Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Queen's Baton...and the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Mike and the family.
We simply can't let the fact pass that cousin and good friend, "MG" Mike, is one of the Batonbearers for the upcoming Glasgow 2014 XX Commonwealth Games. Mike is among the thousands of runners who were appointed to carry the baton and his nomination reflects the difference he has made through volunteering and community support.

The Queen's Baton Relay was launched on October 9th, 2013, at Buckingham Palace. At that time, the Queen placed a message in the baton. Since then, it has travelled from Glasgow, over 190,000 kilometres, through 71 nations and territories before arriving back here in Scotland on June 14th. After criss-crossing this country - 40 days in 400 communities - the final batonbearer will hand the baton back to Her Majesty on the 23rd and she will read her message, proclaiming the Glasgow Commonwealth Games open.

Bravo Mike!

And, oh yes, Glasgow is my "hometown", so it's also just a little extra special to be here this "Year of Homecoming". :)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Puffins, caves, tides, and dolphins...and the long-lost piper?

Sandstone and seabirds.
Nearing Arbroath, we turned around and enjoyed the warm sun on our backs for the return leg to Auchmithie. Last autumn, we stayed in a self-catering flat in Arbroath and frequently witnessed the power of the North Sea waves as they released their immense energy against the sea walls and cliffs.

On this day, the sea state was benign and welcoming. We are always, after all, "guests" here. Passage in such narrow boats is granted only when wind and waves permit. Conditions are dynamic, change is normal, and nothing is ever taken for granted.

The cliffs are home to numerous colonies of sea birds - herring gulls, fulmars, kittiwakes, rock doves, and puffins. Their habitation is well "marked". We wondered if even the driving rain of north-easterly winter storms could wash these cliffs clean?

Cliff dwellers with an amazing sea view!
Did you know that puffins sometimes make a "purring" sound when they fly? In their burrow, on land, they make a sound like a revving chainsaw! Most impressive!

The handsome fellow, who paddled along with us on the water, spoke with a delightful Scottish accent. We asked him to demonstrate his "chainsaw" voice. He just winked, and paddled on. ;)

Puffin in a trough!
(Canadian connection: The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird
 of Newfoundland and Labrador)
At high tide, countless passages between the rocks are open. A game of "follow the leader" could not be resisted.

There would be no entry here at low tide.
For three years, we've gazed upon the "Deil's Heid" ("Devil's Head"), from the path along the top of the cliffs. This time, the view of the impressive sea stack was from the water. Rock climbers will be interested to know that a route up its seaward face was first accomplished in the seventies.

The "Deil's Heid".
An eroded arch at the south end of Carlingheugh Bay marks the trail down to a marvellous pebble beach. It's a great place to discover tiny pieces of sea glass, the frosted shards of glass, now weathered by tides and waves and the chemical processes of sea water.

The arch at the south end of Carlingheugh Bay.
The Forbidden Caves are tucked into the cliffs at the north end of the beach. Smugglers once hid out in these caves - there would be stories to tell! There is also an account of a piper and his wife who once ventured in, "regardless of the prejudice about entering its precincts". They never returned.

At low tide, we entered one of the caves a few weeks ago with a friend from Vancouver Island. She ventured further in than we did. Happily, she did return. :)

Listening very, very carefully...was it possible to hear the faint sound of bagpipes, deep within the cave? After all these years? Could it possibly have been...the lost piper?

Yours truly, inside Forbidden Cave, several weeks ago.
(Image, courtesy of Linda.)
Paddling back, along the caves, we came upon a couple of individuals "perched" on the rocks outside the mouth of one of the caves. It was immediately clear that their route back to the beach had been cut off by the high tide. This very scenario has resulted in many lives lost over the years.

They were, however, fine and in good spirits, although clearly appreciative to see someone! Had the seas been stormy, they would have had good reason to be very anxious. The tide was now going out and soon they would be able to retrace their steps back to the beach. Sea caves and tide tables make for very good mates in these parts.

Joan, sharing the water with some friends.
Just to the north of Auchmithie, there is another eroded arch in the sandstone. It's really quite surreal to occupy the same space that rock once did. Did this sculpture take hundreds of thousands of years to form? Millions? Tens of millions? We human beings are here for such a short time on this planet. Every moment is so brief...and so precious. Why is that so hard to remember?

Paddling through "time".
It had been a very good day on the water and there was a reluctance to return to the launch spot. Paddling well out from the shore, to prolong our loop back to Auchmithie, there was a suddenly a startling "chuff"! A dorsal fin and a sleek black-silvery-shiny body surfaced and was quickly sliding, soundlessly, back into the water - only a few metres away. Dolphins!

