Archive for the ‘Puffins’ Category
I’ve just signed up for the 2013 West Wales Sea Kayak Meet, organised by Mike Mayberry in his native Pembrokeshire. This is an informal get-together to paddle socially, with all proceeds going to related charities. I took part in last year’s event, and helped run a couple of the trips. I’m looking forward to this year’s trip, which is from 21st-23rd June. More info here, if you’re interested in joining us.
Various residents of Skomer Island, and their homes.
We had planned to visit Skokholm, the island in the image above. However, the wind was quite strong and there was a rolling Atlantic swell which was kicking up the local tide races considerably…so we opted for a more conservative option, a paddle to the much nearer Skomer Island.
Skomer has a huge population of puffins, razorbills and guillemots. They all seemed to be out and about, soaking up the sun.
Back from a great weekend of paddling in Pembrokeshire. More to follow…
My photos and writing appear in two publications this month…
* I contributed photos to an article on identifying sea birds in Ocean Paddler magazine.
* I contributed an article and photos outlining eight great offshore paddles to Canoe Kayak UK magazine.
I hope these contributions are of interest…
Pictured below is St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and Scolt Head Island in Norfolk…both feature in the CKUK article.
‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ – Her Majesty The Queen.
Long to reign over us…
This fellow’s take-off was much more impressive than what followed. He got caught up in the gusty draughts in the cliff gulley and zig-zagged seawards out of control, barely avoiding the walls with manic flapping. In fact, I suspect that was what he meant to do…
I’ve just been sorting through old files and have found a large pile of old magazine articles that have never been posted here. I’ll put some up in the weeks to come; this one was published (2004?) in the now-defunct ‘Paddles’ magazine. Hope it’s useful/ interesting.
Mingulay and the Bishop’s Isles
What care we though, white the Minch is?
What care we for wind or weather?
Let her go boys; every inch is
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.
Mingulay Boat song, composed 1938
Mingulay? Bishop’s Isles? What? Where? Mingulay is the largest of the Bishop’s Isles, which are themselves the southernmost outliers of the Outer Hebrides. Viewed on a map, the Outer Hebrides resemble a curving spine of some prehistoric dinosaur. The Bishop’s Isles form the tail, flicking out into the open expanses of the Sea of the Hebrides. For sea kayakers, these Isles represent nothing short of wish fulfilment; superlative scenery and wildlife, and even better, the chance to paddle right out to the most exposed and remote margins ofBritain.
Most folk will have heard of the island of St Kilda, world famous for its inaccessibility, immense cliffs and huge sea bird populations; perhaps even more famous for being inhabited against all odds until final abandonment in the 1930s. Mingulay is much less well known, but bears close similarity. Like St Kilda it is difficult to visit and is guarded on three sides by cloud reaching cliffs harbouring a huge sea bird population. Like St Kilda, it had a well-established community which departed early in the twentieth century, leaving a deserted settlement. Unlike St Kilda however, today it remains uninhabited year-round.
Paddling south from the large inhabited Isle of Barra, there are five main islands. Vatersay is reached first, and is populated and connected to Barra by causeway. Next is Sandray, then Pabbay, then Mingulay and finally Berneray. After this there is only ocean…the Isles have gone by various names, but ‘Bishop’s Isles’ is most common and stems from their sixteenth century ownership by the Bishop of the Isles.
Getting Out There
The Edge of the World doesn’t come easily, quickly or cheaply. Your starting point is the mainland port of Oban. Those familiar with the West of Sctland will need no introduction to the ferry company of Caledonian acBrayne. As the rhyme goes,
“The Good Lord above made the Earth and all that it contains
Except the Western Isles, for they are all MacBrayne’s”
Calmac sail to Castlebay on Barra most days of the week, taking about six hours. The latter half of the voyage is across the exposed waters of the Minch strait, whence over-the-side vomiting may be encountered. Taking a car is expensive and unnecessary. Calmac charge about £20 each way for foot passengers and another £5 for you to carry or ‘trolley’ your sea kayak right onto the car deck. On arrival you can launch right into the water beside the ferry, or camp outside the Police Station (no, really). Castlebay has a good supermarket and is the place to stock up for your trip. There are no more shops southwest of here, until you reach Brazil!
