A bus with a message!!

A bus with a message!!

Friday, 25 September 2009


Concluding Nigel and Kathy’s Scottish Coast and Islands Tour (by Car, Ferries, Sea Kayaks, a Little Plane, a Minibus and Walking Boots):

K: When Will was very young, at the end of a camping trip he said: “We’re not going back to our house of bricks are we?” That’s how Nigel and I feel after spending so long in the fresh air and wild places, but our sea kayaking tour has run its natural course and it’s time to head home.
Our daily lives have been governed by weather and daylight for eight weeks now, beginning with the shipping forecast and ending at dark. Apart from two nights in hotels and three evenings out, to a ceilidh, a concert and a pub quiz, we have lived outdoors. We have endured a lot of rain (every day until near the end of August), which came relentlessly in the form of successive Atlantic depressions, then lots of high winds, including a force nine storm, in September. Our plans have regularly been curtailed or changed because of all this and few of our paddles or climbs have been done in settled conditions. Simple pleasures have meant a great deal: getting warm and dry when cold and wet, cooking when hungry and long, solid sleeps when tired. Breaking camp and moving on regularly to new places has been both stimulating and tiring.
Time has moved on a different scale from life at home. We’ve had to conserve our energy, our gear and our washing. But we’ve had the privilege of being able to live in the minute, free of goals and pressures apart from where to explore next. Every single day, every single island and every single paddle or climb is stuck in our minds in vivid colours. We’ve had a brilliant adventure in a beautiful and fascinating country. Most of all, we’ve learned just how much you don’t need to enjoy yourself!

N: Our friend Jon Van Wren asked in an e-mail “what do you think you've learnt from doing this?” Well I don’t think we know the full answer to that yet, but what I do know is that this expedition has provided a complete contrast to our usual way of life. It has given us the opportunity to fulfil our dream to travel Scotland and we have been too busy living to reflect on anything else. We look forward to thinking about what we’ve learned and what we do next when we get back.


Ardrossan – Arran
Lochranza – Kintyre
Kintyre – Gigha – Kintyre
Oban – Mull – Oban (with Chris, Sarah and Mike)
Scrabster – Stromness, Orkney – Stromness
Stromness – Hoy – Stromness
Ullapool – Stornaway, Lewis
Tarbert, Harris – Uig, Skye
Sconser – Raasay – Sconser

We have done 3,400+  land miles.

Lochranza Campsite, Arran    10
By boathouse, Gigha                 3
Gallanach Campsite, Oban        5
Glen Nevis Campsite                 4
By Loch Shiel                            1
Gorten Sands, Arisaig                4
St. Clair’s Hotel, Thurso            1
Point of Ness Campsite, Mainland Orkney  8
Clach Toll Beach, Lochinver     4
The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool       1
Traigh Horgabost, Harris            4
Taransay Paibil                           1
Raasay Outdoor Centre               2
Linwater Site, East Calder nr Edinburgh     6

=  54  nights

The Rough Guide to the Highlands and Islands
The Scottish Islands             Hamish Haswell-Smith
An Eye on the Hebrides       Mairi Hedderwick (sketches of the islands)
Scottish Sea Kayaking         Doug Cooper/ George Reid (strangely all the photos show sunny, calm conditions)
Into the Wild                        Jon Krakauer
Findings                    Kathleen Jamie (observations on Scotland’s wild places by a poet)
The Orkneyinga Saga
Kidnapped                           R.L. Stevenson (set in Oban/ Fort William area)
Blazing Paddles                   Brian Wilson (a continuous kayak journey round Scotland)
Hell and High Water, Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition.    Alastair McIntosh.

  • How little we actually need
  • Don’t underestimate Scottish weather, sea or mountains.
  • Which gear stays the course (1st prize: the tent for standing up to a storm that blew back your eyelids and flattened your nostrils)
  • How to live cooking only on a  Trangia stove
  • Writing a blog’s great fun and getting comments back even better. (We remember the range of unusual places we’ve sat in to write it out of the rain or to get a signal. Most unusual has to be in Mr, MacDonald’s barn at Arisaig amongst rusty farm implements, hay and a smell of sheep.) We recognise that our technological bling (laptop and GPS) may seem to contradict our first point!


N: The Witch’s Step in the Arran mountains.
K: That, and day 2 of the Loch Shiel paddle feeling hypothermic. Oh, and clapotis. I’ve survived a lot of those (one for you to mull over!)


N: Arran, the wildness of  Clachtoll beach in the storms, wild camping.
K: Wild camp on Taransay/ Life in Orkney. It’s not like anywhere else and I loved the way the present day and distant past are on such familiar terms.


When asked of the lad behind the bar in the hotel on Raasay “do you have a wi-fi internet connection?” Dave answered “I know how to set up an abseil, but I’ve no idea what you’ve just asked for”


N: Being outdoors
K:  The seal welcomes/ checkouts every time we paddle.


N: People who camp too close. You can be in an empty field but you can be sure if anyone else comes they’ll put their tent two feet away. Thinking of putting lettering on the car: INFECTIOUS DISEASES UNIT or OFFENDERS REHABILITATION.

K: Getting your hair trapped in the tent zip.


N and K: Sun lotion, summer clothes, anything that didn’t dry in 2 minutes. Not for one single day!
Solar shower/flower shower


N and K: We’d like to head up to Shetland in midsummer when it doesn’t get dark.


N: Being able to bake flapjack.
K: 1.A bathroom of our own. 2. Canoeing.





Thursday, 24 September 2009

Paddling in the city

True to form, the weather has stayed uncooperatively windy all week making paddling the Firth of Forth as a grand finale for our Scottish tour impossible. Refusing to be defeated however, we paddled into Edinburgh City Centre on the Union canal. Splashing across an aqueduct looking down at the busy Edinburgh bypass was an unusual experience, as was eating our lunch in kayak gear at Edinburgh Quays, surrounded by office workers in black suits.

