Wednesday 24 January 2018

Isle of Jura Day 3 - The Final Leg

The next morning the stiff breeze had gone and we were gifted with a beautiful sunny day, maybe the last.  
There was no immediate rush to get on the water.  The flood tide that will take us north doesn't turn for a few hours yet.
I sat on the makeshift bench outside the bothy under damp bits of kits, eating my pre-packed porridge rations, the staple diet of any kayaker.
A green shipping bouy mid channel leaned heavily, straining on it's moorings with the force of the tide ebbing out of the Sound of Islay.  Boats cruised past with ease and rafts of sea birds drifted by carried on the tide.  The only sounds were that of the lapping waves on the shore and the short sharp screeches of oystercatchers picking their way through the shallows. Life was good.
The added time gave me chance to organise and pack my boat.  For some strage reason there was far more space in my hatches than there was previously.  I had eaten some of the contents but still.
The two walkers we met last night slipped away on their boggy trek to the ferry terminal at Port Askaig.  The time came for us to leave also, floors swept and beds made ready for the next adventurers to discover this magical place.
The plan (D,E? I've lost count) was to continue on our clockwise journey, stopping off at Port Askaig to find out the latest weather forecast.
Carraig Mhor lighthouse commissioned in 1928
We skirted along the eastern shores of Islay as the opposite shores of Jura narrowed closer, closing to less than a killometer apart at Port Askaig.
At Port Askaig moors the only lifeboat that serves the Islay group of islands, including Islay, Jura and Colonsay.  I imagine the crew have had their fair share of fun in the Corryvreken.
We draw up on the muddy banks of the harbour while the Jura ferry continually ferries passengers and vehicles across the short passage.  In earlier times the ferry was apparently signalled by shouting across the Sound.
I enjoy a bit of local cuisine, Scots pie and a bottle of Iron Bru, while the others visit the RNLI station for the latest forecast.  As predicted the advice given was to head for the mainland tonight or risk being stormbound for the unseeable future.

From here on the plan is to circumnavigate the southern half of Jura, making our escape via a 1.9km portage from Loch Tarbert on the west to Tarbert Bay on the east, where we landed breify yesterday.  We would then cross back over the Sound of Jura to the mainland.  It meant another long day, over 50km, but at least we would achieve something of our circumnavigation and explore some of the rugged west coast.
So we continue to drift onwards passing two of Islay's eight distilleries before making for the Jura coastline once more.
Natural basalt walls formed some 56 million years ago, line the western shores.  Formed durring a period of intense volcanic activity, when upwelling magma filled cracks in the earths crust. The less resistant rock has erroded away leaving these dykes.
Leaving the clutches of the tides of the Sound of Islay the rugged remoteness of Jura's North Western extremities stretches off into the far horizon.  From here on there are no roads or even anything that resembles a path for miles around.
We stumble upon a pristine white beach and take the chance to explore a little....

The northern tip of Islay across the water.
The Isle of Colonsay on the horizon.
Martin above and me below exploring a dyke.

Soon back on the water we continue on our journey west.  To our right steep open grassland cascades down to a vertical cliff before dropping into the grey sea below.  Almost identical to parts of Skye's east coast around Portree, Sea Eagle country.  I kept a keen eye above the cliffs, within moments an eagle appeared.  I shouted to the rest of the group in front of me but they were oblivious to the flying ironing boad size bird to our right.

We enter the mouth of Loch Tarbert, this marks the half way point of the full circumnavigation and what would have been tonight's camp spot.
Raised beaches
Jura's Northern extremities
At Glen Batrick (Norse 'Pasture Harbour') we were truly at the remote heart of the Isle, the last place we'd expect to see a grand Victorian hunting lodge. A summer residence of the Astor family,  owners of the Tarbert estate,  is only accessible by sea or a 6 mile treck through tick and bog infested hills.
Time as always is ebbing away but we take an opportunity to briefly explore one of the raised beaches, after all its only been 15,000 years since the last tide was in.  Here I spotted my first Osprey.
The pebble beaches some 40m high are the result of the last ice age. In brief, the crust of the land sunk under the weight of the ice, whilst the sea levels also dropped as ice locked up the water. As the ice melted the sea levels rose. The land rebounded more slowly but as it continues to do so it has left the beaches well beyond the reach for the tides. Remarkably the pebbles look as though the tide went out this morning.

On our way again we pass Cruib Lodge, another potential bothy night, one for next time I'm sure.
At the end of Loch Tarbert the waters narrow into a winding channel where the waters flow up to 8 knots.  After a long day on the water I was nice to kick back and let the tide do most of the work.
Standing in the way of our crossing to the mainland was a 1.9km portage along a rough track with 40m of ascent.  A relatively straight forward portage with a kayak trolley.  Unfortunately space was limited and only myself and Jules had packed one...then mine broke. Jules pushed on with his wheels while the rest of us attempted to haul fully laden kayaks over land. Just as we were about to give in help was at hand...
There was no respite when we finally made it to the far side however. There was still at least a 3 hour crossing ahead of us and it would be dark before then.
Here followed a little confusion. The tide was running against us, pushing us south where our destination was north.  In our rush to escape the midges we hadn't formulated a plan.  We dithered between ideas not making much ground before finally deciding to simply get to the other side before dark and work it out from there.
The approaching storm front gaining on us like a scene out of Independence Day.
The sun set over Jura as groups of Porpoise with flocks of sea birds in tow crossed our path making their journey up and down the sound.
We couldn't tell for certain but we seemed to make landfall roughly where we paddled to on our first day where I found the antlers.

The sun had set and the still waters turned to glass.
A perfect way to end an epic day.  By the time we hauled the boats ashore it was dark. We erected the tents while Simon nipped to the pub to convince the bar lady to re-open the till to for a bottle of beer each, a bottle of wine and 10 packs of scampi fries.
The rain drummed on the tent durring the night and the edges shook and cracked in the wind.  Any doubt that we had been to hasty to abort our expedition was wiped away, we had made the right decision.  We donned our wet gear one final time to pack away the gear and headed off Inveraray for breakfast.

The northern half of Jura still remains unexplored.  Thanks to Simon, Chris, Jules and Martin. We would have to return again, there's always a next time....


Ian Johnston said...

Really enjoyed this series of posts Stuart; we were around the northern half of Jura and out to Colonsay a little earlier in 2017, and had another trip in 2016. A brilliant sea kayaking location - and the northern part of the island will blow your socks off!


Stuart sea kayk said...

Cheers for taking the time to read Ian. I really should catch up on my blog and get more posts written up again. I'll check out your write up, maybe I'll get some inspiration from yours.

Looking forward to getting the northern half done. We were hoping to pop up over the winter/spring sometime but the weather's been awful as usual.

Douglas Wilcox said...

Hi Stuart, glad to see the end of your trip. You take almost as long as I do to finish a blog trip. I have just finished our trip to Colonsay!