Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Landfall in an Oronsay midden.

We set off from Ruantallain on Jura for the distant isles of Oronsay and Colonsay which were just a thin blue line on the western horizon.

 The breeze was from the NE and proved very helpful as the total crossing from our camp on Jura to landfall on the western tip of Oronsay was 19km.]

 Soon the hills of Jura, and away to the north, Scarba slipped astern.

 Even the mighty Paps of Jura diminished as we reached a third of the way across and...

 ...could look straight down the Sound of Islay.

 In mid crossing the wind increased to the top of a F3 gusting F4 and...

 ...we revelled in the wonderful conditions.

Sam does not yet have a sail but he has the benefit of youth and as huge set of Double Dutch paddles.

Even so, at this point the paddle sailors had to back off a bits o that we stuck together.

 Slowly the low isle of Colonsay began to take shape. Forty seven km away to the north it was Ben More on Mull that dominated the horizon at 967m.

The eastern beaches looked inviting but were exposed to a cold NE wind so we paddled in behind the reef of Leac Bhuidhe into...

 ...a sheltered lagoon used by our ancestors. Indeed we landed below one of their rubbish dumps. The giant shell mounds date from the mesolithic age when humans first visited theses islands some 7,500 years ago as the spread north and west as the Ice Age retreated. The mounds are mostly composed of limpet shells but there are also bones of deer, dolphins and great auks.

We made landfall on this pristine beach much as our ancestors had done. Like them we were...

...ready for luncheon!

Monday, June 05, 2017

You may rue the day you meet the giant bothy rat and adders of Ruantallain.

On the second day of our trip to Orondsay and Colonsay we woke before dawn and were breakfasting by the time the sun rose above the hills of Jura.

 It is always exciting setting off to a new island and neither Sam, Maurice nor...

 ...Ian had been before but David and I had circumnavigated Oransay and Colonsay from Islay and returned via Jura in September 2009.

We set off across the mouth of West Loch Tarbert leaving Glenbatrick and Lord Astor's summer house...

 ...far behind.

 A fair wind soon carried us...

 ...across to Ruantallain.

Ruantallain was an ancient stopping off place on the voyage across to Oronsay. Our ancestors often had to leave the corpses of  their dead here, if it was too rough to cross. The corpses were left in the Corpachs or "dead caves"  at the foot of the raised sea cliffs behind the beach. Along the cliff faces, the dark entrances to the caves were like the empty eye sockets of the skulls within.

Not far from the shore lies the ruined farm stead of Ruantallain, which was finally abandoned in 1947. One half of the cottage with the tin roof is a  locked estate refuge the other is an unlocked simple estate bothy. Tony and I had intended staying here here in  June 2007 and David, Jennifer, Phil and I again considered it in September 2009. Our present little party had wondered why I did not consider staying here the previous evening. They were about to find out!

Tony and I were well tired when we arrived late in the day in 2007. The door creaked open and we let a little light into the gloom within. Two red eyes glared at us from the chair. It was a huge bothy rat. With great presence of mind Tony grabbed a log from a wood pile at the door and thew it at the rat. Any normal bothy rat would have bolted for its hole but this one charged at us. We fled to the shore. Where we pitched...

 ..our tents on the rather stony grass above the high tide mark.

It did not take long to discover that Ruantallain was a vipers's nest, literally hoaching with adders. Of course in the evening and morning these cold blooded creatures are less likely to slither away form your approach and are more likely to strike if you have not noticed them in time.

Now David knew all about the bothy rat and adders of Ruantallain, so like me he hung about the shore. The others thought I was prone to exaggeration and set off to the bothy discover for themselves... Well only Sam made it as far as the bothy. As soon as Ian and Maurice had left the beach they came across a coiled viper in the strike position. That was it, they went no further and reappeared on the beach with some undue haste. David and I nodded sagely at one another.

It was now time to set off from Jura across the sea to Oronsay and Colonsay. Fortunately our party had survived both rats and adders and so remained complete. We did not need to leave any dead in the Corpach of Ruantallain.

You can also follow this trip on Ian's blog here...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Enchanted again by the remote west coast of Jura.

The sudden feeling of remoteness when you enter West Loch Tarbert on Jura never ceases to surprise.

 Gradually the inner loch narrowed until it looked like we were heading into a dead end...

 ... however a hidden right angled bend took us through the constriction at Cumnann Beag. The tide runs through here at a peak of 8 knots springs.

Once through into the middle part of West Loch Tarbert, the easy option would to have been to stop at the comfortable bothy of Cruib Lodge. However, by doing so we would have committed to a 50+ km following day, if we wanted to get round Colonsay. So we pressed on but...

