The Coastal Path in Scotland – Jura

Jura is the eighth largest Scottish island by size, yet the thirty-first largest by population.  It is 36,692 hectares, and yet in 2001 was populated by only 196 people.  This means that there are 20 million square feet per person which, you would think, is plenty of room for a decent sized house with an outside hot tub and a few chickens to boot.  Unfortunately Jura is mostly blanket bog, meaning the walk up your new driveway would feel nice and bouncy, but you might find your nice new house had sunk and disappeared by the time you got to your front door.

All the same, it is a beautiful place with friendly people.  We took the ferry over from Islay.  We took the A846, the island’s main (and almost only) road in.  The A846 sounds quite grand, but it is a single track road with passing places which I quite liked.  The Paps of Jura dominated the skyline on the way over from Islay.

The Paps of JuraThe Paps of Jura are three hills (you can just see the third peeking out, behind the left hand one) on the western side of the island.  The word “pap” is an ancient word whose origin is Old Norse and refers to the female form of a breast.  I had no idea of the origin of the word when I was there having my photo taken with the Paps in the background.  With the benefit of this knowledge my photo now looks outrageously indecent as I nestle myself between them!

The Paps of JuraOur trip to Jura was to see this:

Jura DistilleryBut I couldn’t help facing away from the distillery to look at this instead:

The View from Outside Jura DistilleryThe sparsely populated Jura has a raw beauty.  I only saw a small piece of it and wish we had spent more time there.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Ferry Crossing from Islay:    N 55° 50.896 W 006° 06.290
  • Paps of Jura:  N 55° 53.775 W 006° 00.500
  • Jura Distillery:  N 55° 49.965 W 005° 57.055

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 10 September 2014

The Coastal Path in Scotland – Harvest Moon

If you are going to be away from light pollution for the Harvest Moon then Islay is better than London.  I’m not sure which I like more – the bright fullness of the moon or the impenetrable thick blackness of the night sky.

Islay Harvest MoonThe moon itself seemed to have stars within it.

7a - Islay Harvest Moon close up

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Harvest Moon from Islay:    N 55° 47.710 W 006° 13.640

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 9 September 2014

The Coastal Path in Scotland – Machir Bay

In September 2014 I visited Islay with my friend Campbell.  Islay is a beautiful island in the Inner Hebrides, some 75 miles east of Glasgow and something of a Mecca when it comes to whisky.  We always try to take in a bit of coastline during my Scotland trips, and so after visiting Kilchoman Distillery we drove down to the nearby Machir Bay.  Islay has some 130 miles of coastline to it; Machir Bay has a reputation for being one of the best stretches the island has to offer.  It is a beautifully quiet, flat breadth of beach which lasts for a mile or so but which seems to go on for much longer, framed in the distance by craggy cliffs.

Machir Bay, Islay

It was just off Machir Bay that the worst convoy disaster of the First World War occurred.

The HMS Otranto was a former liner, requisitioned by the Admiralty during the War, and it had a particularly unlucky final voyage.  Acting as a convoy flagship, she departed New York on 25 September 1918.  There were six columns in the convoy; the Otranto was the lead ship of Column 3.  To her north was the SS Kashmir which was another, smaller, liner and the lead ship of Column 4.

Six days after departure, the Otranto accidentally rammed a French fishing schooner.  The schooner was done for, but not before it scraped down the side of the Otranto, destroying some of the liner’s lifeboats with its masts.  The Otranto rescued the schooner’s 37 crew who were added to its 363 crew and 665 US troops bound for the battlefields of Flanders.

Just one day after this the Otranto suffered her first influenza death from the 1918 pandemic; the soldier was buried at sea.  One other death was to be recorded on this final voyage.

The North Atlantic crossing actually went well, but in early October a storm hit, lasting for several days.  Visibility was severely impaired and the convoy had to navigate by dead reckoning.  Eventually, both the Otranto and Kashmir sighted land at the same time.  The Kashmir correctly identified this land as the craggy coast of Islay, but the Otranto mistook it for Inishtrahull, an island off the north coast of Ireland.  Thus, almost blind due to the ravaging gale and massive swells, whilst the Kashmir turned south to avoid Islay the Otranto turned north to avoid what she thought was Inishtrahull.  At 8:45am on 6 October the two ships collided.  The Kashmir survived, but the collision had opened up a huge hole in the Otranto‘s side.  Water poured in.  Her engine fires were extinguished.  She started to drift.