The Isles form a chain, each being no further than two miles apart from one another. From Castlebay direct to Mingulay is only 12 miles. They are however exposed to wind and swell from all sides, and can strong tidal flows can be generated in the Sounds between them. Before setting out, you need several guaranteed days of calm weather and seas. Spare a thought for the group of sea kayakers from northwest England who spent an unscheduled week stuck on Pabbay in May of this year, before being extricated by the Castlebay lifeboat. The Isles may be very near to Castlebay, but if the weather turns against you, ‘near’ becomes a relative concept.
Outside communication is limited. There is no mobile phone reception from Castlebay southwards (teenagers in your group will slowly go insane). VHF radios will be able to pick up Stornoway Coastguard’s useful weather and maritime safety bulletins, but these get harder to receive when sheltered among the Isles. Contacting them yourself is a lost cause with handheld VHF. The seas are quiet, with only the occasional fishing boat to be seen. It’s pretty lonely out there. This is why you came, right?
Perhaps it isn’t quite so lonely and quiet. The Isles may not be inhabited by humans, but they have plenty of residents. In the waters around, seals and porpoise are common, and encounters with whales are not unheard of. Heading south from Barra, the skies become increasingly thick with sea birds. Cormorants and Shags (Shags are the thinner greener ones) fish from every rock above the surface. Both Common and Black Guillemots are there (no, we didn’t know there were two types, either) and the Isles are home to 15% of Europe’s population of Razorbills. Skuas (‘Bonxies’) nest on the hills of Mingulay and fiercely harass anyone unfortunate enough to wander into their territory. Gannets dive-bomb the seas with their daunting speed and mass. The Puffin, everybody’s favourite sea bird…spotting your first pair of puffins on the paddle south is always exciting. Very soon after, the novelty has worn off and the skies are so thick with the little blighters that you can literally swat them out of the air with a paddle swing. Some numbers; the Isles support about 10 000 puffins, 45 000 razorbills, 60 000 guillemots…take a clothes peg.
A further thought…perhaps the most numerous locals are that most deadly and evil of all beasties, the Scottish midge. Take a head net? The good news is that days when the breeze drops enough for the little b+st+rds to fly freely are rare indeed!
Vatersay is only a mile from Castlebay. It forms the southern edge of the bay and its sandy coves may be your first stop-off from Castlebay. Vatersay is linked by causeway to Barra, with a population of about 90. If you find yourself on Vatersay with time to kill, explore the beaches and dunes which link the two halves of the Isles in a 500 metre wide strip. The glorious white beaches here (like all of those in the region) are composed from ground down seashells. Nestled among the dunes is a memorial marking the mass grave of 350 passengers of the ‘Annie Jane’. These emigrants were sailing to the New World in 1853, when a storm wrecked the ship in the bay. Also to be found among the dunes are the remains of old cars and household appliances, an unfortunately common sight in the inhabited parts of the Western Isles. Heading south of Vatersay, this is it…you are now leaving the inhabited world behind.
Sandray is only a mile from Vatersay across the Sound of Sandray, and is aptly named. The entire eastern part of the island is composed of massive sand dunes, linking two beaches on opposite sides. There are no major cliffs on Sandray, but the rough and indented coast is well worth exploring. If you have time to explore inland, try crossing the island by the central valley and ‘bealach’ (pass), or perhaps ascend to the dramatic ruins of a galleried ‘dun’ (fort) perched on the west flanks of Cairn Ghaltair, the highest hill. Although Sandray is the nearest of the uninhabited Isles to Barra, it is generally agreed to be the least visited. Spend a night in gloomy Glen Mor, camped among the scattered and broken remnants of past settlements; if you don’t feel spooked, you are braver folk than us.
