Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

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leighv
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Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by leighv »

Hi all!

Last week, myself and my guide Joe made a circumnavigation of Arran in Scotland. It was a fantastic trip! It was my second expedition since getting into sea paddling last year and it was an absolutely phenomenal experience, with varied conditions that were a little challenging at times, but always exciting. I'm already planning to go back, possibly in the autumn :)

I wrote up a little report of it here in case anyone is curious about kayaking around Arran:

http://peakandpaddle.co.uk/trip-report- ... e-of-arran


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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by leighv »

Actually, for full ease of reading, I'll post the content directly here :)

Trip Report: Sea Kayak Circumnavigation of the Isle of Arran


Date: July 2023
Route: Anti clockwise, starting and ending at Seal Shore Campsite

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Monday: Seal Shore to Holy Island
Distance: 12.55km
Weather: 14°C, light rain, wind S/SSW 3bft / gusts 4bft


Having arrived on the afternoon ferry from Ardrossan, my guide Joe and I made our way down to Seal Shore Campsite on the southern tip of Arran, having previously arranged to leave our vehicles there for the days we’d be making our way around the island.

With the forecast for the week showing a steady decline in conditions over the coming days, we were still unsure about whether to end the trip on Friday, as originally planned, or to shorten it to four days to arrive back at Seal Shore before the force 5/6+ winds that were forecast for the Friday. We decided to wait and see how/if the forecast changed over the next day or so before making a final decision.

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While conditions had been somewhat fair during the afternoon, things picked up considerably as we packed our boats – I was paddling my P&H Cetus MV while Joe was in his NDK Romany Excel – and prepared to launch into some decidedly unfriendly 1m+ swells and gusty southerly winds which pushed us up through Whiting Bay, past Kingscross Point and into Lamlash Bay, where the shape of the land and the bay provided respite from the swell, dishing up calmer albeit rainy conditions as we landed on Holy Island for the night, and quickly busied ourselves getting a cooking tarp up and our tents pitched on a suitably flat spot.

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With our campsite set up, we hauled our boats up onto the grassy verge well above the high water mark, and and as the sun went down, and the lights of Lamlash lit up the bay, we warmed ourselves with hot drinks and a mean pasta puttanesca cooked on Joe’s well worn Trangia before turning in.

The following morning, after campsite visits by a herd of small deer and a small group of horses, we packed up camp and launched into our second day.

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Tuesday: Holy Island to Sannox North
Distance: 19.73km
Weather: 12°/16°C, light rain, wind NW 1bft / gusts 2bft


Very little wind meant Tuesday was a calm day of easy paddling up to a well known spot just north of Sannox.

We stopped a few times along the way, firstly stopping at the small slipway near the ferry terminal in Brodick for coffee and pastries at the excellent Little Rock Cafe and some groceries at the large Co-Op, secondly for a leg stretch and a quick brew in the small, pretty harbour at Corrie, and finally a quick stop for another stretch on Sannox Beach (there’s a public toilet here), before arriving at our campsite at Sannox North picnic spot.

Whilst rocky, this section of coast is not hugely committing as there are numerous get-out spots along it should you need them. Landing at Sannox Beach itself is particularly easy as it’s very sandy.

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As we arrived at Sannox North at low water, we couldn’t paddle very close to the camping area, so we waist-towed our boats as far up the North Sannox Burn river as possible, before pulling them out onto the rocky shore, unloading them, and then carrying them, once they were empty, up to a spot just in front of the grassy picnic area. The river has fresh, crisp mountain water, and if you follow it up a short distance from the picnic area, there’s a small pool where you can take a cheeky dip!

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Since this is a picnic spot, there were a few others at this campsite, making it somewhat more challenging to find a private toilet spot, but there’s a narrow path you can take up the hill to the west to take care of business.

The weather over the course of the afternoon was occasionally wet but turned into a lovely warm evening. We made an indulgent mushroom risotto and enjoyed some cider as dusk approached.

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Wednesday: Sannox North to Blackwaterfoot
Distance: 39.67km
Weather: 14°/19°C, occasional light rain, wind NW 2bft / gusts 3bft


Rising at 4am on Wednesday morning for a 6am launch, the beautiful sunrise was really quite something!

It was, however, clear that Friday’s dire forecast wasn’t going to change, so we made the decision to make a big push down to the small town of Blackwaterfoot, to cover maximum ground before what would now be our last leg on Thursday.

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The forecast for Wedneday had been quite gusty but apart from a slightly blustery morning, much of the late morning into the afternoon was incredibly calm, with smooth glassy seas. We saw plenty of curious seals, one or two sea otters and a multitude of different species of jellyfish around us, including numerous barrel and lion’s mane jellies. The clear water also revealed numerous large crabs scuttling about along the sea floor. It was pretty glorious.

