From Blazing Paddles to Burrow Head

It was on the way north on a climbing trip perhaps a decade ago that I came across Brian Wilson's 'coastal odyssey'. Breaking the journey at Fort William, I stood in the shop clutching a bag of chalk, some new slings and a couple of wires, gazing across rows of familiar climbing books before spotting one which looked distinctly out of place. Blazing Paddles. I bought it without thinking and returned to the car, stuffing the climbing gear and faded orange paperback in a rucksack and continuing the journey towards Reiff with its superb crags above sea. Our original plan had been to spend a few days in the heart of the Cairngorms, climbing The Talisman on Creag a'choire Etchachan and then if all went well, a route called The Needle on the Shelter Stone Crag above Loch Avon.
Creag a'choire Etchachan
First climbed in 1962 by none other than Robin Smith partnered by Davy Agnew, the epitome of of the Creag Dhu hard-man*, The Needle is still regarded as a test piece despite the grade (E1) which by today's standards is almost a trade route. But the weather was poor - the high crags shrouded in mist, slowly melting snow patches combining with persistent summer rains sufficient to dampen any remaining enthusiasm for the mountains and turning us away toward the coast and chance of a break in the clag.
Cyclops, E2,5b, Reiff
We completed some good climbs that week at Reiff, but it was the sea that truly captured my attention. I watched for hours as clean surf rolled into the bay beneath our camp, and in envy as a lone paddler carved across the waves.
Surfing into Achnahaird Bay beneath the old campsite
When the rain became to heavy to climb or simply to watch the waves, I retreated to the tent, captivated by Wilson's account of his journey around Scotland. I knew many of the headlands he described, the beaches, cliffs and islands, but not as he knew them, not from the sea. In that week, I accepted what I had known for some time but never admitted - my all-consuming passion for climbing was about to be superseded.
From the wildest beaches to breaching orca's, Wilson's writing captures so many of the things that continue to inspire my sea-kayaking today, but it is the description of Burrow Head that I remember first, whenever I think of Blazing Paddles.
...the sea became dark and ominous, the troughs deep chasms... ...My hands were white and bloodless with strain, and trembled with nervous energy when at last I reached the Whithorn shore where I hauled the boat mercilessly over sharp-edged rocks...Burrow Head had beaten me...*
For over a decade that passage has drifted in my mind, waiting for the day when I would leave the sheltered bay beneath St Ninian's Chapel and pass Broom Point, bound for the race off Burrow Head.
When it finally came, there was little danger of encountering any such difficulties. 
A gentle breeze barely ruffled the surface beneath the yellow, lichen clad cliffs and while the race gave rise to a few waves sufficient to bury the bow and send us on long surfing rides off shore, it was a gentle day by anyone's standards for such a headland on the northern shores of the Solway.
With an absolute lack of swell, we explored deep caves...
...squeezing between tight walls of smooth, dark rock...
...before sitting offshore on glassy seas.
Returning to the cliffs I went ashore briefly - not a place to consider landing in anything but calm conditions...
...before passing once more beneath the headland...
...and back to the Isle of Whithorn's colourful harbour. 
A gentle end to a beautiful day's paddling and a wonderful way in which to close a chapter opened so many years before.
*Hard Rock (Third Ed.) Compiled by Ken Wilson.
*Blazing Paddles, Brian Wilson

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