Pabbay is reached by a more serious three mile crossing, directly exposed to the Atlantic swell. The best landing spot is Bagh Ban, the almost Caribbean white sands on the eastern side. Behind the beach are more dunes, where excavations have revealed a Bronze Age settlement. A rocky burial mound has a metre-long decorated stone laid upon it; this Pictish inscribed stone is almost unique to the Western Isles, being more usually found in far-away Orkney and Shetland. Pabbay’s west coast is much more impressive than Sandray’s, should the weather be good enough. The highlight is the ‘Arch Wall’, an enormous overhanging cliff of smooth granite.
From Pabbay, it is two miles further across Caolas Mhiughlaigh (the Sound of Mingulay) to Mingulay itself. The excitement mounts as you approach the landing beach on the eastern coast; the skies thicken with puffins from the colony on the northern edge of the bay, and the resident seal colony swim out to greet you. Keep a lookout for the tide races which can sometimes make approaching the Isle awkward, and be aware that landing and launching may be a problem with swell from the east.
Was it worth all the fuss? Oh yes. Among the dunes facing the beach is the old village, which is remarkably intact. The thick walls of abandoned blackhouses stand proud against the encroaching sand, which is slowly but inexorably burying the whole settlement. Two larger buildings stand separate from the village; the Priest’s house had its roof blown clean off in the ‘90s and is now ruinous, whilst the schoolhouse has been re-roofed and is used by occasional visiting shepherds.
Behind the village, the fields are still – inexplicably – clearly delineated and clear of weeds, and the remnants of an old mill can be found beside the main burn. Heading up the hill towards the obvious pass, a genuinely heart stopping sight awaits those fit enough to ascend to the top. As you close on the cleft, you feel the breeze rising from the western side of Mingulay, and carried on it is the screeching noise and dank stench of a billion defecating auks. You have reached the cleft of Bulnacraig. Below your feet are eight hundred feet of air, a deep cleft walled in by some of the largest and sheerest cliffs in the British Isles. You’ve never seen anything like this.
If you have a guaranteed period of settled weather, you’ll want to camp here and explore further. The best of all possible worlds would be to have calm enough seas for the paddle around Mingulay and Berneray. Unsurpassable caves, clefts, stacks…incredible. As you pass the three hundred foot high stack of Lianamuil, spare a thought for the villagers who used to climb it in search of tasty seabird. This paddle offers simply the most staggering sights that the U.K.’s (World’s?) coast can offer. Go see.
Berneray is the final island, mainly notable for the Barra Head lighthouse which sits atop the south facing cliffs. Landing is awkward due to the lack of a beach, but a small jetty can be reached a mile across the Sound of Berneray from Mingulay. A track winds up to the lighthouse, beside which the remains of Dun Briste (much depleted for the lighthouse construction) can be explored. Should it be possible, the paddle around the exposed side of Berneray, Barra Head, is a final treat. This is the place. The World ends here.
The tide begins flowing east between the Isles 5 hours and 5 minutes after High Water at Ullapool. It begins flowing west 1 hour and 40 minutes before High Water at Ullapool. In the Sounds of Sandray and Mingulay, the tide flow reaches 3 knots at springs. In the Sound of Pabbay, the tide reaches 4 knots. The east-going flows are stronger and tidal races can be encountered at the eastern end of each sound.
Berneray is slightly different. In the Sound of Berneray and south of Berneray, tide flows reach 2.5 knots. The tide begins flowing east 6 hours before High Water at Ullapool, and flows east for 4 hours and 15 minutes. It begins flowing west 1 hour and 45 minutes before High Water at Ullapool, and flows west for 8 hours and 15 minutes.
Not Ready Yet?
