Sunday, 27 June 2010

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.

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