Now, Nigel has shaved his beard off signalling the end of the trip is imminent.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Chain walk at Elie

Yet another windy day (Tuesday 22nd) so we headed up to Elie where there is a “chain walk” which is part of the Fife Coastal Path Walk. When we asked a local gentleman where to find the chain walk, he told us to follow the road to the cliff edge, cross the golf course and its there, then remarked “ … and the best of luck if you're doing it in this weather …” We only did the short stretch of the walk along the cliff edge over looking the wild sea, but the chain walk was great fun. At each end of the chain section there is a notice outlining the dangers, falling rocks, being trapped by the tide and steep cliffs. It was only half way along that we realised the tide was on its way in, so we decided that the return walk would be along the cliff top. We would recommend you seek out this part of the walk if you are in the area. (actually the most dangerous bit is probably getting hit by golf balls crossing the golf course!!)

Monday, 21 September 2009

Heading for Edinburgh

Harris’s landscapes and seascapes of the soul were not going to be an easy act to follow. It was thrilling to see dolphins again as we travelled on the Calmac ferry from Tarbert to Uig, but once on Skye our spirits sank. We found ourselves in a queue of fast ferry traffic vying for pole position so stopped off at Portree which was thronged with coach parties. We made a rapid decision to head for the next ferry to the nearest island and, fortunately, didn’t have to wait long at Sconser for the little ferry to Raasay. Immediately, we stepped back into island life again: the slow pace, the peace and the friendliness.
Although we only stayed two days on Raasay because the weather worsened, we would go again. We spent our whole day there climbing to Dun Caan, at 1400 feet the island’s highest point. We would have liked to kayak around Raasay and Rona but this would be a good 3 day journey, requiring settled weather. Our campsite was in the grounds of Raasay House Adventure Centre. The house itself burnt down earlier this year and the staff were going to lose their jobs, so they came up with a plan to take over the Raasay Hotel, which was not making money, and run that with outdoor activities on offer too. They are all working so hard- out of doors all day and running the bar at night! They’re really enthusiastic and very welcoming. If you want to know more it’s: www.raasay-house.co.uk
We’re now heading into our final week, concluding our Scottish tour in the Scottish capital. We can hear distant road traffic for the first time in eight weeks and see planes heading up from Edinburgh airport.

Yesterday having had a cold night we woke up to a ground frost, however the sun soon came through and warmed us up. We spent most of the day at Falkirk, this is where the Grand Union canal joins with the Forth and Clyde canal, and instead off the usual lock arrangement to accommodate the differing water levels a large rotating boat lift is used. The Falkirk Wheel is an elegant piece of modern engineering that very efficiently raises and lowers boats (and short sections of canal) from one level to another; it uses only the same power as 8 electric kettles to turn the wheel as it is perfectly balanced. The locking mechanism and hydraulically actuator powered gates at either end are cleverly devised to give a very clean and aesthetic, yet efficient closure to the ends of the canal sections. See www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk for more info. Whilst there we paddled part of the Forth and Clyde canal, and hope to paddle part of the Union canal in to Edinburgh later this week.

We’ll write our final blog at the end of the week.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Many thanks once again to everyone who is reading this. It really gives us a lot of pleasure when we get your comments.

Our Harris pphotos start at number 46.

K and N: From Clach Toll we headed south to Ullapool. After the storm, the sea was taking a long time to settle. The heather was fading and the temperatures autumnal. You realise how short the summer is so far North. Bill always says how he likes to follow the spring up through France and England and I thought we should be following what’s left of summer down. And I’m missing trees. Hearing how dry East Anglia’s been this summer, we were mulling over the Norfolk Broads for our next expedition! We stayed overnight in the comfort of The Ceilidh Place, then caught the morning ferry to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis. In mid-Minch a dolphin leapt up behind the boat then it and several others went arcing away across the water. Fifty miles west and we had arrived. We drove down through the fog and peaty moorlands of Lewis to our latest base: Traigh Horgabost. Harris, like much of the North-West Scotland, is famous for its sandy beaches sprinkled with fragments of shells but on Harris they’re truly breathtakingly vast with a backdrop of sweeping dunes and rocky mountains.
Whilst here, we have seen wonderful Hebridean sunsets. We haven’t been wet for 11 days now and the shipping forecast talks of wind speeds of 3 and 4 not 6 and 7. Even more marvellous than the sunsets is the night sky when it’s clear: the stars are huge and dazzling illuminating the mist draped round the mountains.

We have met many warm and welcoming local people whilst we’ve been here but as is apparent on Orkney, Scottish people are very interested in their roots, and newspapers reflect this. Another expert on DNA speaking here last week apparently had the unenviable task of telling a Scottish audience that we English are as Celtic as they are! We both have 80% Celtic DNA! Just think- Elloughton Newsagents could be stocking Celtic Harp Melodies and tartan souvenirs! We especially enjoyed meeting the Visser family from Rotterdam who fell in love with Harris’s unique character ten years ago and have recently settled here. They were kind enough to invite us to their home at Northton for tea and chocolate and to share their enthusiasm for island life. They have three holiday cottages to let, which Jan and son Bart have done up beautifully, and can be contacted at beachviewcottages@hotmail.com. Suzan is a portrait artist.

