Western Islands of Scotland
22nd September – 29th September 2007
From the start, I make no apologies whatsoever about the length of this report; there was so much we achieved on this week long trip that anything less would not do it justice. So sit back, make yourself comfortable, and read on!!
Saturday 22nd September 2007
After a very early 6.30am start, Mike and I finally arrived at our cottage in Seil at around 4pm. We were lucky, we had missed most of the traffic, and it had been a good drive up.
Clive and Martin had left the night before, as Martin was collecting his nice new shiny sea kayak from Knoydart early this morning. Colin and Sid left a couple of hours or so after us, so we all finally met up at the cottage early evening.
The cottage itself was perfectly placed for us, with the farmer having his own private access to Seil Sound just across the road. We were able to launch from the same spot each day, which meant there was no wasted time sat in cars and messing about with shuttles.for further details on how to book this cottage, click on the following link: Seil Farmhouse
After tea, we visited the local pub called the Tigh na Truish Inn – (The House of Trousers). After the Jacobite Risings when kilts were banned, the islanders were reputed to change out of their kilts and into trews here, when going to the mainland.
When we were there, we saw some advertising posters for the “Stone Skimming World Championship” on a little island off the west coast of Seil called Easdale, which was being held the next day.
This was something we decided we needed to experience if at all possible!!
Sunday 23rd September 2007 – circumnavigation of Seil
As this was our first full day here, we thought it would be a good idea to circumnavigate the island, which would help get our bearings for the rest of the week.
It also meant we would be passing Easdale, so we could call in on the stone skimming!!
There was a Force6 SW wind blowing, so as we rounded the southern tip of Seil, up to Easdale, it was coming across our left shoulders, which made it a bit tricky as we went through a couple of tide races.
Click here to find out more information about this lesser known sport!Stone Skimming
As we left Easdale, approaching the northern end of the island, the wind was at our backs with a following sea, which certainly kept our minds focused!
The island itself soon gave us some protection from the wind, and as we rounded the northern tip it was blowing us gently down Seil Sound, and under the lovely old humpbacked Clachan Bridge (commonly known as The Bridge over the Atlantic).
John Stevenson built it in 1792, and legend has it that on completion, a horse pulling a cartload of hay was sent over to test its strength. With no additional strengthening, 40-ton trucks cross it without any worries today!!
Total distance paddled approximately 13 miles.
Monday 24th September 2007 – Exploring Loch Feochan
Just after 10.00am saw us leaving our launch spot, and heading north under the old bridge.
The wind had dropped overnight to a SW Force5, but the rain had set in just in time for our departure.
It was so heavy, you could see it clearly as it moved down the Sound.
But, as we approached the bridge 5 minutes later, the rain stopped, and the sun started to show itself. However, the wind was still blowing and the sea was a little bit lively!
Just to show how quickly the weather changed, this next picture was taken just half an hour later when we stopped for a coffee break!
As we approached Loch Feochan, we tried our luck at catching some fish. We were very patient and kept our lines out for ages, but they just were not biting!
The fast moving tide took us very nicely to the end of the loch, which meant unfortunately having to paddle against it when we finally left it – good for the soul!!
And, the icing on the cake – we spotted an otter in the water just yards from our boats.
It was a recognised sighting, as there was more than one of us who witnessed it – but regretfully all we could see was its nose sticking out of the water! It was too quick for our camera’s too. Perhaps that was why there were no fish for us that day!
Total distance covered today approximately 16 miles.
We treated ourselves to a meal out this evening, and had some serious discussions and final plan checking for our expedition.
It was agreed we would leave tomorrow late morning to give ourselves enough time to get our gear together, paddle to Shuna and camp there, then paddle through the Grey Dogs and around the Garvellachs on Wednesday, camp on Lunga, and paddle the Corryvreckan and visit Fladda on our third day before paddling home.
Of course, plans are one thing and we were all aware that this could change at any time!
The map below indicates our planned route:
Red = Day 1. Green = Day 2. White = Day 3.
Day 1 – Tuesday, Seil – Shuna
Boats loaded, ready for launch, 10.45am. What brave and daring explorers we are!!
As you can see from the next few pictures, the sea conditions and weather were totally different from the previous couple of days – it was sunny and the sea state flat.
The wind was still there, blowing a NW Force6, but it was in the right direction, pushing us along nicely!!
We decided to keep to the east coast of the sound on our way down, and explore Loch Melfort.
Here, Clive caught the “catch of the week” a sea urchin, which he cracked open and ate – a new experience for him and a few others brave enough to try it!
At this point, it all proved just too much for Colin who tried unsuccessfully to catch forty winks!
As we approached Craob Haven, the wind was getting extremely strong.
We reached the shelter of the harbour and Clive could not resist chatting to a man who was sheltering on his yacht. He said “You’ve not been out in that – its blowing a 7?”. “Yes” Clive replied, “but we thought we’d stop for a cuppa”. The man looked at us in bewilderment as we paddled back past him again some 20 minutes later on the way back out! “Tally Ho!” Clive called out to him – he must have thought we were mad, as he watched us paddle across the sound to Shuna.
