December paddling off Skye

December 8/9th 

What better way to celebrate having a new boat than to go out & use it.  The boat in question is a Tiderace Pace 17S and its sleek form and smooth curves look tremendous.  I will have to wait till the spring to properly load it up and do some expeditioning but I did get across to Skye to make the most of a small weather window.

This was a SSKeG arranged weekend with Kevin Williams (Chief Guide at SouthSkyeSeaKayak) leading.  Just a select few were present given the winter weather on the Friday but by Saturday morning we were prepped and assembled at Armadale beach.  What remained of the wind was now a westerly at about F3 although the sea state was pretty benign in the sound.  Paddling south down the coast was straightforward enough and the Pace was taking it all in its stride.  This boat seems to paddle fine with or without the rudder in its unloaded state.

The looming island of Eigg was part of the view most of the morning leg, and Mallaig was off our port side.  
Lunch was on a pleasant sandy beach (Rubha Shleite) as the tide continued to fall.

A final push further to the south saw us at the Point of Sleat itself where the conditions were somewhat lumpy and gusty.  We didn’t hang around for long here; starting back to the north.  A little bit of a following swell was still running so I got to try the odd bit of surfing with the boat – it’s pretty responsive to edging.  

Back to Armadale and a search for an open coffee shop was in vain so superior planning took over and we had team-pizza in Broadford.  27 kms for the day.

Sunday was colder, clearer, less sea running, but with the odd vicious squall blowing through.  We launched off the gravel at Kyleakin within sight of the Skye bridge and headed east into the open water of Loch Alsh.  Then a 90 degree turn south into the funnel of Kylerhea.  

We were just dawdling really but with an outgoing tide the GPS showed 16 kph as we went through the narrows.  Boily water with some random whirlie-gigs but easy enough to paddle across.  Then a 15 minute session on a playspot just after the old ferry slipway (west side) before cruising on south.  

The refreshment stop today was on the mainland side (Sandaig islands) although we had to huddle up to keep warm this time.  Moving on we made a crossing of the sound back to the more sheltered Skye coastline giving way to a coastal freighter rushing south.  

photo credit to David Musk 

Dark clouds massing on the mountains meant that the ever changing rainbows were bright and distinct – still tricky to paddle under the arch though isn’t it.

We landed in the sheltered bay of Isleornsay and sorted out the boats/gear after logging 25 kms – great to have Kevin’s trailer to make the shuttle easy.

So an opportunity grasped and made full use of.  Two full days of sea paddling on the west coast of Scotland in December.  It was good to meet new folk; thanks to Kevin, Janni, Mick, David and Ross for good company and a bit of craik. I look forward to paddling again with you guys.


The infamous RCC-Old-Boys on tour again

October 5-10th 2018

Once more the old lags of Lancashire came up to Scotland for a boating & biking extravaganza - with a little whisky tasting thrown in too.  This year saw us staying at the seafood cafe cottage on the shore of Loch Leven (bottom of Glencoe) so we had a cultural piece as well with a 10-man fresh seafood dinner - excellent.

View from the front door

Day 1 was sunny so a bike loop round the hills just south of the Ballachulish bridge.  The start was the pedal up to and across the bridge, then down the west coast cycle way (leads all the way down to Oban).  Left and up Glen Duror with a lot of double track / access track but still fun.  

Further in to the ride and the shortish fast fun single track section led straight into a boggy carry/push but hey ho....  Biking attire seemed to include 1970's era lycra as well as posh new stuff.  I don't think there were too many pairs of shorts evident though.  


Heading north we descended into the coffee shop at Ballachulish village for suitable refreshment.  Pretty good cakes on offer plus usual scottish (tat) souvenirs like stuffed coows.

Interestingly they had two things hanging on the walls that caused general mirth.  One was the half a kayak complete with paddler emerging through the wall above the kitchen, and secondly was the very appropriate inflatable sign they were trying to flog.

Then a bit of faffing about in Glen Coe village before the road ride back to the lodging.  So that was a 50 km bike ride to kick off our re-union.

Another view from the front door
The next day was the start of a 3 day monsoon season in Lochaber so we scored 3 river run days plus a blow-out/flop day.  Because everything had risen we first paddled the Ailort (on the Mallaig road).  This was new to us and provided a really pleasant surprise in its swollen condition.  The first 400m rom the Loch was down some nice steps/features and probably the biggest thing some of the group had tried for a while.  It petered out a bit but was a good 60 minutes of grin - we went back and did a second lap just to make sure!

Big Ian on the Ailort

The Lower Roy was also steaming downstream so we had a blast down that - a pretty safe bet rather than going up to the Upper/Gorge sections which would be borderline.  Lots of brown water, boils, tree branches, and some good play waves. 