N: Sunday evening and Monday morning’s coastguard weather forecast were favourable for a two day paddle with a night on The Isle of Taransay. You may recall Taransay was featured on TV in 2000 with a program called Castaway, where a diverse group of people were put on the deserted island for a year to see how they would survive. Apparently the cast stayed many nights in the Harris Hotel in Tarbert! The remnants of the buildings and infra-structure are still in evidence, along with a discarded tractor on the beach and a broken down quad bike. There is also much evidence of the thriving community that was once there up to the last remaining family that left 20 years ago. The island is 1.6 miles across the Sound of Taransay from our beach side site to the closest point, but is exposed enough for us to need a good weather window. We crossed the water Monday afternoon setting off at about low tide, 3:45 pm, and as usual were met by the official welcome party of seals- or are they customs officers? We explored one of the back to back beaches at Uidh that nearly divide the island into two. There is a rather rundown bothy that offers some shelter and contains fuel, food that may have been there for years and some flares that are at least 20 years out of date! We then headed off to Paibeil for our night camp and found a beautiful spot on the edge of a sand dune over looking the bay late afternoon. The Deer on the hill watching our every move. Anyone who has sea paddled will know that with all your camping gear, food, water, sleeping bags and clothes stashed away in your boat they are very heavy so it was a struggle for the two of us to carry the boats up the beach, past the high tide line. We tied them to the abandoned tractor (just to be sure), then set up the tent, cooked and enjoyed tea of corned beef hash and then went for a walk and finally settled down for the night. When camping after a sea paddle though everything feels sticky and damp, the salt in the water is hydroscopic and absorbs water from the atmosphere so in the damp air never dries out.
High tide would be about 4:35 am!!
The night was very dark and quiet, the only sound being the distant wash of the wave on the beach, but when you stir at 1:30 in the morning the waves sound gigantic, and close, so we both got out and shone our head torches towards the sea to make sure the boats were ok, not being able to see anything we went back to bed. 4:00am, I just had to get up, the waves sounded like they were on the doorstep, shorts, boots and a tee shirt on I headed off to the boats with my head torch, sure enough the boats were safe, but you just have to make sure!
Tuesday came, a bit misty but pleasant so we walked across the island passing many lazy-beds to Loch an Duin, the largest loch on the island where there is a prehistoric dun or fort on an island which is approachable only by a stone causeway with a rattling stone to give warning of an intruder. On the way back we met a trapper who had been dropped on the island with his colleagues to catch wild Mink, they use traps in the streams, and are part of a programme to eradicate the Mink that are an unnatural pest. With a forecast of a stiffening breeze in the afternoon we set off back, but still got caught by an increasing tail wind, once again we surged and surf paddle home.
Hot showers, warm clothes and a good drying wind for our freshly rinsed off gear made a very pleasant end to the journey, we sat and read and over looked the sea into the evening.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


Yesterday (Tuesday) the North-West was hit by the first autumnal gales of the year. All day we were pounded by a force nine gale gusting force ten. (Wasn’t England basking in hot sunshine?) By early afternoon, we’re proud to report, our tent was the only one still standing. Well done Vango Equinox! We’re posting footage of the wild waves on Clachtoll Beach.

We took refuge in the evening in Lochinver Village Hall where a Canadian folk group called tread gave a very lively performance with harp, fiddle, guitar and step dancing.

Out of 38 days on the trip so far, 10 have been heavy rain and high winds all day. There have been no sunny, warm, calm days. Guess that’s probably normal for Scotland in August, though we did hear it was the wettest on record in South-West Scotland. But the changing scenery goes on being full of delights: round here it’s a beautiful mix of rock, lochans, woodland and sea.

Climbed Stac Pollaidh today almost to its western summit, but a crag just before it, which is a Grade 3 scramble and which has to be reversed, marked our summit.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


When we sailed here I was a little surprised that a report on the artificial insemination of sheep was showing on the Hamnavoe’s plasma TV screen. It had a respectable number of viewers. But last night found us at a lecture on the DNA of North Ronaldsay sheep in Kirkwall’s Kirk Hall. Earlier in the day we had sat in a packed-out primary school hall at Finstown, listening to a lecture on Doggerland (where the North Sea is now) by archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones. In fact it’s all part of Orkney’s International Science Festival; another aspect of this unique place. We’ve been away a long time now and I worry about being seen at indoor events; when you’re camping you can always be recognised by the brown patches on your knees where you have got in and out of the tent. But Orcadians understand the effects of weather on daily life very well and no-one seemed to care. Archaeology shows how a tsunami once overwhelmed the islands. And because of a giant storm an inland loch became seawater. The Doggerland talk told about the world of archaeology under the North Sea which, in these times of rising sea levels, it’s urgent we in Britain do something about before it’s lost. The North Sea is a young sea (only a few thousand years old) and countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have excavated dwellings and boats at their side. We learned how the people who raised the standing stones probably shared our stress, watching sea levels rise dramatically in their lifetime. Were the stone circles and their human sacrifices an attempt to buy time with the gods? The DNA talk was equally fascinating. The North Ronaldsay sheep is a pure, ancient breed that lives off seaweed on the island’s rocky shores. Through tracing its origins, the origins of its owners, the Orkney people, can be assumed. These therefore lie in Russia. We had an Orkney High Tea in the community centre (not unlike Sunday tea in Yorkshire with mountains of home baking which it would be very impolite not to eat). Then Nigel and I returned to our tent and our hunter-gatherer lifestyle- no fixed abode and foragings from the local Co-op.
As I write this we are now camped on the machair at Clachtoll Beach campsite above Lochinver: severe gales imminent!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sunday 6th Sept

On Friday we decided to treat ourselves to a sight-seeing flight to some of the smaller Islands of Orkney. Many years ago I built a flying scale model of a Britten Norman Islander (7 feet wingspan), and the Island air service uses an Islander G_BLDV, so it was especially interesting to fly in this type of aircraft.The flight from Kirkwall to Stronsay and Sanday and then back to Kirkwall took less than an hour to complete, including 3 take-offs and landings and a short stop for passenger changes. The plane carries only 8 passengers and two crew, so no in-flight entertainment! just wonderful views of the 70 islands

We flew at about 150 mph, and at an altitude of about 650 feet. Landings on the islands were made on very short runways, each with a single hut that housed the fire vehicle. Directly behind the pilot we were well placed to see all the instruments and controls, and each of us had an engine a few feet away. The service operates the shortest scheduled flight in the world from Westray to Papa Westray which is about two minutes. According to the pilot his average flight is about 7 minutes!! The fatigue spectrum would be dominated by take-offs, landings and taxiing. The pilot also said that the limiting factor for bad weather is the wind gusts on the ground slamming the rudder over.

Tomorrow we are catching the ferry and leaving the Orkneys, heading south west to Lochinver. We have had a great week here, it is a lovely place with a fascinating history, offering loads to do and see.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Thursday update


Kath: Scotland, camping, being outdoors all day, seeing lots of wildlife.
Nigel: Discovering how little you actually need, being part of the weather, freedom, new places.

