Sea Kayaking the Island of Bute - October 2012.


The Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was the one who said ‘That which does not kill you makes you stronger.’

Bob was due to do the write up and to claim a LCC first circumnavigation of Bute by Sit on top…. but he’s too knackered to lift finger to keyboard. So it’s history written by the victors, Awww yes. (two different Churchill quotes…)


The killing versus strengthening was never in doubt, but perhaps the comfort zone was shifted slightly.  Way back when I mooted a 4 day weekend around Bute or the inner Clyde with the door open to novices to have a crack at a short Sea Kayaking trip without the big step up into the big leagues and commitment that a week away requires.  Not being a coach, or even having a single star, I specified a maximum of 6, 2 good, 3 bad, and 1ugly(me). That was to get any situation stamped upon before it could escalate into a mess.   An excellent response was generated, but a bit of a family crisis put the date back to October, then circumstances reduced us to 3 with only hours to go.  This actually worked very well reducing vehicles to one and decisions to an easy majority vote.


Day one began with a superb breakfast with imported black pudding featuring amongst the culinary highlights at Marks house. I think he’ll prove a very popular passenger on future Scottish trips….

Now Bute for beginners requires 2 ferries, both of which cease running for the night before a party of paddlers could reasonably reach them from the Liverpool area after work. So we checked out the alternative road route on the mainland. This took way too long to build into a practicable alternative plan. But the idea was to see if it was going to be possible to condense Bute into a 3 day weekend for future trips.

Anyway, we arrived in Colintravie, took the ferry across the West Kyle of Bute and proceeded to the Bunk house and the curry house. Beware the price of the rice at the Chinese restaurant…


Day 2 saw a return to Rubodach where we packed the boats and left the van.

The sea kayakers addiction, leaving shore loaded, destination undecided, sun on front, wind on back, rolling green hills, clear blue seas, all weekend ahead and an unexpected high replacing the procession of dispiriting Atlantic lows of summer and autumn. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………………….h……………h………


A gentle breeze blew us down the East Kyle as we espoused the virtues of a slow and gentle start to warm up the muscles.

There always has to be something wrong in paradise, and in this case it was yachtties motor sailing instead of sailing. Well it seemed to annoy Mark, so that has to qualify as our fly in the ointment on a perfect autumn morning. I guess it was something to do with their horizon being about 2.5 metres up so they could see the patches of fitful calm in the narrowing Kyle. We, however, put it down to the old joke, Q? What do yachtiies have on a Saturday morning? A. A hangover.


Happy and allegedly hung over yachties not withstanding, we passed down the coast to indulge in a bit of ferry dodging before lunch. Many locals passed by on a charity walk and we passed the time amicably chatting about the unseasonably warm weather for early June, erm, October.  We carried on southwards crossing Kilchattan bay with a strengthening and cooling offshore breeze that brought the differences in boat design out. The sort of Breeze that could be handled by a thorough bred sea boat with the occasional cant to one side required a course correction of 70 degrees to ferry glide across the bay to a lovely clean public loo and a closed down pub. We headed a little further south and camped in on the first beach that we didn’t have to share with shaggy coos. 26km for the day.

After dinner Mark formulated a plan that involved visiting the lighthouse to the south first, then visiting the pub to the far, far north second. A linear walk passing through our campsite. Bob was most disgruntled to find the path South was not in fact the one to the pub. Lighthouse south, pub north, tents in the middle, all in the dark. There was very nearly some swearing……

The journey to the pub was not uneventful, Marks knowledge of heavenly bodies was appreciated, and we saw the milky way, some shooting stars, several constellations, and by monocular, a smudgy stain that is the grand and mighty galaxy of Andromeda, sister to our own dear galaxy. Perhaps in a galaxy far, far away they put their pubs closer to the beach.

Day 3 dawned cold, clear and windless several hours after we got up. Slack time had been built into the plan and day 2 is always a difficult packing day and this day two proved no different. Our wait on the beach proved a blessing in disguise as we rounded the Southern end of Bute, passing the lighthouse of Rubhan Eun in sunshine. Garroch head hove into sight to the southwest, as did Ailsa Craig, Arran and the Mull of Kintyre (Que out of tune singing…) all being scoured into glorious autumn colour by the sunshine.


As the compass swung north it became clear a long held, oft thwarted ambition would be fulfilled this day. Inchmarnock, bane of spellchecker and a fantastic lunch spot to the west of Arran. Arran looked like it could within be touching distance, not five hours away.


