Friday, 30 September 2011

Ardnamurchan, Ardtoe and Kentra Bay

I had now explored most of the coastline from Morar Bay to the South Channel of Loch Moidart and still had a few days to see some more. The forecast was promising light winds with plenty of sunshine so my plan was to drive down to Ardnamurchan, launch the boat at Ardtoe, turn northwards for a short journey to the south channel of Morar again, then head in the opposite direction to explore Kentra Bay and on to the beautiful deserted beaches at Camus an Lighe.

I wasn’t sure if I could get the boat launched at Ardtoe as I need a ramp or gentle slope for trailer access, so I left it at the campsite and took the inflatable in the boot of the car. I expected the sea to be flat calm so thought the inflatable would be dry enough for this journey.

The beauty of camping in the highlands in September was that the midges were not too bothersome. Although I carried a midge net and repellent I never needed to use them once but I doubt if they would have been much use for protection against the Ardtoe midge.

Ardtoe is little more than a few cottages at the end of a single track road. There is an open gate into a crofter’s field where you park. An honesty box asks you to leave 50 pence for the facility. I thought it a very good service so was a little dishonest and put £1 and 50 pence in the box, however it came at a price. I was getting rid of all my loose change. I’m sure the wily crofter would not have objected.

It was a beautiful day and my only slight regret was that I had not trundled the boat and trailer to Artoe. I discovered there was a suitable ramp at the sandy beach opposite the car park. Still, I had the inflatable blown up and ready to go within fifteen minutes.

Heading out the bay and rounding the point to the north , gave a lovely but different view of the island of Eigg and the mountains of Rhum again. I was now seeing the southern side of the Sgurr of Eigg and it was with some satisfaction that I thought “ Yup..I have stood on the top of that one too”. One day I hope to be able to think the same thing about Rhum.

This friendly local stopped for a blether before continuing on his way checking his lobster pots and crab creels. I was now retracing my steps and heading south again having joined my journey with the south channel of Moidart.

I headed into Kentra Bay for a nosey around in there. Another boat was pottering about his creels.

The larger fishing boat was still at anchor in the shelter of Kentra Bay and no one was in sight so I doubted if it would head to see the sea today.

There are small private boat houses and slipways along Kentra Bay but there is no access for the public.

There is a large slip in the bay that it would be possible to launch at but it has a sign “Working Slipway, Please keep clear” The problem with this slipway is there is no space to park a car and trailer so Ardtoe is the place to go if you want to explore this area with a trailer boat.

Happy I had seen the best of Kentra bay I now headed for the beautiful deserted sandy beaches to the south.

It was shortly after taking this photograph that “pride came before a fall” and I had my little accident .......

Arisaig and its amazing Sunsets

Arisaig is renowned for its lovely sunsets but I had been there a week and hardly seen the sun never mind a sunset. The sky had been overcast almost the whole time and the sun sank behind a grey barrier of cloud.

The day after I visited Eigg I settled for a quiet evening by the tent and noticed that things felt a bit different? I could feel a certain kind of magic in the air. The sea was like a mirror, shimmering in the cool evening air. The haze of summer had gone and the distant islands stood tall and clear of the heavy band of cloud that floated high above their summits. The Cuillin on Skye looked particularly close that night.

I decided to go for a row in the inflatable boat. Perhaps it was a shoal of mackerel that I sensed? The boat moved effortlessly across the water as my arms got into the swing of the oars. Its movement was hindered by neither wind or tide. I wandered aimlessly among the skerries and felt like I was floating on air. The sky started to darken slightly across the mountain tops.

In the silence of the evening I caught a couple of mackerel just as the light started to fade. I rowed happily back to the shore, my thoughts were on a fresh fish breakfast in the morning. I was at peace with both myself and the world. The sky started to turn various shades of pastel pink and red. The land started to turn various shades of blue through to black.

That is when I realised this sunset was going to be something special. I landed and pulled the boat clear of the water and that is when the real magic started.

I could do nothing but gaze in awe as the setting sun illuminated the heavy band of cloud from below, as it set behind the island of Rhum. The mountain tops cast shadows high into the flames of the red night sky.