...once we passed the second narrows at  Cumhann Mor we could not resist stopping at...

...the magnificent raised beach at the entrance to the outer loch. These sparkling clean cobbles are nearly 20m above sea level and though the tide last uncovered them 10,000 years ago, it looks like it just went out yesterday.

It was now getting late and we pressed on down the southern shore of outer West Loch Tarbert.

Seven years previously, Phil and I had scouted out a campsite near Glenbatrick so we decided to check it  out.

It proveed to be a fantastic location for both tents and a view to the west.  We unloaded the boats and set up the tents just as...

 ...a magnificent sun sank below...

...the distant silhouettes of Oronsay and Colonsay on the western horizon.

 After sunset, we prepared our evening meals under the light of a near full moon before...

...washing our things in a nearby river which flowed down from the summit of Beinn Shiantaidh (the Enchanted Mountain) which at 757m is the second highest of the Paps of Jura.

Well over an hour and a half after sunset there remained a deep glow in the west from the departed sun. It was too late to light a fire but we sat round the tents and cracked open flasks of Jura Origin and Caol Ila malt whiskies, which were distilled just 13 and 14 km away on Jura and on the neighbouring isle of Islay respectively. We talked long into darkness, planning for the following day and reminiscing about past expeditions together.

You can also follow this trip on Ian's blog here...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Paddling and portaging in the wake of the dead.

Our original intention had been to paddle the Small Isles at the beginning of May but a last minute increase in the forecast NE winds caused us to head further south for a trip out to Oronsay and Colonsay via Jura. It is just as well we did. My brother Donald (who we had arranged to meet on Eigg) has a large inflatable with a 25HP outboard and he had committed to the Small Isles but spent 3 days and two nights on Canna stormbound. So David, Ian, Maurice, Sam and I met at Carsaig Bay on the Sound of Jura. We were bound for Tarbert Bay on Jura where we would portage across into West Loch Tarbert, following the route of the wealthy dead of Argyll as their bodies were carried out to the Holy Isles of either Oronsay or Iona.

The Paps Of Jura rose enticingly above the low headland which encloses Carsaig Bay.

Due to the last minute change in venue we were just too late to catch the north east going flood tide in time to get through the Corryvreckan before the start of the ebb. As a result our rout SW to Tarbert was thwarted by the last of the NE going tide. However, a SW going eddy runs down the delightful channel inside the islands to the SW of Carsaig Bay.

It was very pleasant being carried towards the distant Paps by the swirling waters of the Sound of Jura.

However, all good things come to an end and we set off across the Sound of Jura with the tide carrying us to the NE. We did not bother ferry gliding because the tide was due to turn when we were in mid chanell.

Slack water arrived bang on time and with it the light breeze dropped, leaving a glassy calm.

You can see where the tide changed, mid channel on the first part of our route to the isles (bottom right).

The tide was now in our favour and by the time... 

...we reached the entrance to Tarbert Bay on Jura we were being carried along at 8km/hour.

As we slid into Tarbert Bay, we were following an ancient coffin route from Argyll to the Isles.

So our journey was to follow the route of the dead on their last journey. To avoid the tidal Gulf of Corryvreckan to the north and the Sound of Islay to the south, our bereaved ancestors landed at Tarbert and set off on foot across the narrow isthmus that joins the north and south parts of Jura. Their destination was the head of West Loch Tarbert, a deep sea loch which nearly bisects the island. So we loaded our kayaks onto trolleys and set off in our ancestors footsteps... on the coffin road to the west.

Like them we were heavily laden and rested our kayaks at many of the spots they would have rested their coffins. This ancient standing stone marks the route. It predates Christianity by thousands of years but there is also an ancient chapel nearby where mourners would have said prayers for the safe journey of the departed to the next world and for their own safe return from their journey to the isles.

After a long hard portage it was a relief to see the head of the loch and that the tide was still in.

The head of West Loch Tarbert drains almost completely so it is worth timing your arrival for round HW, which is 40 minutes after Oban HW. There is a narrow sea gorge to manoeuvre through to exit the inner loch. The tide runs through it at 8 knots springs so you better set off on the ebb! Just as we were leaving, the local resident laird, Andrew Fletcher, his wife and daughters passed by. They gave us big smiles and welcoming waves. 

It is a most wonderful feeling of lightness getting back in a boat after a laden portage. Our passage was assisted by both the ebb tide and a gentle NE breeze. We had to press on as to achieve our goal of circumnavigating Colonsay, before David had to return to work. We had to get as far down West Loch Tarbert as possible and it was already 18:45!

You can also follow this trip on Ian's blog here...