"Gales - force 5, increasing gale force 6, 7 locally. Winds SW, backing S. Visibility good with occasional rain. Sea state moderate, locally rough. Wimpy kayakers planning to go the Treshnish Isles are advised to seek medical advice first - - - "
Hmm - well, maybe the last bit wasn't part of the formal Shipping Forecast, but it was certainly the bit we wimps added as we enjoy paddling calm seas with wave heights not exceeding 2.75 cms! So it looked like going out to the Treshnish was a bad idea then! But, we have the time off work and we have the ferry booked from Oban and we have the food and (more importantly) the drink all bought, so what do we do?
Well - after enough e-mail correspondence to use most of the available bandwidth in SW Scotland, we decide to go to Oban and see if we can run out round Lismore - oh, and we'll take the river-boats as well, just as back-up in case we can't even do that.
All the best plans are flexible. This one certainly is - - -
So, 3 sea-boats are loaded on the Land Rover - two river boats find their way (somehow) on top and one goes inside with the rest of the mountain of kit and somehow we add ourselves as well and off we go. Apart from breaking a ratchet strap and nearly losing one of the river boats on the Loch Lomond road, the journey is uneventful - oh, did I mention we are running 3 hours late? Remembering to cancel the ferry booking on the way up, we arrive in Oban and discover that Ganavan camp-site is now a posh chalet park and no, we can't leave the vehicle.
Hmmm - there is a slip on the esplanade by the war memorial. That'll do. Quick call to the Police to advise that there will be a vehicle left there for three days results in the info that its all metered parking so would we like to leave the vehicle in the free long-stay car-park near the sports centre? Cop person is adamant about meters so I give up debating the fact that there are no signs, no meter and no tickets on parked cars and move the Landy to the long-stay which is just off the main road on the way in from the Taynuilt side. Nice little walk back and we launch - finally! (Launching from the Puffin Dive Centre would have been a better option - we find later).
The crossing to Lismore is bumpy and lumpy and we have a little fun with the ferry before settling in for the slog across. The plan is to pass the lighthouse at the SW of Lismore and head up the West coast in search of shelter from the forthcoming gale but it's becoming obvious that our various delays have a cumulative effect and our next problem is daylight. Or the lack of it. So a cunning plan is hatched to land at Dun Chruban where a small bluff offers shelter for the next day and being on Lismore means we have options if the weather proves too bad the next day.
The site proves excellent, if a little further to carry boats than is ideal - good shelter - fire wood if needed and running water so we enjoy the evening and have an early night. Ok - earlyish - which is enlivened by a superb downpour and those gales have arrived.
We rise late and view the sea from all possible angles and decide that an early afternoon start will catch the best of the tides to push us North so we head out in some interesting seas and make it thro the gap at Rubha Fiart as the tide turns and the remains of the gale and the north flowing tide pushes us nicely up towards Bernera where we stop for a break and wait for enough water to pass between it and Lismore.
The run NE is a pleasant one with some fascinating rock formations, seals etc etc and its also worth mentioning that the decision to camp where we did was a good one seeing as how the intended stop point at Bernera would have been just a little difficult. Grogan Dubh could offer an interesting place to camp though, with a few quarry ruins and a pier. Castle Coeffin could be another alternative, or the bays on Rubha Ban on the NW tip. We're still a bit worried about the weather though so we end up on the East of Eileen Ramsay overlooking Port Ramsay. Port Ramsay's nightlife seems to revolve around people putting their lights on and there certainly seems little point in visiting in search of entertainment. Anyway, we're self-sufficient and there isn't a pub on Lismore.
We're on the water early morning, again catching tide to push us up and round to view the magnificent Castle Stalker and then down Lynn of Lorn via a coffee stop at Port Appin's hotel, the Pierhouse Hotel. It's a nice hotel -a very nice hotel - an extremely nice hotel in fact, although it has to be said that "highland hospitality" is a little lacking as we're not allowed in until the formal opening time and are required to stand outside in the rain for 20 mins, while the staff chat to each other inside.
Once we do get in, even then we're not exactly overwhelmed with welcome. Subsequent visitors are more warmly received, but then they do arrive in a chauffeur driven Merc. A request for bacon rolls is refused as "we've finished breakfast" - (do you have bacon - do you have rolls - have you ever heard of customer service?). But the coffee is good and so is the chowder. Somewhat warmer, and having decided that the price of a meal would provide food for a third world country for a week, we move on though the standing waves by Glas Eilean from the outflow of Loch Creeran and pull into the bay at Camas Nathais which could offer a site for the night. I'll be back in the area on business in a few weeks, and will be looking for a hotel. Guess where I won't be staying.
Rain helps us decide that a return to Oban is the better option so a bouncy crossing through the tail of the Falls of Lora running out of Loch Etive finds us back in Oban dodging the ferry again. A quick load and a visit to the Divers Camp Site at Laggan (very nice indeed - they have a bunk-house as well, for future ref) and a visit to the delights of an excellent curry emporium is followed by a few beers and bed. I suppose we could have driven round to the Pierhouse Hotel. Naturally, we didn't.
We check out the Puffin Dive Centre (very friendly folk!) the next day. The Dive Centre indicated that they were relaxed about people leaving cars there and using their slip as a start point for trips in this area. It would be politic to ask permission of course, and no doubt it would help to make a purchase in their extremely well stocked shop. Lots of diving kit seems to translate across to kayaking. On the way home we stop off at the Awe which provides a nice end to a great weekend.
