Claonaig to Lochranza and back again

Looking towards to Arran from SkipnessUnbelievably, it is midsummer 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. Yet here we are passing the longest day of the year, when darkness is scarcely seen.  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.

Claonaig to Lochranza ferry

Claonaig to Lochranza ferry

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.

Approaching Lochranza

Approaching Lochranza

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.

Into the wind

Into the wind

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.

Siesta time

Siesta time

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.

Skipness Castle

Skipness Castle

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 show off 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!

Heading home

Heading home

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 eavesdrop 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.

Across the water

Scenic Inverkip Power Station

Scenic Inverkip Power Station

This blog was named after a commonly used expression where I live, ie “across the water” which refers to the other side of the River Clyde, where industry and (some) civilisation exist. Of course, people on the other side similarly refer to the Cowal Peninsula as being “across the water”, especially as the principal means of getting here is by ferry. So, with that in mind, it is notable that the one thing that Alan and I had not yet done was kayak across the water. Which makes this blog a bit of a fraud really!

We’ve often been asked if we have paddled over to the other side and have responded with expressions of fear of: conditions, stealth tankers, speeding powerboats and – my own personal worst nightmare – suddenly emerging nuclear submarines. In view of the fact that the latter are unlikely to announce their activities over the VHF airwaves, I have harboured visions of my small kayak being hoisted aloft by the hulking mass of a surfacing Trident submarine, only to tumble into the roiling, turbulent waters created by same, never to be seen again – as I’m sure the Royal Navy/MoD would cover their tracks and erase all record of the incident (I really must stop watching Jason Bourne movies). The response we have received from others, however, has been in the vein of, “What’s the big deal?”, so yesterday we decided to find out.

Conditions were perfect, a complete 180 degree turnaround from the weather of last weekend which saw howling gales and cancelled ferries. Gorgeous autumn sunshine beckoned us to come out to play, so we set off for Inverkip and kept a sharp eye out for other vessels and anything resembling a periscope. Being as the season for pleasure craft seems to be over, we scarcely passed another boat of any description. It was like crossing the Sound of Gigha all over again.

Arran mountains

Arran mountains

Yesterday’s trip was especially enjoyable for me as I have recently had to contend with a bout of optic neuritis. I know, I’d never heard of it either. Suddenly, I lost a fair chunk of vision in my right eye, like the lights had been dimmed. I couldn’t see colours well and had blind spots. All fairly distressing, as you can imagine. And, when you start losing vision, you don’t automatically assume that you will get it back again. Fortunately, the optic nerve is capable of mending and, with a renewed and urgent focus on a healing diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds), I am pleased to report that my vision started returning late last week. It’s not 100% yet, but things are looking very good indeed (in every sense). Before I understood my condition, and as I contemplated the worst, it’s interesting to note that I didn’t find myself panicking about not being able to work any more (sorry, customers). I was singularly panicked by the prospect of not being able to get out in my kayak. Funny that.

Snoozing Seal

Snoozing Seal

We said hello to Inverkip, paddling north a little past the Marina, before deciding to head back well in advance of darkness falling. Our seal count was just the one, which only added to my concerns about their diminishing numbers. But it was nice to see him/her poking his/her nose out the water regardless.

Now we can say we’ve done it – we have faced down our fears and paddled across the open waters of the Clyde, and lived to tell the tale.