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Gallery


By Erik Rasmussen
  • M75 of 2017
    Chelsea Reach - Cremorne Wharf Trial Pits
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    The Great River Race - Saturday 9th September 2017

Chelsea Kayak Club Western Highlands 2016

Lismore Lighthouse

Lismore Lighthouse

Day 1 Friday 22/07/16

Falls of Lora

CKC started the 2016 Western Highlands “Mulvonachoan” expedition at Connel Bridge, just outside Oban, where Alex and Geoff were pitting themselves against the rapids at the Falls of Lora, on Springs, for a Friday evening pre-expedition warmup paddle. Miranda, Loz and John wended their ways from Oban, through the lovely late afternoon scenery, to join them post-paddle for dinner at Connel Bridge. Then we all headed to the lovely Backpackers Plus hostel, in a converted church in Oban, and settled in for the night, ready for setting off for Mull the next day. In the meantime, Olwen and Philippa made it to the Backpackers’ hostel around 2 am, (after an interesting journey up from Wimbledon, via the wrong Backpackers’ Hostel), and grabbed a few hours’ kip.

Day 2 Saturday 23/07/16

Fionnphort

We all headed off on the early morning ferry from Oban to Mull. It was nippy out on deck, with greyish skies, but we were warmed by cups of coffee and enjoyed lovely views going past Lismore and its lighthouse, across to Craignure. We passed the “Women’s Stone,” and Philippa pointed out that it was a memorial replica of the stake to which two errant women were tied by highland clan chiefs, left to drown in the incoming tide for their devotional loyalties. Alex, as he read to us from his map, was mistaken for a tour guide by a couple of American tourists out on deck.

At Craignure, we piled into the two cars and with John navigating headed down the South Road towards the South West coast of Mull, stopping several times on the way, mainly hunting for gas cylinders. We found plenty, plus shortbread, friendly chats with shopkeepers, herring lines, (at Fingal’s), smidge, macaroni pie and other essentials… At the campsite in Fionnphort (pronounced “Finnyfort” as we found out later on when Kenneth arrived), we settled on a cosy camping spot by the sea, with perfect trailer access and a kitchen spot in the middle.

An evening paddle got us in the kayaking mood for the coming week. As we glided along in the golden evening sun of South West Mull, we encountered wildlife – a mink running along the shoreline, and seals, following our kayaks from a safe but friendly distance. Conditions became a bit bouncy for the first day, and dinner was within reach. So we returned – and were greeted by the sight of Kenneth on the shore, hailing us from a large sun-drenched rock. From which Loz and Miranda went for a swim excursion exploring the bay in the evening sun. The water was clear and we watched crabs scuttle across the sand beneath us as we swam.

Day 3 Sunday 24/07/16

Iona Circumnavigation: 10.2 Nm

We woke up early and made breakfast, and were on the water at the Fionnphort campsite for 0845, heading out for our first paddle all together – across to Iona for the Sunday service. The misty grey skies cleared as we started across the Sound of Iona, and the sun stayed with us for the trip across. After a calm morning’s paddle, we drew up alongside the slipway on a welcoming local beach, and headed up the road to the Abbey, mostly in kayaking kit, holding our valuables in dry bags.

Crossing to Iona

Crossing to Iona

The service was quite an experience. The sun came out again just before communion, beaming down through the high windows above the altar table. We had an affable welcome from the Abbey volunteers, no-one noticed us turning up in kayaking gear (or they were too polite to say anything). The service was illuminating – there was a sense of collectiveness, in singing the hymns, in the chanting during the prayers, in  but also in the spiritual approach of Iona, which we read about in their prayer book – an inclusive ethos, with a collective concern for the environment, and for human rights. After the service oatcakes we ate the offered oatcakes, each one to be broken in half and shared with a stranger, and mingled. Philippa chatted to a fellow Londoner about the Abbey’s history and how a group from Clapham had rebuilt the Iona community in the 1960s. A few of the congregation trickled out into the grounds of the Abbey and pottered about or sat on the grass outside. We paused at the water’s edge in the bright, warm Hebridean sun and took photos by the MacLean cross.

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey

Eventually we left the Abbey and headed back to our boats at the beach to get back on the water, and completed our circumnavigation of the island. The sun stayed out and the rest of the trip back was uneventful, peaceful and companionable. Alex managed to locate the spouting cave on the west coast, we lingered for a while, but concluded it was switched off. We just made it through Stac an Aoineidh, the “washing machine” rocks on the south-west corner of Iona, as the tide had turned and was starting to build against us. Any later and we would have missed the gate.

