July 2014 – Circumnavigation of Lismore

  • by Ian Cooke

Early start and a beautiful day……..

Sunday 13th July in 2014 saw myself and Chris Wiles pull up nice and early at 8 o’clock in the morning at Port Appin just opposite the northeast end of Lismore. The conditions were excellent with a light 7mph south westerly wind blowing lazily up the Lynn of Lorn.

We had a broad 2 day plan for a roughly 28 mile circumnavigation of the Island. We were going to ride south on the ebb tide down the west side of the island. The trip then arrived at the lighthouse at Eilean Musdile at the southern tip to coincide with local low water. This was also roughly one before high water Dover (13:20), when the water should roughly start to flow back up the Lynn of Lorne.

Chris Wiles off the coast of Lismore – photo courtesy of Chris Wiles

Just perfect tides

The tide was just perfect for the 14 or so mile paddle down the island with local high tide being 06:24. Therefore we got on the water at the early part of the middle tide range at 08:30. There was a southerly river like current already flowing across the shallow narrow stretch of water. This was a beautiful start between Eilean nan Caorach, Lismore and the mainland with two broad streams of tidal flow.

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Detail of Imray Chart of the North Part of Lismore and the Mainland – Ferryglidetastic!

What a beautiful way to start a long summer’s day paddle, bow pointed upstream on my Quest. I turned a little off to the left, dropped my left knee and wahoo, off we go!

I was gliding across a fast kilometre of water, sometimes through eddies and sometimes into main currents, an ace day already!

So keeping in line with transits, we maintained our position and rounded the tip of Lismore, before pointing our noses south down Loch Linnhe.

We were definitely on a ride on one of those perfect days. There was no wind and just a useful current imperceptibly pushing us along with no dramas at all.

The history bit……..

The west coast of Lismore is quite remote and boasts a couple of fantastic castles, the first being castle Coeffin. This is a 13th century castle built on the site of a Viking fort, commanding views over Loch Linnhe. Further on, the defender’s view is drawn south towards the Sound of Mull.

Moving back further in time, the modern history of Lismore starts much earlier. The venerable St Moluag established a monastery here in 561-564, a contemporary of St Columba.

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Imray Chart of the Trip

The fog……..

Continuing down, the sea remained kind to us. However thick fog was rolling in as we pushed out west past Achadun Castle around Bernera Island.

Me by Achadun Castle just before the fog arrived……… – Photo courtesy of Chris Wiles

At this point, visibility was probably twenty metres and we now had the unfortunate potential to carry on in too much of a westerly or south westerly direction directly towards Duart Castle on Mull past Lady Rock, into the middle of a busy ferry channel from Oban to and fro up the Sound of Mull.

So off we go and trust to the compasses, acknowledging that we’re in an eddy protected by Bernera Island. With no great southerly tidal drift, we put the compass on about 178 degrees. We then added a minimal degree or so for magnetic variation from grid north. This according to the map for that date from a couple of years earlier. Playing safe like this and wanting to hit the bottom of Lismore about a kilometre from the tip and then handrail the bottom half of the island to the lighthouse gave us some good contingency.

Big boats…….

As if we needed reminding of the need for good navigation in foggy conditions, we then encountered a loud bass Paaaaaaaaarrrrrp of the Calmac ferry. It had passed in front of us at 90 degress travelling up the Sound of Mull towards Coll or Barra. Whoa! That sounded close and it absolutely certainly wasn’t, we knew that it would be a mile or more away, but sitting in disorientating thick fog with no wind and no visibility in any direction, with sound carrying clearly, is always a good test of navigation and confidence.

And back in the room…….. we paddled on for no more than 10 minutes and arrived bang on where we wanted to be, about 800m to a kilometre north east of Eilean Musdile and its impressive lighthouse.

Lighthouse at Eilean Musdile – southern tip of Lismore

Interestingly, and as an aside, I’m convinced that this lighthouse is on giant roller skates when you’re paddling across to it from Oban as you can see it as clear and large as life from probably 10km’s away on a fine weather day and yet the quicker you paddle towards it, the quicker it keeps going backwards, but such is the way of landmarks when kayaking.

A lovely ride home………

Anyway back to Lismore, there we were at the Southern tip bang on low water slack with a south westerly wind, so what do we do? Well, it’s early in the day, we have a flood tide starting and a gentle tailwind so boom, straight back up the east side of Lismore, I think that we got 28 miles in the tank on Chris’ second outing in a sea boat and didn’t bother with the overnight stay.

A beautiful day and a day when the tide, the wind and the sea were just in perfect harmony granting us a beautiful adventure.

Next day’s naked adventurer and an unfortunate accident…..

The following day, off we went around Scarba through the Corryvreckan and the Grey Dogs, to come face to face with the naked solo kayaking adventurer, all watched from a close distance by Scarba’s resident White Tailed Eagle. Later on that same evening, I also managed to set Chris on fire with a combination of a hot Trangia, enthusiasm, temporary thoughtlessness and hot meths, but they’re stories for another post.

One day in time around Lismore and a day to remember with a great friend.

Spent my life having fun in mountains, rivers, sea and surf. After 40 years doing it, still can’t get enough and hungry as ever to experience this beautiful world and nature.

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