Friday 1 April 2016

29th-31st March 2016 - Raasay and Rona circumnavigation

As the days went by, a forecast three day weather window seemed to be holding fast and so we made plans to head north to try to circumnavigate the islands of Raasay and Rona off the East coast of Skye.

Monday morning saw me loading my kayak before heading shopping, ably assisted by my eldest.  Provisions for five days acquired, we picked up the rest of the family and headed to Dick's.

Having swapped over my roof-rack and boat to Dick's van we said our goodbyes and headed for the M6. Unlike recent journeys, the motorway was mercifully clear and we were soon crossing the border. A brief stop in Fort Bill afforded me the opportunity to feast on one of my favourite traditional Scottish dishes, a king rib supper with curry sauce. I'm presuming the reason you don't see this on every episode of Masterchef is that it would be regarded as unsporting. 

The hills of Kintail, Eilean Donan castle and the Skye bridge were passed and we were soon pulling into the car park for the Raasay ferry at Sconser. Huge thanks to Dick for a superb stint at the wheel. 

Unlike when it's due to pressures of work, there's something great about not being able to get to sleep with excitement, just like on Christmas Eve as a kid. How would the morning dawn?

The journey begins 
With hardly a cloud in the sky and in the shadow of snow capped hills, we quickly packed the boats at a superbly sited slipway and at 9:33 began the crossing to Raasay on a glassy sea.

Crossing to Raasay 

Looking back to Skye

Fish garden ornament 
Arriving at the Raasay coast we passed a fantastic Grand Designs house, complete with great garden ornamentation.  We were also joined by the first otter of our trip, swimming nonchalantly in front of us, only occasionally checking over his/her (my otter sexing isn't great) shoulder to check where we were.

Selfie with the highest point of Rasaay behind
After a brief stop for first lunch and rearrangement of clothing, we carried on North, passing impressive cliff scenery and a waterfall that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Jurassic Park film.

Tropical!? waterfall 

Bit of a doer upper - Brochil castle
For our second lunch we landed at Brochil to admire what must have once been an impressive fortress. Returning to the beach we were hit by a brief but heavy squall that whipped up the waves instantly and made launching look like a daunting prospect. As quickly as it had arrived though it passed and we once again launched onto a benign sea.

End of day one, North Rasaay 
All too soon navigational marks denoting the entrance to Caol Rona appeared and we escorted to our landing spot for the night by seals from the resident colony.  While the camping spot just above our landing point looked superb, a short walk brought us to an even more inviting bothy.  Having ferried our belongings from the beach, we set out on a short walk to the hillock above the bothy.  The sweeping vista reached from Applecross, past the Torridon hills, shrouded in cloud, over to the Isles of Harris and Lewis in the far distance and finished with the Game of Thrones like coast line of Skye.

Looking over to Rona from above the bothy 

Stunning bothy
After tea we once again headed up the hill and on returning I thought Dick had succomed to cabin fever, as he seemed to be talking to himself.  The reality was that another sea kayaker, a day ahead of us on the circumnavigation had returned to the bothy having paddled round Rona that day.

Start of day 2 with James our bothy buddy
Waking up to another sunny day in paradise we set off across the short Caol to Rona and got our otter quota for the day in early, surprising two very furry sunbathers, drying themselves on the rocks. Having seen eagles circling high above on day one, we were treated today to seeing two perched on the skyline of the ridge above us. Given they were still a good distance away, they must have been huge as even at this range they loomed large.

Winding between islets on the NE coast of Rona 
Threading our way between islets and ever more aware of the NATO base at the North of the island, we popped out of a narrow gap and into our first ocean swell of the trip. Conditions though we're probably perfect for rounding the headland, with virtually no wind but still with the excitement of the swell crashing onto the many skerries.

Our most northerly point, rounding the top of Rona 
With a following sea, we pointed the bows of our kayaks southward for the first time on the trip and began to fly down the East coast. Realising we hadn't stopped yet, we sought shelter in a little inlet for lunch and for Dick to catch up with a bit of work.

Lunch stop on Rona

Dick catches up with a bit of work from a stunning office
The 1 o'clock weather forecast caught us a little off guard. We knew bad weather was on it's way, but it was now forecast to arrive earlier. Rather than a short day, with another night in the bothy, we now felt we needed to get as far South as possible, neither of us fancying paddling against the predicted force 5-7 winds.

We surprised even ourselves with the speed with which we returned to Caol Rona, my navigation being well and truly caught out. Fortunately we recognised local landmarks and we're soon safely at our beach. The tide though was on the ebb and so we paddled a few hundred metres further through a tiny, drying gap separating two islands. While this meant a slightly longer carry with our gear and a more exciting launch from what would become a rock platform a few feet above the sea, it would save us a few kilometres of paddling and we needed to do anything that would hasten our southerly journey.

Rocky landing 
We quickly packed and felt pleased with ourselves when on returning to our boats, the channel behind them had now dried. Once we realised we would need a line on the boats to hold on to them after we had lowered them into the sea, the launch went without incident and with a now larger following sea, we made for another short cut between islands.

Only an hour before low tide, a narrow, dry causeway lay between us and the continuation of the channel, but the inconvenience of a short portage was more than made up for in terms of the time saved.

The freshening northerly brought short, sharp squalls and steepening seas, but it also kept our speed up. We kept glancing enviously at the coastline to our left, vowing to return to explore it properly in the future.

Somewhere under the rainbow...

Brief squall

The sun setting at the end of day 2
The sea began to ease as the ferry port came into view and after a nearly ten hour day in the boats we slid thankfully onto a beach in the harbour.  With Dick in charge of shelter and myself tasked with food, we were soon sat in the warmth of our tent, hunger satisfied and thirst quenched. Hatches battened down, I slept fitfully, awaiting the coming storm.
Not the prettiest of campsites - but very welcome 
The following morning dawned crisp and bright with not a ripple in the harbour. Leaving the shelter of the tent to use the superb facilities at the ferry port gave us a view back across to Sconser and the barely rippling sound between. We were still ahead of the coming storm.

Storm clouds gathering!?
Aware of the speed with which the weather can change, we decided we would still head straight back to Sconser and we enjoyed the short, hour long crossing, drenched in sun.

Returning to Sconser 

Journey's end

Closing the gate to the wilderness 

This is a fantastic trip and it deserves much more time than we were able to devote to it. I'm sure we'll be back. Fortunately the predicted storm arrived much later and we were treated to a stunning drive home, flanked with snow capped hills.

Massive thanks to Dick for doing all the driving and for sharing the adventure and to Emma and Sharon for keeping the lads entertained while I was away.

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