Belnahua Bound

When the chance came along to visit the abandoned island of Belnahua, on the west coast, my immediate response was an unambiguous YES as the exploring nerves in my body all went into overdrive. A friend is writing a book partly based on the island and she was chartering a boat to go over and do some research. Belnahua in Gaelic means “mouth of the cave” and is one of the Slate Islands. Slate was taken from the shores of these islands and slabs of the rock were used to cover buildings and as grave and hearthstones. There is surprisingly little online about the island but you can find out a little more about the islands here: https://slateislands.org.uk/belnahua/.

After speaking to Young Johnston about a possible boat trip, he was in. And Dave decided to come too. So along with Katie, who organised the boat, our merry band of adventurers were looking forward to stepping from 21st Century Mainland life to 19th Century island life.

We left early on Saturday morning and arrived in Ellenabeich, a gorgeous village about 20 miles south of Oban, from where our boat would depart.

From the village you can see the Slate Islands as they stretch south over the Firth of Lorne. We went higher to get a better look. If you look near the top left of the photo below, you can see two islands, one in front of the other. The one at the front, that looks a bit like a submarine, is Belnahua.

Getting our buoancy aids on.

Our boat arriving to take us out to sea.

The trip over only took about 10 minutes but in that short time we saw some stunning views of the surrounding islands as well as some porpoise. Young Johnston was on GoPro duty and took some cracking photos. In my head, the soundtrack to the trip was “The Island” by Skippinish.

Our tropical weather was probably showing us a side of the island that slate workers wouldn’t see in mid-Winter storms. The island still has the remains of some of the quarry workings as well as old machinery and some of the old housing.

Not only were the rocks on the island great for slate, but they were peppered with fools gold.

We’d come prepared to swim so before lunch we got our trunks on and tested out the water. The similarities to the Caribbean continued as the fairly warm water lapped our legs.

The water in the quarries was so clear and a pleasure to swim or even just float in.

After a last walk around some of the old buildings and another swim, this time in the sea, waiting for the boat to come back, we took our last selfie and headed back across the water into 21st century Ellenabeich. We booked into the Aire/Airidh, walked up the hills behind the village and ate fish and chips and ice cream, enjoying the sunset and talking about the day we had just enjoyed.

If you’ve never visited the island of Belnahua, or any of the Slate Islands, I’d absolutely suggest you should. Whether for the walking, history, swimming or to see a different part of the country, this won’t disappoint.

Lock Skeen Sun

As I left my house this morning, I was dreaming of a Texas sun. Or at least that was the song I was listening to, by Khruangbin, as I drove south to pick up Dave and then on to the car park at the Grey Mare’s Tail, near Moffat.

Our packs laden with food and wood, our mood and spirits were high as we climbed the initially steep path past the numerous waterfalls and up towards Loch Skeen, our final destination for the night.

After a sedate couple of hours and a gradually reducing gradient we reached the loch that would be our bed buddy for the night. We set up our tents and settled for a cuppa and to check out the surroundings.

The Loch Skeen sun was replaced for a while by the Loch Skeen snow, although nothing could take away the beauty of our resting spot. I went on an explore and headed uphill from the waters edge.

As the fire was lit, so the sun gave us a wave.

The combined warmth of my wander and the fire meant time to cool off in the Loch. The water was chilly but I was in pretty quickly and swam across to the island.

Another cuppa was waiting as I pulled my shivering shorts out of the loch and dried myself off in front of the flames.

With our steps and strokes for the day completed, we settled into our chairs and chatted, mostly about when and what we would eat. Steak and tatties were on the menu. The weather continued to change regularly although with no real extremity. After tea we went to the loch outlet and some of the little bays further around this gorgeous loch.

The evening started to close in. Drops of snow coming and going and a growing breeze made us consider retreating to our tents. The water on the loch took on the look of the sea with the waters lapping the stony edge with increasing noise and power.

And then, the clouds slowly took flight, the water calmed to almost a mirror and the wind eventually vanished. Calm was restored and we celebrated with a whisky and some gentle political discussion and debate.

There are no trees around the loch. Just two small trees on a couple of little islands. And with the temperature forecast to be freezing, we’d come up with a whole trees worth of wood. We were glad of the warmth the fire gave us as the night went on.

Even the local ghost came close for a heat.

The next day started bright and warmed quickly. The light on the hills opposite quickly filled the giant bowl that the loch sits in.

Bacon for breakfast and The King flexed his cookery muscles once more.

Eventually we packed up, sad to leave our camp but refreshed by our time in the outdoors. After numerous “hi”s and “hello”s from the dozens of others coming up as we headed down, we reached the valley floor, resplendent in the Loch Skeen sun, and the van.

The snow arrived again just as we were about to drive off. We definitely weren’t in Texas, but then again, why would we want to be anywhere else?

