Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Marsco - Isle of Sky Day 3

With the success of yesterdays paddling so early on in our trip and with the prospect of improving conditions throughout the week, I was happy to take a day off from the boat and join my dad in the hills.  We woke to a bit of light drizzle and cloud and the forecast for the day wasn't perfect so we settled on one of the easier peaks in the Red Cullin Hills, Marsco.
Marsco stands at 736m (2,414ft) just to the rear of the Sligachan hotel and camp site.
A gravel path leads from the car park up through Glen Sligachan alongside the River Sligachan, which eventually leads out near Loch Coruisk, where we so often visit by boat.  
After about 3km up stream we head off up a tributary to the river between the peaks of Marsco and Beienn Dearg Mhor.
The drizzle eases off, it gets warm, and the midges come out to feast.  The path is not as obvious as the one leading through the glen and is very boggy in places.  According to the guide book we are looking for the second main stream that runs off the mountain where the path leads us up to the summit.  The trouble is due to the dry summer we've had the steams are completely dried up.
The first stream tumbles down a vertical craggy crevice, we don't want to come down that way later. It's not obvious but along the stream we have been looking for is a faint path that follows a line of iron posts to the top.  The views so far are are pretty good and would be even better on a clearer day.  
It's a steep but easy accent to the top with great views of the Black Cullin Ridge opening out to our left.

The posts lead out on to a flat ridge with the main summit a short climb on the right.  It is worth going off to the left where a plateau provides great views of the black culling ridge.
The views behind me here looking toward Loch Corisk with Elgol and the islands of Rum, Canna and Eigg in the far haze.

We head up the line of the ridge to the main summit of Marsco where the wind picks up and the temperature drops. 
The summits is crowned with this modest cairn where we find evidence of the two Golden Eagles we spotted on our accent.  It seems like a regular perching spot with large droppings containing small animal bones and fluffy white down feathers.

We walk down onto the saddle on the far side of the summit for lunch and to work out our decent.  According to the guide book we follow the line of a ridge that runs steeply back down into the glen below.  There are another couple of walkers coming down from the summit following what looks like the only feasible way down.
The steep scree slope that takes us down off the saddle come to an abrupt end with steep vertical rock.  We aim off to the right which naturally follows a valley down into the glen.  This of course was where we saw the first stream where we said we didn't want to come down.
Now this how accidents happen.  Rather than returning to the summit and going back the way we came, most people do as we are and attempt to find a way down.  This can sometimes lead you to a place where you can not go back up or go down, or worse a slip.  We manage to scramble down the wet rock with a few risky moves and peer back up to the other couple finding the same problem.  We later discovered that other guide books suggest the only safe way to descend is back down the way we came up.
Back onto the grassy slopes we are rewarded with a sighting of a heard of Red Deer.  They quickly pick up our scent and are on their way up the glen.
Back in the glen the wind drops and the midges come out in force, it becomes almost unbearable to stop even for a photo.  The path seems to go on forever.
The decent delays us by about two hours.  The sun goes down behind the hills as we approach the car park and it is soon getting dark when we get back to camp.  A really enjoyable day and a nice change to give the arms a rest and exercise the legs for a bit.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Staffin to Portree - Isle of Skye Day 2

"Come back tomorrow" 
We arrive as we did yesterday at Staffin beach.  The sea looks welcoming, the sky blue and the wind is just a brisk breeze.  The given forecast for the day was north westerly force 3 with sunny spells.  I launch from the slipway for the second time and round the breakwater where I am greeted with a spectacular view...

Suddenly I feel very small, insignificant and alone.  Walls of almost black water roll in to my rear left.  To my right 200ft columns of solid dolerite cliffs towered above.  In front at least 10 miles to the nearest possible landing.  I couldn't ask for a much better day but I couldn't shake this nervous feeling.

Two and a half miles I reached Kilt Rock.  I stood on the top of that cliff in previous years when the wind and waves battered the cliffs bellow.  It felt strange now being down here on the water.  It has been an unusually dry summer and there was barely a trickle cascading down the cliffs.
Looking back at Kilt Rock.  With the sun in my face it was sometimes better to look back and take the photo.
A fulmar joined me for a while as they usually do, gliding in effortlessly close.
Ahead of me now the cliffs dipped and presented the summit of the Storr, the highest point of the Trotternish ridge (719m).  As I look up at the Storr somewhere up on the summit is my dad.
Distracted for a moment from the stunning view, waves break some distance off shore ahead of me.  Must be a reef.  I continue forward keeping my eyes locked on where I saw the wave.  Nothing, then clonk! my left blade bounces of something "bugger I've hit the reef"  I look over my left shoulder only to see a dustbin lid sized jelly fish.
I paddle by the headland I was so worried about yesterday.  The following conditions do amplify slightly around the headland but smooth glassy water follow beyond.  Further along is Inver Tot, a diatomite works from the late 1800's we visited last year here.  I don't pland on landing here but is a possible landings spot.
The cliffs become more green but no less impressive.
The water was absolutely crowed with these Lion Maine jellyfish of various sizes.  I could guarantee passing by one with every other paddle stroke with their long tentacles clinging to paddle blades when I lifted them out of the water.
I reach my landing spot for the trip, Bearreraig Bay, where there is an working power station.
It has become overcast and dull but the views across to Rassay, Rona and the Torridon range beyond are far from it.
Careful where you step.
I assume this is an old part of the cable railway that runs down the steep slope along the hydroelectric piping.  Doing a little research I find that this beach is famous for it's fossils.
The hydroelectric station.
After a bit of lunch I'm back on the water paddling by Holm Island.  Here a White Tailed Eagle flies past well camouflaged along the cliffs in the opposite direction.
Steep grassy cliffs rising up beyond 1200ft now replace the vertical rock columns for the remainder of the trip.  The swell and wind dissipates allowing me to get up close to the base of the cliffs for the first time.
After almost 6 hours I arrive back at Portree having completed a sizeable chunk of the north east coastline of Skye, and it's only day two.  Finally some good weather and progress on the Isle of Skye.   We celebrate our first sucesful day with drinks in the Pier Head Hotel, blue building above. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Returning to the Isle of Sky - Day 1

