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.

Ticks do not tickle

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Do the ticks tickle this deer? Looks like it!

May all creatures be happy and good! Sounds like a good motto.
But concerning ticks, I have a very different opinion. Ticks are nasty little buggers, they can transfer a dangerous disease like Lyme disease. And they are ugly. A brownish/black, flat, diamond-shaped body that swells up when they suck blood from a warm-blooded animal. Eight short spidery legs and a snout that is able to dive into flesh, my flesh.
Describing this beasty already sent shivers down my spine. I can not find any good qualities in the insect-like making medicine against life-threatening diseases or helping to relieve pain. I don’t know why ticks ever evolved in the first place if their intent is to be vampires. They are dark side creatures.

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Ugly little bloodsucker

Despite their 8 legs, they cannot move very fast but cling on to clothes or tent or wherever they are on. During the years it looks like ticks are increasing in numbers. After a walk, we find a few on our socks and trousers. They lurk in long grasses, heather and bracken waiting for a warm-blooded creature to come along.
This year we put the tent up in, what looked like, a nice bit of grass. It turned out to be a nest of very small ticks and the tent was covered with them. We spent 2 hours getting the tiny ticks off the tent. And they kept popping up.

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Very idyllic campsite with an infestation of tiny little ticks

That means socks and trousers will be outside the inner tent. But that is by no means a guarantee that they won’t find a way to gain access to the tent and slip in my sleeping bag. We have to be vigilant and check our clothes every day. Especially in area where there is deer around. Deer are the favourite victims of ticks.
We check our body’s as well. If a tick is attached for longer than 24 hours on your body you have to keep an eye on the bite for redness or circular markings. On the optimistic side, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. But that doesn’t make them a good guy again!
They have favourite places to bite, like the back of your knees, armpits, behind the ears, in the groin. Nice warm places near to a nice warmblood supply. I am always worried they get into my hair and I cannot spot them fast enough. Alexander has to check my hair twice a day. Looks a bit monkey-like. But very good for the relationship. I think that must be the only beneficial effect of ticks.

 

Charlotte Gannet

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 Favorite host of ticks relaxing in typical tick vegetation

Another high

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This weekend we enjoyed and other high water. This time on the river Waal, the largest distributary branch of the Rhine. First by bicycle, which was fun.

The birds are making the most out of it. The dykes are littered with walnuts at the moment. The crowd scoured a flood line where all the notes are collected. When they find one they fly to do tarmac to correct them. Also, the common kestrel gets their food on a plate. All the little rodents flee the rising water and onto the dykes. So the kestrels only have to soar the steep banks of the dykes. Hovering, at eye level, almost motionless in the stiff breeze. They are little marvellous wonders to see.

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Today we used our kayaks, which was a little adventure. First the Gendtsche polder, where wind and current pushed us almost in the trees. Then we had to cross between the big barges, on a fast flowing river, with a stiff breeze against it.

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On the other side, the Millingerwaard. We pedalled through the forest which was ravaged by the storm of two weeks ago. At least the beavers don’t have to chew their threes down now.

 

 

 

High water at home

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This week, in the Rhine close to home, water did rise to 12.40m NAP (approx. sea level). To give you a reference to my floor in the living room is at 10.60m NAP. Don’t worry, we are still dry behind the dykes This water level, which is a once in every five-year event, only flows over the summer dykes. The winter dykes can keep on other 3 m of water at bay.

For us, kayakers, it gives a nice expanse of water and a whole new territory to explore. Today was beautiful, the light was changing constantly. I explored the nature area Meinderswijk, close to Arnhem.

So, just to share this enjoyable moment, an extra blog post with some photos and a small video of the Beaver that passed by.

Enjoy Alexander.

 

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No brains, only beauty

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The lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

The fact that jellyfish have survived
for 650 million years
despite not having brains
is great news for stupid people.

Fascinating, ghostlike creatures hanging suspended in the water. Propelling forwards by expanding and contracting of the umbrella-like hood of their boneless bodies. Mesmerising in colour and translucent ness. Actually, the entire body is water, 97 percent of it. Trapped water in cells, but not all innocent. Some jellyfish have the means to defend themselves. The long tentacles pack a powerful sting. It varies among species. Some are perfectly harmless.

