Pretty Moray Firth

Moray Firth so far has been hard from paddling point of view, but very pretty.

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The landscape reminds us of Czech Republic, fields, meadows, hills.

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What it has extra, are all these little pittoresque harbours. Only I didn’t know, we would have to visit them all.

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On the other hand our paths again made a circle, small but circle. It is interesting how this always happens, sometimes sooner, sometimes it takes few years. This one was a quick one, less than a month.

We ended the day in harbour of Cullen. When we landed, we were ment to just refresh, have lunch and continue the battle with headwind towards the next harbour. Then, Michal saw a sign for hostel.

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The wind was strong. The hostel was right next to the harbour. My boat needs little repair. We may still continue past the headland, yet, just in case, we went to check the hostel. So a little advice, if you want to continue paddle into the headwind, don’t go checking hostels.
We are not mad about them, but this one was very pretty. So here we are.

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Next thing we did, was to go for walk. Cullen has three magnificent viaducts. They are disused railway, built in 1886 century, because countess Seafield would not allow for the railway to cross grounds of her Cullen House. So great display 19th century engineering.

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We walked on top of them, above the village bellow. On the way back we found this sign.

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Now, Cullen Skink we had some time ago in Glenuig Inn on west coast. It is memorable as it is the first time we had fish soup. Cullen Skink is made of Finnan Haddock, potato, milk and onion and is really delicious. Well, now we know where it comes from and learnt thing or two about herrings and haddocks and so on. Great the headwind made us to stop here.

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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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Retail therapy on Summer Isles

In times of low, there is always retail therapy to turn to. And so to improve our mood we hitchhiked to Ullapool on Thursday morning. We had nice coffee and bought lots of yummy food to bring back on school bus. It was a very interesting experience, which made me realised that no, I don’t miss my work just yet.

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Comfort buying is what distinguishes retail therapy from ordinary shopping, and so I have one of my comfort buys to share with you. Pretty, only how would it fit into my already full dry bags and where am I going to wear it?

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But retail therapy works only for short while, so the day then resulted in the two articles, Czech and English. And none of us had good night sleep.

Friday was much better. Many of you sent us messages via blog, face book, phone or email. We are very thankful for them. It wasn’t easy to keep distance and perspective on the whole think but we think we got there now. Yes it was just small group of people who got maybe jealous or maybe just misunderstood our concept. There was a prominent voice of the one kayaker, and he still continued in sending us message in similar tone yesterday, but we do laugh at it now.
We are also overwhelmed by the support we received. We knew that our friends were reading our blog (compulsory) and then few other people did, too (fantastic), but so many? To see all this support really motivates us to continue with this journey, and hopefully it won’t scare us and change our perception and writing.

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So while we were still a bit low yesterday we went for walk. In the end we are in a very beautiful place of Summer Isles. We admired them already during our arrival on Wednesday and took time to paddle past and around few of them.

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The first island we passed was Priest Island. We had lunch there, but psst, don’t tell the R.S.P.B.it use dot be a favourite hunt for smugglers. The name of the island is apparently due to a priest using it as his retreat. Another story talks about Lochbroom priest who used it and isolated punishment island for licentious monks during medieval times.
Also an sheep-stealing outlaw was banished here by people from Coigach, but later was accepted back to the mainland society.

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Stac Mhic Aonghais
It is named after Angus Kerr from Coigach,who having dishonoured the daughter of a respected local family, was apprehended and left to perks on this small rock.
People regularly came to check on him. Once, although they removed the pears from their boat, Kerr managed to slip unnoticed, took the boat and drifted to the mainland near Stoer Head. Here he proclaimed himself as progenitor of the Kerrs of Assynt.

Tanera Mor
Is the largest of Summer Isles. It’s history stretches 1000 years into the Vikings times and was known as “Hawraray” – the island of haven, and used as their hiding place and base for mainland raids.
There is also a tale of a legendary treasure still buried here waiting to be discovered by a “one-eyed” Macleod.
In 18 and 19th century Tanera was widely populated, but by the beginning of the 20th century only two families remained.
Today there is a cafe, holiday homes and a post office.

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Our campsite has a view of Risol Island. It used to have a fishing and curing station and inn for seamen.