The paddles described here are best suited to experienced sea kayakers, or at least, groups supervised by those who know what they’re doing. If you want to sample the fantastic sea kayaking of the area without the commitment, a visit is still recommended. The coasts and beaches of Barra offer many sheltered options for day trips with civilisation still in sight. Those wanting to dip their toe under supervision may want to contact Clearwater Paddling (www.clearwaterpaddling.com) who have a base in Castlebay and run guided trips. Even if you don’t feel up to the paddle to Mingulay, a day trip on a local fishing boat is recommended…see the Tourist Office near the ferry terminal.
‘Western Isles Pilot’ by Martin Lawrence, Imray Norie books
‘Mingulay’ by Ben Buxton – unfortunately out of print and hard to find!
‘Barra and the Bishop’s Isles, Living on the Margin’ by Keith Branigan and Patrick Foster
‘The Scottish Islands’ by Hamish Haswell-Smith
‘Admiralty Chart 2769, Barra Head to Greian Head’ – detailed chart of the Isles
‘Imray Chart C65, Crinan to Mallaig and Barra’ – overview chart
Ordnance Survey Explorer 452 – Barra & Vatersay
‘Scottish Sea Kayaking’ by Doug Cooper and George Reid
www.calmac.co.uk – ferries
www.lonely-isles.com – great intro
www.nts-seabirds.org.uk/properties/mingulay/mingulay.aspx - birdlife
www.ukseakayakguidebook.co.uk/mingulay - photos.
www.ukseakayakguidebook.co.uk/forum - advice
http://web.ukonline.co.uk/mountains/barra5.htm - photos
www.isleofbarra.com – contacts for boat charters, accommodation, etc.
The following article is written by Heather and was previously published in Canoe Kayak UK magazine…
…Shetland is the best Sea Kayaking destination in the UK
There! I’ve said it. I’ll even repeat it: Shetland is the best Sea Kayaking destination in the UK. Now, before you spit in horror and say something like, “Well she obviously hasn’t been to (insert your favourite spot here)” and flick past these pages in disgust, please just pause. What is it you like about sea kayaking? What makes you keep on loading that boat onto the car and going down to the sea? Make a quick list…let’s see how many of your boxes are ticked, as I give you some flavours of the five weeks I spent exploring the nooks and crannies of Shetland’s 900 mile coastline, earlier this year.
Arriving at the ferry port in Shetland’s capital Lerwick, we drove north-west to Braewick campsite through damp grey weather and bleak countryside. As we reached the western shores, the barren-ness was replaced by dramatic views of precipitous cliffs and steep cobbled beaches. Pitching our tent looking out to sea, our first paddle was obvious. We looked out to a cluster of tall sea stacks and spires called Da Drongs, battered by a westerly swell.
Parking the car beside Hillswick Seal and Otter Sanctuary, we watched a baby seal follow his yellow dungaree clad ‘mum’ around, begging for fish. On the water, we paddled past increasingly steep cliffs pocked with caves that invited further exploration, and then around the headland of Hillswick Ness into the Atlantic swell. A large lazy rolling swell, of the kind that on a windless day glides sleepily and glassily beneath you, its peaceful heaving only interrupted by reefs and cliffs…awakening waves of turquoise and white foam whose roars drone through your body before they collapse in a froth of fizzing bubbles.
We struck out to The Drongs themselves, sitting like spires from a Wild West canyon. Sea birds wheeled around; fulmars gliding stiff winged across wave tops and gannets plunging with sudden splashes. This was just day one.
Location, Location, Location
Maps of Britain very rarely show Shetland in its true position north of Orkney. Instead, it is generally stuck in a box somewhere east of Inverness. Shetland is actually 130 miles north of John O’Groats, the most northern extremity of the British Isles. It takes an overnight ferry journey from Aberdeen to get here, and the journey to Aberdeen is an undertaking in itself from most places south of the border.