Apart from the couple with 2 boats on the car who decided Port Appin's private foreshore (since when was a foreshore private?) wasn't a good launch, we saw no other paddlers at all. Wonder why?
Oh yes - "Gales - force 5 etc - - - - ". There should have been 4 of us and one decided to play safe and stay home. Tim, Dave and I had a great time. Even if moving my loaded boat nearly killed them every time we did it.
Treshnish next year - maybe?
Mike Buckley - 2003
"For Treshnish read Lismore" - Tim Dawsons' view of the trip ……
(Added December 2004)
Maybe this doesn’t say a lot for the eyesight of those concerned, being Mike, Dave Stewart and Tim on a long weekend in mid September. It’s been a lasting ambition of mine to reach the exposed spatter of small islands between five and eight miles off Mull’s west coast. The forecast, however, dictates that it’s not to be. Mike would probably tell you never to plan a trip with me along, as to do so guarantees a gale. Never mind, we’re heading for Oban with plenty to go at, even our river boats with us just in case the weather gets really dire.
We head north west out of Oban and know we’re pushed for daylight. We are also aware of the approaching weather and need to make the exposed five mile crossing of the Firth of Lorne with haste. For the time being, humpy Kerrera hides us from the wind whilst a MacBraynes steamer teases us with her wash. The plan is to reach the south tip of Lismore and camp a little way up the nine mile long island’s west coast.
As we lose the protection of Kerrera, a steady chop brushes at us from the south west and our left, the odd white horse to be seen. It can be alarming at first running parallel the waves, but on a longish crossing like this a rhythm sets in ~ blade into the face of the wave, follow through with a slight lean to windward and keep a steady paddle stroke.
Half way across and we’re starting to lose the light. We know from the map that the first three miles of the west coast will offer us no campsite, but our luck is in. A bluff appears on the nearer coast with a flat sward down wind of it. Ever so slightly we alter course and race against the gathering night.
In the dusk we land and drag our laden boats up to the grass through a bog which sucks at our feet. Rewarding in its own way though, studded with purple hairbells and the single-flowered white grass of Parnassus.
There is just enough flat ground, out of the wind, for each of our tents. Dave, organised to the last, has his stove going immediately. Soon contented cooking, eating noises emerge from the tents. We retire to the promised rain battering the flysheets. The strange contentment of being snug in your pit when the weather is asserting its presence.
We rise late on the Saturday. Mike and I have long relaxed breakfasts whilst from Dave’s abode (he was working through the night before) there is no sound. Time to explore the nearby farm buildings of Dalnarrow, with the sadness of wallpaper hanging in shreds.
The weather is bright now and decidedly breezy. We battle out into a 4 – 5 south westerly which tears at our paddles, and having waited for the tide are able to squeeze through the narrows at Rubha Fiart and round onto the west side of the island. Downdraughts pluck at us from over the cliffs but the wind is mainly behind us, so we make rapid progress to the narrows at the back of Bernera Bay. We’re none too keen on rounding the exposed west tip of Bernera, so this time we wait for the incoming tide to open the way through to Rubh’ Aird.
Through the gap and we’re in unfamiliar territory now, the lights of the Glen Sanda superquarry blink at us across Loch Linnhe. I remember the mid eighties when planning permission was sought for this, with rumours of hidden chambers for redundant nuclear subs. The flat grass of the little quarry harbour at Grogan Dubh is somewhat tempting as a campsite, though the cows are a little close for comfort. Moving on, the cliff scenery of Lismore’s outer coast is spectacular. Strange stalagmite – like formations ooze down into the water. Lismore, translating as “The great garden”, is made entirely of limestone, hence these water sculptured bosses decorating the cliffs. We pass the decidedly Welsh – sounding Castle Coeffin, a 13th century ruin built by the MacDougals of Lorne on the site of a Viking fortress. There is an ancient tidal fish trap at its foot.
Onward again and soon we must camp. We pass through a half dozen small islands which might provide a pitch, but are not ideal and we continue on round Rubha Ban, the north west tip of Lismore. Once again with a smidgeon of daylight to spare, we land on the ungrazed Eilean Ramsay and batter down just enough vegetation to make room for our tents. The less-than-lively terrace of Port Ramsay faces us across the water but is not exactly inviting.
It’s an earlier start on Sunday morning and soon we’re leaving Lismore’s coast and heading for Castle Stalker with the last of the flow tide. I used to know the owners of this tiny castle island, but today there’s nobody in. We circle and point our boats south west along the mainland shore with thoughts of the fleshpots of Port Appin.
The Port Appin Hotel lets us in (eventually) but staff don’t fall over themselves to be hospitable. Which perhaps is understandable as we sit dripping sea water onto their chairs and floor. Nevertheless coffee and soup are most welcome, and prod us out again, down and round into the overfalls spewing from Loch Creran. These standing waves, formed by wind blowing against tide, are not fun like those on rivers. The day is grey and drizzling now and we push on down the shore and round Rubha Fion-aird then through the gloom into the wide sandy mouth of Camas Nathais for a spot of lunch, al fresco this time.
Dunstaffnage Bay looks an inviting camp from two miles away as we round Rubha Garbh-Aird. However, when we land there, the presence of the large marine research building imposes on our sense of wilderness. Not just that but the possibility of a curry in Oban that night is exercising our minds. We beat a retreat back to the “metropolis”, wring ourselves out and beer helps us plan the next venture.
Tim Dawson - 2003