Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Dunvegan to Stein - Isle of Skye Day 4

"This trip offers wildlife, history, geology, coral beaches and a pub to finish" (Scottish sea Kayaking, Pesda Press)...What more could one want.
 The wind today was coming in from the south east so it was an opportunity to visit the north west side of the island.  I picked a trip straight out of the guide book.  Dunvegan and the surrounding coastline also offered my dad plenty to do and see on land.
I Launched through the golden kelp near Dunvegan Castle with Macleods tables on the horizon.  This place was a wildlife haven.  The small islands within Loch Dunvegan were littered with seals and birdlife.  I could have stayed here all day and enjoyed myself, but it was time to push off from the restraints of the shore and emerge myself in the world only a sea kayaker can enjoy.  
Not wanting to disturb the young seals I kept my distance and packed my long telephoto lens to get some close up shots of the wildlife on offer... 

No matter how much distance you give them, some seals can't help being curious.
Crossing the short distance between islands, Dunvegan Castle came into view over my left shoulder.

I spent some time weaving between the small skerries and kelp before crossing back over the loch to Camalaig Bay.  
I hadn't been on the water long but I took the recommendation from the guidebook to land here to explore the remains of a broch.
Talking to myself with a bemused onlooking highland cow, I said the hell is a broch??? The ground was uneven, overgrown and difficult to walk though in my wet suite slippers.  I figured I would climb up on to the hill on my right and if I can't see anything I continue on my way.
Ah a broch I assume.
A single entrance leads to a series of rooms and corridors winding up to an upper level.  A broch, I later researched, is an Iron age structure only found in Scotland, mainly in the north west.  There is still some argument to what they actually were.  Some believe they were the Scottish equivalent of hill fort while others argue they were farming structures.  Whatever they were there is no arguing they are impressive structures that have stood the test of time.  
History lesson complete it was time to get back on the water and make my way along the eastern flank of Loch Dunvegan in search of the coral beaches near it's end.  
Up ahead a crystal white beach were clearly visible from some distance.  However the low tide kepl kind of spoiled the tropical image I had imagined in my head.
My dad had made his way up the coast also and had come to meet me here. 

The coral in the coral beach is not coral at all but fossilized algae, but algae beach has not quite the same appeal.

After a brief break with my dad I was back in the seat on my way again. 
A short crossing from the end of the head is a cluster of small islands Isay, Mingay and Clett.  The crystal clear waters shone with the white sand bellow.  

Whilst only a kilometer at best from the busy coral beaches on the mainland it felt very lonely out here on the northern extremities of the island.  Two white tailed eagles left their perch on the cliffs as I rounded an outcrop, possibly the closest Ive been.  
There was the odd seal also but not in the numbers I saw earlier.
On the eastern shore of Isay is a small abandoned village but finding a suitable landing spot was proving difficult.
After paddling up and down the eastern shore and back again I found a spot with a vague clearing through the low tide kelp leading to the overgrown tufts of grass.
Along the edge of the shore the remains of some eighteen cottages can be found that once housed a community of 90 people in the 1800's.  Set alone at the end of the village is the grand main house.  I made my way awkwardly through the overgrown grass toward the remains of the house.  An eagle left the top of the building as I made my way over and was soon circling high above.
I entered the building through a collapsed window.  Eagle droppings splattered the wall from where I saw the bird perched earlier.  Bones from fish, sheep and small birds littered the floor dusted with plucked feathers.  The high walls of this building are obviously a favoured perch for where the eagle brings his catch of the day.

If it wasn't spooky enough being out here alone on a remote island amongst the remains of a ruined abandoned village, strewn with the remains of dead animals, this house has a gruesome tale to tell.  Standing within it's walls I read from the guide book....

"The main house was the scene of a gruesome Massacre in the 16th Century, when Roderick MacLeod owned it.  He wished his grandson to inherit the island, but unfortunately there were two families with the first claim to the island.  To solve this inheritance problem he invited them all to a big meal, and after eating called the potential inheritors of the island into his room for discussion.  As each inheritor came for their discussion with MacLeod they were duly murdered until his grandson was left as the sole inheritor of the island"   *Scottish Sea Kayaking by Doug Cooper & George Reid

Time to leave, looking back over my shoulder toward the ghostly remains of the house.
It was time to make the final crossing of my trip over to the picturesque village of Stein passing the small skerry of Sgeir Nam Biast on route.  
I was worn out paddling into the stiff breeze into Stein.  I spotted my dad waving me in from the beer garden of the Stein Inn.  We hauled up my boat alongside a bench in the sun where a steak pie and a pint of Skye's finest beer awaited me, a perfect way to end a magnificent trip.  Highly recommended.

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.