Finding a campsite proved a bit tricky – from a distance the ground looked fine, but when you got up close, it was quite boggy.
After a while we found a place to camp, and set about putting up our tents and cooking tea – then, of course, lighting the obligatory camp fire!
Total distance today was 12 miles.
Day 2 – Wednesday – Grey Dogs and the Garvellachs
This picture, taken at 7am, shows the wonderful colours that appear as the sun comes up – what a peaceful (apart from all the snoring!!) beautiful campsite! I couldn’t help but wonder though just how many snakes were there in all that bracken?? Thought I had better not mention that to Clive!!
We broke camp, and repacked our boats. After a final check we had not left anything behind, we managed to launch just after 8am.
As you can see, the weather had improved again from the day before. North East wind, Force 3-4.
We headed around the southern tip of Shuna and Luing, and then westwards, towards the Grey Dogs tide race.
The island of Scarba is almost joined to the island of Lunga. In between these two high and rocky islands, there is an arm of the sea about thirty feet wide. This passage of the sea is called the Pass of the Grey Dogs. We were on a high spring tide, and this can be most impressive as the water floods and ebbs through the narrow gap over a six-hour period.This tidal effect produces standing waves, which change direction as the water brought in by the moon’s influence pours back through on the ebb.
This is the only picture we have of the Grey Dogs – I don’t think anyone was interested in taking photos after this point!
We stopped at the beautiful horseshoe bay on Lunga for a coffee, where we met a very interesting Winkle picker. After a brief stop, we continued our journey further westwards to the Garvellachs.
The sea was very calm, and there was absolutely no wind. It was a superb day.
The Garvellachs (Scottish Gaelic: Garbh Eileaich) or Isles of the Sea form a small chain or islands lying about 4 miles west of Luing. They were formed in a Precambrian age, which makes them approximately 1 billion years old. The most well known island is Eileach an Naoimh (Gaelic for rocky place of the saint, or Isle of the Saints). The other islands of the group are A’Chuli, Garbh Eileach, Eileach an Naoimh and Dun Chonnuill islands.
In 542, St Brendan the Navigator founded a monastery on Eileach an Naoimh, which was destroyed several centuries later by Viking invaders. The island is uninhabited, which has probably contributed to the survival of the ruins of the monastic buildings, including the chapel, beehive cells, and the graveyard.
St Brendan was a monk born near Tralee, County Kerry, and of all Irish saints was the greatest traveller.
He is also the patron saint of the United States Navy.
With history like that, we could not paddle out to these islands without getting out of our boats and visiting these structures.
Going back to our boats, I was not paying enough attention to where I was walking, and badly twisted/sprained my ankle on a hidden rock under the long grass and bracken. I commented that I heard something snap, but afer thinking about it was convinced that after all, it was just the bracken stems breaking during my fall!
I managed, with help, to scramble over endless rocks to get back to my boat, and to my relief, found that sitting in my kayak was a lot less painful than trying to walk!!
We eventually left Eileach an Naoimh, and carried on clockwise, circumnavigating all the Garvellachs.
We headed back towards Lunga to the same spot we had stopped at earlier to make camp, but the tide was so high there were no suitable spots there to be had.
We eventually found somewhere, but at this stage, my ankle was hurting so much I was not able to get out of my boat without help.
Everyone in the group was really helpful – I could not put any weight on my foot, so all I could do was start to cook tea and watch everyone else putting the camp together (poor Mike having to do it all for both of us!).
I bet at that stage it crossed peoples minds I may be swinging the lead a bit! But no, they were all genuinely concerned.
The midges were out in their hoards, so out came our midge nets – what a fine sight we must have made! It was also starting to get quite cold, so I decided to retire at a very early 8pm, just to keep warm as I was not able to move around to generate my own heat!
Total distance today was approximately 22 miles.
Day 3 – Thursday – Corryvreckan and Fladda.
We knew we had to get up early this morning to ensure the tides were right to go through the Corryvreckan. So, after a 6.30am wake-up call, we found there was ice on our boats and gear, but beautiful sunshine.
Again, I had to sit and watch everyone do all the work – my ankle was really painful. Sid kindly bound it up, which helped! This time I needed two people to help me into my boat, but again, once in there, it eased quite considerably.
We set off just before 8am and the picture below shows the wonderful watery sunshine starting the day.The weather had improved yet again, with a North East Force 2-3 wind.
We paddled down the west side of Scarba, approaching the Gulf of Corryvreckan from the west.
The sea was so flat, the sun was so bright, and our adrenaline was starting to flow. It was quite eerie. We could not see any waves or what may indicate anything like a whirlpool in the distance, although I am not sure if any of us had any preset ideas on what we would be able to see!