And the final day saw us get on the Orchy (as the level had now fallen back from the 3.0 on the SEPA gauge).  Its been years since I've found the Orchy at a reasonably wet but not too wet level so tremendous fun.  The two big steps though proved a little too challenging on the day so were walked.  Also a nice change to have to properly "read" the river as none of us had been on it for a while.  Just four of us but the boats ranged from current Machno & Braap through a stuntbat to the evergreen RPM !

Big thanks to Ian McC who has organised this gathering for donkey's years and tried to keep us in order. He's trying to find an alternative old git to volunteer to take-over.  All the best Ian.


Photo credits to various chums as usual as I didn't take many.

Walking a bottle of malt up Lochnagar

Sept 23rd 2018

Our local distillery is the grandly titled Royal Lochnagar and it's near neighbours happen to own 50,000 acres of scottish moorland all around Loch Muick.  On that land stands the grand old man of Lochnagar which is a wonderful looking munro (height 1155m) that has a commanding stance over the corrie and looking east over Deeside.

I happened to have bought a special bottle of said distillery product as a present for my brother, and it seemed a fitting challenge to take it to the summit of the Lochnagar mountain before actually wrapping it up and passing it on.  The weather fluctuated into autumn so picking a suitable day was tricky but in the end, Sunday looked good.  A bit cooler now but mainly dry and the biting wind had died off for a day.

 Quick start from Spittal of Glen Muick and up through Allt na Gubhsaich, past Meikle Pap and on up to the shoulder.  A tremendous view down in to the corrie opens up here.  Four other lads were on the ascent route including one dressed as "Thor" (complete with mighty hammer).  The boulder field makes going difficult and I'm glad I've never tried to bring my mountain bike this way.

Anyway, up to the summit and some time to chinwag with Thor and others.  Sun was out some of the time so quite pleasant but still gusty.  Challenge over as a splendid new/unopened bottle of single malt had made it to the summit.

Back down the waterfall path and eyeing up the rock slides there for some of my nuttier kayaking buddies who just might run them. Geese overhead flying in formation and the odd black grouse squawking out of the heather were the only wildlife to see.  Beautiful colours though in the grasses and the moorland.


A bit more MTB

Sept various dates

As the summer continued into September, I got out more on the bike.  Various things / groups / lengths / trails.

From the baby's head-wetting ride for Alec&Marie's Anna... 

to the full loop of Aboyne - Tarfside - Mount Keen - Aboyne.  This is about 55 kms and over a munro so a pretty full day.  A bit of pushing involved to get the ascents done but some fun on the downhills.  This group of mates planned in a lunch stop at the museum tea room in Glen Esk - what excellent quality thinking is that!!??


Deeside was looking pretty good as we toured back down the hill and through Glen Tanar.

Photo credits to others (you know who you are...)


MTB circuit of Macdui/Cairngorm mountains

September 27-28th 2018

A long held target for me was the circuit of the Macdui/Cairngorm/Bynack Mor block and I’ve finally got it done.  The forecast was not great but supposedly improving for the afternoon. 

Day one then in the wet&windy stuff.  From Inverey past the Linn and up the Glen Dee estate track, then climbing on the walkers path past the Corrour bothy (found a guy “drying” his socks over a gas stove in there).  Onwards and upwards in the rain to the Pools of Dee and then finally the boulder field that is the Lairig Ghru (835m ASL).  Ben Macdui had been on my right but I couldn’t see anywhere near the summits due to the steepness of the valley walls at this stage.  

Somewhere in this section I tore open a knobble on the back tyre so it took a while to get sorted with a tube going into a tubeless tyre!  Said hello to eight Gold DofE kids heading the other way with the wind on their backs.  Started on down-ish then the Chalamain Gap path joins from the right as the path properly headed down toward tree level.  Once properly on the Glenmore side of the hills of course there’s a very sweet downhill section of single track that added a few kms but was a bit of fun.  Wildlife during the day was simply a small deer hind plus young one wandering past me, and possibly an eagle struggling with the gusty wind.  40 kms travelled.

Stayed at Glenmore Lodge where they do great meals for a weary wet cyclist travelling light.  And a small Balvenie was had to celebrate as well.

 The Green Loch not looking very green this time....

Friday was much better weather and that just makes being out in these hills a brilliant experience.  Target of 36 kms for the day continuing round clockwise.  So from the Lodge up past the Green Loch and fork right, the steep long climb towards Bynack Mor, and then fortunately going to its eastern flank rather than the summit.  The pass here is still over 800m ASL but its not as barren and rugged as day 1. 