It was delightfully surprising...completely amazing, and so very beautiful. The camera, of course, had been zipped securely back into the pocket of the PFD in preparation for returning to the harbour. By the time the overly-excited and fumbling fingers began to actually function together in a meaningful way, the pair of dolphins had moved away.

We did get a couple of images, quickly snapped by excited hands. It was more important, however, to take a deep breath and simply enjoy the experience of sharing time and space with these marvellous creatures. They demonstrated such grace and beauty. They seemed happy to share their world. We posed no threat to one another. Perhaps they even gave an affirming nod to the sleek lines of our tiny, seagoing vessels.

Cropped images of Auchmithie and two transient companions.
We felt most fortunate indeed, for this gentle encounter with nature.

Returning to the harbour, there was one more surprise, this time on the grassy bank above the shoreline. There had been the faint sound of the pipes, while watching the dolphins. It must have been our imagination?

It wasn't. There, by the ruined harbour, was a piper, playing his heart out. A young woman sat nearby. The emotion-filled tune felt as timeless and ancient as the sandstone cliffs before him.

Could this have been the same piper and his wife, long lost in the Forbidden Caves of the 400 million-year-old sandstone cliffs? After all...

"Everything you can imagine, is real"
- Pablo Picasso

Maybe, just maybe. :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

From the light sands of the Sound of Arisaig to the "dark" side of the North Sea cliffs...

Site of an Iron Age promontory fort.
A couple of weeks ago, we experienced the white sands and remarkable vistas of the Sound of Arisaig while paddling on Scotland's west coast. It instantly became a new "favourite" place! Auchmithie is an old favourite place, just half an hour from home. About three miles up the North Sea coast from Arbroath, this tiny village sits high atop the 400 million-year-old red sandstone and conglomerate cliffs. It's the birthplace of the famous hot-smoked haddock - now known all around the world as the "Arbroath smokie", a name so treasured that it is protected by law.

This former fishing village also has the remnant of a protected harbour. Although in ruins, it's a good place from which to launch a sea kayak - but only if the conditions are right. We'd tried several days previously but the forecast "calm" winds had kicked up. The building waves and considerable swell suggested that finding a café for a scone (with butter and jam) and a coffee seemed to be a responsible Plan B. We could at least look out the window and admire the boats in their roof cradles - and wonder in anticipation of the next time. :)

This week, the forecast winds and sea state promised a perfect day. Arriving at Auchmithie, just after high tide, the water was nicely rippled with a only a slight swell. It was a "go". From this launch spot, it's possible to explore the base of the dramatic cliffs that meet the sea and the many seabird colonies that are only visible from the sea.

Paddling into the sun, the red sandstone appeared dark and often featureless, in deep contrast to the clear sky. It was impossible to even begin to imagine the ancient processes that had created and formed such natural beauty. Here's a small taste of the "dark" side...

Paddling out from the "Deil's Heid".
Narrow channels begged exploration...
...and provided countless photo ops.
Nature's timeless sculptures.
Rising and falling on the gentle swell.
Last "land"...for a very long way.
So enthralled by the perfect paddling conditions in yet another remarkable place, we took far too few photos. We will simply have to get back here again, and soon. The "dark" side of the cliffs thrilled and en"light"ened.

And little did we know, a wonderfully delightful surprise was about to "surface", all around us...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Before it's your favourite place, it's a place you've never been.

Leaving Arisaig, the Island of Eigg across the still waters.
A friend from Vancouver Island just sent me those words from a very beautiful poster. She must have known. 

First stop, an idyllic beach, and a perfect cup of coffee.
They help to frame two marvellous days with Joan and Ian on the water near Arisaig, on Scotland's west coast.

Sharing the sand - and the view.
"Before it's your favourite place, 
it's a place you've never been." 

Our very mellow friends were, after all, here first.
These words speak of a deep truth that often becomes evident when one ventures out, away from the familiar.  

There are precious rewards when we invite and welcome new experiences into our lives.

Many nautical miles to go.
But sometimes we fear the "unknown", for there may be risk, yet that is the very context of "discovery".

Surface colours. (Image courtesy of Ian at Mountain and Sea Scotland)
When we meet someone for the very first time, in that moment of discovery, they are a "stranger".

Time out for a short climb.
But that is where every deep and meaning-filled connection with one another begins.

Through the bracken.
It is only then that there is the possibility of a relationship that will deepen and flourish and endure forever.

A little "rope work"...
But that discovery had to be the context of the unknown. a special place.
Venturing out to some unknown place invites a precious reward...