The glow slowly changed like a kaleidoscope for a full fifteen minutes, until the sun finally extinguished itself below the horizon in the Sea of Hebrides

I have witness and photographed thousands of sunsets in my lifetime, but none quite so spectacular at this one. Watching it made me realise just how lucky I was to be alive :-D

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Eigg and how it inspired and changed me

I am always looking for inspiration to fuel the creating side of my nature on the journeys. I find that by carrying a camera with me, I take the time to seek out the natural beauty in the landscapes that surround me. I feel almost naked going for a walk without it and tend to rush to finish and get home.

Sometime I get so inspired by a view that I will then take the time to paint it. That happened with my walk up the Sgurr of Eigg and this is the result.

It was during this walk that I finally made up my mind to hand in my notice at work. Im only 56 but I have had a hard paper round since I was 17 and have now decided to call it a day. I will need to supplement my savings with part time work of some sort... but I will worry about that later.

I finish work in a couple of weeks time and my plan is to devote time to my painting. I guess that will mean spending lots of time in the countryside looking for inspiration as well as spending time in the studio developing my style. It should also give me plenty new blog material.

Yup... I’m looking forward to early retirement .. and I don’t think I will get too bored :-D

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Eigg and Summiting the Sgurr

To reach the summit of the Sgurr is not as daunting a task as it may first appear. Although the vertical rock cliffs as seen from the eastern approach look un-climbable, there is a weakness in the northern flank that entails little more than a walk up a steep heather clad slope. I continued walking past the nose of the Sgurr for approx half a mile until I came to this line of assent. This photo gives a rough idea of the terrain at this point.

I then reached a small bealach in the main ridge which gave me my first view of the Island of Muck

A very short scramble up the bealach wall got me onto the main ridge when you then head back along towards the eastern end which is the highest point of the Sgurr. I watched another squall come across the sea from Muck. It was heading straight for me.

The path to the eastern end weaves its way around the south flank of the ridge and I had to be carefull as it was wet and muddy. Although there is no exposure on the ridge a slip could mean a roll of fifty yards before disappearing over the vertical edge.

I had to take shelter once again as the squall deposited its rain load on the ridge. When it abated, I looked at my watch and saw it was two hours since I had landed. The summit trig point was just ahead so I continued on my way.

A view looking back along the ridge from the way I had come, just as the squall started to clear.

Looking to the east and over to where the mainland would have been if the cloud was clear.

Looking towards the north and the Bay of Laig. Although I waited around fifteen minutes on the summit, I didn’t once catch a glimpse of the mountains of Rhum, but I was pleased to have made the top of the Sgurr of Eigg.

I was back at the harbour within an hour which meant the walk took me three hours including a couple of brief stops to let the showers pass. Im not the fastest walker in the world so having four hours between boats is plenty time for any reasonably fit walker to get to the top and back.

On the return boat trip I sat at the back of the boat while everyone else sat under cover. I knew from experience that the boat running with the wind and tide would not be as wet as crossing while it was fighting wind against tide. The cloud now hid the Sgurr from view completely. I was glad I saw some of the views when I did.

Back at the campsite at Arisaig, I caught my first glimpse of the sun since I landed on Eigg. It wasn’t the best of sunsets but it gave a nice warm glow to end my day.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Sgurr of Eigg and its squalls

I wondered if there would be many fellow passengers getting off at Eigg with the intention of climbing the Sgurr. I prefer my hill walks to be in solitude rather than in the company of crowds. To my delight most folk stayed on the boat to go on to the Isle of Muck. Of the few that disembarked with myself, they headed for the cafe bar on the pier head. By the time I reached the monument commemorating the local people buying the island from its absentee owners in 1997, I was alone with my thoughts.

I stopped briefly for a photograph then hurried on as I wasn’t sure how long the walk would take. I had decided to keep walking for two hours. If I hadn’t reached the top by then, I would turn back to make sure I didn’t miss the boat back. Although I scurried on at a good pace, I felt relaxed walking in the beautiful surroundings.