And best of all, we stopped at the small pebbly beach next to the ferry terminal in Lochranza for sandwiches at the unassumingly named The Sandwich Station nearby (the terminal has excellent public toilet facilities too). Best sandwiches in the known universe? Quite possibly. Great coffee too.

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Heading west and then starting southwards, the weather started to change somewhat, and we could see rainclouds coming in from the west. As we made the 6km crossing across Machrie Bay, the calm conditions we’d enjoyed all morning took quite a turn, the wind whipping up a fair amount of chop which made getting across to the Kings Caves and around Drumadoon Point rather hard work!

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By the time we arrived in Blackwaterfoot and made landing on the rocky beach, I was sorely in need of a leg stretch and a pint courtesy of the hotel bar near the small harbour. Unfortunately the level of the Black Water river was too low for us to paddle up it, so we had to haul the boats up the beach, unpack and cover them with a tarp before leaving them along a rocky wall for the night, while we camped nearby on a grassy verge overlooking the shoreline.

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The town has a small shop, the aforementioned bar and hotel, a bakery and an excellent public toilet maintained by a local community group (if you go, please be sure to take some change to donate in their donations box!), which makes it a useful stop, especially after a couple of days!

Despite camping alongside a road, it was a very peaceful night with the sound of the waves lapping on the rocks below.

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Thursday: Blackwaterfoot to Sliddery
Distance: 7.99km
Weather: 11°C, occasional light rain, wind SW/SE 4bft / gusts 5bft


As we checked forecasts and made our plan for the day, it was clear that we’d have to make a stop roughly around the halfway mark of our day’s route, to avoid a period of high southerly winds, problematic because we were paddling along the south coast, and also because of the amount of fetch to the south of the island.

We launched out into a rather choppy but manageable Drumadoon Bay, hoping to get to Cleat’s Shore before the conditions worsened, but unfortunately with weather having a habit of not always being predictable to the minute, and things started getting quite nasty when we were still around 30 minutes from our intended destination.

Faced with a choice of battling the wind and waves to Cleat’s, or stopping more immediately, we made the decision to turn towards Sliddery beach, a very rocky shoreline with some sharp rock shelves, where we made a tricky landing in dumping surf beneath darkened skies, quickly organising a shelter with our boats and a tarp. The wind was making things very chilly indeed, so we gathered up a load of salt-dried wood and got a small fire going, making some coffee and hot porridge before settling in for what turned out to be a six hour wait for conditions to improve.

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By the late afternoon, the winds had dropped a fair amount, and while there was some residual sea state, we figured it was good enough to launch back out, especially as the forecast showed conditions would continue to improve over the coming hours.

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Thursday: Sliddery to Seal Shore
Distance: 11.19km
Weather: 16°C, occasionally sunny, wind SW 2bft / gusts 3bft


As we paddled out into some residual chop, keeping an eye out for large rocks around the bay along Cleat’s shore (even though we were keeping our distance from shore, we encountered several large ones lurking out in the bay), we finally caught sight of Pladda, the small island just south of Seal Shore. Our finish line!

It was a fun, choppy last leg in quite pleasant conditions, paddling round Bennan Head, whilst keeping quite a distance from shore to avoid the long, sharp groynes which extend into the bay for much of this stretch.

With more quarterly winds giving us a slight nudge from behind, we made really good time on this leg, landing in very seaweedy low water at Seal Point. Hauling our boats out, setting up camp and popping into the nearby hotel bar for a well-earned pint and ice cream, we celebrated a brilliant trip!

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Arran is a gorgeous island with so much to see, and its featured coastline provides a full range of paddling opportunities, regardless of weather conditions. On the Friday we headed back up to Lochranza for some paddling, the bay there largely unaffected by the high southerly winds that were now battering the south coastline. As with any circumnavigation, good planning and regular checking of forecasts are essential throughout the trip, and for this particular trip, I’d recommend paddlers have, at the very least, their British Canoeing Sea Kayak Award, or equivalent training. If you’ve done your Coastal Sea Kayak Award, even better.

My guide for this trip was Joe from Rogan Coaching. It was my second expedition with Joe, and he’s a fantastic guide and coach, and a good laugh! I think we almost quoted a few lines from Lord of the Rings to death over the course of this trip.

