Friday, 30 July 2010

Loch Leven and the Regatta

The following morning I awoke at 4.30am to watch the sun rise on the loch. (That sounds a little more inspirational than the real reason of wakening so early, which was it’s not very comfortable sleeping in my little car) A slight breeze rippled the water and kept the midges at bay.

It was a funny morning.The weather didn’t quite know what to do. The sky clouded over and waves began to form in the rising wind. I lowered a fishing line in the hope of catching my dinner

As the morning wore on, the wind dropped and the surface went mirror smooth. Although I was delighted with this change in weather, I’m not so sure the sailors on the yachts were as happy. It was the day of the Loch Leven annual yacht regatta. Boats from all over the west coast of Scotland congregate at Glencoe sailing club to compete in the race.

I had a grandstand view of the comings and goings as boats drifted round the course. The skippers looked like they were in the doldrums as they tried to squeeze round the buoys together. Although it looks a very relaxing sport in the following photographs, for some reason the guys steering were getting very excited. They were going red in the face shouting “starboard” at one another. Not being a sailor myself, I didn’t know what it meant .. but I thought, right, lets keep out their way, Im a lot smaller than they are.

After the race, one of the larger yachts passed quite close to. The crew waved and shouted “It’s a great day to be messing about in a boat”. I smiled back and shouted “right” so they left and went back to port. I wound in my fishing line and found that I had hooked a couple of mackerel so I left too.

As soon as I set foot on the shore, I cleaned one of the fish and cooked it. You can’t get fresher fish than that and a mackerel makes a great lunch.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Loch Leven and the island of Eilean Munde

My next couple of journeys took me to Glencoe and Loch Leven.

I don’t know why but ever since I read that many of the murdered MacDonald’s from the massacre of Glencoe were buried on the Island of Eilean Munde, I had wanted to visit the burial ground. It is situated in the middle of Loch Leven and only accessible if you have access to a boat. Now I had the inflatable, there was no stopping me.

I headed off after work on a lovely Friday evening, parked in a lay by on the north shore, almost directly opposite the island and launched my inflatable.

It didn’t take long to motor across and start exploring the islands. The smaller one called Eilean a Chomhraidh was home to a flock of gulls and terns. They had a few young ones in the nests and started to dive bomb as I approached, so I didn’t land on that island.

I did land on Eilean Munde. It has steep sloping sides but I found a reasonable place to land and hauled the boat well clear of the water. I didn’t want to find it washed away on the incoming tide and have to spend the night surrounded by dead MacDonalds.

The island was very overgrown but I soon found my way to the remains of St Munn’s church which was built in the 7th century. The last service was held in 1693. The walls still stand today.

I paid my respects and listened to the silent choirs as I took this photograph from inside the church.

Its not only MacDonald’s that are buried here but also Camerons, MacInnes’s and Stewarts. I guess its still in use today as I noticed a new dug grave on my second visit. The spade was still beside the grave stone. The stones are made from local quarried Ballachulish slate. I couldn't help but notce from the dates on the stones that it was a busy place around the 1850's ?

This stone is an exception, made from granite and not slate. I liked the contrast between the remains of the dead tree and the grave stone.

It was a moving visit for me but I was glad to get back to the boat. As I rowed towards the mainland, I watched the sun go down over Ardgour and though it was a great night to be alive.

That evening, as I laid my head to rest in the back of the car, I watched the darkness slowly engulf Beinn a Bheithir. I remembered the people I once knew who would never see the sun again. I also realised that I had achieved another of my life's ambitions… to visit Eilean Munde.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Loch Goil ... revisited

After my heart stopping moment when the two stroke out board engine stopped mid stroke in the "fresh northerly" wind, I realised just how quickly an inflatable could get blown out to sea. I decided that in the interest of my safety, it would be wise to have a back up engine as my journeys were getting longer and there was no way I could hope to row against a fresh wind. I purchase a Suzuki 2.5HP four stroke outboard to use as the main engine and will carry the two stroke on the transom as a backup.

I returned to Loch Goil the following weekend to run the new engine in and to further explore the loch. This time, the tide was full in and the water flat calm.

The new engine gurgled happily as I rounded the large MOD(Ministry Of Defence) buoy at the head of the loch. There is a MOD presence in the loch because submarines still enter and moor at the pens, although I didn’t see any on either visit.

I did see a patrol boat and saw that it saw me too, but I guess I was not considered a major threat to security as it passed after giving me the once over with a pair of binoculars.

There are some lovely houses along the west bank, this tree house look as though it would cost more than my house. Its in the grounds of the “Lodge” where visitors can stay assuming they are willing to pay 300 USD per person per night. Some people must live in a different world from me and my inflatable inheritance.