Kath: Rough water paddling (I have been VERY scared). Wet days when you get back soaked to the skin and you only have a little damp, cold tent to go to.
Nigel: Clutter in the car. We’ve brought three times too much stuff.



Mix mashed potato or Smash with butter, a crumbled bread bun, 1 egg and a tin if tuna. Pat into chunky discs with floured hands. Shallow fry a few minutes each side till crispy. Serve with veg.


Two fine days in a row? We couldn’t believe it, so went paddling round The Churchill Barriers. These are four causeways which link islands at the Eastern end of Scapa Flow, built mainly by Italian POWs in World War Two as anti-submarine barriers. In front of them are the blockships which were deliberately sunk as an added barrier. There’s one or two pics of them in photos.

We went to Hoy and looked across at all 137m of the Old Man with jelly knees. We met three men who were going to do it. You have to abseil down high cliffs to get started, it’s generally about 5A and takes 6-7 hours. We’ve posted its photo to tempt you.


Last night we went up to the stone circles of the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness at sunset. There were quite a few people there with cameras taking pictures of the alignment of the stones with the rising moon. We then witnessed a weird phenomenon: the alignment of sea kayaks on a car roof with the moon. You too can see this event posted in photos.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Orkneys

The Orkneys seem much more Scandinavian than Scottish. Apparently Orcadians spoke Norn, a Scandinavian language, not Gaelic, until three centuries ago and now speak English with an accent that Nigel thinks sounds like Welsh. A local lady told us that they were as Scottish as they felt like being; they are Scottish when the national football team is winning for example. The climate is mild (they rarely have frosts, the same lady told us, and feel ill when temperatures are higher than seventy) and the land is fertile for farming.
We sailed to Stromness in Mainland Orkney on the MV Hamnavoe- an hour-and-a-half journey that takes you close to the sea stack, and star of television climbs, the Old Man of Hoy. Stromness is a picturesque town of stone-paved streets and grey houses with thick walls, sometimes built so close together and with gable ends to the street that you would think inhabitants could join hands from their windows. We are camped on the Point of Ness, just outside the town, where boats pass our tent on their way into the harbour. The Mainland curves round the relatively sheltered waters of Scapa Flow where the German fleet was scuttled in 1919 and where the warships of the Royal Navy were anchored in the first half of the twentieth century. Now it is oil tankers that lie along the horizon, on their way to the Flotta refinery.
History is visible everywhere on the island. Children here must grow up with cairns and stone circles as their adventure playgrounds. Headlines on Radio Orkney announce another new find from the Neolithic. Yesterday we visited Skara Brae, a 5000 year old Neolithic village, older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. Here you can see how, judging from their homes and possessions, 5000 years ago people were pretty much like us. You can see their beds and their dressers, their dice and their bracelets. At twilight, we went to Maes Howe, a prehistoric chambered cairn. At the winter solstice the pink rays of the setting sun beam onto the orange sandstone of the back chamber. This event is now shown annually on webcam- and Nigel and I will be watching this December! 4000 years after it was built, a party of Vikings sheltered from a snowstorm inside the cairn and graffitied the walls with their runes. You can almost hear them speaking in their graffiti: “Thor and I bedded Helga” and “I am carving this high up” are amongst their legacy.
We are fascinated by the Orkneys and expect to be here a while.

Scapa Flow paddle.

The forecast yesterday for today’s weather promised to be better than it has been for a while and, for the first time this trip, sunshine woke us early enough to listen to the shipping forecast broadcast by the Shetland coastguard at 07:10. with a view to a sea paddle. “Wind 3-4 occasionally 5 later, sea state slight to moderate occasionally rough”. This is for the 12 miles inshore around Orkney. We have found that in the shelter of the land the conditions are usually better than broadcast so we decided to drive to Houton Head and paddle to Scapa Bay, some 10 miles to the east. The wind was from the south, so on shore, but no shelter, but as we unloaded the boats and made ready to launch the sea looked calm enough and there are several bays along the route which could potentially be used as get-outs. We launched just before 10:00 am and had a pleasant paddle to Swanbister bay where we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. On the way we saw many seals, they were inquisitive and playful whilst keeping a safe distance from us. It was around about here that the wind and the sea started to pick up a bit, so we launched once more and headed off round the next peninsula (appropriately named “The Lash”!) this is where the sea got interesting!! We decided to pull into the next bay, Waulkmill bay, which offered a get out with a road nearby. Given hindsight maybe we should have ended the journey there. However we decided to press on round the next headland which marked the start of the final stretch to Scapa Bay, but offered no further realistic get-outs, the cliffs being high and sheer. This final part of the paddle was very challenging, the seas were building moderate to rough and the following/side wind was 4-5. each promontory that we had to round seemed to throw up bigger wave sets than the last, making the final 4 miles quite tense. It was a relief to finally see the beach at the distant end of Scapa bay – 1 mile away, this last mile taking for ever to complete. Finally at about half past one we surfed onto the beach, I (Nigel) jumped out of my kayak declaring “we’re alive”!!! this was a paddle we will remember but not one I would rush to do again.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The far north, heading for the Orkney Islands

We are in St. Clair’s Hotel, Thurso for the night. Up here in the North-east tip of Scotland we are at 58 degrees North, sharing the latitude with Southern Norway, Alaska, Russia and the Hudson Bay. The place names are Norse and many seem to end in –ster: Scrabster, Lybster, Rumster, Occumster. It didn’t seem safe to pitch a tent. We sat in the car on Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the British mainland (not John O’ Groats), with the sea kayaks on the roof, feeling it rock from side to side. Water sprayed up through clefts in the cliff. On this high headland the upper windows of the lighthouse can be smashed by rocks flung from the powerful tides and waves of the Pentland Firth, where Atlantic Ocean and North Sea meet. It is a daunting place. It feels like a different country to the West with vast heather moors tilting down towards the North Sea, dotted with ruined crofts from the time of the Clearances. Everything seems on a giant scale: cliffs, waves and wide, empty sandy beaches. It is also very quiet; on Bank Holiday Saturday there was hardly any traffic on the A9. Ironically there was a discussion on the radio about the population explosion in Britain as we travelled. Anyway, after four weeks completely outdoors, coming in for a night seemed very strange. It’s not always comfortable living in a small tent but you are aware of every minute change in the temperature, what the wind’s doing and the state of the tide. Sunset is at half past eight here. Sometime in September it will change from having longer days than further south to shorter. We’re sailing to Stromness in Orkney tomorrow.