We return for our annual trip up to the Isle of Skye on the far north west of Scotland.  We leave home early Saturday morning and make the trip up in one go.  We're a little excited because this year the forecast looks promising.  
We pitch the tents at our usual base camp at Torvaig campsite in Portree.  
As usual the forecast changes for the worst but promises to improve as the week goes on.  Today (Sunday) a strong northerly force 5-6 with moderate seas is forecast.  Two options, I shelter to the south but know from experience that there will be very strong down drafts along the steep southern cliffs, or paddle with the wind at my back from Staffin in the north back down to Portree.    
I opt for the latter and we park up at Staffin beach taking in the full brunt of the wind.  It's very gusty but looks do-able.  I'm not backing out this year I'm determined to put in some miles.
Off I paddle out of the small harbour and around to the right, the wind snatching at my paddle and kicking up cold spray off my bow into my face.  I have a long paddle ahead of me, 18 miles of steep cliffs with only one possible place to land and get out.  The first 5 miles face the north east where there is a kilometre long headland jutting out into the sea.  From there on the cliffs run directly north to south.  My thinking is once I round that headland I should be out of the worst of the wind, but until then it's going to get rough.
My dad takes this short as I disappear out of view.  Around this corner is a reef and a small island.  To my right steep breakers roll in, the wind whipping of their peaks in mists of spray exposing the reef bellow.  Around the island it is then, but it looks big, the swell is intimidating.  I retreat back into the harbour where a local fisherman is readying his boat.  I don't know the area, my concern is the headland five miles away so I ask what it's like out there.  He makes a large wave motion with his arms.  "It will be hell out there today but yes once your around the headland you should be out of the worst of it" he replies.  He can see I'm trying to weigh up my options then says "come back tomorrow".  He's right, it's only day one and it's not going anywhere, it'll still be there tomorrow and the forecast is better.       
My dad pre-empts my return and is there waiting on the slip way for me.  The boat is back on the van and we head further north of the island for a tourist day.
We take the road that skirts the most northerly point of Skye and to the west side of the point to Duntulm Castle.

Looking across the Minch just able to see the peaks of Harris.
A memorial to the MacArthurs, the pipers to the MacDonalds of Sleat for successive generations.
Most of what remains of the castle was built in the early 1600's by the Macdonalds.  Duntulm has be fortified however since the Iron Age then by the Norse and their successors the Macleods of Skye.  The castle was abandoned in 1730.  Legend says this was after a nursemaid accidentally dropped the baby son of the clan chief from a castle window over the cliffs.  Here ghost, killed in retribution, is said to wander the ruins.
And artists impression of how the castle may have looked in it's former glory.
A sea urchin between the kelp down on the shore.
A short distance down the road is the Flora Macdonald memorial.  In 1746 she famously helped the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie evade capture.  She was imprisoned in the tower of London but later released in 1747. She later married and emigrated to North Carolina but returned and died in 1790 to be buried here on the Isle of Skye.
Another interesting grave in this cemetery is that of Angus Martin, or Angus of the wind, earning this nickname by apparently insisting on going to sea whatever the weather.  More of a man than me it seems.  Legend has it he stole this grave stone depicting a medieval knight from the grave of a Scottish King from island of Iona and carried it on his back from the sea.
These croft houses are actually replicas of the houses that were common place on the Isle of Skye at the close of the 1800's, part of the Skye Museum of Natural Life.
We made our way back down the west coast and across the middle of the island back to Portree.  We had a fish and chip lunch on the front where my dad decided to take a boat trip out of the harbour to sea the sea eagles.  Eager to get on the water myself I decided to get the boat back off the roof and go for a short paddle. 
Out of the harbour the northerly wind was still apparent although it had died down considerably since this morning.  Off to the right here there are some huge boulders which have come down from the peaks above and make for some great rock hoping, but there was still a large swell rolling in making getting up close impossible.
Tucked out of the wind I landed on this small beach with views over the Cullin hills.  Behind me the grass slope rises almost vertically to the cliffs where white tailed eagles commonly roost.  It seemed like a perfect spot to wild camp the night.  We retire back to the campsite and walk on into Portree for the evening with the prospect of returning to Staffin in the morning.