Wild flowers grew in abundance along the narrow roads. Far more than on the mainland back home. I wondered if it was because of the islanders not using chemicals to kill weeds or pesticides to preserve crops, or perhaps not covering the roads with salt and grit in the winter months ? Butterflies and dragonflies were in abundance too.

Then the trees began to disappear and the open moorland started to open up. Ahead I saw the classical view point of the Sgurr of Eigg with the farmhouse on its lower slopes. I couldn’t resist taking the shot too but was a little sorry the sky was so grey and featureless looking.

Following a rough path, I was soon gaining height quite quickly in the moorland foothills. Looking back towards the mainland, I saw the weather was closing in a little and heavy squalls were now dumping their rain water over the sea.

The purple heather was in full bloom and looked lovely. The bog myrtle filled the air with a sweet peaty perfume, then the cloud descended on the summit hiding it from view. My mood darkened a little in sympathy with the darkening sky. Then I stopped to put my waterproofs on as the rain started to pour down.

Fortunately within five minutes, the squall had past and the rock started to loom out the mist. I looked at my watch and saw an hour of my landing time had gone.

I couldn’t hang around any was onwards and upwards ..... if I was to get to the top

Monday, 26 September 2011

Eigg and a rough crossing

The forecast was for winds gusting up to 35 m.p.h. with showers and sunny spells and getting dryer for the evening. I wasn’t prepared to brave the seas in my own boat so I decided to catch the commercial boat from Arisaig to the island of Eigg.

I had discovered that in the summer months from the end of April until the end of September it sailed to Eigg then onto either Rum or Muck before returning to Eigg and then back to Arisaig. That meant that I had four hours ashore if I got off at Eigg before the boat returned. A plan was formed.

The Shearwater boat sails at 11am each morning however do check the timetables if you decide to take a trip as it varies where it goes depending on the day of the week. It was a nice bright but breezy morning when I went to catch the boat.

I was first to board so had my choice of seats. I wanted to get some photographs of the journey and although the rear seats looked inviting, I decided to sit just under the rear end of the canopy. My decision was based on previous experience in boats, even though I suspected my view could be obstructed by other passengers.

Sure enough, the boat soon filled with people and most headed for the rear seating. The boat made good headway in the sheltered waters of the South Channel of Loch nan Ceall. I managed one or two photos as the passengers looked happily at the seals and skerries but I was in no hurry to take photos. I guessed what would happen shortly.

Once we broke cover of the skerries, the waves began to break in the freshening winds.

Moments later a large wave broke and sent spume completely over the roof of the boat drenching the passengers sitting in the stern. Two of the younger ones, soaked to the skin tried to be braved and pretend it didn’t bother them, until another couple of waves came over the roof.

I then had my unobstructed view off the back of the boat. I was very glad I was in the commercial boat as my boat wouldn’t have stood a chance in the heavy seas.

Under an hour later we were pulling into the shelter of the harbour on Eigg.

That is when I got my first good look at the Sgurr of Eigg. This volcanic plug rises 1292 feet almost vertically from sea level and my plan was to get to the top and back to the harbour in time for the boat returning four hours later....

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Mallaig and the Mural of Working Life

Once Douglas left for home, the morning turned to the typical type of Scotch Mist weather. When camping in the highlands, you have to expect a little rain and make the most of it. I decided to re-acquaint myself with Mallaig and stock up on a few provisions.

I was delighted to see another piece of train history sitting at the railway station. This time it was the Royal Scotsman which transports just 36 guests at a time in an extravagant, entertaining, luxurious, very gastronomical, and extremely scenic journey through the best of the west countryside of Scotland.

A three night trip covering 660 miles of track from Edinburgh to Wemyss Bay via Glasgow then onto Fort William and Mallaig costs a cool £3400 per person, assuming you can find someone to spend the same to share a twin cabin. If not, there is a supplement of £2060 to book the cabin for single occupancy.

When I read this, I was very happy to think that five nights camping at Arisaig, the fuel to get there and my food had so far cost less than £150. I travelled much the same route to get to Mallaig and although I didn’t see Wemyss Bay, I saw Port nam Murrach instead.

I can only dream of such an extravagant life style, but my photographs cost nothing, and seeing it with my own eyes, made my day.