Friday, 28 August 2009


This weekend AUG 29/30 travel across Great Glen and up to John O’Groats
Wb AUG 31 Ferry to The Orkneys- camp near Stromness
Wb SEP 7 Travel round N. Scotland to Ullapool area base camp
Wb SEP 14 Ferry to Stornaway, travel through Outer Hebrides to Barra base
Wb SEP 21 Ferry to Skye- various base camps
Wb SEP 28 Start travelling back breaking journey for paddles in Forth area/ Farnes

These changes are due to us clarifying our ideas about where we want to go; we knew they might change as time went on and they may change again. We’d be delighted to have any of you to join us: it’s great being here. Take no notice of the weather forecasts!


(It has to be said we haven’t seen anywhere unattractive since crossing the border on August 2nd)

1. Lochranza Bay on Arran with mountain backdrop
2. Camus Darach - beach near Arisaig looking out to Eigg, Rum and Skye
3. Head of Glen Nevis- spectacular waterfalls and mountains

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Wild camping on Loch Shiel

Sea Kayaking: The Heaven and the Hell.

K: We left the scenic grandeur and crowds of foreigners in Glen Nevis on Monday and travelled to Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel. Even if you’ve never been to these places you’re almost sure to have seen them as they’ve been used in so many films and TV advertisements including Braveheart and Harry Potter. Glenfinnan is also famous as the place where clan chiefs rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cause in 1745, with disastrous consequences for the Highlanders. Loch Shiel is surrounded by beautiful and empty mountains. Looking at it on an OS map all you can see to either side are contour lines stretching into Moidart and Ardgour. Whilst paddling, we saw just a couple of hikers, a small group of canoeists and a lorry carrying felled trees on a rough track, all at a distance. However, these glens that now appear so wild in fact supported many people a couple of centuries ago, before the Clearances.

N: Our outgoing paddle, heading southwest down the Loch was interesting with mixed conditions, sometimes the sun glasses were called for and hoods or hats at other times. The temperature was warm enough but the wind constantly played tricks with us; first coming from behind and the head on. We were paddling down the south shore and the prevailing wind was westerly with some south in it, so as the wind funnelled down the glens between the mountains it swirled erratically on our side of the Loch. Total distance to our overnight camp was 12 miles with one stop for lunch, a look at a bothy and several inspections of the many tiny Islands.

K: Our wild camp site was idyllic. A tiny pebbly beach fringed with bracken, silver birch, mossy oaks and rowan. The water almost lapping our tent front door was clear and golden in the evening sunlight.

N: Despite the rain we made a fire in the evening before settling down to a quiet night’s sleep. The morning came and we were initially blessed with reasonable conditions, light showers and light winds, so we packed up the wet tent and loaded our kayaks. We carried on down the Loch to a place called St Finan’s Chapel which is on a small island some 14 miles from our starting place. The chapel itself is derelict but a rusty bell still stands on a stone altar. It was at this point that the rain started to get heavier and the wind picked up considerably. We decided to paddle back on the north shore where we had the wind predominantly from behind and to our right. The rain lashed down on us for most of the journey back, and wind whipped the surface of the water into a confused frenzy. White caps on top of rolling waves surged first from behind and then side on to us, the conditions were deteriorating rapidly and each promontory that we had to paddle round presented rougher and rougher water. At one point we considered getting out and snuggling up in a survival shelter, but as we had about 7 miles to go and probably 7 miles to the nearest road (and the prospect of the worsening weather) we decided to press on. We were soaked, rain beating on the backs of our heads ran down the neck of our "dry cags” and down our backs and into our trousers, when stopped we got cold very quickly, so heads down we paddled hard for the next 5 miles, surfing and being pushed along most of the way. Typically as we got closer to our destination the conditions improved and the sun nearly came out!! A great paddle but very hard work.

K: To thank Glenfinnan House Hotel for allowing us to launch from their grounds, and to stave off hypothermia, we ate a meal there after our trip. Walking into a hall with a wide hearth full of blazing logs couldn’t have been a more welcome sight. All the food is locally produced and fresh cooked, and was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, we journeyed on to the Back of Keppoch campsite at Arisaig (Local Hero country). Here, Rum, Eigg and Skye stand on the horizon as near neighbours, the sand is white and the clear sea turquoise. Once again we found ourselves listening to the soothing sound of waves splashing down on the beach and the pebbles rattling behind them as we went to sleep. But we woke this morning to another very wet day. The hardest thing is drying out gear (camping gear, wild camping gear and kayaking gear). Putting on the previous day’s wet clothes to keep your dry set dry is maybe sensible but not at all nice and I really feel for Brian Wilson in his book “Blazing Paddles” (lent to us by Mick) when he had to do it every day for four months whilst sea kayaking right round Scotland in a wet summer. We’ve now camped for 25 days and not a single totally dry one. We can often be heard cursing, haggling with and pleading favours of the weather gods. A visit to the sauna and jacuzzi at Mallaig Swimming Pool for £1.50 has put us to rights again however.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Fort William

Thanks for all your contributions… we do appreciate and enjoy them. For the last three days we have had some company: Chris, Sarah and Sarah’s boyfriend Mike joined us in Glen Nevis. Chris drove the three of them up. Nigel created a useful meals shelter for us all with a tarp tied to two silver birches and walking poles.
Our last paddle was round the coast of Seil on Wednesday. It was like paddling through the Mists of the Dawn of Time: silent, heavy rain; eerie shapes of mountains looming through the mist and herons flapping slowly or making dreadful screechings in the trees. We set off and returned to the tiny eighteenth century Bridge Over the Atlantic.
Note to Sea Kayakers: Oban is a really good centre for this with so many islands around it. There is an excellent sea kayak store: Sea Kayak Oban.com. which runs courses too.
Our plans for the week ahead include 2 dayers: Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan and Loch Nevis from Mallaig.