Heading back to Laggan Bay

Heading back to Laggan Bay

We returned to the campsite in a slight drizzle, for a swim, dinner, hot showers. The sun was low and silver in the sky, and the gentle rain which had greeted us stopped just in time for our dinner. Loz and Miranda made lemon and coriander cous cous, topped with tinned mackerel and squeezed lemon, with carrot and raw mushroom on the side.

Day 4 Monday 25/07/16

Laggan Bay to Ulva: 5.5 Nm

The forecast was Force 4-5, increasing to Force 6. The plan was to break camp and head back from the south west coast in the cars, to the middle of Mull, and find a get-in where we could park up and paddle across to Ulva for a few days’ wild camping. We took our time packing up, cooking a camp breakfast of sausage and mushroom, filling up with water (5L each ready for the expedition), and loading the club boats on to the trailer. We drove East and after a couple of hours, the Isle of Inch Kenneth came into view, along with enchanting glimpses of beautiful Ulva’s little islands and bright greenery. Alex played us country tunes and a spot of Hebridean folk as the scenes of the bay and the islands flashed past the car window.

We parked and launched from Laggan Bay after an appropriate amount of kit faff. Eventually on the water, we paddled southeast, back past the ferry, and towards Loch na Keal. We rounded the tip of Ulva, and headed round to its SE coast, passing and playing in lovely rock formations with hexagonal pillars set bright against the setting sun.

Just before the rainbow, checking out possible campsites

Just before the rainbow, checking out possible campsites

We finally stopped at a couple of bays Alex had identified during the circumnavigation of Mull he’d undertaken with Geoff the year before. The first bay was sheltered and pretty but the second had a better camping area with a 270 degree panoramic view. We set up camp at around 9pm, which meant Alex had to mend his broken tent poles in the dark, helped by generous offers of food, drink and spare pegs to create splints.

Campsite on Ulva

Campsite on Ulva

Day 5 Tuesday 26/07/16

Ulva to Staffa to Ulva: 10.8 Nm

We had a lazy morning drinking tea, watching the wind and the world go by, and contemplating our planned trip to Staffa. Philippa explored the local area, finding lovely bays, plastic boxes and bird life – wrens in the rocks and an eagle overhead.

We crossed to Staffa, which didn’t take too long, and despite the weather conditions weren’t challenging. We took a route that dotted around via Little Colonsay in order to keep sheltered as long as possible. After a while clouds of puffins came into view, along with guillemots, shell ducks and several gannets, plunging from the sky to fish. We had reached Staffa. Threading our way between the rocks and crashing waves, as the Atlantic swell broke over the Staffa skerries, we explored the caves. Loz headed into Boatmans’s Cave, the entrance surrounded by crashing surf, and enjoyed an inadvertent but rewarding surf right into the cave entrance. When she returned, she reported the inside was square and box like.

Then the pièce de résistance – Fingals’ cave. Paddling into Fingals’ cave was a treat for all of us, but had been a life-long ambition for Olwen. We appraised the entry point. There was some chop at the immediate entrance to the caves but a straightforward passage in. Philippa and Miranda backed in first, waving at the tourists picking their way over the wet rock to the cave. We lay back on our decks, bobbing and staring at the blocky rock formations on the cave ceiling until Alex’s shout heralded a wave, which we paddled into and out of the cave. The group went in, two by two, closely followed by a tourist boat.

Ulva Seals

Ulva Seals

We paddled out and round the corner to have lunch then returned to the Ulva side of the island to make our way back, with Olwen returning via our exact starting spot to ensure a legitimate claim to circumnavigation. The paddle back was calm and lovely, Alex caught a whopping mackerel. He made a fire and cooked his mackerel in foil in the embers, just so. Then he added basmati rice, egg and lemon. A perfect tonic after a freezing swim with the curious seals.

Day 6 Wednesday 27/07/16

Ulva to Inch Kenneth to Laggan Bay: 7.88Nm Max Speed 8.5Kn (following sea)

Wednesday was the last day of our Ulva expedition, and the last day we would be seven, as Loz was returning to Oban. Our schedule involved kayaking the eight or so nautical miles back to the parked cars at Laggan Bay, on Mull, via a lunch stop on Inch Kenneth, and driving over to Tobermory on the north coast of Mull in order to catch the last ferry to Kilchoan, on the mainland.

We woke as early as we could, and as we emerged one by one from our tents into the dreich morning, a welcoming sizzling from Olwen’s tranjia indicated that breakfast was nearly ready. We shared a roll of fresh(ish) local black pudding, sourced by Alex and Olwen on the drive from Craignure to Fionnphort, sliced into disc-shaped chunks and served fresh from the pan with a baked bean accompaniment.