Oh.. and the passengers still had to spend a wet day in Mallaig .. just like me.

After gazing in envy through the windows of the Flying Scotsman, I went for a look through the windows of Mallaig. Its a hard working fishing town where life revolves around the harbour. The fishing fleet were in town so I guessed it was Sunday. Its easy to loose track of time in the highlands.

The locals work hard but play just as hard. There were few people around so I imagined them still in bed after a long night socialising and telling fishy tales in the local watering holes.

Come early Monday the harbour would be empty again as the fleet head to sea to earn their living.

This wall mural on the last of the old herring smoke houses of Mallaig (its now a joiner shop) tells the story of the town better than I can.

To the left of the mural, the older men mend the nets, wait for the returning fleets, and tell tales of the catches they brought home.

In the centre, the young men take the fleet to sea to catch the fish.

To the right, the women of the village prepare the catch and get it ready for market.

I couldn’t help but notice the Cal Mac logo in the mural too, but it is not surprising as Mallaig harbour is also the Cal Mac ferry terminal.

At least, that is my interpretation of the Mallaig Mural.

I then went to sample some of the local cuisine. In a small restaurant in town I had the most delicious Cullen Skink soup ever tasted, followed by fresh haddock and chips. It was a little expensive at £20 ..including the tip.. but I was happy with my lunch and the service.

I doubt if the Royal Scotsman could have served up better .....

Friday, 23 September 2011

Arisaig again and the end of an epic

The thought of the campsite being just round the next island gave Douglas a new lease of life. In anticipation of a campfire and some real food for dinner, he started trolling his fishing line in the hope of catching a fresh mackerel.

There is nothing more satisfying for starters than a mackrerel BBQ’ed before rigor mortise has had time to stiffen the fish flesh.

We were now rounding Eilean a Ghaill which was the island we passed just before crossing the Sound of Arisaig the day before. What a difference a day makes to the ocean. The sea was flat calm and not a sign of swell anywhere. Although hardly 24 hours had passed since we made our way across to Moidart.. it felt like we had spent a few days in paradise. It really was an epic journey.

They say that two is company and three is a crowd, and perhaps its true for these cormorants sitting on the rocks just outside Port nam Murrach.

However I’m sure Douglas and myself would have happily shared the small camp ground at the port with another three, but we drew the line at sharing it with another dozen tents and a large Tepee. The camp ground was full !!

I debated with Douglas on our next move. Our choice was either to backtrack the way we had come, to a small pebble beach a mile or so back, or continue round the point and head for the campsite where we had left the cars.

I felt sorry for Douglas as he had to paddle whichever way we went and I could see the pain in his face when we decided to head back to the cars. It was another nine miles away and we were both starving. I then did something that I never thought I would ever do. I gave Douglas my last Mars bar. That is brotherly love at its best :-D

The only consolation ... it was a truly beautiful evening. There was not a breath of wind and the sea reflected everything around it.

The seals sat sleepily on their sea perches while the seagulls slept in silence. Douglas decided to paddle straight across the skerries of Loch Na Ceall to cut his distance down a little, while I chose to navigate the South Channel then out the North Channel. I needed the extra depth for the outboard.

Before we parted, I half joking said..

“Fancy going to Eigg instead..the crossing looks fine”

Douglas’s eyes lit up and I could see his initial thoughts were obviously ... “OK”

Then he remembered his injured foot and knee.. and he said..

”I would love to Donald ..but I better get my toe to hospital. I think it needs some stitches”

I guess that is when it really hit home to me how bad his foot was.

How could he turn down that offer of another adventure ?

We met up again on the other side of the skerries and both arrived back at the campsite and cars just as the sun set.

Douglas went home the next day and had his toe treated at the outpatients and Im glad to say its fine now.

Me ? ... well I was still up for more adventures.. so I went to Eigg myself .. stay tuned for that adventure very soon :-D

But first.. sincere thanks to my brother for taking me on that amazing journey. It really was an epic and I hope we can do some more together.

Thanks also for reliving it with me through the blogs.

If you have not seen the journey through Douglas’s eyes worth reading it and you can catch it here on Seakakakphoto.