Terror Tern!

There is nothing like arriving in a tern colony with your kayak. The overactive black and white nimble birds fly in groups over the beach while screaming loudly. They are like swarming nationalistic hooligans screaming all sorts …..Read more

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Seal choir

Seals on the rocks basking in the sun
Cozy gathering of seals.

Wowowowowo
Now, repeat after me…
Wowowowowo, more like a howling dog but not that loud. Just a bit softer, wowowowo.
Now, let’s make it more playful. You do the wowowo-part and I will do only wo but make it a prolonged wooooooooo. This can either be…. Read more.

Plovers

Piping Plover with kayaks in the background.
Piping Plover with kayaks in the background.

‘Oh, there is a nice grubby there, let’s run to it. Oh no the wave is coming, let’s run back. Oh, there is a great jummy grubby there, let’s run to it now the water is gone, Oh no, the water is coming, let’s run back. You see that grubby there? Let’s….. Read more

The secret world of Highland cows

The herd of Highland cow's in front of Guirdile bothy on Rhum
The herd of Highland cow’s in front of Guirdile bothy on Rhum

When approaching the island of Rhum from the north side we usually paddle to the bothy of Guirdile. It is a very nice bothy on a shingle beach with a good water source passing the house to the sea. It’s not a good idea to put a tent up even though the grass looks excellent for it. On the grass grazes a herd of highland cattle, and they eat or lick about anything. We strip our boats from everything of the deck because the cows will eat/lick it. We found that out when we left a green bag made of fisherman’s rope attached on the boat. The plastics knotted thing was gone the next day and we only saw a bit of green string dangling down from one of the cow’s mouth.
They just love the salty taste of the gear, they lick the entire boat clean from salt if given the chance. A tent is most likely to get the same treatment, a good thorough wash and probably missing a few strings.

Highland cattle
Just look at those cute faces, full of mischief.

The bothy is very comfortable and ranks high on the list among walkers visiting the island. It has a large area upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs where you can have some good fires in the hearth. Through the windows, we have watched beautiful sunsets over Canna in the evening and sometimes otters can be spotted playing and food gathering on the beach. After some tea or something stronger, it’s time for bed. Not a sound is to be heard. Until….I sit up straight in my sleeping bag, what is that sound?
A rasping noise woke me up like someone is rubbing a stone against the house. My imagination gets the better of me and I imagine ghosts of the people who once lived here or men with evil intentions, sharpening their axes on the house. Are the zombies finally taking over the world? Could it be something simple like the wind?

Guirdile bothy and ruined houses
There used to be more houses on Guirdile but only one survived.

It turned out to be the cows who like to use the corners of the bothy as scratching posts. But why in the middle of the night! Don’t cows sleep?

Highland cows
Just look at the size of those horns! And they are a bit clumsy with them.

The divorce

Our blue mini campervan overlooking Maclean’s nose on Ardnamurchan

I felt a bit of a struggle coming up when we drove back from Orkney. The paddle of the clutch was not responding all that well. It kept sticking. Overall it sounded a bit unwell. I thought it caught a Scottish cold or something. The indicator lights didn’t flash up when needed and the headlight sometimes just switched off for no apparent reason. All signs that the car was definitely a bit under the weather. I opened up the hood to check for problems but no problem was found. I checked the wiring, everything was fine. Perhaps it is a bit of oxidation on some switch or whatever, of the Scottish salty air. Just like other years, the problem will wear off with use, I’m sure.

But when the door handle of the side door broke off while camping on the Black Isle, I really was concerned. Is the car shutting me out! Am I not taking good care of my car, did I leave it alone for too long in Scotland? Is it physical or a mental problem? After some checking the internet I found I could fix the door problem for 10 euro. Great stuff. All is well again.

As we drive to Hull to catch the ferry back to the Netherlands, we hear the car crying. A high pitched crying sound comes from under the bonnet. It probably does not want to go home. Just like Alexander, it’s got ‘going-home-blues’. With handkerchiefs, I try to comfort it. Some small oily tears are dripping out of the engine onto the pavement.
The engine sounds normal but the pain is in the gearbox. When squeezing the clutch the crying starts. We drive off the ferry and limp home in our injured car, hoping it will make it home.