Gear list for those who like the small details


Kayak: P&H Cetus MV custom
Paddles: Celtic Omega 650 (Spare: Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Hybrid)
GPS: Garmin GPSMAP 66sr
Tent: Hilleberg Niak
Sleep system: Mountain Equipment Helium quilt, Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT Regular mat, Big Agnes Boundary Camp pillow, Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite liner
Power: Goal Zero Sherpa 100AC, Goal Zero Venture 75
Rain gear: Kokatat Tempest cag, Outdoor Research Seattle Rain Hat, Fjallraven Hydratic Vardag anorak, Berghaus Paclite Gore-Tex overtrousers

Arran is a gorgeous island with so much to see, and its featured coastline provides a full range of paddling opportunities, regardless of weather conditions. On the Friday we headed back up to Lochranza for some paddling, the bay there largely unaffected by the high southerly winds that were now battering the south coastline. As with any circumnavigation, good planning and regular checking of forecasts are essential throughout the trip.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by seawolf856 »

Hi Leigh,

Thanks very much for posting these trip details. I am planning to do this exact trip myself next year and your report will be a massive help. I also know someone else who is doing this trip as we speak so I hope they (ChrisJK) will be able to give me some guidance as well on his return.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by leighv »

seawolf856 wrote:
Wed Jul 19, 2023 11:34 am
Hi Leigh,

Thanks very much for posting these trip details. I am planning to do this exact trip myself next year and your report will be a massive help. I also know someone else who is doing this trip as we speak so I hope they (ChrisJK) will be able to give me some guidance as well on his return.
You'll love Arran :) I was really inspired and helped by a load of trip reports I'd read here on this site so figured I'd return the favour. If anyone has any questions about Arran, just let me know and I'll see if I can help. It really was one of the best things I've ever done; the challenging bits were hugely exciting and waking up to a sunrise glinting off the side of your boat is always a special feeling. What I liked about Arran was that there were several shops (and toilets!!!) along the route, so if you realise you're missing something, you have a chance to get it along the way. And yet, at the same time, there are stretches of coastline that feel completely wild and far from anywhere. It really is a beautiful place.

I'm hoping to go back to Arran in the autumn (or, alternatively, somewhere in Ireland...). I've become totally addicted to sea kayaking!
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by mcgruff »

Good tarp work ;)
Have fun and don't die.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by ChrisJK »

Thanks Leigh
I will study your report.
Seawolf I’m sorry to say the trip didn’t occur as the conditions particularly for the first couple of days were forecast pretty appalling and with a continuing Westerly most of the week by consensus the plug was pulled and we had a few days on Anglesey mid week as a consolation
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by seawolf856 »

ChrisJK wrote:
Sat Jul 22, 2023 12:44 pm
Thanks Leigh
I will study your report.
Seawolf I’m sorry to say the trip didn’t occur as the conditions particularly for the first couple of days were forecast pretty appalling and with a continuing Westerly most of the week by consensus the plug was pulled and we had a few days on Anglesey mid week as a consolation
Aw, Chris that's really unlucky, sorry to hear that. One of the lads who came with us to Raasay at the end of May, has been up in Shetland battling the weather for the last two weeks. Still, we all know that sea kayaking depends so much on the weather, I even had to cancel a safety and rescue practice session at Colwyn Bay two weeks ago because of thunder and lightening! I hope Anglesey was enjoyable, I was in the Menai Straits on the 9th and it was blowing pretty hard then too. It's supposed to be the middle of summer for god's sake!!
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by MikeB »

Very nicely written, Leigh. Thanks for posting this.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by mrcharly »

Makes me even more glad to live where I live, Chris.

The winds have to be over 50knots for it to be unsafe to paddle. There are options no matter the weather or wind direction.

Sounds like you really had fun, Leigh.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by ChrisJK »

mrcharly I assume you mean Anglesey? Yes there are a huge variety of places to paddle. There was a moderate group just about to head up to start the circumnavigation with it looking like at least the first two days would be spent with us and our kit all getting thoroughly soaked even before we set off to complete the objective in a shortened window and further prospect of it ending once again in a deluge which just might have made it a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons!
Had we had a dry base we might have made stab at a series of day paddles. As it was we had several reasonable paddles at either end of Ynys Mon. Plus a decent meal out.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by mrcharly »

I was referring to your trip that didn't occur due to weather.

I live on the east coast of the Isle of Lewis.
This area, https://goo.gl/maps/QH8JgerMcBS5Lr9a8, is 5 min walk from my house.
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Re: Isle of Arran Circumnavigation report

Post by arran paddler »

Nice trip report. Always good to hear of visiting paddlers enjoying Arran. FYI the little dear on Holy Isle are in fact Soay sheep, little brown beasties with short horns, along with Saanen goats and Eriskay ponies all wild on the island.
Seal Shore campsite is a good choice, right near the sea and famously with almost no midges and a pub on the door step.
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