Odyssey of the North

As we have not been able to upload stuff for a while, this one is a long one. So, please, sit down comfortably, best with something to eat of drink, and enjoy!

So we were stuck for three days in the  Summer Isles (not a bad place to be stuck), staying at Port a Bhaigh campsite, near Altandhu. It’s right on a beach, it’s new, it’s cheap, it has great facilities and what’s more important for stranded circumnavigators, it has some indoor area with tables and chairs! and WiFi. Pub is just across the road, too.

But good things have to finish, and we are here to paddle and not to do hiking or backpacking or sightseeing, we had to leave on Sunday. The wind calmed down, not completely, but enough to get us moving. The morning was hard, wet and motivation had to be sought very hard.

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Passing Rubha na Coignah with its seascape and sea conditions improved the mood. Little swell was coming from north making it interesting but not worrying (always a bonus) and Michal admired the cliffs and projected many new climbing routes.
But then it stopped raining, the sun came and we couldn’t complain anymore. The paddle towards the Point of Stoer was spectacular. And with the lifting clouds our spirits lifted, too and we ended up making up stories and parodies about the whole Czech paddling community. Not all of them were negative, some were even funny. We made few songs. Sadly we can’t really share any of this as it was all in Czech, made sense only to those who have spent 80 days paddling together, the perspective of normality may be a little distorted, and besides we don’t remember any of them anymore.

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We decided against going inside the bay between Old Man of Stoer and Handa Island. We may have missed some nice sights, but we’re awarded with a beautiful panoramic views of mountains of Assynt and Reay Forest. We also remembered John’s posts from his time here, at the end of April, about seeing snow on the tops. It must have been really spectacular as already we could not get enough of the view in the evening sun. We wanted to paddle longer but shining sandy beach on Handa Island made the decision for us.

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Monday was an important day. It was the day. Conditions were perfect, calm sea, no wind, just the midges! One can never be pleased.
When we set of on this journey I wasn’t sure how far we would get. The goal was clear, come back to London, but how and from where was unclear. Originally I was only on the way to Brighton as thinking of the whole distance just made me scared and uneasy. Then it was Cornwall, Wales was kind of never in the picture, but I wished to make it to Scotland. The thought of rounding Cape Wrath was sending shivers down my spine, but one little dream was there. As always it evolved around food, I don’t need much in terms of extrinsic motivators. So before we left, I sent our poster to Ozone Cafe at the Cape Wrath Lighthouse and decided to go there for coffee.

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We chose the right day for the paddle. The coast and views around the cape were just fantastic. Now, I have to admit, we did one little thing. We did not go around the mainland there under the lighthouse, we went through a cave. We just couldn’t resist, we are convinced that not many people have had the opportunity to do this, considering the often conditions. But, to make up for it, you are invited on a little Cape Wrath and north west corner taster.

Then it was time to kill the dream. We landed at jetty, changed and walked the three kilometres to the lighthouse. After much ringing and looking around Kay Ure came and we could have the coffee and something to eat. We told her about our journey and received a magnet for our effort, it will go onto our fridge.
The whole Cape Wrath experience was interesting, the place is so remote, the landscape looks completely different to what we imagined while paddling under the cliffs. While we walked, we could see the peat being dug everywhere for years.
Michal was delighted, too. Not from the food or coffee or walk, but the view. He couldn’t get enough of the Hebridies, the Rhona, the Orkneys and something else. Apparently there was a big blue and silver nothing with small dark blue bumps. It all started on the left with Harris and Lewis, then there was North Rhona, then Sule Skerry and Orkney far right. It has made him unbelievably happy, still.

That day we finished in Kearvaig bay and the bothy there. It is owned by MoD and in the middle of firing range, but apparently people are save there. The bothy was the nicest from all three we have seen so far. Definitely worth the trip.

