Friday, 22 May 2015

The Roof of Britain - The final episode! With Coastal Spirit and 'One BIG Adventure'

Helmsdale - Corpach

Day 17, 4 May, Helmsdale to Balintore, 49k

After having spent another rainy storm day (day 6...) off the water (5h in a Cafe.. thanks "Thyme and Plaice") - we now really needed good long days on the water so the blog lost its priority somewhat ...

Rested and well fed we paddle into a headwind along the coast to Brora. We seem to be crawling along, and it takes 3 hours to cover the first 13 km. Just before we reach Brora the wind drops – happy days! (Guess who said that?) We decide to make the 18km crossing to Tarbat Ness in the gentle NE swell. Our plan to land shortly after Tarbat Ness is destroyed by the swell pounding on various jetties. We prepare ourselves for a nightnav, dig out headtorches and have a quick food break. It is a fantastic evening with fantastic light and silver clouds – a stunning sunset-lit sea and landscape surrounds us as the light changes from one minute to the next. We cover about further 10 km, keeping an eye on the shore for possible landing spots. Just as it begins to get dark we spot a green light ahead and the shadow of a harbour wall. Shandwick Harbour / Balintore! Despite the fact we were all quite excited about the idea of a night nav, we are actually quite relieved to slip through the narrow entrance – Anita managing a wave well that tries to surf her into the harbor wall …
Boats out, tents up at 23.00, thanks Roger for the quick freeze dried meals :-), and bed just after midnight.

Days 18 – 20, 5-7 May, Balintore to Cromarty 13k
Up early the next morning to beat the wind to Inverness. The wind picked up early and as we reach Cromaty we decide to stay here and sit out the storm that is forecasted for the next two days. Great pizzas at Sutors Creek cafe and a very comfortable rental cottage are the perfect infrastructure to get ready for the next lap of trip to Inverness and the Great Glen.

Day 21 – 25, 8 – 12 May, Cromarty to Corpach – The Great Glen 42k + 57k + 32k
Thanks to another early start the tide carries us down the Moray Firth to Inverness. Just before the first lock we spot a Bottlenose Dolphin! Good bye East coast, we are in the Great Glen! Very soon - after 500 m - it becomes obvious we are more used to sea paddling than portaging ... and we destroy Roger’s trolley and learn the hard way there is no need to portage a swing bridge ;). Campsites in the Great Glen provide us with the luxury of showers, nice flat grassy patches for our tents and comfortable picnic areas, with even a floating pub to meet Sonja and Liz!

Loch Ness in mirror-like conditions seems endless. The vision of ice creams in Fort Augustus motivate us for the last couple of miles. Unfortunately the best it could deliver was from the local garage! Loch Oich – more interesting and very picturesque - and Loch Lochy in wind and deluging rain. By the time we reach Neptune’s Staircases we have become experts in portaging, but are nevertheless glad we pass the flight of locks downhill!

At the sealock at Corpach we have a short celebration jig in the pouring rain - we are back on the West coast and back on the sea!

190 km away from Skye Bridge and yet another low pressure and storms are forecasted. In the heavy rain and treading in the already very soggy grass by the locks we vote for accommodation in Smiddy's bunkhouse - another 2 days land-bound ...

With our end date drawing closer and closer it will take an extraordinary finish to reach Skye Bridge on May 16th - or even 15th because of the next front coming in.

(by Anita and Sarah)

The last three days …

Day 26, 13 May 2015 Corpach to Lochaline, 68k

We got our boats ready on the beach the night before for an “on the water for 06:00 start” – this means alarms at 04.30. Since we were staying in a hostel Roger cooked scrambled eggs (from his own chickens in Wales delivered by “Sonja express” – thanks Sonja!) and beans on toast. Yummy! We’ve a long way to go (190 km) and only 4 days left for the trip, with only 3 days before the weather is forecast to be horrendous again … A race against the weather!

Despite our efforts we’re off and on our way 15 minutes late … Paddling down to the Corran Narrows we have good tide flowing with us and we quickly catch this up and arrive early. Sadly though there isn’t much flow through the gap (no eddies for Tavi to play in ). We paddle on past Shuna Island and to the top of Lismore Island where we call into Port Appin for a very nice lunch with Damian’s parents …

Sarah’s skeg cord has snapped and after lunch she starts a repair.  It ends up being really difficult and takes over an hour.  Our lunch break turns into 3 hours, rather more than we’d hoped for! 

We set off eventually for the Sound of Mull, another 20 km on, passing first the north coast of Lismore with the view to the south slowly opening up. The tide is with us until the Sound but then it’s against us. Despite the fact that it’s now quite late we press on, camping next to an abandoned castle at Ardtornish Point just before Lochaline. It’s our largest distance to date … 68 km.
It is a beautiful spot and we enjoy our evening meal watching the porpoises play in the tidal stream close by.

Alarms are set for 04.30 again … we need to get going in good time to reach our goal – we’re to be ready and paddling at 06.00 again.

