Sunday, 27 June 2010

Loch Sween and the Faerie Isles

The next journey was to Loch Sween and it was a grey day. Not very inspiring as it rained and I get cold and damp when the wind turned the flat sea into wet waves. I didn’t take many photos that day but this one sets the scene. Loch Sween is another long narrow sea loch considered safe from strong tides and sheltered from ocean rollers.

I saw the beauty of the loch on that visit but it wasn’t until my next visit a couple of weeks later, that I fell in love with it. I launched from the rocks at the lay by just north of Talvalloch village.

I had traded my dad’s little Avon Redstart round tail inflatable with my mom and was now the proud owner of my dad’s other inflatable dingy. It is a Seago S2.7 meter wooden transom inflatable. It’s a fraction of the cost of the Avon Redstart because it is PVC instead of the more durable Hypalon of the Avon boat. However it has proved to be rugged enough for my purpose. It has a bit more room and the tubes are a larger diameter so stays a little drier in a wave. It was a lovely sunny morning with a fresh breeze but little wave. I headed into Tayvalloch harbour to get some photos for my collection.

As I rowed past Rubh an Oib point, I kept an eye open for the seal that I saw on my first visit but was disappointed it didn’t appear. However I marvelled at another one of nature’s abstract art works. The colours and shape of the sky, trees and rocks lit by the sun. I didn’t notice that view the day I saw the seal.

A mile further up the loch, I came to the opening channel for the faerie isles. There is a secret mooring in there for a yacht or three and two were at anchor. It really is a beautiful sheltered spot.

Looking down through the calm crystal clear waters I could see the millions of black starfish which I believe are unique to Loch Sween. They were everywhere and stand out quite clearly against the light coloured muddy sand bottom.

It was low tide and therefore quite shallow as I moved stealthily and rowed silently among the islands in this faerie tale landscape but I guess I was still too noisy as I never saw a single fairy.

If the image of fairy’s sounds too fishy, I did manage to sneek up on half a dozen large fish. They were around two feet in length and moved very fast without breaking the surface so I doubt if they were mullet. I suspect they were salmon or sea trout but cant be sure. You can see them in the centre of this photo, not the best proof of their presence but they were not hanging around for me.

I landed on one of the faerie isles and was the proud owner for an hour while I ate my lunch. I never saw a single person or solitary seal. I wondered if the moored yachts in this surreal landscape were ghost ships.

After lunch I decided to explore the bottom end of the loch, the easy way. I started the outboard and sailed off southwards.

I was heading for Taynish and the channel between Ulva Island and the Taynish peninsula that opens into Linne Mhuirich, another narrow sea loch. The wind was freshening but the waves didn’t come to much. I landed at a little rocky cove to stretch my legs and take this photo.

I saw an oyster catcher flying close while making its distress call and wondered why ? Looking at my feet I soon saw the reason. I left immediately and was very pleased to see the oyster catcher settle on its nest as I rowed away

The channel I was heading for wasn’t far so I continued rowing because the tide was almost out and the channel very shallow. Its entrance is marked by the boathouse for the Taynish estate. The boatman was at home although I didn’t see him

I did see this dangerous looking blob, bobbing around on the surface. I believe it would have a very nasty sting so was glad I wasn’t swimming in the channel.

I couldn’t help but notice there were hundreds of large sea urchins in the narrowest part where the tidal flow was quite strong. There were lots of black starfish around too.

I had to take a photo of this wonderful natural abstract pattern of seaweeds with a view that I might paint it myself one day.

There was a strong flow of water in the channel so I knew the tide wasn’t fully out. Rowing against it was difficult and I didn’t want stranded on the wrong side if it dried out completely so I called it a day and headed for home. This kayaker had no problem paddling in the strong current but he had a long paddle back to Tayvalloch. I started the outboard in the deeper water and was back with no effort at all.

Although I was slightly disappointed I didn’t see the seals, the day more than made up for it with the other things I saw.

Arisaig and Loch nan Ceall

The next inflatable journey was not until May. I decided to go a couple of days camping at Arisaig to see the sea skerries and seal colony at the mouth of Loch Nan Ceall.