By 10am the HMS Mounsey, a destroyer, had answered an SOS call and was in sight of the Otranto.  She pulled alongside, trying to cope with the heaving swells, but was dwarfed by the massive liner.  The two ships came together four times.  On each occasion the Mounsey smashed into the Otranto‘s side in the heaving seas.  Each time men jumped for their lives, trying to reach the destroyer’s decks.  Many fell through the gap between the two ships to be crushed or drowned.  Even some of those who jumped successfully were killed or badly injured in the fall.

HMS Mounsey eventually found herself in danger of sinking, so overcrowded had she become.  She set off for Belfast with 596 on board.  Approximately 400 men were left stranded on the Otranto, who had hit the seabed half a mile offshore and was now in danger of breaking up.  The captain gave the order for the 400 remaining men to abandon ship.  Sixteen made it to shore.  The following day bodies of the drowned, including the captain, were washed up on the beach.  They were buried in a special war grave situated above Machir Bay.

 Machir Bay, Islay

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Machir Bay:    N 55° 46.925 W 006° 27.375
  • Inishtrahull:  N 55° 25.942 W 007° 14.274 
  • HMS Otranto War Grave:  N 55° 46.825 W 006° 26.795

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 9 September 2014

75 – Poole Harbour to Studland

The weather was not on our side today.  Rain was forecast for lunchtime and into the afternoon.  Still, surely that left enough time for a morning walk?  And we were at the start of the South West Coast Path – how could we possibly mark this by cowering indoors like a pack of mangy dogs with our tails tucked firmly between our legs?

Start of the South West Coast PathIn fact this turned out to be an interesting little walk.  After a mile or so we came across a jellyfish, lying beached on the sand.

Barrel JellyfishAnd then a short distance on we found another.

Barrel JellyfishAs we walked on we found more and more of them, perhaps more than ten in all.  Some of the better-preserved ones had a pearly blue, almost iridescent, sheen to them.

Barrel JellyfishThese were Rhizostoma pulmo, the barrel jellyfish.  Found mostly in the Mediterranean Sea, they are also quite common in the Irish Sea.  They are plankton feeders more usually inhabiting deeper waters, so to find them washed up on the shoreline was unusual.  During the course of 2014 there were many reported sightings of them around Studland.  It is believed that the warmer-than-usual winter temperatures triggered an increase in the amount of plankton, which in turn drew the jellyfish into coastal waters.

This one looked almost humanoid.

Barrel JellyfishThe jellyfish we saw washed up were of average size, with bells of circa 40cm wide.  However, some specimens grow up to over a metre in diameter, making Rhizostoma pulmo the largest jellyfish in British waters.

As the photos show, there are eight elongated lobes, each with numerous mouths which project from the underside so as to catch the plankton.  The barrel jellyfish lack tentacles and stinging cells, and so are pretty harmless to humans.  All the same, touching them can sometimes cause an irritation.  It did not escape me, therefore, that these jellyfish were beached on Studland Beach, a local nudist beach where there was probably more skin on display to come into contact with these creatures than elsewhere.  Luckily, the chilly conditions and rain had caused most to stay at home (yes, yes, with their tails tucked firmly between their legs – I know!).  Only one stalwart, naked,  die-hard beach lover was here today, and he was keeping himself to himself, safe and warm behind his windbreak.  Brrrrrrrrr!

Nudist Beach

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Studland Beach:  N 50° 39.850 W 001° 56.850

Walk #74 Statistics:

74c – Poole Harbour

Poole Harbour is massive.  It is the largest natural harbour in Europe and the second largest in the world, and yes!  I stand braced for the storm of objection this second observation might possibly brew up.  There seems to be quite a lot of debate on the matter.  Most arguments seem to focus on whether bays (such as San Francisco Bay) are natural harbours as well as bays.  Frankly, I don’t care about all that.  The difference between a bay and a harbour was of less importance that day than the fact that Poole Harbour is just plain big.  At its widest point it is over three miles in width, and to us that meant it would take a painfully long time to walk around.

Luckily, the harbour entrance is only 300 metres wide and a chain-ferry connects the two sides.

Chain Ferry, Poole HarbourWe walked along Sandbanks and up to the ferry.  Sandbanks is the eastern spit of land at the harbour entrance and reputedly one of the most expensive places to buy properties in the world.  A house will very easily cost you £6,000,000 to £10,000,000.

