Barra, Mingulay & the Bishop’s Isles Expedition, 2018

Richard Janes and Ed Loffil
The Bishop’s Isles are a small archipelago of islands and the Southernmost of the
Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They lie south of the island of Barra and historically so named because they were owned by the Bishop of the Isles. The group consists of nine islands and numerous rocks. The main islands and named going South from Barra are Vatersay, Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and finally  Berneray or Barra Head. After which, there is nothing more going South for a very long way!

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Beautiful islands, separated by Sounds of fast tidal streams and open to the full force of Atlantic wind and swell. Remote, committing and with such a fabulous name, Mingulay has been high on my dream list for many years. I first paddled to Mingulay in 2017, a highly challenging trip where on the West Coast our total focus was on the dynamics of the water rather than the Geography!  I describe here our visit in June, 2018 which was our second visit.

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The starting point for this trip is Castlebay, Barra at the Southern end of the Outer a Hebrides. A beautiful spot which is quite easily accessible from the South. A ferry runs from Oban. We left a vehicle in Oban and used trolleys to carry our laden kayaks onto the boat. The five hour journey to Barra is a delight! A cruise up the sound of Mull followed by Ardnamurchan point with views of the Small Isles, Treshnish, Coll and Tiree. We enjoyed a fabulous display from a large pod of Dolphins and sightings of Basking Sharks. The launch pad for the kayaking trip is a slipway and a very short trolley from the ferry.

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At the tail end of a long period of high pressure we launched at 7pm. Close to the longest day, it barely gets dark at these latitudes. We paddled South on a smooth sea with evening sun and very gentle air in ‘shorty’ cags. Stopping only to take pictures the gentle sussuration of wavelets on rock, punctuated by the evening call of so many seabirds created an idylic scene. We passed an otter about his evening duties. Crossing the Sound of Sandray, our
target for the night was Pabbay and we landed after nine Nautical miles on a pristine beach through turquoise water and camped on a perfect pitch of machair. Our bay was on the East side of the island but even here the  Westerley swell was enough to create sufficient surf to demand care when landing. We chose an exposed spot overlooking the sea but the still air brought out a few midges! Seals swam by at regular intervals and a porpoise was feeding. We must have been near a Tern’s nest, at least that was our explanation for the frequent attacks to my head by these beautiful birds!

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The next day was overcast but the High Pressure was holding. We paddled South across the Sound of Mingulay and down the East side of Mingulay. I started to feel apprehensive as we approached the Sound of Berneray. We had been paddling on smooth seas but from our previous visit, we knew the West Coast would likely be very different! Rounding the South East corner of Berneray we were on new waters for us. And what a place! Massive cliffs, topped by Barra Head lighthouse. Barra Head Lighthouse marks the southern entrance to The Minch, roughly halfway between the Eilean Glas and Rinns of Islay lighthouses. The 58 foot stone tower, built in 1833, stands on the west side of the island, at the top of a very steep cliff, making the light the highest in the UK with a focal plane of 682 feet above sea level. There is no shallow water west of Berneray to break the blow of the Atlantic storms and small fish are sometimes thrown onto the grass on the cliff top.

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We were now on the Wild West side of the islands and being lifted by swell and thrown around by the very significant clapotis. The West side of Mingulay is truly amazing. The cliffs rise to 700 feet and with major sea stacks, caves and so many sea birds a total joy for sea Kayakers! We paddled close to the cliffs but the constant swell prevented any ‘rock hopping’ in caves. Besides, this is not a place for error. Totally remote; flares, VHF and phone are useless. We carry PLB as a ‘talisman’. We followed the Coast of Mingulay through the Sound and landed for lunch on the beautiful Mingulay Bay on the East side of the island before paddling North to our starting point on Pabbay. With fourteen amazing Nautical miles under our hulls, sleep was very easy.
Day three and decision time! Where to next? The forecast held good but a brisk North West wind was forecast for later in the day. From our camp on Pabbay, we paddled West through the Sound of Mingulay past Sandray and its islands, Vatersay and then followed the West Coast of Barra North and into the Sound of Barra. Another magical area, the Sound of Barra is surrounded by more fascinating islands and islets. We camped on a tiny island between Gighay and Hellisay. We had paddled with some effort to beat the start of the adverse wind and we made it! The breeze kept the midges away and the 21 NM day ensured another good sleep.