One of the key aspects to sea touring is passage planning and it is often critical to time back from a destination. So with a good bit of relentless slogging coming Bobs way, he played his trump card, a crab claw sail. This allowed him to keep a good cruising pace up on the 6 km crossing northwards to Bute.  Fickle mistress is the wind and after afternoon tea break, the fitful force 1-2 wind died, but not before it gave me new perspective on the idea of sailing a sea kayak. Once the wind died, we took taught Bob wash hanging. This proved to be a successful way of covering the ground. I borrowed Marks Greenland stick as a way of slowing me down as draft horse, but since Greenland sticks promote good trunk rotation….


Anyway, the Nordy took over draft horse duties and I gambolled on and off the front like an unruly puppy. Thus the beautiful West Kyle of Bute, with its rare wild goats, passed by with focus upon a toggle and a gap. Camp plan A was occupied already, so we pushed on towards the plan B campsite as the Pagan Maids of Bute resolutely ignored us just as they ignore all men.  The beautiful Burnt Isles passed by with very little tide in the softening light.

By jinkies! The shaggy coos were on Camp B with their bairns! This rather bug a lugged our plan B, so plan C (as in car) was brought into play and we carried on the quarter mile back to the van. Day 3 ended up at 36 km. Quite a feat on a SOT. Take a bow, Bob.


Day 4 and we came back (again) to Rhubodach for a look at Loch Riddon or Loch Ruel. This had always been in the plan as a short weatherproof day but today we had the triple pleasure of empty boats, bright sunshine and remarkable reflections.

The clear water afforded spectacular views of the marine flora and fauna. Sadly there are no photos of the spectacular, sponges, sea anemones and huge spiny starfish because some ominous bubbles started coming out of the camera as it was plunged underwater.

All weekend we had the occasional company of the seaplane that takes tourists from Loch Lomond on flights over Bute and beyond, but on this un-bleak, sun drenched Monday morning we were joined by the boys or perhaps girls of the RAF as they pootled northwards up the West Kyle and past us up Loch Ruel in a Hercules at pretty low level. Spectacular pose guys….  

Another point of interest in the Kyles, just North of the Burnt Islands are the statues of Caol Ruadh, these are a small group of statues on the beach in the way of Anthony Gormleys metal men, but these guys, girls and sea creatures are flat and polished to a mirror finish. They provide a spectacular perspective on, er… I’m not really sure, but I like them so I’ll be attempting to time a return visit for high water when the tide laps around their feet, tripling the scope for introspective reflection. Although I think it would be all to easy to swamp their magic with a large party of visitors.

They are only a few yards from a miniature deserted model village, also tide washed and thought provoking, but in an empty head like mine, probably wasted.  On the short paddle back through the Burnt Isles, the ferry, Loch Dunvegan, let off an orange smoke distress flare. I can attest that commercial flares produce a great deal of smoke. We proceeded southwards with caution, but felt that as the ferry was already aground at its ramp, we would be able to offer relatively little assistance.


So we packed up, caught the same ferry, and gently enquired as to the cause of the flare going off and found it to have been a false alarm. The trip back to Glasgow was taken via the Gurrock- Hunters Quay ferry, and on mentioning I knew the way back from Dunoon, the snores immediately commenced and hardly stopped until someone phoned Bob just north of Carlisle. So a successful trip was had, wound up with Mark feeding us (thanks Eileen) once again on the way home.

So the point of the trip was to provide a bridge between the big leagues of the high commitment weeks away and the beginners. 

So what did the sea kayaking newbie’s learn? Nothing, because they didn’t turn up. But Bob turned up and had a crack, so I’ll give some thoughts to touring with a Sit on Top (SOT).

I was determined to keep the trip open to relative novices provided my safety ratios were met. So a Sit on Top intrigued me rather than worried me. I’d already seen Bob produce a nearly 8km/h pace after a 9 mile portage to the Hilbre race the previous weekend, so I figured rightly he was strong enough for us both to learn something.


But SOTs are not efficient, (as opposed to skis) denying the paddler the use of the bigger muscle groups in the lower body, therefore working a smaller range of muscles much harder. They are also naturally slower and the paddler, on passage, will be running the arm muscles much closer to the anaerobic threshold than would a sea kayaker. But the sail was a revelation, as was the wash hanging.  I’m guessing SOTs will always be the ugly sister on a trip, at least until Aled turns his attentions to a narrow wasted SOT with a vee keel that would corner like a bicycle and let the paddler use their entire body for the stroke…


On this trip I imposed strict dead lines on darkness and being October in the middle of bout of Atlantic lows we kept on going whilst the going was good. We took a vehicle onto the island to make a bale out as easy as possible.  Bute for a season bookend is a workable proposition for a 4 day weekend.


Paddlers were Bob Giles, Mark Pawley, and myself Adrian Mould.   Nice one boys.