Getting to Shetland certainly requires an investment of time, but once you’ve arrived, the entire multitude of paddling possibilities are within easy striking distance. It’s only an 80 mile drive (including two short ferry crossings) from Sumburgh Head in the south, to Hermaness at the north tip of Shetland. The location puts the islands right out there. Atlantic Ocean to the west. North Sea to the east and south. Head north and there is only some pack ice to stop you paddling across the North Pole and all the way to Siberia. Norway is closer than Edinburgh.
Swell can come from any or every direction. Tides, although not huge in range, in some places create substantial races and flows. Despite the very real exposure that this location implies, the fact that the Shetlands are a chain of islands means that there is generally a sheltered option to be found. A number of long inlets – ‘Voes’- also offer sheltered paddling.
The culture of the islands is one of a life lived intimately with the sea. For a Shetlander, commuting to work by ferry is often a way of life. As a kayaker, you will find yourself having endless conversations with people whose life has for generations revolved around the sea and who are genuinely interested in the antics of sea kayakers. The rich waters are full of life and have sustained 5000 years of continuous human occupation. We might think of these islands as being on the extremity of things, yet archaeological sites on a dramatic scale suggest otherwise! Mousa Broch is a perfectly preserved 2000 year old tower, one of at least 120 around the islands. These stand out as landmarks along the coast; navigational aids and great picnic spots.
Shetland belonged to Norway until 1469. The Nordic influence is still clearly felt in place names, family names and the local dialect. In recent times, North Sea oil has brought communal wealth via the Sullom Voe oil terminal; this has funded eight sports centres for a population of 22,000! There are numerous museums and interpretive centres where, we were welcomed by friendly and knowledgeable Shetlanders who were proud to share their heritage with us.
Let’s Rock and Roll
Shetland’s geology is of international importance and has European Geopark status. Some of the oldest rocks in Britain can be seen, 2500 million year old Lewisian Gneisses. The major faults which created mainland Scotland’s landscape continue here. This complex geology is reflected in the complex coastline. Erosion wears away softer rocks, slices up through fault lines and undermines even the hardest of rocks. The result is, steep cliffs riddled with caves, geos, inlets, hidden channels and mazes, guarded by stacks and arches.
The most dramatically eroded coastline is that of the isle of Papa Stour; every few hundred metres of paddling brings another cave into view! Some are tiny crevices studded with sea anemones. Others snake back endlessly to open into vast caverns and amphitheatres, dramatically booming with swell and ringing with the calls of seabirds. To the north-west of Papa Stour, Fogla Skerry and Lyra Skerry sit exposed to tide and swell, riddled with tunnels. Lyra Skerry has two passages intersecting at right angles. Sitting underneath an island at a crossroads between two streams of flowing water is an experience which will stay with me. These are phenomenal places to explore, yet there is always a tension between the wish to linger and the anxiety about building tide and wind…
Walk on the Wild Side
Shetland has the highest concentration of otters in the UK, and we met them regularly. The squeaky baby otters who swam around our boats were a standout moment! Seals, common and grey, are ubiquitous, although they tend to be shyer than those in other areas. Perhaps they are wary because they are the main prey of the local pods of killer whales. Twenty-one of the twenty-four species of British seabirds breed there; we met our favourite, puffins, on most of our paddling trips. They nest in burrows and whirr in and out with beaks full of small sand eels, or stroll pompously along the ledges, cawing for all the world as if they had just heard a particularly juicy and shocking piece of gossip. The sea cliffs at Noss and Hermaness are home to vast gannet colonies. These birds, with two metre wing spans, glided en masse in dizzying circles over our kayaks. Combined with neck-achingly high cliffs, deafening croaks and the stench of fish, this spectacle made me feel quite queasy.
