Highland Heat

Everyone knows that the west  of Scotland is wet and windy.  But not always. A southeasterly wind can dump all the cloud and  rain in the eastern highlands and then the west can be quite sunny, and even hot.

This seems to happen most often in May and June, which is the best time of year in the Highlands as the wildlife is exploding into life. Cuckoos everywhere, waders piping around the loch shores and the guttural croak of pairs of Red-throated divers as they fly down from their breeding lochs to the sea for a spot of lunch.

This year it was particularly hot for a spell in May. It rather caught me out because I only had loads of thermal type clothing and beach shorts were still bundled at the back of my sock drawer.

My attempt to paddle to Sandwood Bay near Cape Wrath were thwarted by a hefty swell which made the exposed sections of coast north of Handa island just a bit too hairy for my liking. So I had to settle for a day on the stunning little beaches of Handa island in the company of one of my favourite seabirds, the Great Skua (aka Bonxie). Their remarkably drab plumage means that they never get noticed by non-birders (unlike puffins for example), but their behaviour never ceases to exasperate. I have seen them take down and drown an adult herring gull, and come across another chewing its way through an adult Guillemot which I suspect it had brought down just before I came round the corner.

p1120462
Deceptively relaxed looking pair of Bonxie

P1120476.JPGSuperb remote camping as always.

p1120518
camp on loch Stack

Although sunny and astonishingly warm (21 degrees at 9am!), the SE wind was a bit too strong for comfortable sea paddling and would have been a bit tricky round some headlands. So I resorted to a circuit of Loch Maree, and my idiotically early start payed dividends with a fleeting view of a pine marten hunting along the shore of the Loch.

fast moving Pine marten
fast moving Pine marten

A fourteen mile flog up the north shore into the wind was a bit of a challenge but I managed to find a sheltered beach for lunch and a cooling swim. A red deer had the same idea.

Loch Maree
Loch Maree
Loch Maree Lunch stop
Loch Maree Lunch stop

Further south the wind eased off enough for me to venture into the heart of the Cuillins of Skye at the foot of Loch Coruisk, surely one of the most spectacular locations in Scotland. And even better at 27 degrees (although not so good in my thermal underwear).

Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk

Despite bright morning sunshine, which they usually shun, an otter was noisily munching its way through a crab as I silently approached.

Otter
Otter

Joined by Hezzer and Sharpy we camped at amazing Fidden Farm on the Ross of Mull for a few days. It continued basically warm and sunny , so I inflated ‘ Puffing Pig 2’ for the two of them to accompany me on a paddle round the island of Erraid. The mist made the mysterious place even more misterious.

Sharpy and Hezzer
Sharpy and Hezzer
Erraid
Erraid

And as always while paddling along quietly there is always some nugget of wildlife to keep everybody entertained. This time it was a very obliging Harbour Seal.

Harbour seal (on the right)
Harbour seal (on the right)

The one poor day which remained foggy and surprisingly cool , because the wind was off the sea instead of blowing off the land, was the one day which we really needed it to be good as we had booked a boat trip to the Treshnish isles to see the puffins. As a result it was a bit of a disappointment, although  I never get that much pleasure in being taken to see wildlife in an organised trip. I have always preferred discovering it by myself in a kayak even if that means probably not seeing ‘it’ in the first place.

Having said that seeing Puffins is always a thrill.

Puffin on Lunga
Puffin on Lunga

And Hezzer was pleased with his massive lens although had to keep backing away from the fearless Puffins as they were too close for him to focus!

Hezzer and Puffin
Hezzer and Puffin

One day was flat and windless enough for me to circumnavigate the amazingly historic island of Iona, in ‘Puffing Pig 1’, my single inflatable Gumotex safari kayak.

Iona Abbey was smouldering in mist.

Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey

Superb white sand beaches for a coffee break at the north end of the island, complete with super floaty Arctic Terns.

Iona beach
Iona beach
Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern

A bit lumpy around the cliffs of the southern end of the island. Although inflatable kayaks can be more seaworthy than is generally thought, the reaction of the rescue services should you get into trouble would undoubtedly be more harsh than if you were plucked out of the sea in a conventional kayak.

Baby oystercatchers running about on the shore.

Baby oystercatcher
Baby oystercatcher

Absolutely no chance of sneaking up on baby unnoticed. Adult Oystercatchers are about as noisy as it is possible to be with a three inch bright orange beak.

 

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