Day 27, 14 May 2015 Lochaline to Gortenachullish - Back of Kappoch, 74km

We’re early! Off paddling by 05.50 and making our way towards Tobermory on the Isle of Mull with the wind on our backs. At Tobermory we stop for the real essentials of life: water, egg and bacon rolls, and coffee. Mmmm.

Leaving the brightly coloured houses behind the wind drops and we round Ardnamurchan Point in a very light breeze. Yachts beyond out at Rum and Eigg show more wind and a very different direction. We paddle round the point into a light headwind … and here have a planning session afloat. The forecast from the café in Mull points us towards Arisaig (I knew visiting that café would be worthwhile!) instead of out to Eigg – our original plan.

We start the 20 km crossing and know the early finish for the day we’d hoped for has evaporated. We’re by now well used to crossings and settle into our usual 5 mins stop per hour – I even find one of my renowned rocket fuel bars to munch!

Shortly after leaving Adnamurchan Lighthouse we spot flocks of birds in the distance. As we move closer we are surrounded by hundreds of Manx Shearwaters, diving and circling around us. Later during the crossing we even see a Minke whale – what an amazing sight that makes a great day perfect!

We paddle on past the islands near Arisaig heading for the public campsite at Back of Kappoch. By our last kilometre we’re all pretty tired (maybe not Roger?), and I for one bizarrely have blisters on my heels as well as sore feet. It’s our longest paddling day (again!), 74 km.  We are rewarded by a great sunset from our tents and a wonderful view of white sandy beaches and the islands.

And I have to say a big thank you to Roger for the gnocchi he cooked that night as I was struggling with doing tidal planning for the next day …

Day 28, 15 May 2015 Gortenachullish Back of Kappoch,  to Skye Bridge, 48km

For me this was the hardest day of the expedition. Not it seems because my body’s tired – even Roger commented he found it hard to keep up with me at one point – but rather because my brain is fuddled by lack of sleep, which means it’s really hard to concentrate.

We’d negotiated a lie in – to 05.30, so I wake up at 03.30 instead. Nice one body – thanks! The forecast is for F4-6 increasing to 6-7 later in the day with the wind behind us from the south.

We start off paddling to Mallaig, 10 km to the north, making short work of it as we’re all surfing with the wind behind. We stop briefly for a snack. We paddle onto the Loch Nevis crossing – apparently called “Heaven”. The original plan is to work 2-3 km along the coast until the loch narrows and then cross. I suggest it looks good where we are and so we cross straight over. By the end of the crossing waves are hitting us from behind and the side and in my fuddled state I’m regretting the suggestion.

We paddle onto Loch Hourn and the crossing known as “Hell”. At this point if I’d have been alone I’d have got off the water as I feel really tired. I try and negotiate a shorter crossing by working along the coast in the same way as had been suggested at Heaven, but Roger’s not keen. I suspect that F6-7 forecast at 16:00 is in his mind. We decide to do the straight crossing to the Sandaig Islands: actually it’s only 6 km. This is where I discover it’s sleep I’m lacking rather than my body being tired, and I find I’m leaving Roger and the group behind and have to slow down …

It’s paddling I would normally have loved – ending with nice big waves near the islands with the odd brace needed here and there – and even feeling as I do, I manage to enjoy it!

We head then for some pylons beyond Kyle Rhea and I rally sufficiently to play briefly on the fast flow (note to self – definitely worth another visit!). Inquisitive seals come to check us out and see us out of the sound. The last bit as always feels furthest and the wind starts to pick up as we cross Loch na Beiste. But we eventually arrive at Skye Bridge before the wind really starts howling, and we head for a café.

Unloading the kayaks, it seems unreal that we have spent the last 4 weeks paddling in so many different conditions, the impressive wildlife and stunning scenery, sometimes pushing us to our limits. It will take a while to sink in …

We’ve done it – the Roof of Britain – well done all! It’s been a truly epic trip and we owe huge thanks to Roger for making it happen!

Back in the café I insist we are having 2nd lunch, (however the others are very happy with this!!) despite the fact that it’s 4pm! I know I’ll need another meal soon …

(by Tavi)

Many shared our enthusiasm during the last 4 weeks. We owe thanks to the people supporting us during the trip. Special thanks to:

-        Sonja, Craig and Barry for providing us with forecasts (even if the contents didn’t always please us ;) !) and other useful information.
-        Sonja for the amazing cake, eggs and more!
-        Willy for the much needed lift out of our “trap” in Smoo Cave
-        Everyone who donated – you helped Tavi raise more than £1300 for Alzheimer’s Research UK
-        last but not least Roger – for just everything!!

To read the first Blog of the expedition, have a look here

Roger would like to finally thank :

~ Hilleberg the tent maker for a solid solo tent
~ Kokatat paddling wear for reliable paddling kit
~ Sarah, Anita and Tavi for putting the hard work in, even when the final goal looked far away!


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