I pulled over and landed at this little bay for some breakfast and to set up my trawling line ready for some free fishing.

Loch Goil is used by the MOD as a noise test range for naval craft. Being a clever fellow, I think this has something to do with measuring how much noise a submarine or naval ship will make as it makes it way across the ocean? The loch is very deep, approx 85 meters in the centre of the test area. This marker must have something to do with the test range so I kept very quiet as I steared well clear of it.

The castle at Carrick looked far more welcoming on such a calm day. There was no need to worry about the four stroke missing a beat, it gurgled away quite happily on tick over.

I decided to go to the entrance of Loch Goil where it joins with Loch Long, to see if there were any signs of the porpoise that are sometimes sighted in the area. The field in front of the caravan park near the entrance looked lovely, covered in wild buttercups.

I had been towing a mackerel spinner behind the boat but without a bite, so I stopped by No3 marker buoy and dropped a set of lures to the seabed below. I drifted slowly thumping the bottom with the 6oz weight but not a single nibble was felt.

I then headed round the lighthouse into Loch Long to see if I could see any sea life there, but there was not a single sardine to be seen anywhere.

Loch Long looked very long and flat as I looked towards the dockyard at Coulport. I didn’t fancy getting caught in the wake of that big tanker so turned back into Loch Goil. The porpoise sightings would have to wait another day if they wanted to see me.

A little breeze now broke the surface of the water as I headed back to Lochgoilhead. I was still trawling a line but still no luck with the fish. I guess the mackerel, which are migratory, had not arrived yet.

I heard a lot of flapping and whooohooo’ing noises behind me and turned just in time to see four Eider ducks flying low across the water.

They are the heaviest and fastest flying ducks in the UK. Easy to identify by their wedge shaped faces.

After a very pleasant day on the water, I arrived back at the launch point to find the tide fully out and a hundred yards of beach to carry the heavy inflatable and outboard motors across.

Another lesson learned…. I need to get myself a little trolley.

Loch Goil and the seals

I chose Loch Goil for my next exploration, simply because the forecast for the day promised “fresh northerly winds.” I had not experienced the joys of inflatable boating in a fresh northerly before, so decided I didn’t want to travel too far in case it turned out to be a wasted journey. Loch Goil is one of the nearest sheltered sea waters to my home town.

It is a long narrow sea loch surrounded by hills which give it the appearance of a fjord. I thought this would have the advantage that the waves would not build up in the wind, which proved to be true, but it also had the disadvantage that the wind gusted quite strongly off the hills.

The launch point is from the side of the public car park in the centre of Lochgoilhead Village. The tide was almost in, so there was no problem getting on the water and within half an hour I was setting off on my new voyage of discovery.

I decided to motor along the east coast of the loch. The boat was soon flying along at a great rate of knots, propelled by both the outboard motor, the wind and the waves. I cast out my trawling line in the hope of catching a fish or three.

I soon realised that I was covering a lot of ground in a very short period of time so wondered what it would be like trying to get the inflatable back to the village. This would involve heading directly into the wind and waves. I turned around in a wide arc to avoid cutting over the top of my fishing line and immediately got soaked.

I discovered the inflatable doesn’t cut through the waves like a boat with a shaped hull, instead the waves slap the round tubes and come over the front. At least I had a bailer this time and the motor had no problem propelling the boat forward against the wind and waves.

That’s when I decided to go down the west side of the loch instead of the east as it was a more sheltered side. The wind was very gusty and sometimes white horses appeared on the wave tops so I didn’t venture too far off shore but I did manage down to Carrick Castle which is near the far end of the loch.

It was a bit of a fight trying to return to the village as the wind and waves were full in my face the whole way back. I found it best to keep my speed down so the waves didn’t break so high when they hit the front of the boat. That’s when I had my “moment of concern.” The little two stroke outboard engine stopped and I was quickly blown back towards the castle, loosing the ground I had gained when fighting into wind. I was in no danger as I was being blown onto the shore but I was very glad when the engine started again. This time I kept the revs up and had no more problems apart from getting wet.

Half way back up the loch I noticed the gusts were not quite so ferocious so I started to relax and discovered a colony of seals who were sheltering from the wind and sunning themselves on the rocks. I spent a happy half hour taking their photographs as they patiently posed for the camera.

When I finally arrived back at the village, the tide was half way out and the wind was dropping.

Although I didn’t get many photographs, it was an interesting journey and covered another part of my learning curve into the joys of inflatable boating.

I learned that it can be a damp sport in a “fresh northerly”

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Loch Ailort and the abandoned Peanmeanach village

It had been another hectic week at work so as soon as it was over I packed the inflatable boat into the car and headed north. I didn’t care where I was going, I just wanted away from computers and ringing phones. As I travelled north, I kept thinking of my recent journey to Arisaig so decided to head back that way. This time however I stopped at Loch Ailort instead of Loch Nan Ceall.