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Tuesday morning started as a wet day, of which Michal said to be a dry suit day. But since those were in boats on the beach, we ignored that and got ready in our trousers and cags.
On the beach we were met by “There will be tears” type of dumping waves. And sure, there were tears. I just don’t like dumping waves. And little while later we finally left, me changed into dry drysuit, wet cag and trousers in the hatch.
That day we passed the highest cliffs on the mainland, Clo Mor, 281m high, but they did not look like it. They are on that clip, too. At the end of them was a small island, An Garbh-eilean, used as shooting target, but fishing boats and yacht made us confident that there would be none of it that day.

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Our next stop was Durness. We hoped to get some WiFi or 3G and lunch. No such luck. The pub we visited wasn’t a place where people should go for food. From the menu pie and chips looked as the safest option. So we decided to try John’s diet and went for it. Well, we survived. On the other hand they had Czech beer, Kozel, served by Czech waiter with whom we had long chat. He (we forgot to ask his name) told us about fishing and surfing and climbing in Durness, we told him about our paddling, surfing and climbing in Cornwall. A typical Czech conversation. The pub’s name was Sango Sands Oasis, well the only oasis there was the beach itself.

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The pie and chips, although disgusting, gave us enough energy to paddle and paddle and paddle till sunset at 11pm. I know now, why John called his journey a Pie and Chips Tour.
There was big, long swell which gently lifted us up and down. It was cool, till I realised that us and the swell were heading towards the same bay. We didn’t have a map of the area apart from our road atlas page, but managed to find a reasonable sheltered cove to land and camp. Landing so late has one disadvantage, too late to cook.

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Wednesday morning saw us up at six. There was a tide to be caught to go around the Strathy Point. The conditions were not lady friendly, so we had to land before rounding the point and crossing across the bay. Yet again this need brought us to a wonderful place.
There was also a sheep on the cliff ledge, but we didn’t know how to save her. Do they swim? Can you tow them behind your kayak or do you put them on top of the kayak? Where do you report this? Do we report it to the coast guard? As in “Aberdeen coastguard, Aberdeen coastguard, Aberdeen coastguard. This is homeseahome kayak. There is a sheep stuck on the rock. Over”? Well, we decided to report it on police station or ask at post office (they usually know everything) in first village, only there were none that day.

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During the crossing towards Ushat Head the headwind came and picked up. And so we were diverted inshore, soon I needed to stop, stop as soon as possible, we ended up having a lunch break right in front of the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment. From there we just fought the wind till we found a suitable place where to stop. No Thurso for us, yet.
We paddled around cliffs made of Caithness Flag stone. The place we found sounded romantic on the map, Brims Castle. Well there was a ruin, the castle was long ago turned into a farm, and a little bay to land safely. The smell greeted us on our arrival. When we came closer all we could see was lots of rotten seaweed between the sea and shore. And it was deep, too. On the other hand, once we managed to get through it, getting the boats to the shore was quite easy, no heavy lifting required.

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Today we were lucky that the wind wasn’t too strong in the morning and we set off towards Thurso. It was only 5 NM but with the wind already F5 ESE, it was a hard work. But we still found time to enjoy and explore the cliffs, in the end there and now they gave us little shelter. We finished at Scrabster. It has a harbour and we decided it may be easier to leave our kayaks there than in Thurso. We were right, the Harbour Master let us to leave them behind his office. We then packed essentials and took a bus to Thurso to stay under a roof as the forecasted wind for the next day or two is not suitable for us to tackle Pentland Firth.

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2 responses

  1. Good to see how much progress you have made since we left you. Jonny and I both leave for the Alps in the next few days, so I look forward to catching up on your blog on my return. Continue having an ace time and covering the miles and keeping this amazing blog up-to-date. Chow. x.

  2. WELL DONE! For where you have got to =:) so lovely to see your pictures & hear about your adventures. What amazing cave, beaches & cliffs you have found =:) Great to see photos of Cape Wrath- I didn’t quite get to visit there 2 years ago. I hope your land based time can refresh you for the paddling, as well as enable you to see some new places? V v best wishes for next stages of your journey, fiona

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