Friday, 27 August 2010

Scourie and the storms

Heading northwards, I stopped at the viewpoint on Struie hill which looks over the Kyle of Sutherland towards the far north west of Scotland. I could see that the wilderness where I was seeking solitude from my stresses lay under a heavy sky. I began to feel very alone as I headed into the dark distance.

I drove on through the rain without seeing the scenery, I was lost in my own thoughts as the mist swirled around the hills, hiding them from view. Eventually I arrived at Scourie. The centre of civilisation in the far north west of Scotland. I wondered about staying on the campsite in the village, just so I didn’t feel totally alone. I resisted the temptation and parked at the car park which overlooks Scourie Bay and the village.

It was blowing a gale, so to pass the afternoon I went a walk along the cliffs to the point at Rubha Shios. As I watched the waves breaking on the rocks, I was glad I wasn’t at sea in my inflatable boat. It wouldn’t last two minutes in those conditions.

I was walking on the sheltered side of the bay so the waves were not big in the off shore wind. I watched the dark squalls streak across the sea’s surface towards Handa Island.

As I continued my walk the sun occasionally illuminated the barren landscape making it look a little less hostile and desolate.

Looking back at Scourie village from the point, I thought that man had not made much of a mark in this landscape. It was still ruled by the forces of nature that created it. I felt very insignificant in the vastness of the wilderness.

Looking south from the point, I was now facing directly into the storm. All traces of mankind were now blown away.

It was the power of the sea that ruled this landscape. The noise of the wind in my ears was that loud, it drowned the noise of my thoughts. I was struggling to even breathe in the face of the storm.

Wave after wave sent spume high in the air as the water slowly carved the rocks into deep coves and clefts. I wondered if even the limpets could hang onto those rocks in such conditions.

I headed back to the car and looked for my own campsite. I found a little spot off the road on the way to Loch Laxford and set up camp. I have an airbed which I put in the back of my estate car when the rear seats are put down. I pile my belongings and inflatable boat equipment on the ground and peg a tarpaulin over it in case of rain. It had been too rough for fishing for my dinner so I cooked some tinned food on my little gas stove.

I did look for wild food to help supplement my bought food but only found a handful of raspberries. Although they couldn’t make a meal, they added a lovely flavour to my breakfast cereal.

To pass the last of the evening, I climbed a little hill beside my campsite and surveyed the start of Loch Laxford. I was determined to explore it in the inflatable boat come morning.

I then bedded down in the car for the night. That’s when the second storm hit. I had taken my mobile phone with me in case of an emergency. The emergency had now arrived. My youngest daughter phoned to tell me my eldest daughter had just been taken into hospital. The rain started to pour and the wind started to howl again as I tried to sleep in the dark. I was too far in the wilderness to visit my daughter that night.

Fortrose and Rosmarkie on the Moray Firth

Often when we plan and look forward to things, life has a habit of turning up the unexpected. Just like the changeable weather in Scotland we have to adapt and accommodate changes or life can become a washout. My plans had already changed as originally I had planned to go the wild camp holiday with my American friend, but at the last moment she had to cancel do to unforeseen problems at her end.

I adapted by deciding to go into the wilderness myself rather than mope around the house. I left early on the Saturday morning. The car was loaded with everything to survive two weeks in the wilderness. I had included the kitchen sink. I left home full of excitement at my challenge of survival, I was not concerned where I was going, as long as it was Northwards.

After two hours of driving the A9 which is the main road artery to the north, I arrived at Inverness. The sun was shining but the wind was very strong, in fact it was the predicted gale force winds. On impulse, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and head for Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle.

When we lived in Dingwall, my father was a keen member of Chanonry Sailing Club and learned to sail his C fly dinghy there. He was very much in my thoughts as I visited the sailing club. It looked far smaller than I remembered but I guess when you are a youngster, everything looks bigger.

It surprised me that the beach was so steep as I remember learning to swim there.
I could have quickly got out of my depth ?

I have many happy childhood memories Fortrose. We returned there for years at summer holiday time, to stay in a caravan on the Chanonry point camp site. I took a walk along shore and watched the waves crash onto the smooth pebbled beach. I loved hearing the soothing noise of the pebbles rumbling around in the receding waves. I recalled falling to sleep in the caravan and listening to the same noise. It seems like an eternity ago.

I continued along the shore to the lighthouse. I knew the waves would be quieter on the Rosemarkie side of the point. Its also a good place to hopefully see the dolphins that often play in the currents off the point.