Me, Mike and Chris came up to see dad and Kath on Thursday and left on Sunday. We made really good time getting up here in Chris’s car; it only took just over eight hours to get up to Fort William from South Cave with about four or five stops along the way. Whilst driving we had some really heavy rain, and nearly had to pull over because the window wipers couldn’t move the water off the window fast enough. Thursday night and for most of Friday, it rained; basically none stop. Now though, on Saturday night I’m sat outside with dad’s tiny laptop without needing waterproofs because the weather’s that good. We went up Ben Nevis today. The weather forecast said that we would have light showers and 55mph winds, but it only rained once for less than an hour and the winds definitely weren’t as strong as 55mph. It was a really good day; first time up Ben Nevis for all of us apart from Kath. We talked to lots of people along the way, as we passed them and as they passed us. We kept bumping into some Irish people in particular who asked how Mike was doing with his asthma every time we saw them. Me and Mike were the last ones to get back to the camp site out of all of us (due to injuries and knackered-ness) but we were still within our am of doing it in 8 hours (just). Chris was first back, completing it in 6 hours; Dad and Kath were next back getting back after about 7 and a half hours. I’m getting kicked off here now. bye bye.
Sairah x

Mike here and frozen. Time spent in Scotland with Nigel, Kath, Chris and Sairah, has been a really brill experience, not been camping-camping (music festival don’t count) before and I have enjoy every minute of it. On Friday went to Mull on a ferry had a pint in pub, got wet seen as it only rains in Scotland. Today (Saturday) we all went up Ben Nevis, a hard treck for me not been a out door person, but got to the top and then on the way down got several injuries nothing serious, Me and Sairah were last, completing the treck in 8 hours which was our aim (so not to bad). Finishing now still cold bye bye.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Still in Oban

Things that go bump in the night
Animals, wild and tame, don’t seem to be able to see our tent in the dark so we have been regularly woken up by deer and sheep walking past our tent with every one of their four legs tripping over all three guy lines. Inside it feels like an earthquake. The other night it was the neighbouring campers’ Alaskan something dog which looks like a husky or a wolf. We’d met it earlier and it was friendly. However, at 2.30 am our tent started shuddering alarmingly so Nigel bravely looked out. “Oh, it’s next door’s dog but its eyes are bright green and it’s coming straight for me,” he said and dived back in. Apparently, from us the dog went on to the ladies’ loos where it came face-to-face with a woman and her little dog. She ran off in terror to the warden and the husky-type dog was placed under arrest until morning.

We are being spoilt by magnificent scenery. We are not being spoilt by weather. We listen religiously to the shipping forecast at 8.10 each morning and have got used to its very specific use of language. In particular, we hear a lot of “an area of low pressure over north-west Scotland will head off towards Norway before losing its identity”. It makes you feel positively sorry for it! However, we grabbed a glorious day yesterday to paddle out from Port Appin round Shuna Island and North Lismore then back to Castle Stalker (8 miles). This is where Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” is set. We saw seals and a mink. Apparently you tell the difference between common and grey seals by the way common seals lie on rocks with their heads and tails in the air like bananas; grey seals have Roman noses. Mink are responsible for making water voles become almost extinct.

Nigel’s camping tips:
A good way to start the day is with a wholesome and filling breakfast: best so far is “French toast” or eggy bread and fruit. This is 2 slices of white sliced bread, buttered lightly and filled with fresh fruit; raspberries or blueberries work really well. The fruit sandwich is then compressed and soaked in egg with a little milk. The whole thing is then lightly fried on the Trangia until golden brown and then eaten with maple syrup … delicious.

Sunday, 16 August 2009


The weather since last writing our blog has been atrocious. We spent our second day on Gigha tent-bound, the only camping survivors. We did venture out for an hour or two to the Gigha hotel at lunchtime. Other refugees from the weather were in there, all of us making large puddles on the floor. If you want to live on Gigha, as in many places in Scotland, you need to be able to produce a lot of children in order to keep the community alive. There are a healthy 20 children on Gigha at the moment but no babies. The lady in the gift shop reckoned it was time for another drunken ceilidh.

Hats off to CalMac ferries who seem to manage to reach Scottish islands on time however wild the weather. Apparently the thing that stops the Gigha ferry isn’t storms or fog but a build-up of seaweed at Tayinloan.

For thirty hours our tent received a lashing of non-stop heavy rain without letting a drop in. It’s a Vango Equinox and we’re really pleased with it. However, everything starts to feel damp after a while so we were relieved to escape on the early ferry yesterday morning naively hoping for better weather in Oban. When we got here and found the weather just as bad, even Nigel- who rarely moans- expressed some mild grumblings. Oh, he’s got a cold too and now the car won’t start because it needs a new battery! (the duff alternator has wrecked the battery).

Anyway, we’re trying to sell the benefits of wet days in small tents to ourselves: no midges; no sunburn; you get lots of reading done; you get to lie down a lot…….do I sound convincing?? Kathy.

We are building up a picture of what gear is working well for us and what doesn’t.

Best buys:-
Drylite towels from Winfields – much better than traditional towels that never dry out.
Vango Equinox tent – excellent layout, very dry and warm – only issue so far is the zips tend to snag if not careful.
Holeysole shoes (cheap version of Crocks) from Millets – excellent for campsite use, very comfortable and light – great colours.
Vango double thermorest and Outwell double sleeping bag – good combination giving a very warm and comfortable nights sleep.
Trangia, Kathy’s 33 year old Trangia and my small version – we are eating very well cooking all our own meals.

