Tuesday 7 June 2016

29th May-1st June 2016 - The Garvellachs

With just a stop for chips in Inverary, the journey North seemed to fly by and after no time at all we were pulling into a small carpark in Arduaine. Built specifically for the Aryll and Bute sea kayak trail, a sign offered us information about the local area and tides and a nicely built path an easy way down to the shore.  Despite being light, it was actually quite late and the glassy waters of Loch Melfort would have to wait till the morning.

Looking out from the car park over our play ground for the next few days
The waters in this area can move at an alarming rate and even though we were on neaps, careful planning would be required in order that the tides would help, rather than hinder us.  Dick fortunately excels at tidal planning and so it was that our departure would be timed to ensure arriving at Cuan sound for the West flowing stream to take us through.

Ready to depart
It's always great when a plan comes together and sure enough we enjoyed the ride through the sound, requiring only minimal effort on our part.  While the tide was right for going through Cuan, we would need to wait for an hour before it was set to aid us on the next part of the route, South towards the Garvellachs.  A small rocky beach on the North West corner of Luing afforded a good resting spot and a chance to look close up at the slate that was once a major source of industry in these islands.

The slate itself looked almost iridescent and it's surface made all the more spectacular by the cubic crystals of fools' gold embedded in it.  In places this had rusted away leaving small, square holes and we wondered if this slate was ever used for roofing!

It was terrific to watch the direction of the flow in the sound change over the course of a few minutes and with the onset of the Easterly flow, we were spurred into action and set our sights on the Fladda lighthouse in the distance.  A slight course change then brought us to Belnahua, an island whose slate heart has been removed, leaving large lakes and abandoned buildings, echoing how busy a place this must once have been.

Arriving at Belnahua

Lunch on Belnahua
On leaving the slate beach we made our way towards the most Northerly of the Garvellachs, passed by a lone porpoise and then wound our way between them, passing incredible cliff architecture complete with a spectacular natural arch.  At the Southern end of the island chain we entered a narrow harbour, once used by the monks visiting the monastery that now lies ruined here.

Most northerly of the Garvellachs to the left, southern Mull to the right
Island hopping along the Garvellach chain

Natural arch

Boat landing once used by monks in their curraghs
Why monks, whose day job here must have just been surviving interspersed with a bit of contemplation, can produce a much better camp site than people whose day job is running a camp site I'll never know, but it was nice when each peg slipped effortlessly into the ground.

The ruins of the monastery are well worth exploring and we spent a good while sitting next to the alleged grave of St Columba's mum looking out over an incredible vista.  Hopefully she won't have minded too much as we were drinking Murphy's at the time.

The monastery enclosure from what is alleged to be St Colomba's mother's grave

Islay in the distance

The famous paps of Jura
Camping on the East side of the island, the sun soon dipped behind the hill side leading to a sudden invasion of midges and therefore a very early bedtime.

The sun beat down on the tents in the morning though and we were able to eat our breakfast without being eaten for breakfast. Our view across the sound showed a steady Northerly force 4 and the entrance to the Grey Dogs about 5km away.  This was to be our longest open crossing of the trip and once again our arrival time needed to be planned with precision.

Leaving the Garvellachs

On the crossing to Scarba

Landing on Lunga

Tidal planning is at its best when it involves an hour long sojourn lying on a sunny and sandy beach, chatting with locals and watching a sea eagle heading out to hunt.  In the back of my mind though was what was around the corner, though not as infamous as its neighbour the Corryvrekan, the Grey Dogs still have a reputation and tales of rescuing kayakers from it from a local boatman didn't do anything to calm my nerves.  His final, "But you'll be all right if your heading through now" though, did instil a little more confidence.

Enjoying lunch, waiting for the tide

Approaching the Grey Dogs

"Adventure is just bad planning" they say and as Dick's planning was perfect I think he was seriously disappointed as we were carried through the watery col with barely a ripple around us.  A building sea breeze causing rougher seas as we approached the West coast of Luing and our camp site for the night.

Passing through the Grey Dogs
End of the day on Luing, with the Grey Dogs behind
Luing campsite
What a camp site too.  Wood for a fire, sunlight till well after I'd gone to bed, no midges, mini volcanoes, otters, fresh water and hardly any carry to the water.  It really doesn't come much better than this and hopefully it was a little tidier after our visit too.

Mini volcanoes?
Cooking tea

Planning tomorrow's route

Looking back to the Grey Dogs

Mull in the evening sun
Mountains of Mull at 2am
Awaking on a stunning Scottish island, under clear blue skies, I made my way down to the water's edge for my morning ablutions. Wedging myself nicely between two boulders serving as a terrific loo with a view, the boulder beneath me began hissing angrily before a large otter bolted between my legs and into the sea. I can't imagine a worse way to have your breakfast disturbed!

Once again we needed to time our departure carefully, this time so that we would be swept north.

Ready to leave Luing

Holes left by the rusting away of the iron pyrities

Laurence (the green camper) comes into view

Journey's end