I scanned the sea looking for signs of fishy life and recalled times from childhood when we sailed round the point in my dad’s dinghy. We often saw the dolphins then. All I could see today was Fort George on the far side. It looked a lot closer than I remembered.

I was loosing hope of seeing the dolphins and wondered if they had moved on. Then my patience was rewarded as a pod of around six appeared. They played off shore for around ten minutes before heading back out to sea. My day was made and it was not yet noon.

Looking along the sandy beach towards Rosmarkie my memory proved correct. The water was much calmer in the off shore wind. I decided to walk along the beach as far as I could go.

Although the waves were quiet, the wind was blowing mini sandstorms in the faces of the oyster catchers searching the waterline for lunch

I passed Rosmarkie village and continued along the shore heading for the cliffs on the Black Isle. We often walked that way as kids.

As I walked, I recalled playing in the sand and swimming in the sea. As a youngster I never noticed how cold the water was. Perhaps it was a lot warmer then and we are in a global cooling period instead of a global warming? But then, the days seemed a lot sunnies and warmer then too ? It's funny how our memories seem to prefer recalling the better days.

I recalled how vivid orange and black the rocks from my memory of them as a kid and was pleased to see that I could remember colours better than temperatures.

I had a another “flash from the past” when I saw the old cave. I had forgotten all about it until I saw it. Then another piece fitted in place in my memory’s jigsaw of Rosmarkie.

All to soon my walk and memories were stopped by the reality of the sea cliffs and the high tide.

It was time to walk back to Fortrose. I passed the old abbey on my return to collect the car. Then I started to head northwards again. I was now looking forward to the future journey, having recalled some of my past.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cast into the wilderness .....

I have read that the north west of Scotland is one of the last great wildernesses left in Europe. I have been struggling a little with my work and lifestyle lately so in an effort to find myself again, I have packed my inflatable inheritance and tent into the car and I am heading for that great wilderness to witness it first hand.

I have my fishing rod and a newly acquired lobster pot in the hope that I can live off my own means as much as possible. I have yet to learn how to set a lobster pot, but if I am starving, a few crabs and mussels are better than nothing. ( I will supplement my diet with the odd visit to the local stores, when I find them but will be on a very strict budget)

I’m not sure how I will get on, all on my lonesome, but I have been looking forward to the challenge for a while. The long range weather forecast is for very changeable weather which I guess means high winds and lots of rain, but then, it wouldn’t be a wilderness if it was any other way.

I will document my journey in the usual way on this blog when I return. It may be in a day or two before I post, if I can’t survive the solitude, or it may be a week or two if I can.

Loch Craignish in a little more detail

Once I realised that although the surface of the sea was constantly swirling and moving in the tide race, there were no downward currents to pull the inflatable under the water, it just wanted to carry me along with its flow. I went with the flow until I got bored and used the outboard engine to get me back to Island Macaskin. I wanted to stretch my legs, and look at the island in more detail. I landed again at the little rocky bay beside the crofts. This time the tide was almost full out.

I explored the little nooks and crannies in the bay looking for nature’s abstract patterns and this is what I found.

Heading for home, I was passing the isle of Eilean Righ, which is the largest island in Loch Craignish and is inhabited. I heard the roar of a powerful engine coming down the loch and then witnessed a very graceful take off when the owner of the island reached flying speed in his seaplane and headed off for the weekend shopping. I guess I did envy him a little, for all I had for my weekends shopping was the mackerel in my boat.

Before heading for home I stopped at the little churchyard on the Craignish peninsula, beside my launch point and had a look at the sculptured stones in the graveyard.

Looking at the stones, I thought back to my first visit when I lost my camera to the sea. I now left quit happy that I had thoroughly experienced the area and captured the atmosphere of my thoughts and the scenery in my blog.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Loch Craignish, Loch Crinan and the Doris Mor

I was glad to get back out in the little inflatable after wading through the head high bracken on Island Macaskin. I think the local midges and mosquitoes had not seen many people either and were making a big meal of me.

As I headed out to sea I caught my second mackerel of the day under a beautiful mackerel sky, with the paps of Jura as a backdrop.

I was now heading south for Loch Crinan. The salmon in the fish farm off Scodaig point were very lively, leaping into the air and landing with huge splashes. Then I saw why. A guilty looking seal appeared from under the nets. It was lucky I wasn’t the fish farmer or it could have been legally shot for trying to get its free lunch. I tossed it a mackerel but it showed little interest, it was more interested in the salmon. I guess I was too.

Once round the point, I headed east into Loch Crinan. I couldn’t help but envy this farm house setting. It had a lovely sea view across the loch and was sheltered on the other three sides by hills.

