Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Loch Hourn Herons and the Golden Eagle

Leaving Barrisdale bay I was now heading for the narrows of Caolas Mor. I had read that a strong tide flows here and it can get very choppy if the wind is against the tide. However the flow was not too strong as the tide had not long turned and the wind almost non existent.

I examined the narrows on the way past and was pleased to notice that if the wind did get up against the receding tide, I could easily walk the inflatable through the narrows on the end of my mooring rope.

I was surprised to see such a trim cottage in the shelter of the north bank of the narrows as there is no road access. I guess the owners use a boat to get back to civilisation.

In the centre of inner loch Hourn there is a little island and as I approached it I was surprised to see around a dozen Grey Herons. Normally they are solitary birds but I had heard a rumour that in some places they lived in small colonies. In fact the little island was full of life. Seals and cormorants stood shoulder to shoulder with the herons.

I edged in closer to get a photograph of the heron colony but I accidentally spooky a couple which took to the air. Backing off I put the camera back in its bag. That’s when the golden eagle attacked. I saw it at the last moment, folding its wings and dropping like a stone with huge outstretched talons. At the very last moment the spooked heron body swerved and the eagle missed its target. Only a few feathers fell from the heron’s wingtip as it sped away. I was too late with the camera and this is the best shot I got of the golden eagle.

The attack happened around twenty yards from my head and I just gasped in awe at the sight of a lifetime. The eagle took a couple of seconds to recover from its dive before giving chase to the heron. The eagle is the bird in the left of this photo and the heron is escaping on the right.

Next moment the rest of the herons took to the air and started harassing the eagle. It eventually flew away leaving the herons squabbling and squawking at one another. To see it all happening right in front of my eyes, really made my day.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Loch Hourn and Barrisdale Bay

To reach Barrisdale Bay, I continued along the northern shore of Loch Hourn until I reached the three isles of Corr Eileanan. That way I had the comfort of island hopping to cross the loch, not that it was a problem on the calm waters of today.

The first island was very steep and the top overgrown with shrubs and trees so I had no interest in exploring in further.

The middle island was just a rocky outcrop so I left it for the cormorants to clamber over. The rock looked a little too slippery for me. The third island was little different than the first so I ignored it completely.

The view that really held my attention was the rocky ridge of Ladhar Bheinn and Stob A choire Odhair. Its one of the most isolated munros in the vast wilderness known as Knoydart. Hillwalkers have to walk for miles to reach its steep slopes and I was almost there with a flick of the throttle.

I was now heading into Barrisdale Bay where there is a bothy and a little camp ground. The height and steep slopes of the surrounding hills contributed to the isolated feeling of the area.

The water was very shallow even at high tide and I had a combination of rowing over sand bars and motoring in the deeper pools for almost a kilometre before I eventually landed on the beach. It’s a totally different place at low water as the beach is extended for that kilometre I just rowed over.

I went for a walk to stretch my legs and absorb the atmosphere of the place. It was totally silent. Even the wind made no noise today.

Apart from the Bothy , a lodge and a farm house, there was little other sign of humans in the area, yet a couple of hundred years ago there were a few thriving fishing villages dotted along the edges of Loch Hourn. The little island of Eilean Choinnich off the east end of Barrisdale bay is a burial ground for many of those early settlers. It is thought to have more than 150 graves below its scant grassy surface.

At the edge of the Barrisdale river I saw the remains of a more modern fishing era. I have tried to find some history of this boat but have not found anything yet. I wondered what it was adapted to carry, with those metal stanchions fixed to it deck? There was little sign of timber in the area?

The engine was still in place as I guess it was too much trouble to take it to a scrap yard. I presume it will slowly rust away undisturbed as not many people will find it to interfere with it.

Hmmm , perhaps with the exception of the best bit. Someone was already off with the prize of its propeller. I was surprised to see the brass bush still in situ. It was good quality brass.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Loch Hourn and the Launch Point

I had already roughly worked out the best place for launching the inflatable to access the remote inner loch. It was to be either from the shore in front of Arnisdale or a mile further along at Corran at the end of the public road.

Corran is a lovely little village consisting of a half dozen or so houses clustered round the mouth of the river Arnisdale

There is a large public car park outside the Heritage centre so parking is no problem. The centre looked dwarfed by the mighty Beinn Sgritheall rising steeply to the sky. However I noticed when the tide was out that it would be a difficult task carrying everything back to the car.

Arnisdale on the other hand, was spread out along the roadside but it still had good parking although not in a car park

The shore front looked far easier to walk on and not as far to recover the boat at low tide. However if I returned at high tide, there was little to choose between Corran or Arnisdale.

I chose to launch at Arnisdale as I wasn’t sure when I would return. There was not a breath of wind and it was the quickest inflate of my inflatable ever. The midges were murder. I didn’t stop for a pre launch photo and was around five hundred yards off shore before the last of the midge attacks

I slowly puttered up the coast and past Corran. The village was still asleep as I started trawling my fishing line behind the boat.

Magnificent views of Skye and the Cuillin appeared as I passed the little isle of Sgeir Leathan. I felt as free and alone as the solitary cormorant watching my proceedings. That’s when I caught my first fish of the day. It survived to tell the tale too as it was a Pollack and I returned it the sea.