What we got wrong:-
Too many clothes over ¾ have not been touched and are just taking up space.
Chris Brasher walking socks – comfortable but take forever to dry out.

Stuff we could do with:-
Small chairs with backs – like the Vango thermorest chair – for inside the tent.
An oven for baking!!! – Not had the weather yet to try building a stone oven on the beach.


Thursday, 13 August 2009

Gigha Thursday.

On the journey from Arran to Gigha we crossed Kintyre. At first it seemed as if there wasn’t anyone actually in Kintyre, but then we called in at Carradale Caravan Site and found there were people there enjoying the well-kept secret of a large, pretty and peaceful site right next to a long, sandy, sheltered beach. The site was owned until recently by ex-HDCC members Ruth and Tom Watson. On the other side of Kintyre, there is another well-kept secret. Again, this is a long, sandy beach (Westport beach) onto which Atlantic breakers roll which have made it through the gap between Ireland and Islay all the way across from America. There were plenty of surfers waiting for the right wave.

Gigha is owned by the islanders. They’re very proud of it and the way they’re making island life work in the 21st century (with wind turbines for example). We’re camping close to the Boathouse Café, not far from the CalMac jetty. We get woken by the first ferry of the day talking: “Will passengers please…..” and the island seems to empty when the last ferry leaves at half past six in the evening, especially so tonight as there are gales forecast.

Today has been one of those beautiful Scottish grey days: silver grey sky and sea; dark grey islands. The sea has been calm and the air mild. We paddled round the island (15 miles) and were lucky enough to have a sea otter swim close to us. We could see the coast of Northern Ireland not looking far away at all.

Last night we planned our circumnavigation of Gigha to make the most of the tidal streams, although they are not really significant it is best to go with the flow rather than against it, so I armed myself with tidal stream atlas and Dover tide tables, pen and paper and spent an hour or so working out which way round the Island to paddle. Anti-clockwise would give us the best advantage, so this morning – just to be sure – I asked a local which way the tide would be going as it ebbed (high tide 07:28) and was reassured as the sailor looking type agreed with his conclusion of north to start with. Although the flow was generally north to start with it soon switched to southerly, which was against us until the northern end, then it helped us down the western side of the Island. As we rounded the southern tip of the Island the tidal stream was approaching slack so the last leg back to Ardminish Bay was easy. 15 miles in 4 hours 40 min moving time with an hour stopped on two lovely beaches. A good days paddling.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Moving on

Some info:

Scotland has 790 islands (130 inhabited).
It has 7000 miles of coastline.
In the 11th century the Scottish king, Malcolm Canmore, agreed that the King of Norway, Magnus Barefoot, could keep any island he circumnavigated

We leave Arran tomorrow morning (Wed) with just one circumnavigated: Holy Island (but that belongs to Tibetan Buddhists). It’s been great- on the water and on the hills. It’s a beautiful island, and with red deer regularly passing the tent and eagles soaring overhead, Lochranza makes wildlife-watching easy. We’ll be back!!!

We’re heading out to Gigha: ferry to Claonaig, drive over Kintyre then ferry from Tayinloan to Gigha, six miles long and one across.

By Nigel and Kathryn Trenchfoot (it’s raining buckets today).

Monday, 10 August 2009

A week into our adventure

We have now been on Arran for just over a week and are having a wonderful time. The speed limit on the island is 30 mph but you struggle to achieve it on the rough roads making the 14 miles to Brodick a long drive. Bus drivers meeting from opposite directions stop to chat. It all makes the pace of life delightfully slow.

On Saturday morning I played at being a fireman!!! A gas stove caught fire in a neighbouring tent and a lady’s attempt to put it out by throwing a towel over it didn’t work. The gas bottle hadn’t been connected properly and the escaping gas had caught fire, a quick smother of the flames and turning the gas off did the trick. The husband was very grateful and was able to repay me ……. See car problems later!!!

Saturday 8th we paddled from a place called Sannox to Lochranza bay, about 9 miles in good sea conditions with intermittent rain and a following wind. The trip was made easier by a kind offer from a couple from Edinburgh (David and Lin) who, after dropping the boats and Kathy off at Sannox and bringing the car back to Lochranza), ran me back to Sannox, cutting out a delay and a bus journey, thanks David and Lin.

Saturday evening the car failed to start … flat battery … various warning lights had been coming on so not entirely unexpected, so battery on charge over night. Sunday car started once .. then had to be jumped by our friend with the fire damaged stove, debt repaid in full.

Sunday was a mountain day, Kathy planned a ridge mountain route up Glen Sannox, climbing to The Saddle then taking in Cir Mhor 799m – a steep sharp summit; Caisteal Abhail 834m scattered with granite tors; Ceum na Caillich (the Witch’s Step) and Suidhe Fheargas 634m. As the car wasn’t starting without assistance from being jumped by another car we knew we had to be down by 7.30pm to make the last bus or flag a motorist to stop. Because the ridge is very scrambly indeed (overall grade 2) and the descent steep and rough, the day turned into quite an epic and we missed the bus- but luckily found a motorist. As we reached the Witch’s Step mist and rain swirled malevolently in and out of the deep notch. At both sides there is a rock spire- one a grade 3 scramble, the other a technical rock climb. We negotiated the first using a rope but as a man we’d passed earlier had said the second involved leaping for the top block we edged round the side instead. The adrenaline was certainly flowing most of the day.

We expect to be in Oban for the week from 16th to 23rd August, and Chris and Sarah are coming to join us. If anyone would like to come up for a couple of days they could share the driving and reduce petrol costs, contact us or Chris for arrangements nearer the time.

Thanks to all who have been contacting us by e-mail, texts and the Blog, it is really nice to hear from you all. The internet connection via my mobile dongle is proving variable, as expected. Uploading text is not too problematic but putting pictures on the blog is not working very well at all, maybe when we get a really strong signal, and have time to play I will sort the pictures out, but until then I’m afraid it’s text only.