Also we befriended local pig.

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And since the weather wasn’t suitable for paddling, we at least tried some flying instead.

We hope to be backbone water on Sunday and finally making some progress towards the north.

The hidden world of bothies

“A bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.”

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We heard about them, but as their location not usually publicised we didn’t know where to look for them. We just hoped that on our way around Scotland, we will come across at least one.
Thanks to Johnny and Bruce we discovered two. The first one we visited yesterday morning,where we not only met with B & J again, but also with Alison from seakayaking Plockton and two of her clients.

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Actually we met Alison earlier that morning while camping on a beach close to her house. She was very sorry she missed us last night and couldn’t invite us to stay in her house. But we are always happy to come next time.

B & J shared the location of the next bothy and we parted our ways only to be reunited at Applecross Inn. We aimed much further than the bothy place, but yet again, our companion North Easterly made us to adjust the goal.

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And so we had first experience of a bothy. Great!

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Today we set off with another ambitious plan, and felt sorry we wouldn’t be able to stay at Rhuba Reidh Lighthouse, about which we found on Joe’s blog, as we were to pass it around lunchtime.

We listened to forecast at 1pm which predicted NE F4 to 5 for the next 2 days, we had F3, so thought nothing of it. The forecast was right, soon the wind picked up and the sea changed to predicted moderate.
We were passing incredible cliffs and headlands with lost of caves, arches and other formations. Unfortunately we could not go closer or enjoy it longer as the wind was getting stronger and waves bigger, close to solid F6.

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We have climbed over many moving hills when the lighthouse came into view. We attempted to pass it to reach the slipway, but the waves were getting even bigger and sharper and hitting directly the north side of the headland where the slipway is. We didn’t like at all and decided to turn back and land on yet another big boulders beach on lest exposed west side of the lighthouse. We coming back with such a huge following sea was very exciting but fortunately uneventful.

The boulders were so huge that it needed some quick thinking action. I saw people watching us paddling, so went up to the lighthouse to look for help. After politely answering the question about where our car was ( sorry, Garry) two guys came to give us a hand. They were brilliant and the boats were on shore in no time. They saved us at least an hour of struggle and emotions. Thank you Garry and Alex.

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Seventy days on and …..

Today it’s been seventy days since we left London. Today wasn’t easy. We overslept, then Michal opened the wrong packet and instead of soup ( yes, we know, but we like it), cooked a sauce which is normally used with meat. So breakfast was a disaster. We had to get boats on the water over some bigger boulders. My knees chose to hurt with every step this morning and the boats were so heavy, that I struggled to lift them.

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In the end we managed to set of only for the headwind to start after first stroke. It was getting emotional.
Michal wisely decided to stop for lunch before trying to get to the next headland, which may have been anything between one hour and three.
While we were having lunch we saw some kayakers. They fast approached and landed. Each of them pulled their boat up easily. Some local youngsters, we thought. Then we started to chat. They, Johnny and Bruce, were part of the group of students from St Andrew´s who are circumnavigating Scotland in stages, with Johnny doing the whole circle.

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Their energy and enthusiasm rubbed on us a bit and we left feeling refreshed, even thinking that we may reach Applecross in the end ( we’ve been trying since yesterday).
The positive feeling lasted only a little bit, although we left them at the beginning of their lunch, in an hour they overtook us. The day just got back to being, well, hard.
We made it through Kyle Rhea, and our hope that we would had enough time to reach the bridge before the tide turns grew. Not for long.
As soon as we entered the Loch Alsh the headwind joined in at solid F5. Only the sight of the Skye bridge made us to push. And just as we made it under the bridge, the tide turned. We decided not to cross towards Applecross in the headwind and spent an hour looking for place to camp.
We found it in the end. Calm and no wind, bliss? No, just lots of midges. What else to say, today was a hard work.

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GETTING READY FOR THE NORTH

As some of you who follow our progress closely may notice our paddling speed lately varied although we have had good conditions. There are various reasons for it. Firstly we were following tides in sounds between islands, also there were places where we had to stop. Sometimes it’s impossible to deny an invitation. And most importantly we are getting ready for the north. It looks like an important milestone so we want to be ready for it, physically, mentally and most importantly we had to collect treats sent by friends and family.