Views from the top of the Bynack Mor climb/push

 Approaching the Fords of A'an and the Refuge Hut

Continuing southwards and a lunch stop at the Fords of Avon refuge hut before tackling the two rivers/streams - waded through the Avon with plastic carrier bags taped over my feet to try and keep my shoes drier; water was nearly knee deep.  

After all this there’s quite a long stretch passing down to Glen Derry.  The glen is very pretty and gets back to some decent downwards pointing single track.  Finally there’s the easy run from Derry Lodge back to the Linn and to Inverey.  Day 2 wildlife was just geese and grouse.

The whole route is about 72 kms and takes in two significant highland passes, unfortunately at least half of this is pushing your bike – not because of gradient but because of the boulders strewn everywhere.  .  .  .    8 hrs on day 1  plus 5½ hrs on day 2.

My learnings from this outing is that (just like on the big Torridon loop), there is a need to appreciate the exposure in such places if things go pear-shaped.  Any mechanicals on your bike are a bit more serious if you are wet/tired/stuck out here; being stationary for long isn’t great.  And I guess there’s no phone coverage.  I was carrying more gear for this trip than previous ones (probably 8 or 9kgs in the rucksack on my back) just in case but the uncertainty still remains the highland weather.

Great to do it, a challenging ride, not sure I’ll do it again soon!.


Paddling & pedalling...... More please

August 2018.

The last of the summer months in Scotland saw me still fighting the kitchen mega-project and at last I got some more time into paddling & pedalling through life.  From a couple of NESKy sea kayak pootling evenings at Cove and Stonehaven (one of them was really quite bouncy) to a misty circuit under the Forth rail bridge with SSKeG and then out to the west coast for MTB around Torridon plus a bit of paddling.

Somewhere before all this I seem to recall doing a bike ride up Clachnaben as well with Alec & John.  Its the very obvious “nipple” that sticks upwards south of Deeside just off the Cairn o’Mount road.  There’s a long gradual climb on an estate track that curls south and west of the summit.  Then we  skipped the bouldering at the actual top so we could get on with the fast blast down the east side walkers path.  Lots of rock gullies and steps so technique needs to be switched on – I have a desire to learn more control of my descents rather than pure speed so this was a good practice.  Snakebite puncture for J though at the bottom!

The 19th was about paddling with new buddies.  I went out with a SSKeG group of about a dozen folk from under the arches of the Forth rail bridge and out into the mist of Crammond, Battleship Island, and Inchcolm.  Easy paddling conditions so time for a relaxed lunch on Inchcolm.  Had a curious seal follow closely after that and nibble the stern toggles of a number of boats.  Photo credits to Dave Brown & Vinny Campbell.

At the end of the month the kitchen was nearly complete and I got a 4-day pass out for the west coast.  Starting with an old mate Chris doing the 21 kms of Arrochar (Loch Long) to Lochgoilhead in bright sunshine.  A brisk southerly made progress down Loch Long (past the LPG store and Mark Cottage bothy etc) quite energetic and we switched sides of the loch as required for minimal shelter.  Shame the folk using the bothy had made such a litter mess – do no cider/Tenants drinkers ever take their used tinnies home again?

Carrick castle looks like it is held up by some very rusty scaffolding nowadays; maybe a few more years before it ends up toppling in to Loch Goil.

Then up to Torridon for a big MTB ride.  Woke up in the morning in the van to see some visiting stags come down to the water meadow whilst it was quiet at first light.  Magnificent beasts.

The ride was the classic Loch Clair/Coulin up & over to Achnashellach station then a coast down to Coulags before the pull up again past Peaty’s bothy and finally the hike a bike to get to the Bealach na Lice.  The pleasure though is in the two great descents on this loop – firstly going down from Drochaid Coire Lair to Achnashellach, and of course the big bare rock slabs of the final pitch back to Annat.  Of course you then need to enjoy the hospitality at the Torridon Inn.  I was there on a bit of a pilgrimage with Mike & Lynn and were just as thrilled as the last time we did it.  It’s a 7 hour day though and this is wild Scotland so best be prepared.  Not sure that Lynn enjoyed the company of the midges though!

Just time on the 31st to squeeze in a solo sea loch paddle.  Launched at Shieldaig and went off into outer Loch Torridon at about 7 kph – yes it was a brisk south easterly that morning.  I revised my original plan on the grounds that the return paddle would be twice as long timewise.  So instead of heading to Red Point, I compromised with a loop inside the few islands.  Did 21 kms and saw the young sea eagles soaring above Shieldaig Island. On landing I had a good chinwag with the lady selling seafood at the jetty and went home with fresh local scallops and langoustines for supper.   Great stuff.