Here Be Monsters
Paddling back over glassy seas from the Out Skerries to Whalsay one morning, we were surrounded by hundreds of porpoises. This area is well known for sightings of cetaceans, congregating to feed on fish funnelled up through the strait by the tide. Porpoises are known as neesiks (meaning sneezies) in Shetland, due to the snuffle sound they make as they break the water’s surface. After half an hour we became quite blasé about their numbers and presence. Suddenly, a much larger ‘porpoise’ emerged…but kept on surfacing. We were looking at a minke whale! I cannot describe the awe that I felt being within touching distance of this, one of the smaller members of the whale family but nevertheless at least seven metres long and rearing significantly higher than us.
So, have I worn you down and convinced you? Perhaps your favourite paddling spot can supply you with some of the experiences I’ve described. But can it provide all of the above? If so, let me know, I want to go there too.
The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland Sea Kayaking by Tom Smith and Chris Jex. Yet another winner from Pesda Press, this indispensible guidebook includes masses of tidal flow data alongside knowledge from local experts to help you get the best out of your trip.
Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas – Orkney and Shetland Islands. Your best bet for visualising what the tide flows are doing.
Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions and Anchorages: Shetland Islands by Arthur Houston/ Shetland Islands Pilot by Gordon Buchanan. These are the two options if you are looking for a nautical pilot book. In truth, neither book is of much use to paddlers; they simply list sheltered anchorages. If you have to buy one (to look the part), the CCC one looks prettier.
Shetland: Island Guide by Jill Slee Blackadder and Iain Sarjeant – published by photographer Colin Baxter, the pictures in this guidebook will inspire you before you even start on the text.
www.shetlopedia.com – as usual, the internet knows everything. This website is an amazing source of information about everything Shetland.
www.ukseakayakguidebook.co.uk – useful information and advice.
The westernmost point of the Shetland Isles is the Isle of Foula, about 20 miles offshore. You can see the jagged outline on the horizon in the above photo, and indeed you can see this tall island from spots all over Shetland. We had to go there.
Our first attempt (in dense fog and heavy rain) was aborted an hour in, and we had to wait a week or so before it was good to go again. Heather hates the tedium of open crossings, and this one took much longer than it should have done, once an annoying and unexpected cross-tide kicked in. We eventually crawled into Foula’s tiny harbour, the only sheltered spot on the entire coast.
We spent several days exploring Foula, an amazing place. The western cliffs (‘Da Kame’, 375m) are only two metres lower than those on St Kilda, Britain’s highest…and they are much, much more vertical. Puffins burrow everywhere around the coast, and common seals are pretty common. This isle really belongs to the Great Skua, however. There are about 6000 of these piratical birds, better known as ‘Bonxies’. They divebomb intruders without mercy…
The Michael Powell film ‘The Edge of the World‘ was made here in the ’30s, well worth checking out on DVD. The film was loosely based on the evacuation of St Kilda, but whereas St Kilda’s population left their crofts, the folk of Foula chose to stay on, through to the present day. The 30ish remaining inhabitants have a reasonable claim to be the most isolated community in the UK. Their crofts are spread out thinly across the island and there are few services; no shops, an intermittent Post Office service (a desk at the back of a farmhouse) and a kirk. However, the islanders are determined to stay, having built their own airstrip. More than one birth in the past year, and a very hi-tech new school auger well for the future.
When the weather cleared, we had a choice of using this window to paddle beneath the vast western cliffs, or to head back to Shetland’s mainland. We took the decision to make the crossing; it was a shame to go but we didn’t know when we’d next get an escape opportunity, and anyway the large swell that we surfed for 20 miles would have made those cliffs interesting…we were safely back at the car in a fraction of the time of our paddle out.
I’m incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful friend and partner to share such experiences with; our tenth wedding anniversary is a fortnight from now.
The picture above is borrowed from a splendid blog about life on Fair Isle. I’ve just been enjoying some photos on the blog of this remote island in winter. But, given that one of my pet hates is blogs simply reporting what other blogs say (or websites about other websites, etc) I’d better offer something original…
We spent a week on Fair Isle during late summer. We planned to stay a few days, but ended up staying a week on this incredible lump of rock. It’s quite simply amongst the most remarkable places we’ve ever visited (and we’ve been around a bit); even after a month spent kayaking in the Shetland Isles, Fair Isle still wowed us.