Arriving at the loch side around 21.00 hours I found a suitable lay by to park so I could sleep in the car overnight. It was a lovely calm evening and was the first time this year that the midges started to bother me. I was at the waters edge setting up my fishing rod when they descended in a black cloud. Fortunately the midge repellent stopped them biting but it was uncomfortable feeling them crawl over my face. I must invest in a midge net for my hat.

The sun soon soothed my itches with its golden touch. It was the best sunset I have witnessed this year.

Long after the sun had set, the afterglow still illuminated the sky, in fact it never really got dark that night. I love those long days and short light nights of June. Winter was long forgotten

I slept in the car until the sun started to rise and was dressed and ready to go at 4am. That’s when I took this photo of the islands of Eilean nan Gobhar and Sger Ghlas which are at the mouth of Loch Ailort. I was planning on exploring the larger of the two as the OS map shows it had two forts built on it.

I drove a couple of miles back to Alisary on the south shore of Loch Ailort because I wanted to explore the internal loch first and there was a reasonable park place with a launch point for the boat. Half an hour later it was inflated and in the water ready to go. There was still not a breath of wind and the tide was almost out. I had a happy heart as I set off to see places that I had never seen before.

I rowed across to the northern shores where there is no road. I was hoping to see an otter or two and some seals. As I drifted behind the island of Eilean Buide I discovered this abandoned fishing boat. With the Scottish fishing industry in decline, many have been abandoned round our shores. I guess it a sign of the times, just like many crofts and small highland villages were abandoned a few decades before.

As the fishing fleets declined, more and more seafood farms have appeared. I guess the locals have to earn a pound or two some way. I rowed down the line of buoys which support the ropes where the mussels grow. There were quite a few farms in the loch and little sign of seals. I couldn’t help wonder if there was a connection ?

Continuing west along the coast, I passed through the narrows between the mainland and Eilean nam Bairneach. I ate my breakfast as the boat drifted slowly through. When the tide turns, the current here will be as strong as a river.

As I went, I tried to note where rocks were that may be semi submerged on my return journey. I didn’t want a tear in the inflatable by hitting one. These two gulls look more at home here than scrabbling on the rubbish tips of the mainland.

I reached the abandoned village of Peanmeanach. The remaining croft which used to be the Post Office is now a bothy. The village was last inhabited around the 1940’s so it is not from the highland clearances. I guess it was just too isolated and hard to make a living. There were a couple of tents outside the village so I decided to continue to the next bay to land. I didn’t want to disturb their wilderness experience.

The waters around the coast are crystal clear, unlike the Firth of Forth or the Clyde which always look murky to me. There is a lovely sandy beach in front of this ruined croft

The cement stone walls prove its quite a recent croft

The view from the window was something to die for, I wondered who on earth would want to leave that view behind but I guess it’s a different story come winter ?

Next I set my sights on the Island of Eilean nan Gobhar, There was no tidal flow so it was an easy row across on the flat calm sea.

As I approached the island I had an sneaky feeling I was being watched.
Yup.. it was not a watch dog ..but this large gray seal that was keeping a close eye on me.

I landed on the Island and climbed to the highest point. Its only 40 meter high but what a view. I found the remains of the fort walls. I had read that it was a vitrified fort and wondered what that meant. When I say the remaining walls I discovered that it looked as though the stones were cemented together with lava. It turns out that around 2000 years ago, the fort builders built huge fires around the stone walls to melt the rocks together.

This is a view of the smaller island of Sger Ghlas. The only interest on it for me, was a few seabirds

A couple of cormorants were watching everything that passed their way

While these two mooning heron gulls were less interested in my progress

A little off shore of the islands ..I drifted with the fishing line down and caught my supper .. a Pollack of edible size. No mackerel were found ..I guess they have not arrived yet ?

I headed back for the mainland and rowed along the rocky coast. I saw every inch of the sea bed..the water was so clear.

I landed on a lovely sandy beach for lunch. I was now at my half way mark for this journey.

There was not a footprint to be seen in the sand. Not many people will visit this beach. You can just make out my boat at the end of the sands to give some scale to the beach

As I was having lunch..I couldn’t believe the sea fog which started to engulf everything. At one point I could only see around 50 yards in front of me. I headed for the launching point by following the coast when I could see it. I also made good use of my compass and map. Yup..even at sea you have to know how to navigate.

It wasn't until I was I was almost back at the launch point that the fog started to clear

When I landed, it was a lovely sunny day again

Then by the time I had deflated the boat and packed everything away, the fog was returning in the Sound of Arisaig.

Ah matter..I was heading for home and I had a great day.