And what a view.
...a discovery of a new favourite place. 

Lunch...or was that 2nd lunch? :)
This, of course, makes the "unknown" very appealing!

Return to the launch site...with a new "favourite place". 
(Image courtesy of Mountain and Sea Scotland)
Imagine the wonder it's so hard to stay home! :)

For another look at two fine days on the water near Arisaig, "paddle" over to Ian's blog, Mountain and Sea Scotland.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Paddling under Scotland's gloomy skies to dreary beaches...just teasing!

The dreamlike land and waterscape, near Arisaig, 
The deeply evocative landscape of Scotland's west coast takes one's breath completely away. The turquoise, emerald, and deep blue waters, white sandy beaches, and dark volcanic rock create a stunning portrait - wherever you look. Inner Hebridean islands, their mountains reaching into the clouds on the horizon, beckon the paddler to cross yet another world.

lan picked a perfect weather window and an ideal launch spot, Arisaig's Loch nan Cealas, for approximately 30 kilometres of paddling that will linger in the mind and imagination for a very long time to come.

Scottish philosopher, David Hume, wrote, ""Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them." It would be very difficult to imagine a mind that could not contemplate, and be profoundly moved, by this pristine and timeless environment.

Water so crystal's hardly there. 
I have found, through many years of observing, that there is beauty everywhere. Sometimes it is expected, sometimes it is serendipitous. It can be secreted away, visible only when one is persistent. At other times, it is simply everywhere you look, such as in this place. Always, it is a reflection of this marvellous planet that we all share.

Looking "down", from the kayak cockpit,
 reveals a similar beauty to looking "around".
To look for beauty is to find it. To make each such discovery, is to be enriched...and that's why we must always be "searchers". On this day, over the many hours on the water, each paddle stroke, revealed a new and delightful treasure.

Ian and Joan and the distant "Nose of Sgùrr"
on the Inner Hebridean island of Eigg - between the paddle blades.
There's more to come...

Friday, June 27, 2014


Below the ancient sandstone cliffs of the village of Auchmithie.
It's been 4 months, almost to the day, that we left our two kayaks with a special friend back in Canada. Living here, just 30 minutes from the North Sea and only a three and a half hours from Scotland's west coast has been a tease. We've lingered in paddling shops, just to be near kayaks. We've tried renting. We participated in "demo days" - just to get some time in the cockpit. A kind friend here, who writes an excellent blog that covers explorations on both "mountain and sea", generously offered us boats and equipment. We needed, however, to be independent. Available time and good paddling weather are not always predictable.

Preparing to launch within the ruins of the Auchmithie harbour.
For four months, the dry suits, the PFDs, the paddling gloves...the only equipment we could fit into our three suitcases, plus the paddle leashes that a friend had brought with her...have looked longingly out from a closet in the manse - and we have looked longingly back.

The time had definitely come, a decision had to be made. Just as back home on Vancouver Island, Scotland offers world class sea kayaking possibilities. Here, there's lots and lots of ocean, offshore islands, sea lochs, lochs amidst mountains. There could be no more waiting.

I often reflect on the words of Annie Dillard, always posted at the top of the sidebar of this blog: "We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place." For those inclined to take to the sea in a narrow boat, there's hardly a better way to do it. We are here on this delicate sphere, racing through space, for just a short time. I have always loved theologian John Wesley's words:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. 
In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. 
At all the times you can. To all the people you can. 
As long as ever you can.”

To those words, I would add, "...and continue to explore and discover, with child-like curiosity...and celebrate the gift of life in every way that you can". Getting back on the water will be a means to that end.

Taking some time for reflection and gratitude -
for each day, and every new experience on this extraordinary planet.
There is always so much to learn. The characteristics of the new boats are slightly different from the familiar personalities of the kayaks back home. They will test us. 

The sea boils around the once-impenetrable harbour wall.
Lifelong learning, however, is good...and it is important at every age.

Savouring this first launch in a long time, into a long-deserted fishing harbour, is marvellous.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks on Schiehallion...and Newton's gravitational constant!

Stairway to the top? But will it last?
Between life and locum, it's been pretty busy and blogging has been on the "back burner" - on slow simmer. Having a friend over from Canada, however, can provide the perfect rational for seeing a little more of the "countryside" - and gaining some modest elevation.

Schiehallion, a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000'), lies in Perth and Kinross about 10 miles north of Aberfeldy and in between Loch Tummel and Loch Tay. It's an isolated peak and we first saw its conical profile from Birnam Hill, a couple of years ago - it beckoned and tempted closer investigation. Interestingly, it is almost the exact centre of Scotland in terms of latitude and longitude.

