Paddling the Roof of Scotland

July 27th - 30th 2017

A long planned event for NESKy took place over this last long weekend:-  the paddle across “the Roof of Scotland”.  Part of a bigger series to circumnavigate the top half of Scotland by kayak/bike/foot in memory of Adrian Shaw.  Just to make sure this had a wacky touch we were bequeathed an old fisherman’s creel buoy that we were to carry/lug/tow around with us!

Thursday evening saw us gather at the campsite in Tongue along with the midges.  The bunkhouse here is well equipped and although we were camping we could have use of the facilities – an excellent kitchen and lounge included. Friday morning and we were starting as a group of 8 sea kayaks at Balnakeil beach just west of Durness up in the top left hand corner of the UK map (just on the edge of the Cape Wrath MoD firing range).  Weather and sea conditions were favourable, and we would get some tidal assistance each morning going west-to-east.  “Adrian’s buoy” was loaded on deck  and off we launched (the buoy is about 40 cms diameter, bright pink, and probably weighs 4 kgs – quite something to have stuck on top of your boat!).

Day 1 was 32 kms around Faraid Head, out to the north side of Hoan island and then across/around Whiten Head.  The highlight was probably seeing lots of puffins (is that a flock?) flying round us.  In we went to Portvasgo but the landing site didn’t look good so we did another few kms and surfed into the beach at Talmine.  A pretty raw evening after hours of shuttling cars around; but we were safe (!?) in a marshy beachside paddock that cost £2 for use of the loo block – only Brian seemed to get a hot shower though.  The paddling was very satisfying and on-plan with great natural features to check out.

Day 2 was an earlier start to try and keep the tidal assistance in our favour for an hour longer, we went out from Talmine through the Rabbit Islands (and its natural arch) and across to the south sides of Eilean nan Ron, then through the inner passage at Coomb Island and onto the sands in Farr bay for lunch.  The weather was holding bright so a few tourists watched us bemusedly.   Onwards and through the rougher stuff off Farr Point, then made a beeline straight to intercept Kirtomy Point and then again to Ardmore point – very much the direct approach).  The lighthouse at Strathy was next as it could be seen for miles and progress towards it was a visual thing.  We were wanting to have a wee play in the tidal race that builds here with a big eddy on the down-tide side but as we rounded to the east round the cliffs the mighty tide race at Strathy Point was nowhere to be seen.  An anti-climax.  Just 50 minutes or so from there to the beach at Stathy to make a 35 km day.  Surfed in the last bit and camp was in the sand dunes; some wind & rain but not enough to keep el-midge at bay.

As the tide was quite a way out, Day 3 started with “lining” the loaded sea kayaks down the creek to get to salt water and out through small waves.  The morning was a bit of a inshore cruise with lots of agricultural land now visible (as opposed to hill/bog country of the west).  Lunch was a sunny affair as we met up with the other group from NESKy in the picturesque Sandside Harbour. 

 In the afternoon the groups separated again and it was past the decommissioned Dounreay golf ball and on to some really very interesting rocks/cliffs with many fault lines and failures zones in them.   The final 7 or 8 kms was through windy/choppy/turbulent conditions as we needed to round headlands at Brims Ness and Spear Head to get into Scrabster / Thurso bay.  There was a visual illusion at one point where being surrounded by very uniform downward sloping fault lines on 300ft cliffs, you actually start to think that the fault lines must be horizontal so the sea is sloping downward (at about 20 degrees!)   The trip was completed with a head down thrash straight into the freshening wind (F4) across the bay and into the slipway at Thurso river. Turned out to be another 35 kms for the day, and 103 kms total for the trip.

Many thanks to those friends who donated to the cancer charities we are supporting this season.