many years I've wanted to walk across The Bay, having been intrigued by supposed rights of way marked on maps and stories of the Queen's Guide and the Fishermen of Flookburgh published in mum's magazines, like Cumbria. Every year there are a number of guided walks across the bay to raise funds for charities. Cumbria Wildlife Trust had a slot allocated to them for a date in August and we duly met up at Arnside and registered for the 8 mile crossing to Kent Bank.
Walking around the coast from Arnside to White Creek it soon became apparent just how many people were on this walk - around 300! The walking speed was also rather variable. How would they get everybody safely across the sands?
Answer - a whistle! Line everybody up at an obstacle and wait for the stragglers, instruct everyone what to do, then do it. Simples!
Everybody soon got the hang of what was going on and what to do and obstacles such as the channel of the River Kent were crossed safely without too much carnage! (Yes, there's always the one who does a runner and has an early bath, so to speak).
The walk wasn't a straight line as quick sand, river channels and creeks in the saltmarsh all dictate the route. These shift position so recce's are done by the guide's team the day before and if necessary, on the day, before setting out on the main event.
The Queen's Guide to the sands Cedric Robinson (with sunglasses) and his assistant Mike Carter. Thanks guys for a splendid day out and a long held ambition fulfilled.
Our final day on the island was to be a walking day around Ardskenish, the south-west end of the island. This is a really beautiful and relatively remote area, blasted by the weather off the Atlantic, and made of dunes, beaches and skerries.
Seals were all over the place in these waters and numerous waders scurried along the beaches feeding.
The opposite coast of the peninsula backs on to the deep U shaped and sheltered bay of Traigh nam Barc.
The house at Ardskenish sits pretty well in the middle of the peninsula, surrounded by flowering machair teeming with redshank, snipe, oystercatchers,lapwing. ringed plovers, teal, mallard ..... you get the picture. One night during World War II the house was apparently clipped by a low flying plane and became something of a local attraction. It is no longer permanently occupied.
Some serious work went in to wall building hereabouts, and while they are no longer tended they remain an attractive feature of the landscape.
The islets and skerries offshore look like they could provide interesting rock-hopping, but that wasn't going to happen today. Next time perhaps.
We lingered a long time before leaving the peninsula behind. It was a superb day.
Roll on our next visit to Colonsay. We won't wait 30 years.
Less than a kilometre down the coast from Lamalum is the rather splendid beach of Traig Ban at Balnahard. Approaching from the north are some skerries you can work around, depending on the state of the tide, with views back up the Firth of Lorn and to Mull.
The remnants of the wreck on the beach are of the S.S. Wasa, a wooden steamship from Liverpool that, oddly enough, caught fire. It was under tow but grounded in the bay before being wrecked.
Most of the wreck is, apparently, still underwater a couple of hundred yards offshore.
Despite the wonderfully clear water I couldn't work it out from the surface.
Top 20 beach? Possibly.
Having reached the northern tip of Colonsay, conditions were so benign I was half inclined to continue with a semi-circumnavigation of the island and land at Traig an Tobair Fhuair. However I was paddling solo, hadn't mentioned that as a possible Plan B to the wife and mobile reception was poor, so I stuck with my original plan to return to Scalasaig.
Returning south down the north-east coast the first beach you come to is Lamalum, with views towards Mull to the north...
... and Scalpay, the Gulf of Coryvreckan and Jura towards the east. On a day like this day it was an absolutely sublime place to be.
Behind the beach is a narrow isthmus, Bealach Lamalum, barely 50m across, before the land drops in to the water of the west coast at Poll Ban and views open up down the island's north-west coast.
Being an exposed placed, the beaches inevitably catch a lot of flotsam and jetsam and more than one person has been tempted to create the marine equivalent of a cairn, or maybe it's art-work. Returning to the "best beach" theme of my earlier Colonsay posts, I think this one beats Port a Chapuill on views and setting.