Back home we must consult a car doctor. Luckily my brother in law is an excellent car doctor but the diagnosis is not encouraging. All the reparations costing well over 1500 euros!! OMG.

Well, uh, just that, €1500,00.
OK, that is too much reality all of a sudden.
What to do now? Do we repair the car or do we need a replacement?

But this car has been with us for ten years! She has brought us to France and Scotland. I felt safe in her while sleeping in the back and safe while driving on the motorway. I’ve got pictures of us together on our holiday. And she would start on cold wintery mornings without complaining. It is my lovely dependable blue car and I’m quite attached to it even though she is dented on all sides including the roof, she still looks lovable to me. Every dent and scratch has its own story to tell. What is 1500 euro in a friendship like this?

Our blue mini campervan used as a drying rack.
Our bleu mini campervan used as shelter for the rain.

But at the end of the day, I am looking out for a different vehicle while my little blue car stood hopelessly on the driveway. Looking at me with sad headlights and unable to stop me in my efforts to replace it.

The more I am looking out for a new car the more distance becomes between me and the blue car. It must have felt it because I noticed it had a flat tyre. Like it was the last thing it could do to get some attention, love and care from me. A bit annoyed, I change the tire and patience is running out. I have no time for a whining car, I need a working car!!

I took Alexander out to look at some new cars and found one that met all our needs!! How exciting!!!
We went out for a test drive, it felt great. She is a lovely German reddish brunette, slightly bigger than our blue car and it sits 5 people. Lots of windows and well insulated. It is love at first sight, butterflies in my stomach. The blue car is just a vague memory now.
We can not resist her good looks and comfort and decide to buy her. We sit down for the deal and the salesman starts talking about trading in the old car….

There is this interesting mix of emotions going on within me:

  • All excitement of the buying of the new and much better car and spending lots of money.
  • This is how it must feel when you get into a midlife crisis. Replacing the old model to a new one. There is a little guild in the background.
  • No feelings for the old car, flog it for the best positive price. The car is a thing, not a person where I might have emotional feelings for!!
  • But how do you say goodbye to a trusted friend who brought us to all our holiday destination? I just don’t know….

It makes me feel a bit giddy.
Even though I try to talk positively about the blue car, the nice bright colour, the low mileage, the air conditioning and the neatness of the interior, it doesn’t weigh up to the engine problems and the dent and scratch issues.
And my feelings towards my little blue car change from affection to business-like cold hard cash.

Next week we go to pick up our nice new lovely car. I talk to the blue car one last time.
‘Now listen blue car, I am going to bring you to a nice matchmaker who will take good care of you. He will put you on Car Tinder and you will be speed dating in no time. Don’t cry!! In the end you will be much happier in a new relationship!’

Our blue minicampervan at twilight

Clapotis, what a lovely word is that….

A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned,… for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.
John Millington Synge

Our little Eureka  tent on Pabbay island between the wild flowers

Our little tent on Pabbay island between the wild flowers.

We are on the beautiful island of Pabbay on the Barra-head island group. The sun is out but the wind is still a bit strong. On the beach, we watch the surf crashing on the sand. The seals play with the white-crested waves and a small group of teal duck bob up and down between the waves. We consider our options to leave the island. There is only one and a half day of food left in our kayaks. That is about the time we need to get to Castlebay on the island of Barra, to do some shopping.
The VHF forecast announced the wind was going to ease from 4 to 5 bfd to 3 to 4 bfd, but that showers would be likely. But when will the wind ease? VHF is not that precise. We have to observe that by ourselves.
We climb up on the hill overlooking the sea we have to cross to get to the other island. Too many whitecaps. We are not leaving just yet.

Quite a stiff breeze with white caps between the islands

Quite a stiff breeze with white caps between the islands.

Time passes by and Alexander gets out his wind speed meter. He stands on the hill where the wind comes from and measures the wind. It is easing, the sea state becomes calmer, fewer whitecaps. But we also see raincloud developing. We decide to break up the tent and pack the boats before everything gets wet. When we are in our kayak gear the rain comes in the form of drizzle. We quickly cover yourself with a rain poncho. We have to wait until the wind eases a bit more and the tide comes in our favour.