We sat and discussed as a group, our line of approach, and where to head for as we emerged the other side. So off we set.
It became very apparent when we reached the point of no return; the flow was fast; in fact, tracking our speed through the Gulf on our GPS, we reached a speed of 10.5 knots per hour, which has to be 3 times our usual paddling speed at least. It was quite strange; it felt like we were hardly moving at all.
If we looked to the right hand side of the gulf, there was a much faster flow of water, which looked just like a river in full spate, seemingly going in the opposite direction in which we were being pushed. On either side of us we could see the boils and abstract eddy lines, which took us gently zigzagging right through the Gulf.
As we came out of the other end, which seemed to take no time at all, it was marked in our memories by two dolphins, not 6 feet away from our boats, breaching the water, almost celebrating our excitement at what we had just done.
From this point, we had to turn a sharp left, and paddle against the tide for what felt like an age to a sheltered spot on the east coast of Luing, for a coffee break.
Whilst looking for somewhere to stop, we spotted a large male deer on Luing, sporting a rather grand set of antlers – you can just about make him out in the photo below, just above the high water line. This photo was taken at 9.20am, just 20 minutes after we started our passage through the Gulf. It was amazing at what we had done, and the distance covered, in such a short period of time!
I was still unable to get out of my boat unaided, so with help got out and sat in the peace and quiet whilst the rest of the Sea Monkeys went exploring – not quite sure what they were doing here – looks like Bruce Forsyth poses to me!
After our break, we carried on up the Sound of Luing, towards Fladda. The name Fladda originates from the Old Norse for “Flat Island”. It boasts a lighthouse and a lighthousekeepers cottage built in 1860 by the Stevenson brothers – and a large colony of terns.
Again, the sea was extremely flat, with very bright sunshine. We kept in the middle of Shuna Sound, and took advantage of the tide. It took us along at a pace of 7.5 knots per hour, heading directly to Fladda. Fantastic!
As we approached Fladda, the tide was doing some strange things; at that speed, Fladda and Belnahua (the island next door) act as real obstacles in the tides way, and the flow gets forced in different directions, both to the left and right as we were looking at it; it felt like trying to cross a busy dual carriageway, having to dodge the tide firstly going to our left, and then immediately crossing tide going to our right.
After having a break for the able bodied sea monkeys to look around Fladda, we headed north up the western side of Luing, across to Easdale, and up the western side of Seil, eventually entering the top end of Seil Sound, and coming down, once more, under the Atlantic Bridge.
We finally got back to our original launch spot where we started our expedition at about 3.30pm, having covered approximately 24 miles today.
My ankle was still painful, and once again, was unable to help with the huge task that no one really enjoys after a trip like this, of sorting all the gear out. It all fell down to Mike again!
I was surprised as to how much it had swelled up, and agreed that if by tomorrow morning it was no better, we would visit the A&E at Oban just to get it checked out.
After everything was sorted and everyone had enjoyed a shower, we visited the pub for a quiet evening meal, and nearly caused a riot over a new card game Martin taught us!
We reminisced over a very successful trip, having achieved everything we had set out to do.
Friday 28th September 2007.
My sprained ankle was certainly no better, in fact a bit worse, so after a fairly slow start to the day, Mike and I set off for Oban A&E, and Colin, Sid, Clive and Martin set out to paddle the Falls of Lora.
After a couple of hours in A&E, I emerged with a plaster cast on my ankle, and an X-Ray confirming the fact I had actually broken it, not sprained it as I thought!
Colin and Sid decided to opt for a walk rather than a paddle, and the conditions were not quite right for the paddle that Clive and Martin were after, so that did not happen either.
Mind you, I don’t think anyone was particularly upset not to paddle after the week we had just had.
What it meant was that we (sorry, everyone apart from me!) could start packing everything back into our cars in an unhurried way, and cleaning the house. This meant a relaxing evening (yes, in the pub again!) and an early start back home on Saturday morning.
Saturday 29th September 2007.
Clive and Martin had a really early start, and were gone by the time we got up. Colin and Sid left shortly after, leaving me plenty of space to get used to my new best friends, my crutches!!
Mike and I had planned to stop off and stay with friends in Glasgow on Saturday night. We decided to still do this as it split the journey up for Mike, as he had to drive the whole way home, with me sat in the back seat of the car trying to keep my ankle elevated!
So, by the end of the weekend we were all back, safe and sound, with lots of good memories about the week just gone by, and the 80 odd miles paddled.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this report as much I have done whilst writing it, at home, signed off work, with my ankle now in a permanent cast for 6 weeks!!
Paddling through the Corryvreckan is one of those classic “must-do” sea-kayaking trips; there are many reports that have been written and many, many people who have done it before us.
But what I want to know is, how many have done it with a broken ankle eh???????
Is this a record??????!!!!!!!
Roll on the next 6 weeks, when I can finally get back into my boat again!!!
Click here to view more photographs from the gallery Sea Kayaking trip to Scotland 2007