Warmed, we packed our kit ready to leave lovely Ulva, just as it started raining. All week it had been squally, both on and off the water, but the rain never seemed to affect group morale, as the showers were invariably interspersed with sunny spells, which would cast a bright warmth and set the damp landscape sparkling.

The paddle was calm initially as we set out, then, as we crossed the more exposed part of the bay towards Inch Kenneth we became aware that we had a following sea. Waves approaching behind us lifted the tails of our kayaks, rocking us with a regular up-and-forward-then-down-and-back motion. They were rollers – large, but uniform, and we soon got used to the rhythm, and all travelled well, and pretty speedily, with their assistance, hitting 8.5 knots at the fastest. After not very long, our destination, mile-long Inch Kenneth, came into view, and we parked up on its golden sheltered sands for an early lunch. Inch Kenneth is known for being the home of both Sir Harold Bolton, who wrote the lyrics to the ‘Skye Boat Song’, and members of the Mitford family who bought the island in the 1930’s. We explored the immediate area, with its ruins of the monastery (named after St Kenneth) and burial sites of past kings of Scotland.

Puffins on Inch Kenneth

Puffins on Inch Kenneth

After pottering round the island, we lunched at about 1130 on our last-day expedition rations. Alex foraged some seaweed and made up miso soup which he shared with Kenneth. Back on the water, crossing the mouth of Loch na Keal to head back to Ulva was our second challenge of the day – as we set out, the flow seemed fast from West to East along the coast. Up close, however, it wasn’t that fast and the crossing was straightforward. Progressing towards Mull, we headed rounded the south east corner of Ulva and up the narrow channel between Ulva and Mull where the ferry crosses. Paddling north up the channel, a strong headwind put us through our paces, but we hugged the shore and crawled steadily up until we hit the harbour. At the Boathouse pub, Alex and Kenneth magicked up hot chocolate, cappuccinos and a selection of cakes, which we shared sitting outside on picnic benches in the bright sun, overlooking the water. It was a short hop then to Laggan bay, where we were reunited with the cars and our warm, dry kit. We were pretty tired and damp after our 3 day expedition, and warm dry clothes were a relief after loading the boats and kit in the rain. However, the day’s journey was nowhere near complete – we still needed to push on to make the last Kilchoan ferry from Tobermory, and then to find somewhere to settle for the night on reaching the mainland.

We said goodbye to Loz, at the side of the road in the nearly rain, and she headed off back to Craignure with Olwen and Philippa. Alex wended us via the North part of the Island, passing Calgary, Dervaig and beautiful Glengorm, en route to Tobermory, where we joined the ferry queue just behind Olwen and Philippa who’d returned from Craignure in good time to secure their place on the last sailing. We managed to squeeze last into the queue, making it on with time to spare for the fish and chip van. Upstairs on the ferry we watched as the lighthouse went past, and Kilchoan came into view. We landed in the evening sun, and after a quick recce of local alternatives, and some discussion, opted for a wild campsite.

Kilchoan from our wild campsite

Kilchoan from our wild campsite

Heading across to the campsite involved re-packing the kit into the kayaks and donning waterproofs (some conventional, some less so) – as the campsite, it transpired, was only accessible by boat. By now it was late, and looking up, as we paddled across the bay, the sky over Kilchoan was dark, vast, and illumined with stars. The spot was good and flat, and right by the water, but it had its challenges. The ground was rocky and hard to pitch in, and the whole area liberally strewn with cowpats. It had been a pretty epic day, and a long journey, meaning morale was slightly lower than on previous pitches. We pitched camp, chatted and nibbled and finally hit the hay. We bedded down just before the rain started, which, happily, seemed to be the sequence most nights.

Day 7 Thursday 28/07/16

Kilchoan Regatta Day 1

We woke to clear skies and bright sunshine for the first day of Kilchoan regatta, devoted to sailing. While Alex got off to an early start to sail in the first race, Olwen, Philippa, Kenneth and Miranda had a leisurely start. Kenneth and Miranda paddled past Alex, sitting in the calm, virtually windless waters, and joined Philippa and Olwen at the marina then before setting out across Kilchoan Bay for a picnic on a shingle beach. Stopping at the castle, Kenneth established from friendly folk working there that it was being hired out as a B+B. We were pretty tempted after the previous night’s wild camping… But after a long lunch we headed back, leaving Philippa to head off for a slightly longer pootle around the bay where she found a standing stone before weaving her way back via a fish farm. We stopped at the quayside and greeted Geoff, who had flown in from South Africa just in time for the second sailing race, and then we all went up to Geoff and Sandra’s for a lovely shower and a curry. Sandra’s curries were  numerous and (of course) phenomenal – Keema Matar, an amazing chicken and pepper concoction, black dhal, and chickpea curry. The boys (somehow) headed back to the campsite on foot, while Olwen, Philippa and Miranda plumped for the nautical route, heading gently out into the bay, under the cool indigo sky, making the most of the  night time paddle. On arrival, Alex kindly strobed a guiding beam from the shore as we reached the campsite to hit the hay.