The weather was very kind but the north wind was bitterly cold. It brought to mind the old Scottish saying “ Ne’er cast a cloot, till May is oot” I slept in the car for warmth and put my stores in the tent. This is a photo of my inflatable in a little natural harbour beside the camp site. It was taken the only time the wind dropped and the waters calmed.

The first night I couldn’t wait to get to the skerries so got into the little boat and rounded the point of Eilean Ighe to enter the north channel. I used the outboard motor and with the wind and waves, possibly the tide too, we surfed along at a great pace of knots. In fact, I was a little surprised at how fast I was going. I decided not to hang around in the north channel in case the waves became bigger, so turned the boat for home. That’s when I discovered just how wet a little inflatable boat can get. It does not cut through on coming waves, they were coming on over the bow. I soon learned what a bailer was for, its just a pity I didn’t think to bring one.

I survived the evening swim inside the inflatable and watch the sun set from the safety of the shore. This is a view of the campsite at Back of Keppoch, with the plateau of Sgurr an t-Sasunnaich in the background.

Then I watched the after glow behind the hills on the island of Rhum. It was particularly red this evening and presumed it was the volcanic ash from Iceland being illuminated. It had grounded all flights too and from northern Europe. I looked forward to exploring the skerries in more detail in the morning.

The following morning the wind was still from the north but not quite as strong ? I like to think Im a quick learner though I appreciate that people who know me are entitled to their own opinion.

This time I decided I should approach the skerries from the south. That way, once across the south channel, I would be in the shelter of the skerries and if the wind and waves worsened, I would have the conditions behind me, helping to get back to shore instead of fighting into them.

I launched at the old pier near Tor Mor and the south channel crossing was easy. I stayed dry the whole way and the outboard motor made easy work of it. The tide was full out so landed on a sandbar to explores some of the skerries by foot. The inflatable was hauled well up the beach to avoid the incoming tide carrying it away.

I went to explore the skerries and look for photographic views. The skerries are a series of islands, rock formations and sandbars that are exposed at low tide but mostly disappear under water when the tide comes in. It was a little like exploring a gigantic fish aquarium that had the water removed for cleaning. Much of the sandbar was made of ground coral and broken shells

I love the way nature seems to make abstract art work and this seaweed attached to the stone is an example. Its beautifully fanned out flat on the sand by the receding tide, yet within six hours it will be standing proud and dancing with delight in the waterway currents, trying to reach the surface of the sea.

On the few skerries that are in fact islands, I wondered if any landweeds would survive such a harsh salt sea environment. I discovered some primrose in spring bloom on the larger islands.

And of course I knew the sea pinks would love the salt sea air. They are beautiful in spring time.

I was also hoping to see some of the local inhabitants of the skerries. It has one of the largest seal colonies on the north west of Scotland. I scanned the skerries as I walked but didn’t see one ? Perhaps I was too distracted by the views as the sun started to shine. The island in the distance is the Isle of Eigg

I was also keeping a close eye on the tide. The water rises very quickly once the tide turns and I didn’t want to loose the inflatable.

I made it back to the boat in plenty of time and started to row among the rocks as the water started to rise. My course was of course set for the north channel again.

I had a lot of fun rowing in the shallow sheltered sea. Sometimes the channels between skerries proved difficult to row against the tide, other channels were easy by following the back eddies. I was loving this new life and getting to terms with the jargon too. A month ago I couldn’t have told you about a back eddie even if it was staring me in the front of my face. I landed on this skerry beside the north channel for lunch

It was a quick lunch as the land around us was disappearing at an alarming rate. Waterways became deeper and deeper. I explored ever nook and cranny as I rowed on my way. I was looking of the elusive seals ?

Then exactly on the stroke of midday, the magic hour began. First I spied this seal sitting on a rock in front of me and just managed a photo before the tide swept me quickly past.

Then they all began to appear in the water around the boat. In the end, I wondered if I was looking at them, or where they there examining me ? One thing is for sure, I were in their element and as such, I guess I was their guest.

The wind and waves did get up a little at high tide, but I was very happy to have seen what I came to see. My plan worked a treat and the wind, waves, tide and two horse power outboard, propelled me back to the car.

