Kyle of Tongue to Armadale Bay – Section 6 | Day 2

  • Corrected for BST, neap tide
  • Scrabster
    • High 03:00, High 16:11
    • Low 09:32, Low 21:39
    • Tidal co-efficient 43
    • Height 3.8m

Launch point at Kyle of Tongue
This first day of our row dawned uncharacteristically for us, with rain, but a very manageable 5 knot south easterly wind. The forecast however showed a rising easterly wind from 1pm onwards (gusting up 25 knots), so an early start was advised, sunrise was at 04:05 and we found ourselves ready to launch the boat at 05:30. Since we had 16 NM to row we would require to get that done before the rise in wind. Launch was far too early for one of the crew; a particularly unhappy Flan grumped her characteristic way to the shore, and the historical pier which was our launching point.

We had to row against the tide but it was a neap so for big river rowers this was not a challenge (low tide at 09:32) and absolutely necessary to avoid the later weather. We needed the high tide to allow us to make to the deep channel which meanders out of the Kyle towards the North Sea and remove any worries about grounding the boat. We should get the best of the tide when we round the headland and start working against the easterly wind which we would be rowing into – not ideal but a pragmatic compromise.
There was considerable historical interest in the Kyle and Flan, once she cheered up, regaled us with stories about the ‘Hazel’ a Jacobite vessel that was chased by a Royal Navy frigate as it brought gold from supporters in Europe to Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. The crew tried to take the money overland to escape capture and threw the gold into a lochan where it was later retrieved by the authorities when they were captured. It has been postulated that if this gold had reached the Jacobites they may have been victorious at Culloden.

Despite all the history surrounding us, our concentration was focused on the waters that are notorious along this coastline. As we make our way towards the open sea we pass over a number of reefs that make the Kyle a surfing destination in winter when conditions here provide waves interesting enough for hardier souls. We use the tide to get over the reefs safely and exit the Kyle.

We make our way without mishap to the group of islands known as Rabbit Islands; these are really spectacular with a natural sandstone arch called ‘Claigeann na Sgeir’ (Bell of Skerry) in the most northerly one.

Rabbit Islands at dawn in the Kyle of Tongue with Eilean Nan Ron in the background
Given our tight timescale with looming weather, we change our plans and decide to carry on rather than landing on Rabbit Islands for a late breakfast. We have a new gadget for the boat this year which enables us to brew up while rowing. A cup of tea was called for so, Anne P who was coxing us out of the Kyle, got the kettle going. We have adapted the trangia stove on a swing out arm over the side of the boat, which allows us to brew up while rowing without fear of setting the boat on fire.

While the tea is brewing, we grudgingly pass the Rabbit islands on our starboard side and carry on eastwards in the early morning light. Our next landmark is the impressive bulk of Eilean nan Ron which looms out of the murk as we pass between it and the mainland. Fulmars and razorbill abound as we pass the cliffs and head directly for Neave Island. Hear there are the remains of an ancient church which was identified in 1874 as being a church of St Columba. Sadly, given our time pressures, we cannot stop for a visit and must continue on to Torrisdale bay. This is us halfway into today’s row and we are pushing time and watching the forecast with trepidation. We must get to Armadale Bay before that easterly hits. The tide is now slack and we are making good time it is the forecast wind that is causing us some concern. We know if we get to Torrisdale Bay before 0900, we can stop for second breakfast! At 0845 we spot a mooring buoy just at the entrance of Torrisdale Bay. An excellent opportunity for a break, some hot tea and breakfast brownies made by the fair Rachel (see recipe below). This also allows us judicious use of the bailers for a comfort break. While breakfasting, we remark on the wreckage that can been seen on Torrisdale beach and Flan once again rises to the occasion explaining that this is the remains of the USS John Randolph struck by a mine as it journeyed from Russia to Iceland in 1942. Let us hope we do not suffer the same fate in Armadale Bay. We can also see the outline of Bettyhill on the east end of the bay – no stopping at the café for us it is full steam ahead.

We now have three and a half hours left to get to our destination, beat the weather and make a safe landing at Armadale Bay. However, now that we have the tide with us so our timings should be fine.

Recipe for Breakfast Brownies

Ingredients: 200g dark chocolate; 250g butter; 300g brown sugar; 4 eggs; 300g ripe banana, chopped;1 tsp vanilla extract; 100g porridge oats; 200g plain flour; 2 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder; 1 tsp baking powder; ½ tsp salt; 2 tbsp peanut butter; 2 tbsp almonds, roughly chopped; 3 tbsp mixed pumpkin seeds or nibble mix

  • 1. Heat oven to 180°C. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heat proof bowl set over a pot half-filled with gently simmering water, stirring until melted. Cool for 10 minutes.
  • 2. Beat the sugar and eggs in a food processor until smooth. Add the banana and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture and oats and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, and fold through with a spatula until just combined.

  • 3. Pour half the mixture into a well-buttered and lined 30cm x 20cm baking pan. Dot half teaspoons of peanut butter on top, then pour the remaining mixture over the top. Scatter with the almonds and seeds and bake for 25 minutes, leaving it squidgy-moist inside. Cool, then cut into squares to serve.

After a magnificent repast we change cox to the baker, Rachel, and carry on our journey hoping that we may see some of the wildlife that inhabits this part of the coast. We row out of our emergency exit point, Torrisdale Bay, thankfully unused and start on the last leg of our row today. Our next landmark is Farr Point which we round in good style and enter Kirtomy Bay where we spot the ruins of Borve Castle, thought to have been built by Torquil, a Norseman, and later became the stronghold of the Clan Mackay. To our amazement and joy, given the less than ideal weather, Barbara shouts out, ‘Whale!’ And we realise that we are within a group of Orca, perhaps hunting dolphin. We sit and watch for about 15 minutes while dabbling the oars to keep our position until they pass by; what an amazing experience. This has made the row today worthwhile, even in the rain.

Close encounter with an orca

We have now entered the last part of today’s row, and the most hazardous as far as water conditions are concerned, but the tide is with us and mercifully the wind remain light. We head towards Kirtomy Point followed by Ardmore Point before we can enter the relative shelter of Armadale Bay. All along this coast, the currents and behaviour of the water as it collides with the land mass makes for very challenging rowing. Full concentration is required as we battle towards our finish for the day as seabirds swoop around us and waves clash onto the land. This constant sideways chop/chop is uncomfortable and wearying. However, we know that once we turn Ardmore Point we will get some shelter from the easterly wind which is now starting to gust up.

How we found Armadale Bay with a light swell and a very manageable navigation to shore
Our last concern now that we are out of the main current is that Armadale Bay has reefs that border the approach to the bay and lead to a long shelving beach, where waves can crash in a rolling surf. This is not a set of conditions we are used to dealing with and we are somewhat worried about what we may encounter on reaching our destination. We do have a drogue in the boat but we would rather not deploy if we don’t have to as we are not experienced in its operation. As we approach the beach we can see that the waves are present but not large or rolling and decide to make a straight run at the beach. We know there are no rocks under the surf so row hard for the finish and are lifted on the swell while rowing hard and straight. We beach her on the sand and tumble out, happy to be back on dry land and head to our accommodation for the night.

Back to Top