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So here we are at Glenuig Inn.

We saw some interesting sights along the way: a petrol station on Isle of Mull,

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most westerly point of British mainland, Ardnamurchan Point,

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a shop at Arisaig Bay

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and Steve at Glenuig Inn who speaks fluent Slovak.

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Written by Michal

Through the Sound of Jura

Ever since we left London, I was going to Scotland. It seemed so far away and a long journey, then suddenly we are here !. The arrival was more sudden then what I would have liked. There was a feeling of satisfaction, we made it so far, and a little feeling of, yeah, we achieved, we are almost at our half point. This all made it hard to get motivated again. Why should we paddle any more and why so hard and where to? Yes, we know where we going, back to London, but this  seems to be a very distant target.
Fortunately, during this time of low spirits we received an email, it was from Cathy and Stuart, from Sea kayaking Oban. They were inviting us to stay with them on Easdale Island. The new purpose for the  following days paddling was given, and as always, once we had the idea where we were going, we wanted to be there as soon as possible.
Easdale Island is north of Jura Sound, where tides move very fast as they have to squeeze in narrow gaps around Luing Island. Of course, if you need them, they have their own time table. From our pooh campsite it was about 80 km and with only six hours of tide in our favour, we knew it was going to take us more than one day.

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But the morning in the pooh campsite with the wind blowing against us and the troops of white horses on the water, it was clear, that we were going for a cake instead. However, wind eased a bit in the afternoon and we could get ready to leave at six. We played Martin Lee king and pushed against the tide and still noticeable wind till nine, when tide turned.

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It turned into a calm evening paddle with a beautiful sunset over Jura. At eleven, when it got darker, we decided to look for a campsite.
We found a secluded beach somewhere around Point of Knap, and on it was a tent with someone who turned out to be a great snorer. But still we felt sorry for him, since he had to walk for miles to get to such place and still had the party gate crashed.

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One important thing, the MIGDES have officially found us. And having spent one morning packing with their help convinced us that that night we are going to sleep in a house!
We left shortly before the tide turned in our favour and whizzed through the sounds worried, that by Luing the tide would turn against us and we will never make it to Easdale. Beautiful, everything around was beautiful, that we are missing the words to describe it.

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However there are many words to say about Coryvrecan Sound. This is between Jura and Scarba, we had no intention of going anywhere near it, but still we could feel the pull from it. And to make it more eventful, the sun suddenly disappeared behind the  clouds and the wind picked up. After passing an island opposite Coryvrecan Sound many confused streams and eddy lines were playing with our boats. And when we stopped paddling we could hear the roar of the sea. In the end we passed the entrance all right, and more than being in actual danger, it was the reputation of the place which played with my imagination.

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Now with the time running tight we pushed harder and soon were north of Luing. The tide was fast but we could not keep our boats straight as again many eddy lines and confused streams were playing with them. So we enjoyed skidding like cars on ice seeing that we were going more or less where we wanted to, towards Easdale.

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And once we passed the lighthouse on Fladda we relaxed knowing that we would make it there, and took time to admire the landscape around.

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We came earlier than expected, so we made ourselves at home waiting for Cathy and Stuart to return from work.

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We went to explore the island. It was a thriving slate quarry in 19th century.

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And slate is lying everywhere around here.

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The island is very picturesque with restored former workers cottages. Some of them are holiday cottages but there are still about 50 adults and 20 children living here permanently.

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First day in Scotland

First evening in Scotland provided us with beautiful campsite and matching sunset. Morning followed suit with colourful sky. Only the sea was noisy with waves breaking over the stones indicating that weather is about to change.

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Today, as we passed first headland, the wind hit from the side. At first we didn’t worried much as it was blowing from the east and we were heading north. However as the day progressed the strength increased with hills and headlands changing its direction, by mid-afternoon we realised that we were not going anymore forward, but fighting not to go back.

And so another romantic place it is, full of sheep and cow pooh. The wind is forecasted to increase to F6 during the night, but this place has a small ridge sheltering us from the worst. Tomorrow’s paddle is not clear yet.

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