Loch Laidon Living

As the number of vaccines administered hits the millions, the end might just be in sight. I say that with one eye on a future that is still very much unknown. As one sage-like fellow said:

“Anything can happen, and often we are wrong. The best we can do with the future is prepare and savour the possibilities of what can be done in the present.”

With that in mind, I savoured the possibility of what I could do with a 36hr window.

I headed to Loch Laidon. For some camping, some eating, and some floating.

And watch the film here:

Good Lordy it’s coldy at Loch Ordie

Went on my first adventure of 2021 today to Loch Ordie, which is off the A9 between Dunkeld and Pitlochry.

The weather was beautiful. Cold, sunny and cloudless. And I spent a good part of my time at the loch being followed around by this Robin, even managing to photobomb me at the top of the stairs on the left as I pondered whether to get into the water. The ice covered water.

Hi Kev, said Robin.

A bit of walking and a bit of swimming. It was pretty cold today, but what a feeling to be in the water with my new friend, Robin.

Dooking in the Cold(ingham Bay) Drink.

Our outdoor swimming itch took us to Coldingham Bay in the Borders for a bit of a dook.

A slow walk to the North Sea.
Getting our skins on.
Top towel girl.
Acclimatisation.
Ignoring acclimatisation!
Waiting for the waves.
Hitting the waves.
Being hit by the waves 1.
Being hit by the waves 2.
Me first!
Surfing USA.
Surfing Coldingham Bay.
U571
Coldingham Bay From the sea.

Do you take your swimming goggles for a walk?

This is a question you won’t often ask yourself. Although stranger things do happen I suppose. My mum used to take her cats for a walk (yes, all 4 of them) and it was always a thought that made me smile, the somehow odd idea that felines needed a lead to leave their home.

One of my guilty pleasures in the outdoors is removing my shoes and socks and dipping my feet in the water. Usually sore and sweaty, the wave of relief that bubbles around my toes makes my whole body refreshed and ready to go again, even after a long day.

I decided to take that idea a step further. A few years ago I was at a talk given by Calum Maclean about wild swimming at the Peebles Mountain Festival. A very funny guy, he’d pulled his broadcasting skills and love of outdoor swimming together to create some short films of his adventures. His Scottish Temperature Guide film is a hoot, you can find it here: https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/calum-macleans-scottish-temperature-guide/

I’ve spent plenty of time in the water when kayaking, at the beach or dipping my feet on long walks. But building a trip around a swim in a wild and remote highland area, just like Calum, was not something I’d done before. And in the current climate, where swimming in your local council pool is a bit of a no-no, the idea of some socially distant swimming in a wild place really appealed. After some thought, I remembered Loch Kander. And packed my goggles in my walking bag.

I’d first spotted this loch when walking some of the Glenshee hills. Coming down Cairn an Turc on the way to Cairn of Claise, you spot the rocky edge of the corrie and it was a pretty stunning view, looking down into the corrie and the loch below. A perfect opportunity to go back to the loch, explore a new area and maybe have a dip at the same time.

I’ve made a couple of trips up Glen Callater as far as Lochcallater Lodge and Callater Stables bothy before.

The bothy is still closed at the moment due to the pandemic. I carried on along the path that is known as Jock’s Road on the edge of Loch Callater.

Alien feet?

After passing Loch Callater, you can see Corrie Loch Kander coming into view to the right of the waterfall.

The cliffs of Corrie Loch Kander looming behind the corrie entrance.

As the walk continued this massive waterfall had been getting bigger and bigger in my view so I took a wee trip up the hill to see just how powerful it was. Frogs and caterpillars were everywhere.

The last part of my outward journey took me towards the loch. But even this close, there was no sign of it yet.

But when they came into view, the corrie and the loch were absolutely stunning. High cliffs to the south and west didn’t prevent the strong, swirling breeze. This did make me wonder if getting my kit off, even in summer, was a good idea….

Some signs of recent rockfalls on the right.

The breeze was calmer near the corrie floor so I took of my walking gear, put on my swimming goggles and after 10km I was really looking forward to getting into the water. I think the smile tells you I enjoyed it. To me it felt a bit chilly to start with, and the water felt warmer as time went on. Calum Maclean would describe it, I think, as “no bad”. Definitely not roasting.

I don’t take many selfies, but I thought it was the only way to prove I actually got in! The coldest bit of the day was the drying off in the cool corrie breeze.

Looking back down Glen Callater towards home.

Seven hours after I left the Auchallater car park, I was back at the van. Feeling pretty clean actually after my mid-walk bath. I took my GoPro along so take a look at the film below. I’m not naked, that would be unpleasant for most people, other than my wife. And will I do this again? Will I take my swimming goggles to other baltic (cold, not Eastern European) lochs and waterways for a walk? Probably. But I need a wetsuit.

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