That evening I watched watch the sunset once again over the Isle of Rhum. It truly was a day in heaven.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Loch Etive and Glen Etive

I couldn't have picked a better day for my maiden journey. I arrived at the head of Loch Etive in the early hours of morning and there wasnt a breath of wind. I love it when the water is like a mirror reflecting the mountains, it also reflects my thoughts in an inward direction. The inflatable only made a slight ripple on the surface as I slipped quietly into the silence of the glen

Initially I was a bit wary of the deep dark water as I slowly rowed to the centre of the loch but the fear soon left as I became absorbed with the surrounding scenery. I was inspired by the winter colours and textures of Beinn Trilleachan rising steeply to the sky.

I felt small and insignificant as I glided quietly passed Ben Starav. I felt a little cold and vulnerable in the dark shadows, but I never once felt that I was somewhere I shouldn't be. I was slowly awakening and accepting the fact I was now in a new element and it existed only for me to discover.

Words cannot express my delight when the seal appeared from nowhere. Behind him the beautiful backdrop of Ben Cruachan reached all the way to the sea and then reflected back to the sky again. The seals movements caused ripples on the mountain's surface that made me wonder if the scene before me was real ..or was I dreaming.

I stopped rowing and let the inflatable drift gently in the ebbing tide. As if by magic, my boat slowly spun round twice then the two white swans appeared. I expected the white rabbit to appear at any moment now .. but I guess he was too late for his important date. Glancing at my watch I realised time hadn't stopped, it was in fact now lunch time.

I rowed over to the sandy beach at Rubha Bharr, where I landed and had lunch. It had taken all morning to row and drift the five miles from the head of the loch. I decided it was now time to try out the little outboard engine.

The outboard burst into life with two pulls of the starter chord and I motored lazily back to the car parked near the old pier. I felt great. I was no longer a virgin on his maiden voyage. Sadly, the old pier is no longer there. The wooden posts have been taken away. A sad loss for the sunday photographers of this area.

June is one of the best months to photograph Glen Etive. Thats when the Rhododendrons around Lochan Urr are in full colour.

They tend to grow everywhere and even the islands in the loch are covered by them.

However I do confess that it is the late Autumn months that inspires me most. The browns and yellows tipped with white are my favourite colours.

And the falling sound of the waterfalls is music to my ears.

I now know why William Wordsworth wrote of Glen Etive ....

This Land of Rainbows spanning glens whose walls,
Rock-built, are hung with rainbow-coloured mists
Of far-stretched Meres whose salt flood never rests
Of tuneful Caves and playful Waterfalls
Of Mountains varying momently their crests

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

My Maiden Voyage

I admit to being a fair weather sailor so it was April before I made my first journey on the sea lochs of Scotland.

As a youngster,I been on a few sailing dinghies with my father so I was no stranger to the sea. Aware of the dangers of wind and tides and my naivety of being at sea in an inflatable boat, I asked advice from my brother where it would be safe to “dip my toe” for the first time.

Loch Etive sounded like the perfect place for my maiden voyage into the deep unknown. But first ... I just had to stop in Glen Etive to photograph some of the views on the way to the old pier.

The Inheritance

By combining the materialistic inheritance of a little inflatable boat, and a small two stroke outboard motor, with my fathers love for the sea and my own love for the countryside, I started on a new journey of discovery which I hope to diary in this blog

The start of my new journey

There are some dates that will remain engraved in our minds forever and each individual will have their own unique calendar of events, like a finger print of their lives.

Examples are :-
Birthdays. Milestones, like the day I quit smoking, or the day I left school. Global celebrations like Christmas. Major disasters like September 11th. etc

A day that is etched in my mind and the minds of all my family is January 17th 2010.
It was the day my father died.

A keen sailor in his free time, he lived for the sea and his boats. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was when he died that I inherited one of the greatest gifts he could leave me.

His love for the sea.

My mother gave me his inflatable yacht tender and outboard engine which I now use to explore the sea lochs off the west coast of Scotland. As I explore these new corners in my world, Im proud to say, he is never far from my mind