Sunday, 17 August 2014

Escape to Scotland

One of Bob's wishes for his big birthday year was some sea kayaking. We had booked 5 days near Ballachulish and hoped to sandwich this between many Munroes. So much for planning.... still we were determined to fit the kayak days in the best we could. Even arriving in Scotland in time did not guarantee a completely straightforward week. The remnants of a hurricane caused very strong winds and waves which combined with extreme tides forced day 1 to be cancelled. It was disappointing but we headed of to Kinlochleven and a day climbing at the Ice Factor. In retrospect it probably wasn't what my beaten up body needed but we had over 4 hours fun climbing and I did get some ice from the bar for my leg.

Tuesday was calmer and we arrived in Ballachulish to be kitted out and to meet our instructor/guide and the other two booked on the holiday. Mark from Paddle Lochaber was great and keen to get us out on the water. There was still a stiff wind so it was choppy and this combined with extreme tides. We headed west along to the Ballachulish bridge before crossing to the north shore and finding a sheltered bay for lunch. We had seen seals and there were sea birds a plenty on every day plus a variety of jellyfish which are more plentiful than ever apparently.We were all getting the hang of how the kayaks handled, when to use the skeg etc.

I preferred these kayaks to the ones we used on Ullswater as the knee braces and foot stops made me sit taller and use my core rather than just my shoulders to paddle. The four of us were fairly evenly matched and so gelled quite well as a group. We spent the afternoon exploring the north shore of Loch Leven including the fish farms.

Once beyond the Pap of Glencoe it was time to turn back towards home past our campsite at Invercoe. The chop made it interesting as we headed back to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel harbour. A shorter day than we are used to but good fun. We helped load the kayaks on a very nifty roof rack ready for the next day.
Wednesday was still stormy and it was good to be down on the water and not on the tops which were covered in cloud and getting rain. We headed south west in the van to Loch Creran and after some slick team work we were soon launched.

We paddled west under the road bridge making the most of the tides and then continued in that direction past the yachts in the harbour and the quarry boats taking crews across to Glensanda. A whole load of seals took fright and slid off their rock into the water despite our distance and us being down wind. A brief leg stretch in a bay after the sea life centre and then on to a beach near South Shian for lunch. We paddled north for a short way to Sgier Caillch and then headed back along the north shore of the loch.

We had the wind on our backs but arrived at the bridge to find that despite the tide tables suggesting we would have help instead the tide was still going out.  We were learning lots about wind, tides, shelter etc.

 Parts of the day had been fairly flat and easy paddling so we clocked up a few km today.
Thursday saw us and kayaks in the van and heading south west again but this time only as far as the layby near Shuna.

The weather was slowly improving, especially down at water level, so it was warmer, dry and less windy. Paddling SW we were soon at a big sheltered bay with Castle Stalker on an island at the entrance to the bay.

 The castle has been done up with new windows etc and is lived in. We waved and carried on to Port Appin and then across to Lismore for lunch.

It would have been good to explore the whole coast of this island but we only had time to head east and then north to peer round to the northern coast before we kayaked past smaller islands and back along the northern side of Shuna and then to the shore and the van.

New lessons today, including looking out for faster boats.
Mark had saved the best til last. Friday started with a longer drive, through Fort William and out on the Mallaig road to Glenuig and then a dead end road to a beautiful bay near Samalaman Island.

 It was wilder and more remote but the views were what really made it.As we headed out of the bay we could make out Muick and then the hills of Eigg and the even bigger peaks of Rum. It was stunning and as we looked north even the peaks on Skye were visible.

The paddling was good today but it was also a day of exploring, history and soaking in the views.  We headed east along the coast and then north to Eilean nan Gobhar or Goat Island.

It is only a small lump but famous for two vitrified forts. We left the kayaks on the shore and fought our way up the path through the bracken to the tops.
Alan, Phil and Mark from Paddle Lochaber

We admired the fused rocks but like many before us could not decide whether it was natural and made use of by ancient people or actually caused deliberately by them. More paddling brought us to a shoreline with wonderful sandy beaches and the cleared village and Bothy at Peanmenach.

We had lunch on the rocks and then explored again. The tide meanwhile had retreated leaving our kayaks high and dry.

The return route took us north of Goat Island to keep the interest the swell was giving us, plus the fantastic views out to the islands again. I dared to take a couple of pictures but was slightly anxious about dunking the camera.

 The tide was out in our bay so we had the longest carry so far but nothing could detract from such a wonderful final day.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Some gentle training?

With no opportunity for long runs I made the most of the sunshine and the time that I did have. Two sessions on the Quantocks was better than nothing. I love those hills- they have lots of family memories and many tracks that just let you run and explore. The first session saw me head north from Crowcombe Park Gate and then drop sharply to Bicknoller and back up again. I then did the same towards Kilve on the eastern side of the hills. The views were excellent to Exmoor, the north Somerset coast and even to South Wales. The Quantocks are mostly moorland with a good cover of gorse and heather, so very pretty at this time of year. It is almost impossible to get lost even if you do not use a map so I just ran where the mood took me. Not very fast but it was good to be out on the hills for a couple of hours.

The next visit saw me parking at the same place but running south to Triscombe Stone taking in every top that I could fins along the way. I then continued  out over Aisholt Common and all the ponies that graze the moor and on to Lydeard Hill. I added some good climbs on the return leg by dropping into the woods to the east and then out to the Beacon on the west. Not quite so sunny this time and the views were hazy.

Amusing to watch a bellowing match and eyeballing between a herd of highland cattle and some heifers that had escaped their field.Again I was only out for 2 1/2 hours but enjoyed my little jaunt.

Back home for a day or so I decided I needed a longer run and bigger climbs. Despite the cloud and heavy showers I parked at Fell foot before 10 and headed up Parlic. I spotted Pete's car but not him. It is easy to get big climbs here so after two ascents of Parlic I carried on to Fairsnape and dropped off the northern side.

Once I was at the top again I had a rest and ran out to Saddle Fell and got another climb. Then came my mistake... to follow the old Fiensdale route.

 The path is badly eroded by heavy rain in places and today it was getting a bit muddy. One moment of lost concentration and suddenly I was falling. I had time to know it would end badly as the slope below was littered with nasty looking rocks. Having smacked both shins I bounced head first down slope to the next rocks and with no time to protect my face. When I stopped and collected myself I was relieved to be in one piece. Big lump and gash on a cheekbone, fat and split lip, golf ball size lump on my forehead and what I suspected was a broken nose given the pain and blood. One elbow had a lump and hole, one shin had what appeared to be quite a bad cut and although the other leg just had a huge grazed area it was already stiff and swollen.

 At least I was now next to the river. I spent a few minutes washing off the worst and trying to use the cold water to reduce some swelling. Then the next heavy shower arrived and I knew I had to move before I stiffened up or decided I felt iffy. I hobbled down to Langden Castle, sheltered until the rain abated and then decided I needed to jog back the best I could. The walkers I met going up Fiensdale Head were a bit concerned so I guessed I still looked a mess. The ups and flat were not too bad and I made reasonable time.

Descending off Parlic was the worst with both shins screaming protests. Fortunately it didn't rain again and the sun even came out.  Not ideal preparation for the UTMB but at least no broken bones, except perhaps my nose, and no loose teeth despite the damage to my face. It is not turning out to be my summer.