I now set course for Barrisdale bay. I had heard much about this beautiful but wild bay. I was now going to witness it first hand.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Loch Hourn and the Pictish Brochs

After my walk to Sandaig, the weather was still too changeable to chance venturing onto loch Hourn in my inflatable so I decided to introduce a little history into my afternoon walk. I went to see the remains of some of the many Pictish Brochs in the area. They date from 2000 years ago and were the early Picts version of a castle. Built from two concentric walls, they had stairs built in the cavity to the top floor or roof. Quite a feat in early engineering to last the Scottish weather for that amount of time.

Dun Telve Broch which was almost ten meters high.

The smaller Dun Troddan Broch.

Not far from the brochs I discovered another interesting structure although Im pretty certain its not 2000 years old. It looks more like a Swiss Chalets than a Scottish croft. I guess they have not found a way to get the lawn mower onto the roof yet.

I then made my way round Loch Duich and Ratagan to look for another ruined broch. The blustery weather continued as I stopped to photograph the Five Sisters of Kintail

I found the third broch buried in the hillside after a lovely walk at Totaig. It was in a far worse state of repair than the other two but just as interesting.

However it was the views from the top of the hill , looking over Loch Duich to Dornie and Loch Long that really made the walk worth while.

On the way bach to Glenelg, I stopped on the shores of Loch Duich to collect some mussels from my dinner. I was still trying to survive off the land and sea as much as possible. The mussels made a nice stew.

I thought the fence and seaweed really made this photo of the Five Sisters

Back at Loch Hourn, I watched the squalls scream across the water but at least it looked calmer and brighter. The forecast for the morning was light winds so I was in no hurry.

That evening, I parked the car overlooking the Sound of Sleat and watched the sunset over the Cuillin of Skye.

Then I awoke to a bright morning with hardly any wind. It was time to inflate the inflatable again and another journey was about to begin

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Loch Hourn and the Ring of Bright W'otter

Its funny how some things remain in our memories even though the event itself was not very important. One such memory I have is reading Gavin Maxwell’s book “Ring of Bright Water” for my school O Grade exams. At 16 years of age, I recall struggling to get to grips with the book so my mother broke it down into simple sections and highlighted the important passages to help prepare me for my exam. Her assistance and perseverance must have paid off as I passed that Exam.

Forty years later I still remember the book and the author’s name, even if the chapters have faded a little in my memory. It was a book about the author living alone at Camusfearna, on the west coast of Scotland with his pet otters. Ever since I discovered Camusfearna was at Sandaig near Glenelg, I had wanted to see the place for myself. That is where I was going to walk to after seeing the squalls on Loch Hourn

I parked my car at the start of the forest road that leads to the beach at Sandaig and started walking. The bright spells were intermixed with short sharp spells of rain which added to the atmosphere of the area. The forest commission were cutting trees in the area but it was Sunday so there were no workers to be seen. I was totally alone in my wilderness again.

At the only junction on the forestry road, I saw a little sign which said Sandaig so I knew I was on the right track. A few hundred yards later another sign pointed down this track leading through the trees. The path steepened as it started its descend. Perhaps its just my imagination, but I seem to recall Gavin Maxwell describing the walk to Sandaig for the first time and it all fitted so well.

Less than a mile from the main road I caught the first glimpse of the Sandaig Islands and the sandy beach through a gap in the trees. I really felt like I was walking into his book

Finally, the path started to level beside the river that Gavin’s otters played in. To cross the river involved crossing a primitive rope bridge. It looked worse than it actually was to cross. By taking things slowly and keeping a loose hold on the top rope, the bottom rope was thick enough to hold my weight, not stretch to water level and be wide enough to balance on.

Once across on the other side, I found the memorial to Edal, one of his otters. It sits under a huge tree which would have been there when the otter was alive.

Fifty yards away is another memorial where Gavin Maxwell himself is buried. It is on the site where his cottage stood before it was burnt down in an accidental fire

Following the river into the woods behind the memorials, I found the waterfall where the otters used to swim and slide down the falls.

A couple of hundred yards away is another old cottage. It is not Maxwell’s but I imagine his would have been similar?

Re-crossing the rope bridge I then made my way to the Sandaig Islands and climbed the rocks where Maxwell used to sit and watch his world go by. The tide was almost full in.

The water looked almost tropical in colour with the sandy bottom giving the sea that lovely green sheen.

Although I don’t have a pet otter, I had high hopes of seeing a wild one in the area. In a small bay not too far from the site of Gavin Maxwell’s house, I found the first signs of otter life. A collection of broken crab shells piled on a rock. Crab is a favourite food of the otter.

Although Scottish otters often hunt in the sea, they are not true sea otters. They like to live beside a source of fresh water so they can wash the salt from their fur. Not far from the broken crab shells I saw a small stream running to the sea. Sure enough, there were more signs of otter life, one had scratched the sand, perhaps while having a long stretch after preening in the stream. It looked fresh so I didn’t think it was too far away.

I settled down and amused myself trying to see the place as Maxwell would have seen it. I didn’t have long to wait until a slight movement caught my eye. What is it ? Yup.. looks like my luck was in. Now .. just turn around a bit and smile for the camera :-D

Then in a flash ..the otter was gone again. Something had spooked it. Perhaps it had sensed my presence ? Regardless.. I was now happy.. I had just glimpsed a wild Camusfearna otter and it added a new dimension to my memories of reading the book

I was beginning to see that the Loch Hourn area might not be hell after all