Jellyfish come in all shapes and sizes. It is amazing the large variation in design. Big and pink like the ill-named dustbin lid jellyfish. The burgundy red, sometimes indigo blue lion’s mane with its long tentacles trailing through the water. Very common is the moon jellyfish who live in large groups and go for mass suicide on the beach, or translucent oval shaped comb jellyfish with pink or green iridescent stripes, fit to adorn any Christmas tree.

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The comb jelly (Beroe cucumis)

Because of climate change and the oceans getting warmer we see more exotic jellyfish in the Scottish waters. Paddling around Barra we spotted what looked like water bubbles on the water surface. It turned out to be a transparent membrane attached to a small indigo blue disk-like jellyfish with very small tentacles. It had its own little sail! It is called ‘By the wind sailor’. It lives in the warmer waters of the mid-ocean and sails across the ocean to the prevailing wind direction, imagine that. And just because the sail on the jellyfish is angled the wrong way for this hemisphere that has seen too many southwesterly storms, it stands on a beach and dies.

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The by-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella)

In Asiatic counties, jellyfish are considered food, dried to be preserved. Revived to be eaten raw or cooked. So Alexander had to try that as well. The idea of eating jellyfish put me off a bit. There were some moon jellyfish lying on the beach. He took out his knife and cut a bit off the body. The outer layer was surprisingly though but lower down it was much softer. The texture is quite like jelly, but with a salty flavour, a bit more like the slimy stuff you might find up your nose when having a cold. We concluded that the English name ‘jellyfish’ is well chosen.

 In the Dutch language, a jellyfish is called ‘kwal’. Phonetically [ *k w ɑ l ]. It is the exact translation for jellyfish. The other meaning in the Dutch language for the word ‘kwal’ is an unfriendly person. Usually a man, I would never call a woman a ‘kwal’. I might choose the French word for jellyfish ‘meduse’, it has a more feminine sound to it.

A kwal is someone like a teacher or a driving instructor or a boss, someone higher in rank. But he has a bit of an ego problem, he pours out all his frustrations out on you and puts you down. But because you need something of him you try to stay nice and polite. Behind his back, you could do him an injury. That is a ‘kwal’ of a guy. But I would never call him a jellyfish. Or would I…

Does any person come to mind in your surrounding that fit the description? Spineless and no brain to speak of? There are plenty of people like that around, beautiful or not. Console yourself with the thought that brainless arrogance can be a survival strategy. It worked for jellyfish…

Otterly adorable!

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Otters are the happiest creatures I know. We have already seen 4 otters during the trip so far. It is so much fun to see their cute faces and very distinctive way of diving down to find food. It is like they take a deep breath and then dive down with an arched back, their tail is often the last thing to see. Holding food in their tiny hands. Usually, you will find a mother with two cubs diving at the same moment, climbing on a rock at the same time whether there is room or not, grooming and tumbling over each other. Mirroring each other’s movements exactly. Living life like there is no tomorrow.

If you want to find them look for shallow waters with rocks and sand and lots of seaweeds. It is very important that there is a fresh water supply like a stream or a pool. The otter needs the fresh water to clean the salty water of from its fur coat and to keep it waterproof.

In between the rocks and seaweed, the otter finds its food, shellfish, fish and crabs. The otter eats them heartily with an open mouth and gobbling their food with all kind of loud noises. It’s got no table manners at all!

Sitting on a rock I watched a pair of young otters for about an hour. The tide was coming in as one of the otters caught an eel. It was wriggling and was just a bit too big for just one otter so the other one helped to bring the eel on land in return for a bite.

So each on one end of the eel started biting in and chewing on the eel and having a great time. Suddenly, a change of plan, it was really very important to run over the rock and go for a swim before eating the eel again. I am convinced that otters suffer from ADHD syndrome!

This went on for a few times when a big gull landed on the ever decreasing rock. It watched the spectacle for a bit. The otters were very tolerant and did not mind the gull at all. But the gull had other opportune ideas. As the otters went for a next run and a swim, the gull saw its chance and swallowed the remains of the eel and sat quietly on the rock like nothing happened.

When the otters returned to their eel and did not find it they searched the entire island. You could almost hear them say: ‘Where did you leave it, did you hide it? Well, you had it last. Come on, this is not funny anymore!! Give it up!!’