What is so special about Fair Isle? It’s the most southerly of the Shetland Isles and among the most remote communities in the UK, being c25 miles from land in any direction. Tides rip past, making the crossing on the Good Shepherd IV ferry a somewhat vomitous experience. The island is surrounded by cliffs on all sides. The c65 residents are a remarkably multi-talented bunch. The Vicar is also a construction engineer project-managing the new Bird Observatory, the ferry skipper is also a talented folk singer and musician, one of his crew is a traditional boat builder, and so forth. They are also as welcoming a crowd as you’re ever likely to meet. They don’t live alone; the isle is famous for its enormous bird populations, with c40,000 puffins, for example. This is a Mecca for twitcher types; stray rare birds fetch up exhausted on Fair Isle and there are apparently folk way down south who will charter a plane at an hour’s notice to see them.
The paddle around the island is only about 10 miles, but is among the best day trips I’ve ever done. I went around twice, once alone and once with Heather, in rather lively conditions. Below are some notes I wrote about this fantastic paddle for someone else interested in making the trip…
We had no real info other than the Admiralty tide atlas (vague), the Pesda guidebook (vague) and the skipper telling us that the tides run stronger than the atlas says (which I see no reason to doubt). You have to just look at it and go; make it up as you go along, it’s really not such a bad way to do it. If there isn’t much swell, you can dodge the worst of the tide races by sneaking inshore, etc.
The north coast is the committing bit, as the tide runs strong quite close inshore – but it’s a short section of cliffs. Our second trip round was far too exciting coming around the Stacks of Skroo at the north end; we were idiots and didn’t bother to wait a couple of hours for slack water, figuring that we were happy to work our way up the tide races. That would have been fine, if the wind and swell hadn’t meant that the races around the north of the isle were breaking. Oops. We had to surf up a very fine line just offshore of the surf break on the stacks, and just inshore of the breaking race. Not ideal, very much WW paddling territory.
On both of my paddles, the west coast was remarkably sheltered. There are lots of places where you can take an ‘inshore’ route through gaps and tunnels and avoid the swell outside. The cliffs and geos are epic, as you probably guessed. The guidebook says that there is no hope of landing on the west side, but there were actually numerous beach-ish landing points sheltered from different directions, and even a few potential escape points towards the SW end of the west coast.
South coast has a tide race to paddle through/ against (where I met a shark), but this is the one point where the shore is low and accessible, if you’re not happy.
East coast is surprisingly committing; even though it’s not epic 5-600 foot cliffs like the other side, it’s still almost all cliffed out. We were surprised to find a large breaking tide race off Sheep Rock on our ‘rough’ paddle around. We completely avoided it by going through Sheep Rock, though – incredibly there are at least three huge parallel tunnels running under the 400 foot high monolith. I checked out the first one – it was breaking in there, and I came back out with my tail between my legs – but the second was clean and good to go, even with lively swell running. The tunnels all join up in the centre, deep under the rock! There is also some tidal liveliness off Buness in some conditions, but if needed you can simply avoid this by using the North/ South Landing.
Having finished, you’ll want to paddle right around all over again…
This is by far and away the most expensive photo I’ve ever taken. Whilst I was photographing my friend Steve on the River Dart yesterday, my waterproof camera bag (which was unsealed) rolled off a rock and into the river. Inside was my lovely Nikon 80-200 f2.8 lens (if you don’t understand the nerdy nomenclature, just understand that this is a very nice and very un-cheap toy), which is now not looking too happy or healthy.
No sea paddling in recent weeks, but hopefully I’ll get out soon. Today has excitingly been spent making notes on the tides of Sussex, part of ongoing work for Pesda Press for the proposed SE England guidebook. Oh well, below are a few randomly selected photos from our summer trip to Shetland, taken with said soggy lens…