We watch the seals as a pastime. One of the smaller seals climbs on the shore right behind our boats. Why is it doing that? Now we have to disturb it when we leave.
After 2 hours under the poncho developing a sore ass, the tide has changed and the wind eases a bit more. The sea looks like we can manage it, and we feel confident enough to paddle to the next island.
We push our kayaks in the water, apologize to the seals for the disturbance, and paddle away from the beach.

Coming around the island, the combination of big swell coming from the west colliding with the tidal waves coming from the east whips the waves up to a clapotis-like wave pattern of 4 meter high.

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This is what a clapotis wave pattern looks like in a quiet situation.

The word ‘Clapotis’ comes from the French language for ‘standing wave’. By definition, they are formed by a reflecting wave from the cliff shore meeting the wave of the swell and they crash into each other.
In our case, the clapotis is formed by two colliding wave patterns, one from the west and the other from the east. Resulting in a wave that is much higher and contains a lot of energy. After the collision, the wave collapses. When kayaking in these waves, the kayaker has to be skilful enough to brace at the right time, that is…. if he/she can find water to brace on…

After looking at the sea state while on top of a high wave we decided that, beyond the clapotis field there were too many whitecaps for a safe passage to the next island. Usually, I want to go forward because going back is more difficult. But you got to know when to stop and realise the state of the sea is beyond your skill level. We went back to the beach where we came from.

This is not me in the clapotis waves! The picture does illustrate how to paddle these waves. Picture: www.kayak.nu_

This is not me in the clapotis waves! The picture does illustrate how to paddle these waves. Picture: http://www.kayak.nu

A clapotis wave pattern is bad if it is against you but worst if the wave comes from behind. There is no way I can see what is coming. Anxiety is creeping in and I feel myself stiffening up. There is only one solution to tame this fear. Singing loudly ‘My favourite things’ of the musical ‘ The sound of music’, I paddle back to where we left.
The entire endeavour took around 45 minutes and covered 3 km distance. Safe and sound though wet, we land back on the beach.

Upon arrival, the seals look a bit annoyed. ‘Back so soon?’
‘Sorry for trespassing again on your beach for another night’ I exclaim.

The next day the sea and weather were in perfect condition to paddle all the way to Castlebay. Isn’t it ironic?

Charlotte Gannet in her kayak on a quite sea

Charlotte Gannet in her kayak on a quite sea.

Charlotte Gannet

The zombie apocalypse.

Have you ever thought about what to do when zombies take over the world?

Arisaig beach with our kayaks on it.

Arisaig beach.

Neither did I until I met James on a beach in Arisaig.

We land our kayaks on that lovely beach on a glorious day, fully expecting not to have this gorgeous beach for our own. It is relatively close to the road and with this fine weather people will walk up to this white sandy beach with azure blue water. Just to get a Caribbean feel to your Scottish holiday.

We carry our kayaks above the tideline and change our outfit. Ready to meet the neighbours.
I found a lovely little green sea urchin and offered it to James. You know those people that you instantly connect with at first glance? It was like that with James and his girlfriend. You just know you can talk to each other for weeks without it getting boring.
James is a musician and Jen works as an architect in Edinburgh. We talk about holidays and how to spend it. He wants to know everything about kayaking and how we survive at sea, what we do for food.
When I find out that James is a blogger as well as a musician, I want to know everything about that. My secret ambition at that time is to start a blog. But I do not know how to start and to be honest, I find it all a bit daunting, I’ve never written before so properly am carp at it. My idea of social media is A-social media. So I’m not going to use it.
James encourages me by telling me he learned to write better during the years. And if I did not enjoy it I can quit any time. He has a point there. It got me thinking again. I do want to share my Scottish stories….

Fried seaweed on our stainless steal plate

A selection of fried seaweeds.