Sandbanks HouseWe didn’t have that much cash on us (even collectively) so we jumped on the ferry instead and made our way across.  Looking back towards shore, I couldn’t help but think that if Sandbanks were really that expensive then The Haven Hotel really ought to repair its sign…

View from Chain Ferry back towards SandbanksThere was much merriment and celebration on board the Poole Harbour Ferry that day.  I can’t say why, but those bunny ears were out again, with vengeance this time.

On Board Poole Harbour Chain FerryI think the other passengers might have been quite pleased when we arrived on the other side of the harbour a few minutes later.

The ferry terminal on the southern side of the harbour marks the start of the South West Coast Path, one of the UK’s best loved long-distance walks.  Running for some 630 miles it wraps round the entire south west of the country.  It is a strenuous walk at times, undulating and craggy, with golden sands and crumbling cliff tops.  It is said that if you complete it then you will have climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest three times over.  I have no idea whether that’s true or not, but I was looking forward to finding out!

DisembarkationThe start of the South West Coast Path was not for today, however.  This was as far as we were going.  We walked off the ferry onto dry land and then jumped straight back on again (to the very bemused look of one of the crew – probably the same one who had seen the bunny ears fight on the way over and who clearly thought we were raving bonkers).  Back on the other side we got back in our cars and headed back to our hotel.  Our route took us round the shallower part of the harbour where all year round kite surfers and windsurfers try to race in every direction as fast as possible without getting tangled up and killing each other.


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Sandbanks:  N 50° 41.150 W 001° 56.800
  • The Haven Hotel:  N 50° 40.990 W 001° 56.840
  • Poole Harbour Entrance and Ferry:  N 50° 40.900 W 001° 56.960

Walk #74 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

74b – Bournemouth to Poole Harbour

We had been “stuck” in Bournemouth for ages.  It was as if we had been chained and anchored to the beach, like boats in a bay, but at last we were back; we were ready to slip our chains and catch the tide.  We were looking forward to moving on again and heading out of Bournemouth, so when we saw a sign proclaiming that we were entering Poole we found a new lightness to our steps and a giddiness to our temperament.  It was as if we were drunk on the sea air; the new-found enthusiasm was demonstrated by the bunny-ears which appeared in every group photo taken that day.  This was started by my brother Alex, but as soon as he started everyone else joined in.  Those bunny-ears bred like, well, bunnies!

Welcome to Poole with Bunny EarsAs we walked into Poole we passed a fossilised tree trunk, reminding us that we were about to reach the start of the Jurassic Coast.  The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage site and a spectacular 96 mile stretch of geological wonderment and beauty.  This stump was once part of a tree that was growing in Portland, 25 miles to the west, some 140 million years ago.  At this time Dorset sat of the edge of a massive freshwater lagoon which covered southern England, the Channel, and part of France.  It was then positioned much further south on the globe than it is today.  It was a much warmer climate and rising water levels swamped and killed the trees.  Heat evaporated the water, and so the minerals in the water became more and more concentrated.  The stumps of the dead trees absorbed these minerals, particularly silica, which preserved them as fossils.

Fossilised Tree StumpThe stretch of coast we were presently on, however, was not the Jurassic Coast.  That was yet to come.  For now, we were in the heart of the Branksome seaside.  Children frolicked on the beach.

Beach and Old Harry RocksWaterskiers zipped along close to shore.

WaterskiersAnd as we approached Poole Harbour two rather brave souls dived off a lateral mark close to the harbour entrance.

Going Going GoneI got the feeling we were going to rather enjoy being back on the Coastal Path…

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Welcome to Poole:  N 50° 42.576 W 001° 54.057
  • Fossilised Tree Trunk:  N 50° 42.422 W 001° 54.469
  • Diving Off the Lateral Mark:  N 50° 40.990 W 001° 56.605

Walk #74 Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):

74a – The Coastal Path gets Back to Business

Over the summer of 2014 we had an enforced absence from Coastal Walking.  Quite what my wife did to her back this time I do not know, but after two months and two weeks we were ready to get going again.

Were we pleased about that?  Yes we were!

Pleased to be Walking Again!Deb would have been jumping for joy too if her back had allowed her to.  You just have to trust me on that.

People were giving us strange looks as we performed for the camera, I noticed, but I simply didn’t care.  I was really looking forward to getting back on the trail.  And anticipation is everything, as you can see from my face in the next photo!


Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Jumping For Joy:  N 50° 42.668 W 001° 53.760

Walk #74 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):


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