Garvellach’s

In the 1990’s I was fortunate to be able to paddle regularly in the area around the Firth of Lorn. At the time there was a campsite next to the beach in Arduaine. It was possibly the best located sea kayaking campsite in the UK. A favourite paddle for many of the visitors were the Garvellach’s, a few miles to the west.

The campsite closed, other paddling opportunities arose and the last time I paddled there was in 2002. It is hard to believe that 17 years have passed. This summer the opportunity arose to paddle to the Garvellach’s and I seized it with both hands.

We headed out from Belnahua on a day of bright sunshine but reasonably large tides. A direct route wasn’t possible but the use of transits was the only navigational tool required. We left Belnahua in the crisp light, which is experienced after the passage of a cold front. The winds from the front were the reason why we hadn’t paddled the day before. Today though the Islands of the Nether Lorn were calling.

Behind us there was a steady stream of yachts using the southerly tide to assist their passage down the west coast of Luing. Ahead though, the sea appeared empty apart from the distant hum of a fishing boat. We were pushed south by the tide despite our best attempts at maintaining our course. Once in the eddy behind the rocks we were able to work our way back to Garbh Eileach. The most substantial of the islands in the Garvellach’s.

One of main memories of my last visit was of a magnificent stag standing on the cliffs at the north east end of Garbh Eileach. In the swirling mists of that July day, it struck a striking pose and amazingly on this visit there was a superb stag standing in an identical position. It didn’t look stuffed so one can only assume that it’s a popular location for the resident deer population.

Garvellachs
Heading along the southern shore of the Garvellach’s. There are magnificant views to the south towards Scarba and Jura.

The paddle along the Garvellach’s is always spectacular with plenty of evidence of sea level change, a geographers dream. There is always the sense of expectation as you approach Eileach an Naoimh, knowing that you are going somewhere really special. As we pulled into the small anchorage it was clear that we were going to have the island to ourselves, a first for me.

Island Exploration

Garvellachs
Pete by one of the preserved Beehive cells

We passed a virtually perfect couple of hours wandering around the amazing remains, which are to be found on Eileach an Naoimh. As the only people on the island we were able to let our imaginations run riot. On a warm June day with light winds it seemed an idyllic place to live but what it must have been like exposed to the full force of an Atlantic storm on a December night, is hard to imagine.

This is probably the best preserved early Christian settlement on the west coast of Scotland. It dates back to the 6th Century A.D. It may have been founded by St Brendan the Navigator, which was before St Columba reached Iona.
17 years had passed since my last visit but I am certain that it won’t be 17 years before I step ashore on the these islands again. Classic is a word, which at times is used far too frequently but there is no doubt in my mind that paddling out to the Garvellach’s is one of the classic sea kayaking trips.

Eithne's Grave
This grave is traditionally identified as the grave of Eithne. St Columba’s mother
Garvellach's
Me standing on the summit ridge of Eileach an Naoimh, looking back towards the mainland of Scotland. Mull is on the left.
Garvellach's
On the summit ridge in 1999. Nicky and Phil Harriskine. Gordon Brown has his back to us and Duncan Winning is still walking upwards in the white shirt.