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Day four. Sunshine and the wind (mostly) behind us meant a glorious cruise down the East side of Barra and return to Castlebay in warm sunshine. A fabulous end to a spectacular trip with a good friend.

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We paddled a total distance of around 60NM over four days. The distances are not great but the environment hereabouts is huge, in every way. It is rare for Westerley swell not to be an issue. The water is very deep and the reflected (clapotis) waves are significant. This creates turbulent water which may then be further confused by tidal streams and ‘wind against’ conditions. Not a place to be taken lightly..

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Of course, this was not the end of the trip. Sipping cold beer in the sunshine, looking South to Vatersay and beyond was a time for reflection. … “Slaintte mhath, Matey”; “do dheagh shlainte, …. your round!”

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Beautiful Mingulay
A heart so bright, living and warm,
Genesis of my dreams.
Hewn by Nature’s might,
Anchored in a sea of swelling, brilliant silver.
Swell surges to massive cliffs
Rolling energy, harbinger of life!
Sliding with water,
Running away as time.
Expressions of immeasurable force.
Ancient beauty
Sobs to the bruising, blunting wave.
Dark rock,
Dressed by natures hand
Studded with whirring birds,
Screeching for their future and lifted in spume
Above the boiling black of the ocean.
Stunning, savage, powerful place!
Living , changing and timeless.
Fragile life of Mingulay,
Pictures of our now and yesterday,
May your ancient rock hold fast
To remain our keeper of forever.

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The first SKW Biodiversity for Kayakers Course, Anglesey

On Saturday 28 April, Sea Kayaking Wales welcomed, to Bodorgan, Anglesey, its first Biodiversity delegates – Sue, Dave and Catherine.  The day began with sharing fresh coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat as we got to know one another.  This was followed by a classroom presentation/discussion, led by Geth and Richard, to formulate what we understand about Biodiversity and how it differs from marine to terrestrial environments.  We then practiced using a Field Studies Council “Rocky Shore Biological Key”, for species identification, on pre-collected seaweed and invertebrate animal specimens.  Our chosen goals, for the kayak trips, were to understand/explore tidal zonation in coastal ecosystems, identify a range of algae (seaweeds) and find as many of the main 28 animal groups as possible.

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The low wind, swell and sunny conditions allowed us to explore any angle of Anglesey’s coast.  We chose to paddle between Porth Llechog (Bull Bay) and the Borth Wen Brickworks, on the North Coast.  This gave us access to both rocky and shingle shore ecosystems with both exposed and sheltered aspects.  This rocky shoreline also has extensive sheltered cave and gully locations that are dark and protected from desiccation – here the baked bean ascidian sea squirt often outcompetes barnacles to filter feed on plankton and the red crusty algae decorates the rock walls in a bid to absorb the low intensity light.

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Baked bean sea squirt in a large cave

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Both Porth Llechog and Borth Wen exhibited great seaweed, mollusc, annelid and arthropod diversity in accordance with the zonation rules.  The Trecastell Hotel, Bull Bay, proved to be a popular venue, with fantastic views, to discuss our plans for the Sunday kayak journey.

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On Sunday, we met at the Truckstop Cafe, Holyhead for coffee and some more breakfast.  The aims of our second day were to visit additional coastal ecosystems (salt marsh, sediment and sand dune) and visit a seal colony.  Four Mile Bridge to Borth Wen, Rhoscolyn was an obvious choice given the favourable and sunny weather conditions.

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The salt marshes and sand dunes provided ample opportunity to explore the adaptations of intertidal salt-tolerant higher plants and drought-tolerant higher plants, respectively.  Both ecosystems also demonstrated succession of communities as the soil substrate conditions became less physically extreme inland.  At Silver Bay we stopped for lunch, collected some litter and examined ray and nursehound eggcases.