And the gull watched everything and kept its mouth shut and flew off.

Like a virgin -touched for the very first time

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I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn’t know how lost I was
Until I found……

-Madonna-

It’s intriguing how some text sometimes sounds so appropriate with the experience you have. After the very first day at sea, on our own, it felt like the first bit of the lyrics of this Madonna song. I was touched, to the point of being emotional by the awe and beauty of the scenery. I also felt relieved, although I was quite well prepared for the navigation, I still didn’t know what to expect. But at the end of the day, it all came together, like I found my passion.

Although fanatically*, we kayaked for just under two years now. The sea trips we made were visits across the Wadden, to the islands north of the Netherlands. Most of them, however, were guided by others. In the spring I had carefully introduced our club instructors to the idea that we were going to paddle in Scotland and they were not surprised or worried.

Starting this holiday in the Great Glen looked like the safe option, only to discover that Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy provide very little shelter from wind and waves. Also, the Caledonian Canal was quite hard to paddle. You are not allowed into the locks with your kayak, so there’s a lot of portage with heavy boats. Fed up with the locks we were eager to start on our sea trip and did quit the Caledonian Canal at the Gairlochy Top Lock.

So after a top-up of supplies in Fort William, we pack the boats near Strontian at the “Ceann Loch” (meaning head of the Loch) of Loch Sunart. This is our very “own” first trip on tidal water and we are excited. I have studied the Yachtsman’s Pilot to the Isle of Mull (Imray, Martin Lawrence) to the last letter.

The trip along the shores of Loch Sunart is pleasant. The narrow channel at Eilean Mor creates some interesting currents on the ebb tide. We also encounter our first seals, who are popping the curious noses out of the water when we pass. After the lunch and pushed along by the flood, we dodge the submerged rocks at Coal Charna on the east side of Carna. The eddies and whirlpools draw the rocks out on the water’s surface. In most cases, we could also pass over them in our kayaks but we are careful, courtesy of the current we have 2 knots of extra speed.

We enter Loch Teacuis for a good exploration. The flood drives us to the head of the loch. Returning to the direction of Carna is more of a challenge. Halfway, at a narrow section, there is a threshold of water, with the water level on the outside of the loch clearly higher. We need to push hard to get out of southern part of Loch Teacuis. At Eilean Chulaig we are out again and there is time to relax. The scenery all around us is breathtaking; the sun shines on the rugged wilderness, cute little seal pups with lovable faces surround us on the water, on the island fluffy Herring gull chicks waddle through the purple heather. Touched by the awe of the moment and relieved by the belief that we will be capable to successfully complete the trip, I am overwhelmed by emotion and it’s hard to hold back a tear that rolls over my cheek. All the training, all the preparation and all the reading about overfalls and submerged rocks, had built up into an apprehension and excitement. But now I could let it go, here in this moment of beauty and wonder. We found something that we really loved doing.

We leave Eilean nan Gabhar and start our approach to Carna, the island where we will sleep. The pilot states for this area; “The passages either side of Carna are among the trickiest bits of rock-dodging anywhere on the west coast, and there is still some doubt about the position of some of the rocks. In both passages, the tidal stream runs at 2 1/2 knots spring”. Still, we meet a man standing on the bow of his quarter million motor yacht. He shouts at us in despair “Do you have any idea what the safe passage is here?”. I can only tell him, that this is not the best place to be with a boat like his and that he should take a kayak or read his pilot.

While I bag my first Scottish Island, I think to myself; do not be afraid to go, the rewards are great. But practice your kayak skills and for the navigation bit; study like a nerd, from a book if that is all you have. You always can cut down on the information bit by bit, when you observe the system and get to know it more and more.

 

*By fanatically, I mean, kayaking twice a week and with a lot of courses and larger trips. Our training area is the Rhine river where large barges and the current make unpredictable waves and eddies. We had about 4000 km under the belt before we left for Scotland. As someone who is instructing people in the art of kayaking myself now, I can see that it’s difficult to reach a level where it’s comfortable to do your own trips out at sea, within two years. Besides the ‘on the water’ experience, I also studied a lot about navigation and the sea. I would suggest that you always consult an instructor or experienced kayaker before you set out and conquer the sea.