We gathered some varieties of seaweeds to experiment with earlier that day. And caught some fish. After cooking food we asked them over to join us in the seaweed tasting adventure. We put some coconut oil in the baking pan and fry the various seaweeds in it until crunchy.
The Dulse is a definite winner, fried until crunchy, it’s like a salty crisp and melted on the tongue. Surprisingly, Jap weed tastes like fatty mackerel, a bit smokey and oily and with its fine texture, a bit spaghetti-like. The larger leaves of the sugar kelp need some handing, it almost seemed to be afraid of the frying pan. It curls up when it comes in contact with the heat and the hot coconut oil. It results in some bits were nice and crispy while other bits are chewy. The Irish moss isn’t that big of a success, very chewy and tough. We knew it was supposed to be better in a bouillon but we gave it a try anyway.

It is lovely, sharing a whole new experiment, learning stuff.
But Scotland would not be Scotland if the weather didn’t spoil the party. Huge big drops of rain pour down on us and we rush into our separate tents but with new ideas and possibilities. The world has just grown a bit.

The next day when we pack our stuff and say goodbye to James and Jen. James tells us that he’s been thinking about our way of travel last night. And his conclusion was, ‘Now I know what to do when the zombie apocalypse comes, I just get into a sea kayak, do some fishing and gather seaweed.’

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If you squint real hard you just might see zombies marching onto the beach, a few beers might help aswell.

Charlotte Gannet

Dae ye ivver hiv days when – as hid draas tae a close- ye lukk back an realise ye’ve aachieeved absoluutly nutheen?

jimmyharbour

Jimmy’s harbour as it looks in 2018

Don’t you just love Google Maps? It is a very useful tool to study the coastline of the Scottish Islands before visiting them. Dreaming away behind your computer before actually being there.
Based on the aerial pictures we look for suitable beaches to land the kayaks safely and avoid being trapped by slippery weed covered rocks when getting in at low tide. We judge the beaches on not being too close to houses or roads, a good escape at low tide and campground options. But beware, the beach can look good on the picture but can be rubbish in reality.

After studying the coastline of the island of Hoy at home we found out there were not many beaches suitable for landing our kayaks. But we found a little beach on the east side overlooking Graemsay and landed our kayaks on that beach at high water. In reality, it seemed to be some sort of harbour for small boats, something we missed while checking it out on Google Maps. The boats could only leave the harbour when the tide was in. There we met Jimmy and his best buddy Franky. Two nice elderly men who lived their entire life on the island. I and my friend started a conversation with him.

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This little bench is a good refelction of Jimmy himself.

A bit shabby looking in his unbuttoned checkered shirt over faded blue overalls and high waders covering his legs. He was leaning on his shovel, squinting his eyes to the late sunshine he took his time to talk to us in his thick Orcadian accent. Taking his time while Franky was labouring on.
I don’t think Jimmy had any teeth left in his mouth and the sounds he produced were recognisable as some sort of language. But he was very expressive with his wrinkled facial expressions and wide gestures. It turned out that he and his pal was digging out a harbour for their own benefit and for the local fisherman. Visiting sailors would have to pay for the privilege of using the slipway.

Jimmy would work twice a day at low tide to dig out the harbour. Rain or shine, at any time of the day/night, midge or no midge, with buckets and spades. He said had some bigger equipment coming to dig out the harbour a bit faster. At the same time, the contractors would do some construction work.
He was paying for this project out of his own pocket and with a lot of elbow grease. And he had his trusted friend Franky helping him.
I knew exactly what his wife thought of the entire enterprise. Totally bonkers. But the work would keep him occupied and out of the house.

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In 2012 the digging of the harbour is was in full swing.

My friend never knew what the man was talking about and left the conversation early. Me, on the other hand, fell a bit in love with the elderly chap. He was so passionate about his project. Committed to his job, going on against the odds. You got to admire that kind of tenacity.

Now read the title of this story again. Read it slowly and out loud as it is written. Now you have a taste of the Orcadian accent. What I have learned from talking to this toothless elderly chap is that in order to understand what he is saying, you got to listen to the words you do understand. But the most important thing to do is watch the gestures and body language and expressions on the face. Most of the time that will help you to fill in the gaps of bits you missed in the conversation. However, the most important thing is to listen with your heart without any judgement and the intention of really wanting to understand the other.

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The harbour in 2018, the boys have realized their ambition.

Charlotte Gannet