Geoff and Alex round the leeward mark, ahead of the rest of the fleet

Geoff and Alex round the leeward mark, ahead of the rest of the fleet

 

Day 8 Friday 29/07/16

Kilchoan Regatta Day 2

Regatta Day

Regatta Day

The second day of the regatta heralded CKC’s barnstorming performance in the kayak races. Olwen won the women’s single kayak race and the rest of us were not too far behind in claiming a few of the other kayaking and sailing titles, plus a whisky-based raffle win for John. We all had a fantastic time at the regatta, in particular because of the warmth and friendliness of everyone in Kilchoan in welcoming us and offering excellent company and sportsmanship. Not to mention the beautifully hewn rocky road rice crispy cakes which pretty much made the day for more than one of us.

The pub was fully booked for the evening, so we were treated to a second night of Chef Sandra’s beautiful cooking – this time we lucked out with not one but two excellent paellas washed down with red wine. Then down to the community centre for an evening of Ceilidh-ing. Another warm welcome from all, not least in the form of some very welcome dance step guidance, and a whirlwind of dance tunes – the Canadian barn dance, an Oh Susannah medley, Ye cannae throw yer granny off the bus, yankee doodle, St Bernard’s waltz, dancing in a circle to the left for eight to the right, then in pairs then forward stamp, back clap and through the arch to form the next six. A break for a seemingly endless raffle, a couple more dances and then we gave in to exhaustion. And a moonlit tramp across the fields which started well, strayed slightly into a bog in the middle, and ended in the right place. Just as the rain started, of course.

Ladies K2

Ladies K2

Day 9 Saturday 30/07/16

Falls of Lora (Neaps)

All packed up early and headed back to Connel Bridge for our last day’s paddle at the Falls of Lora. All except Miranda headed out into the rapids (this time on neaps) under the excellent guidance of coach Tony Hammock. The crew successfully navigated overfalls, eddylines, spinning in whirlpools, a few moments upside-down in a whirlpool, breaking in and out of the flow with closed eyes, and rolling training.

We got off the water, packed the boats up and returned to Oban, to the Backpackers Hostel and its comfy bunk beds. The combination of soft dry bedding, hot showers, tea and chocolate digestives was extremely welcome. We sat for a few quiet moments, and Kenneth plugged his iphone in to charge and played us Ossian’s beautiful “I will set my ship in order” as we drank our tea on our bunk beds in the dorm. Then the inevitable mega faff as we sorted gear and switched cars ready for the morning’s trip home to London. Finally we all headed out for dinner on the quay at Oban. Crab, squid, scallops, crisp white wine, local ale and lovely company made for an excellent last meal.

Day 10 Sunday 31/07/16

We all got up early enough (despite predictions) to sit down together for our complimentary breakfast. It was a long drive back, re-imagining ourselves into city life. We chatted all the way, putting the world to rights and listening to some lovely tunes (thanks Olwen and DJ Kenny). And we reminisced – the curious seals enjoying the spectacle of us camping on the beach at Ulva; being outside all week; lovely evening paddles with the sun low on the water; the rainbow as we paddled alongside Inch Kenneth on the way to Ulva; drams of Auchentoshan as we got off the water at the end of each day; the warm satisfaction of drying kit on the beach when we arrived in sunny Kilchoan; swimming in the rain and early evening sun; the friendly buzz of the regatta (and excellent burgers); the taste of fresh mackerel cooked over a beach campfire; first sight of the puffins over the cliffs of Staffa; the whirlpools of the Falls of Lora;  Fingal’s cave; cheese and oatcakes; the vast views across Kilchoan bay and beyond; paddling under the stars…

Back at Kew, drivers Olwen and Alex both arrived at exactly the same time despite drop-offs on the way and unloaded kit, boats and people, thus completing CKC’s excellent 2016 Western Highlands “Mulvonachoan” expedition.

Kilchoan at Sunset with mast light and houses

Kilchoan at Sunset with mast light and houses

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