This mountain also has a very scientific claim to fame! In 1774, the Reverend Doctor Nevil Maskelyne FRS, who must have taken sufficient time out of his pastoral duties to become the 5th English Astronomer Royal, conducted an experiment to determine the density of the earth - using a plumb line! Observing how much the plumb line was pulled out of the vertical towards the mountain, by the mountain's gravitational force, he established what became the first determination of Newton's gravitational constant. You can look this up and enjoy a good read - but make a very strong cup of coffee first! :)

As far as we, of less scientific minds were concerned, it was just a great, heart-pumping hike. The clearly marked trail disappeared into a boulderfield...

Joan, plodding up, over, and through the boulders.
that went on and on and on. And on...

Linda, amidst the sun-warmed boulders.
 False summits offered a false sense of accomplishment - several times!

Another false summit? Oh no!
The 360 degree panoramic views, however, are breathtaking and worth every ankle-twisting, achilles-stretching step over the rocks and boulders.

Ahh, but at 3,553', it's lovely!
Arriving without incident, the summit ranks as a Five Star venue for lunch - or launch for paragliding!

Lunch at the top of Schiehallion.
As for Newton's gravitational constant (G), I think the Rev'd Doctor Maskelyne FRS was onto something! ;)

G = 6.673×10-11 N m2 kg-2

And, of course, the hike "rock"ed!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Friends along the way...and pic of the week.

Sea gull...just confirming his "coordinates".
We had just pulled into a parking spot at Arbroath Harbour. Before the onboard GPS / SAT NAV had a chance to spool down, a local aviator landed on the hood. Wings neatly folded and feathers back in place, he enquired as to his exact location. We were able to confirm (with the exact coordinates) that he was where he wanted to be - within a few short metres of a local fish and chip place. Lots of tasty treats get dropped there...but hardly a healthy meal for a sea gull! Before we had a chance to share that thought, he lifted off and was enroute to investigate the nearby refuse container.

Whether hillwalking, paddling, or just driving along there are lots of other "folks" around the hills and coastal regions of Scotland.

This fellow, for example, kindly asked us about the possibility of opening the gate. He hadn't visited the local pub in ages and was looking forward to meeting up with some friends! Feeling a little guilty, we declined his request. He was very good about it and gave us a rather philosophical look.

These two wooly ones were whispering about our rather unusual accents (in these parts, anyway)...they were being very discrete and respectful, but we could read their lips. Not baaaaad, eh?

This old bird struck a rather "wooden" pose as we walked by on the trail up Kinnoull Hill. Didn't even move a feather! Come to think of it, he was there last autumn - striking the exact same pose!

This guy had better be careful if he ever visits Texas - they mount those horns on Cadillacs, for heaven's sake! Weird...or what!

Now this little chap was rather fun. He was enjoying making animal shadows on the pavement. This is his version of a bird. Pretty impressive!

With no fence between us and this proud "warrior", we took a quick (and therefore blurry) pic and made a quiet but hasty retreat!

These two had just experienced a rather serious disagreement and were cooling off with a little "silent treatment". The one on the left did not look like he / she was in a very forgiving mood. The one on the right was still sporting ruffled feathers. I'm sure it'll all work out though.

According to his passport, this duck (wearing a clerical collar) was Canadian and chilling on a local pond. Hey, maybe he was in Scotland doing a locum too?!

This little shaggy guy came up behind us and announced that his parents were grizzly bears. We must confess to being slightly startled!

Now this fellow kept looking at us through the "bull's eye" in his horns. Cool move. Here's lookin' at you buddy! :)

Does this lamb's mum and dad know how cute their little one is? Probably. :)

This is a true representation of the actual size of the "famous grouse" in Perthshire hills! (And we hadn't even been inside the distillery yet!) They must eat an incredible amount of Scottish heather to get to that size!

And, well, the "pic of the week"...

(License plate is obscured as MTOPKTV is in classified "stealth" mode.)
...our Moderate Terrain Outdoor Pursuits and Kayak Transport Vehicle (MTOPKTV). This versatile and multi-purpose vehicle, better known by its civilian classification, "Ford Focus", had a small mechanical "issue". Said issue required a lift to the local garage where a team of Land OPS / Tactical Light Mobility specialists quickly determined the cause and initiated a rapid-action repair strategy - billing to follow.

No hillwalking or paddling this week, but got some good work done. This week's a brand new week - a couple of hills await, Highland Games at Glamis Castle, AND there's a sea kayaking "demo evening" at Broughty Ferry. We plan to be there. :)