Monday, 24 July 2017

Isle of Jura Day 2 cont... Craighouse to An Cladach (part 3)

Tired though we were, we reluctantly packed our belongings back into the full hatches and set off once more into the emerald green shallow waters.  Our desire to circumnavigate Jura was still strong, but it would mean arriving at what would have been tomorrow's destination tonight, doubling our current millage...This was plan B.
Bows pushed on parting glassy waters mirroring clouds in the sky.  I stripped off my dry cag and allowed the splashes of salt water flicking off my paddle blades to cool my arms.  I set back into my rhythm,  the full laden boat sat low in the water tracking well.  My lower back ached but that wasn't what was bothering me.
I wanted to circumnavigate the Isle of Jura, that was the ultimate plan, but not like this. I wanted to take my time and experience the magic of the island, not rush around it for the sake of it. Since leaving Craighouse the feel of the trip had changed.  It was now a challenge.  The feel of achievement would be wonderful I'm sure but it wouldn't be won easily. Nevertheless I pushed on from the toes into the shoulders.
A caravan of goats grazing on the steep rocky shore momentarily distracted me from my aching bones.  Legend has it the goats made it ashore when ships from the Spanish Armada were wrecked nearby.  However, they are likely to be descended from domestic animals kept by crofters and abandoned during the social changes of the mid-19th century.
Swinging a full 90 degrees from south to west we rounded the most southerly extremities of Jura to enter the Sound of Islay. The tide that runs up to 5 knots through the narrow parting between the Isles of Jura and Islay, was in our favor.  However, the wind was not.
Our long bows drove on into the oncoming sea, drenching us in plumes of spray, I now wished I had kept my dry cag on.  The wind was funneling down the sound, every paddle stroke gained was hard fought. Any ground gained by the tide was lost by the wind.
Am Fraoch Eilean, once an important stronghold for the MacDonalds, commanding the sea lanes between the Mull of Kintyre and the southern Hebrides, now a haven for five weathered kayakers.  We welcomed the shelter beneath the 20 meter vertical defences and a chance to revise our plans.
We wade through the shallows of red kelp as an RAF Hurcules sours overhead, probably just taken off from from Islay airport.  Thankfull of the rest we secure our boats with our tow lines and explore the small island and the 15th century Claig Castle.
With no obvious track leading up the flat topped summit we go in search of an easier way up. The island is divided into two unequal portions by a narrow gully. The building rises directly from the lip of the gully. I dubiously follow Martins lead up the precarious looking crag to top out underneath the castle walls.

The remaining building comprises of just the group floor with 2.4m thick walls made of local rubble and originally dressed in fine sandstone from Arran.  The fortress seemed as if intended to guard the mouth of the sound, and was also the prison where MacDonalds kept their captives.
I can't imagine there are many visitors to the island, there were however plenty of evidence the deer dare to cross the fast flowing streams to feed on the dense vegetation.
We decided, to continue on to Loch Tarbert on the western coast was no longer viable with the increasing headwind. Progress would be painfully slow and I think a few of us shared the opinion that a two day circumnavigation was not what we wanted to get out of this trip.

Instead to plan C...A 3km crossing of the sound of Islay to An Cladach bothy to spend the night there.  My mood had lifted and suddenly my back was no longer playing up, although that might have something to do with the two painkillers I just necked.
We hauled up on the unspoilt pebble beach eager to explore our home for the night on the Isle of Islay.
The bothy is situated in an idyllic location, nestled between the hills in the remote south east corner of Islay. The bothy, like most bothies is in the Scottish Highlands, is a restored building that dates back beyond the Highland clearances.  The An Cladach settlement consists of three small rectangular buildings. At the waters edge are the remains of a slipway that suggests access to this area was by boat.
The name An Cladach meaning harbour suggests it may have been used as seasonal accommodation for fishermen.  It's nice to think two centuries later it's still being used for simular purposes, but instead of fishermen it now manly accommodates kayakers and walkers.
The only group shot of us all, chilling in the evening sun outside the bothy. From left to right we have Chris, Martin, myself Jules and Simon.

We were later joined by two walkers who by the sound of it had had a long day. Jules and Martin kindly gave up their bunks to camp on the beach and we shared a few storeys with them over a bit of whiskey later that evening.
Inside there are two bunks sleeping five and plenty of floor space if you needed to sleep a few more. There's a kitchen area and even a small library of books. We settle in hanging our damp kit outside in the sun and start to get dinner on the go. On tonight menu is tined curry with cous cous, bombay potatoes and naan bread.
Simon (left) and Chris fashioning their new headgear, in all honesty the midges weren't all that bad.

We head out in search of fire wood on an already well combed beach. Bothy rule number one, replace fire wood for the next guests.  Failing to find anything substantial we happen upon the instruction to find blocks of dried peat. I love the smell of peat burning on a fire.
"At 220 degrees from the rear of the building you will see an orange marker on the hill" this is where the peat was cut, dried and stored. A few hundred yards from the bothy and knee deep in bog we give in and head back. The orange dot above right of Jules in the picture above is the marker.
We did manage to salvage some dry sea weed and a few pieces of driftwood to burn to warm our feet against and a few wee drams of Jura whiskey to warm the soul.

It had been a long day since leaving the mainland shores at Carsaig bay early this morning.  What an adventure it has been so far. If the forecast remains true it would be a short one, tomorrow would be our last day.  Who knows what the forecast holds for now, for tomorrow at least the adventure continues...

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