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The waters beyond Silver Bay were crystal clear.  Here the rocky shore was dominated by evenly distributed tough barnacles and marauding dogwhelks that were distributed in clumps near rock crack havens.  The darker gullies were again decorated with red crusty algae and, instead of sea squirts, bright patches of orange breadcrumb sponge and beadlet anenomes.

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At Ynysoedd Gwylanod, the Beacon Islands, the resident seals basked contentedly in the sun.  They were clearly well fed following another busy feeding session in the ebbing tidal currents.  Our team was also feeling very content and ready for their post-course pint in the White Eagle Pub.

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For more course dates follow this link:

http://seakayakingwales.com/exploring-coastal-biodiversity-by-kayak/

 

North Coast of Anglesey – Saturday, 21 April

On this fabulous day of sun, warmth and calm seas, Wolfgang and I set off for Porth Llechog (Bull Bay) to explore, by sea kayak, Anglesey’s beautiful north coast.  Our plan was to head West, against the flooding tide to Llanbadrig church before venturing offshore to Ynys Badrig (Middle Mouse).  Our return leg included a porpoise sighting and a curious grey seal.  Gannets, choughs, auks, guls, cormorants and oystercatchers provided today’s aerial entertainment.

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Ynys Badrig (Middle Mouse) in the distance

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The “Brickworks”

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Ynys Badrig (Middle Mouse)

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Cave arches

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Porth Llechog (Bull Bay)

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The Skerries – Sunday, 16 April

An atmospheric trip to The Skerries, from Cemlyn, with Ed.  The spring ebbing tide and force 4 southerly winds provided wonderful sea conditions, particularly the superb surf at Carmel Rocks.  At The Skerries the seals were as playful as ever and the puffins were back for the nesting season.

Clara enjoying Harry Furlough’s Tiderace.

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Video – click to view

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Seals checking Ed out…

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The Platters

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Rough crossing back to the mainland

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Superb surf at Carmel Rocks

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An amazing blowhole and tiderace fun – 24 March 2018

 

What a wonderful spring day to explore and play on the sea!

Petr in white water.

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Mirco coaching at Penrhyn Mawr’s Inner Race.

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Petr enjoying the Outer Race at Penrhyn Mawr.

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The steep waves were tricky to surf on this day.

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Rachel after Penrhyn Mawr and on our way to South Stack.

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Richard with South Stack and Paul behind him.

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South Stack.

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South Stack tiderace with lovely clean surf waves.

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Paul and Rich at South Stack Tiderace.

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Ynys Lawd Channel.

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Ellen’s Castle.

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Steve Miles coaching on our return through Penrhyn Mawr.

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Roswitha enjoying the sun at Penrhyn Mawr.

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The Middle Race at Penrhyn Mawr.

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Porth Rhuffydd and the amazing blowhole.

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A great day!  Thanks to – Paul, Rich, Rachel and everyone else we met today.

Photos by Geth

 

Big Swell Day on Anglesey, 11 March 2018

A bit of West Coast Ireland training – 7ft 12 seconds SW hits Anglesey.  An exciting and powerful day between Porth Y Pwll and Penrhyn Mawr.

 

Lots of bouncy coastal water and huge waves at Porthdafarch and The Fangs, Penrhyn Mawr…

Paddling today were (left to right in the photo) Ed, Geth, Steve and Mirco.

Ynys Gybi (Holy Island) Circumnavigation, Anglesey – 17 Feb, 2018

Saturday 17 February was a sunny day with a playful swell hitting the westerly shore.  The tidal range was in the spring end of the spectrum and the wind was around force 4 from the South, backing West later in the day.  The Ynys Gybi (Holy Island) circumnavigation seemed like a good plan.