A little farther on I came across a cormorant with wings fully outstretched, presumably to dry them or perhaps to soak in some warmth from the sun ? Perhaps its not a cormorant and it’s really a shag ? But then again I not sure if a shag is just a slang term for a cormorant, so I will let the twitchers decide what kind of bird it is.

As I rounded its perch, it threw me a dirty look, uttered a squawk curse before hurling itself into the air. It had not quite reached flying speed, stalled in mid air fell back towards water, but with a skip and a hop of its huge flippers, it soon bounced up enough speed for an undignified take off.

My next port of call was to see Duntrune castle from the sea. Parked outside was what I can only describe as a real inflatable boat and outboard motor. I was pretty certain I could easily reach flying speed in that outfit.

I was starting to warm myself in the morning sun. It was turning into a beautiful day as I crossed the loch to Crinan village

The lighthouse marks the start of the Crinan canal

The converted fishing boat looked beautiful in its varnished wood. I doubt if its owners would know which end of a net to put in the water but I guessed they net a fair profit in their own business to afford such a tidy boat.

I had a quick tour round the other boats moored at Crinan before heading back to Loch Craignish. I didn’t envy any of them as I doubt if they had any more fun than I was having in my little inflatable.

It took a while to get back to Loch Craignish as I was doing trawling speed which is an average speed of catching four mackerel per hour, knot that I was in a hurry you understand. I headed for Island Macaskin again and discovered there was an inhabited house situated right on the southern most point of the island. I stopped here and would have anchored if I had one, so dropped my fishing line with five feather lures instead.

That’s when I discovered I was at the start of the Doris Mor tidal race. I was just drifting off to sleep when I noticed I had drifted quite far from shore. The water was still flat calm but strange shapes started to appear on the surface.

Soon the water was flowing like a river and my little inflatable started to bob about like a cork. Time to wind in the fishing line, start the engine and get out of here.

I played in the currents for a while just to get used to seeing and feeling the boat move and spin in the tide race. Although some very small whirlpools appeared, I knew I was a long way from the fast flows which could take an unwary inflatable boat out into the Corryvreckan.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Loch Craignish revisited and Island Macaskin

The following weekend saw me heading back at Loch Craignish. I wanted to take the photographs that I couldn’t on my first visit because I dropped the camera in the sea. The forecast was for light winds and bright weather so I set of on the Friday evening and spent another night sleeping in the car. It’s getting darker at night now and much colder. Before setting up my bed, I walked along to Craignish point to have another look at the Doris Mor tide race. I watched the currents flow in the sound of Jura and Im pretty certain I heard the distant roar of the Corryvreckan whirlpool which is situated between the headlands of Jura and Scarba in this photo.

I awoke early to a lovely calm day. The cool air was enough to keep the midges at bay. As I motored across the mirrored surface I caught the first mackerel of the day.

Passing through the narrow gap between the islands Eilean Righ and Eilean nan Gabhar, I saw an otter close in shore but it was to quick to photograph so I took a photo of the boat moored off the end of Island Macaskin instead. It hung around a bit longer than the otter did.

It was Island Macaskin that I was keen to explore again. There are a couple of ruined crofts marked on the OS map on the east side of the island and I wanted to check them out. I landed in a lovely little rocky bay and pulled the boat up. I didn’t know it until later..but I suspect the rocks were sharp with barnacles as I found a couple of deep scores in the bottom of the inflatable when cleaned it down at home. Just as well it is a PVC inflatable and easy to maintain .. a couple of patches over the scores and its now stronger than before.

Because very few people visit the island and there are no paths, I had to fight my way through head high bracken to get to the crofts.

What I found fascinating about these particular crofts was the remains of the old furniture, even though they were abandoned around 1880. It’s the first time I have seen that kind of thing still in situ in old crofts, presumably because there has been no one here to pillage the remains for firewood or scrap metal.

Perhaps these shelves were part of the kitchen larder ?

An old iron stove rusting quietly in the corner. Can you imagine the inhabitants huddled around it in a cold dark winters night? The red glow from the burning wood casting long eerie shadows into the dark corners.

The ceramic bath, it even had lead pipes that connected onto an old iron water tank on the outside of the croft. I confess I pillaged six inches of the lead pipe to melt into a couple of fishing weights. There was a hot and a cold tap too?

I can only imagine these were the tools used for tilling the ground and perhaps collecting the hay? I guess life was hard then. I cant imagine life without instant E mail and internet blogs. I wonder what they did all day ?