Hope you are having as much fun as we are, Nigel and Kathy.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Thursday 6th August
Today managed our first reasonable paddle, still a stiff breeze but a good sea state. We paddled round Holy Island from Lamlash bay, about 7 ½ miles. Initially we paddled into a stiff breeze, up the West side of the Island which is very rugged with steep cliffs to the sea. Rounding the North end was interesting with the wind side on which put Kathy a little out of her comfort zone. The downwind leg on the east of the Island was very quick with the wind and waves constantly pushing from behind. We stopped on a pebble beach for a snack, followed by a visit to the little café run by Buddhist Monks for tea/coffee. The leg back to the car was a sort of down wind ferry glide to compensate for the wind and tide, taking a couple of corrections to land back where we had set off from.

Wildlife at Lochranza:
At low tide the bay around the castle empties of sea water and fills with creatures feeding: red deer, sheep, herons, curlews, gulls and oyster-catchers. We’ve also seen golden eagles, red squirrels and seals here.
Apparently the Queen spent the first night of her honeymoon on the royal yacht in Lochranza Bay.
The raised beaches around the coast are colourful with wildflowers. We need Kath’s Mum or Ron P to identify them all but they include meadowsweet, rosebay willow herb, loosestrife, thrift, hawkweed, sea lavender and ragwort.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


We’ve cast away the chains of home and work now and are adjusting to a completely out-of-doors lifestyle……for two or three months anyway. We’re living in a two-person tent with all our belongings in the car. Nigel somehow packed what looked like a houseful of stuff into the car quite neatly. It will have to be done over and over again.
We’re based at the Lochranza campsite this week, at the northern tip of Arran. In case you are wondering about the midges, they were a bit troublesome on the first night but it’s been far too wet, wild and windy since then to experience any. It certainly has been too wild for sea kayaking, although we seized a couple of hours of sunshine to practise in the bay near the castle yesterday. There are lots of seals and lots of red deer around and they don’t seem to be remotely perturbed by human presence. In fact, one red deer stared straight in through the clear plastic panel of our tent before giving our guy line a sharp tweak.
Today we climbed Goat Fell (2,866’) and North Goat Fell in thick, wet mist with water pouring down the hillsides around us. The tops of the Arran hills are exposed and narrow. The best bit for us was scrambling between the black Jenga-like blocks from one summit to the other. We saw absolutely no-one else on either peak.
We’re priding ourselves on being inventive with one-pot meals in a Trangia. Today it was porridge and Scottish raspberries for breakfast and egg scrambled with mushrooms, taties, broccoli and cheese for tea. We have slept like logs.
It’s really good to have the luxury of time. In one or two week holidays it has always felt important to fill each minute but here it feels like we can really please ourselves in what we do or don’t do.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day one

We are here! Got to Ardrossan early so just caught the 13:15 ferry to Brodick. Drove to Lochranza and have set up the tent. Internet conection works ... but slow. I will try loading some pictures later.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The night before we go

Nigel began counting down to 2nd August 2009 about 311 days ago….. and now it’s here! We set out on a sea of good wishes. Our much-appreciated and useful leaving gifts from work (a camera and a beautiful Liberty’s journal from Kath’s South Hunsley colleagues and an expedition watch from BAE Systems workmates to Nigel) are going to be busy. We look forward to having time to explore the character of some of Scotland’s many islands; to learning more about weather, tides and wildlife, and to challenging ourselves in various ways. How easy will it be, for example, to spend maybe ten weeks in a small tent on basic campsites this wet summer? (Kath: I will miss hot baths. Nigel: I will miss our over heated house !) Our short Scottish trip last year taught us lots of useful lessons: never underestimating the changeability of the winds round North-West Scotland; always carrying more than enough food in the kayaks in case of getting stranded on an island for a while, and avoiding Great Skuas at all costs are just some of them. So here we are, all packed and raring to go before the evenings get darker any earlier. We hope that if it’s as wet in Scotland as it has been here today that it will also be as windless for some break-me-in- again-gently sea kayaking. Many of you are also doing exciting things in the next few weeks and we’ll really look forward to exchanging stories later in the year but please give us some sneak previews on here for now! Take care! Have fun!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Only 5 days to go

Plans are now being finalised, packing up is under way and good-byes being said

Friday, 15 May 2009

Our agenda

This site is still under construction

Nigel and Kathy’s plans for 10 week tour of Scottish Islands and Highlands

Please be aware that these are rough outline plans and may change due to weather or ferry sailings. After August, timings may well be different.

We aim to use the car only to move ourselves from base to base. Once at a base we will kayak and walk. We want to complete some challenging routes on the mountains and sea.

We will use Cal-Mac ferries to link the islands.

We will live simply using basic campsites or wild camping as much as possible, with occasional “pit-stops” to stock up and get clean.

Sunday August 2nd


Ferry from Ardrossan at 3.15 pm. 6 hour journey to ferry. Lochranza campsite base 01770 830273

Walking/ scrambling and kayaking

Sunday August 9th

Gigha Islay Colonsay

Ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig. Drive to Tayinloan on Kintyre. Paddle round Gigha (there is a ferry). Continue to Oban.

Sunday August !6th


Paddles to Lismore, Seil. Easdale, Luing, etc + inland lochs

Sunday August 23rd

Barra in the Outer Hebrides

Ferry from Oban. Kayaking. Return Lochmaddy/ North Uist to Skye.

Sunday August 31st


Walking/ scrambling. Paddles- Loch Coruisk/ Raasay/ Isleornsay

Sunday September 6th


Knoydart/ inland lochs: Morar, Shiel, Mullardoch/ Rhum/ Arisaig

Sunday September 13th

Torridon/ Ullapool area

Kayaking/ walking: Suilven, Stac Pollaidh

Driving North to Thurso.

Sunday September 13th


Sunday September 26th

Shetlands- finishing at Northern tip Muckle Flugga

October 4th

Aviemore/ Loch Ericht/ Fife/ Edinburgh/ Farne islands

Return: mid-Oct

Thursday, 23 April 2009

This site will keep you informed about our progress as we tour round Scotland, we hope to be able to add news and pictures of our journey.