This should really be a picture of a ready to go kayak with no kayaker. We all have those days when we forget something, like the VHF for example. I searched all the hatches, dry bags and the cockpit several times. I turned the car inside out, twice. My wife went back to our hotel room, as did I subsequently. Could we find the blasted thing? No. I'd just about given up when I suddenly remembered ..... back at the hotel I'd put it in the hydration pack pocket in the rear of my BA. Argh! An hour or so wasted.
So eventually, off I paddled up the north-east cost of Colonsay. Can you detect my mood from my posture?
Having paddled about a kilometre north from Scalasaig I had eventually paddled out my mood and was fairly chilled out like these four feral goats, presumed ancestors from goats that wound up on several Scottish islands after the Armada.
Further up the coast again are the ruins of Riasg Buidhe. An eighth century cross where the stone is described by William Stevenson in 1880 as "dressed only in front, undressed on the back" was removed from here in 1870 to Tobar Odhran by Colonsay House. Suffice to say there's Christian symbology on the front and and something rather ruder on the back! The 1841 census has 64 people living here and the village remained occupied to a lesser extent until 1923, when the last inhabitants were re-housed in new houses at Glassard, just north-east of Scalasaig. With that move Colonsay became the first community in Britain where every household had running water and lavatories. The roofs of the houses at Riasg Buidhe were burnt to prevent their reoccupation. A certain Collach, Dr. Roger McNeill, an internationally recognised authority on infectious diseases, particularly tubercolosis, was the prime mover in this achievement. This and more information can be gleaned from Kevin Byrne's excellent book, "Lonely Colonsay, Island at the Edge".
Heading north the coastline scenery takes on a certain uniformity with the exception of Eilean Olmsa and the woodlands of A' Choille Mhor and A'Choille Bheag. Seals, otters and goats abound and there is the chance to spot a goldean eagle. Landing opportunities are limited until you reach the beach at Balnahard or Traigh Ban.
From Balnahard it is only a short paddle to the cliffs at the north of Colonsay. The fulmars hereabouts were very inquisitive, flying within catching distance of my head.
On reaching the northern tip, where the tide can really pull you along or push you back, the skerry of Eilean Dubh comes in to view as does the view towards Mull and northern Jura. Views to follow!
Leaving "her outdoors" on Oransay, I paddled on out of the Strand and up the south east coast of Colonsay.
Through Port a' Chapuill to...
... Cable Bay. The beach here is "compact" but with a view down to the Sound of Islay and the Paps of Jura. Port a' Chapuill and Cable Bay are counted as seperate beaches in the SNH top 20. Given their close proximity I struggle with this when the whole of Oransay is counted as a single unit! Cable Bay as a top 20? Possibly. Port a'Chapuill on its own? Not in my book! But then it is all rather subjective anyway.
Interestingly, a proposal has recently (spring 2011) been put forward to place a salmon farm off Cable Bay / Port a' Chapuill. Personally I hope it doesn't proceed. It's very pleasant to kayak somewhere off the west coast without the infernal things.
Just around the corner from Cable Bay is Meall an Arbhair, a pleasant sheltered spot with two entances to the shallow bay and otters chilling out.
Rubha Dubh is a very low lying headland. Beyond is Loch Staosnaig otherwise known as Queen's Bay, on account of HMY Brittania regularly mooring up here for the night when HM was doing her holiday tour around Scotland.
Views to the northeast include the northern end of Jura, the mouth of Corryvreckan and the rounded lump aka Scarp.
Meanwhile the tide was going out and I needed to get back to Oransay sharpish to collect "her outdoors" and then paddle back to the road's end at Garvard otherwise there would be a long trolley haul.
Oransay Priory was founded around 1350 as an Augustine monastary but was reported as being in ruins by 1623. The current owners of Oransay have done much to improve the island and this includes moving the superb collection of carved mediavel grave stones in to a recently roofed area of the priory to protect them from the elements.
OK, not part of the priory proper, but I like this shot of the nearby walls with the three baby wrens!
Again, not a carving but a fascinating natural detail of one of the stones in the priory wall.