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Leaving Porthdafarch

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Rhoscolyn Head

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The Beacon

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Roger Chandler’s group on their way out to Rhoscolyn Beacon

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Borthwen

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Cymyran Straits

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RAF Valley

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Approaching Four Mile Bridge

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Entering the Inland Sea

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Stanley Embankment

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The 2 PM Ferry

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Crossing to the break water

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Holyhead Mountain

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North Stack

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South Stack tiderace

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A bit of a surf session with tired arms…

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Approaching Penrhyn Mawr

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Mini Mawr

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Back at Porthdafarch

 

 

The Menai Straits – 13 Feb, 2018

A lovely journey from Menai Bridge to Plas Newydd.  We had lots of fun playing with the current at the Menai Suspension Bridge, Swellies Pole and Ynys Gorad Goch before cruising to Plas Newydd and back to Menai Bridge.  There was only an 8.6m tidal height at Liverpool.  Nevertheless, plenty of intertidal life was exposed in this interestingly biodiverse coastline.

Paddling today were Dave and Geth.

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Ynysoedd y Moelrhoniaid, The Skerries – 5 Feb, 2018

Ynysoedd y Moelrhoniaid (Island of the Bald headed grey seal) or the Skerries.
Richard J, Paul and Steve.

What a great way to spend a cold Monday in February! HW (Liv) was 1438 (9.1m) and the flood runs until 1353. We put on at the beautiful bay of Porth Swtan (Swtan is a Whiting in Welsh) at 1225 and ferried to the Island. It’s an interesting ferry. Using transits, we could feel areas of faster/ slower water. The crossing took just under an hour. It’s always magical to arrive at the Skerries. Inquisitive seals are everywhere and the island certainly lives up to its Welsh name!
All day, the quality of light was amazing. Refractions causing distant objects to appear as if floating. However, the real ‘jewel’ of the day was an amazing view of Isle of Man. It would have been an excellent day for this crossing! But there again, all three of us were recovering from the lurgy, so maybe not.
We lingered for lunch and simply gazing at the view until cold prompted movement. Or maybe it was seeing the ebb tide increasing around Gull Rock? We paddled around the island, now feeling some considerable foce in the ebb. Another ferry took us across to Ynys y Fydlyn and one of our favourite areas of sea cliff and Coast. And so back to the vehicles.

North Coast on the flood, 27 Jan 2018

When a wet, windy foul weather day, turns out to be a great day!
Forecast for Coastal Waters around Anglesey on Saturday suggested rain, winds (WSW/W, F6). They weren’t wrong. The drive onto Anglesey was miserable…. And Paul’s wipers had a temporary ‘moment’, deciding to stop working! Holyhead Truckstop was the usual oasis and we bumped into Jim Krawiecki and his group who were heading off to Trearddur Bay to do some rescue practice. We felt wet enough already.
The coffee and humour had worked it’s wonderful ways as we headed to Porth Llechog ( Bull Bay). And enthusiasm was back to normal as we got on the water, hiding (too hot) in dry suits and working our way under the rocks and cliffs of the most Northerly mainland of Wales. Great paddling and with low tide, stunning environment and Geology.
Lunch was at Porth Wen, commonly known as ‘The Brickworks’. In Victorian times they made bricks here. Rather special bricks using local quartzite. These bricks were not only hard but able to withstand very high temperatures, essential to line the industrial furnaces of the time for the manufacture of steel. All interesting stuff but lost to the humour of friends Barry Shaw and James Stevenson who were with a group!
Launching was delayed as Geth rooted out a ‘Sea Squirt’, so named because they squirt out water when disturbed and more closely related to vertebrates like us than invertebrates. We were now chilly so headed West. Once out of the Bay we were paddling into the full strength of the wind. We paddled West of Middle Mouse before starting a ‘ferry’ out to the island. As we entered the eddy line, a call from Paul as a Common Dolphin (http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/common-dolphin/) was racing and turning just behind my kayak. Wonderful!

The ‘ferry’ became somewhat technical as we neared the island. Strong wind, clapotis and tide race joined forces to make quite tough paddling. The North side of the island was a blast. Fast surf waves and wind behind! The GPS track would be spaghetti as we repeated ‘runs’. All with the fabulous backdrop views of the North Coast.

Return to Bull Bay with wind behind and the flood tide was very quick. Even the rain had stopped. Yet again, a foul day turned out to be a great day!

Written by Rich.  Photos by Geth.

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