Unbelievably, it is midspring already. I’ve barely adapted to the idea of not wearing my drysuit and fleece-wear, only recently having removed the pogies and handwarmers from my gear bag. The settled weather prevails and this past weekend we decided to visit the beautiful island of Arran, aka “Scotland in miniature”. There are many ways to approach Arran, including from Ayrshire and from Bute, but we decided to depart from the Kintyre peninsula, and cross the Kilbrannan Sound from Claonaig to Lochranza.
EDITOR's NOTE: The Islands of the Firth of Clyde are the fifth largest of the major Scottish island groups after the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. They are situated in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and Argyll. There are about forty islands and skerries, of which only four are inhabited and only nine larger than 40 hectares (99 acres).[Note 1] The largest and most populous are Arran and Bute, and Great Cumbrae and Holy Isle are also served by dedicated ferry routes. Unlike the four larger Scottish archipelagos, none of the isles in this group are connected to one another or to the mainland by bridges.
Alan and I had been doing our best not to fixate on the weather forecast which was predicting gusts of up to 29 mph. On conferring with our friends, we agreed to play matters by ear and make an assessment once we reached Claonaig. Certainly, it was a little breezy and we could see the odd white cap out on the Sound. Some discussion ensued and, lured by the beautiful scenery before us, it was democratically decided (after some pouting from Barrie) that we would see if we couldn’t at least cross over to Lochranza and, if the gusts increased as predicted, we could take the ferry back.
We put in at the ferry terminal, departing just ahead of the ferry itself. As it turned out, the crossing over to Lochranza saw us being pushed along by a nice little breeze with nothing untoward in the way of gustiness. The scenery ahead – the Arran mountains, with quaint Lochranza nestled on the shore – was a joy to behold and, indeed, Lochranza became even quainter as we neared.
After just over an hour’s paddling, we landed on the beach and made our way to a nearby cafe for a leisurely lunch in the sun. Kirsty had spent a large portion of the outward journey hating getting acquainted with Julia’s Pintail. A small skeg fix had since changed her view of it considerably and what had been a source of frustration had become a thing of desire. Love is fickle, even for kayaks.
On the return crossing, we set a course for Skipness Castle, which was north-east of our starting point. The wind had increased a bit as the day wore on, and we were now paddling into it. This made the going quite vigorous but I once again enjoyed having more interesting conditions to kayak in. This is becoming a trend.
Eventually, we reached the Kintyre shore and noticed that the water had started to turn a tropical turquoise as we approached the deserted sandy beach. We pulled our kayaks ashore and Alan and I started taking the obligatory kayaks-on-the-beach calendar shots, while certain of our number took the opportunity for a quick snooze or to work on their paddler’s tan. Fetchingly, this involves very brown hands and arms, with everything else a Scottish shade of white (and may yet ruin Kirsty’s forthcoming prom). It struck me as I viewed the kayaks arrayed along the beach that they really do seem like a part of the nature of things, resting on the shore in the manner of sea creatures – and not some motorised, pollution-belching atrocities, say.
We set off south-westwards and battled a very stiff wind back to the ferry jetty at Claonaig with Alan firstly taking the opportunity to practice his roll as we left the clear, balmy waters of the beach. I’ll confess that this segment of the journey became a bit of a slogfest, but I am pleased to note that I no longer develop wrist pain when paddling into the wind. The problem seems to have been cured by the advice of none other than Kirsty’s Dad (who’s quite a good paddler) who suggested I try a 60 degree feather. It works!
It wasn’t too long before we were re-encountering the ferry back at the jetty and a lone seal saw us off the water. With that, another day of beauty was etched into the memory banks.
Quite recently, I was in a hospital waiting room and I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between 2 fellow patients. One was asking the other if he had any plans to go away on holiday this year. The person who’d been asked responded that he hadn’t been “away” on holiday in 12 years, adding, “I’m out in the boat, you see”. And so it seems, every kayak trip is like a little holiday. It certainly beats queueing at airports.
I am Scottish and live “across the water” on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. In 2007, after many years of hillwalking, cycling and running, I took up sea kayaking – and I haven’t looked back. I am enthused and inspired by this activity – it contains everything I love about outdoor pursuits: physical challenge, peace, nature, scenery, new things to learn, new places to go, new people to meet, adrenaline (if you want it) and on and on.
In 2011, I turned my attention specifically to the traditions and tools of Greenland-style kayaking and now use a “skinny stick” exclusively. This has opened up a new world of skills and enjoyment, and I have had the great fortune to learn from two of the best skinny stickers in the world who now regularly include a stop on Scottish shores in their training calendar.