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21st June 2009
pace The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal Volume 4 Number 6
- September 1897 -

Bass Rock
On 21st June Mrs Eldorado, Mr Munro and I visited this noisome island, partly for calisthenic purposes, and partly lured by reports of a cavernous entrance to the Underworld At The Centre Of The Earth.
Contentedly settled on Seacliff beach 'neath the lowering cliffs of Tantallon castle, surrounded by picnicking paraphernalia, spouses, and combined offspring I have to relate that we were completely deceived by the seductive morningtide whose softly swelling seas and gently suckling breezes lured us to her watery depths.
We scarcely imagined, from the comfort of our sandy beach, the wild and terrible storms shortly to descend upon us.
Donning protective garments we launched our three sturdy coracles into the calm clear waters and after paddling some thirty minutes with light effort we obtained the Eastern seaboard of the Great Bass. Rising ponderously from the ocean, the swollen craggy mass swarmed with the foul airs and lice of a million pestilent seabirds. Screeching herring gulls and poison-necked gannets drenched us with ordure from above as they swirled and skulked in their intricate layers of choreographed aerial assault.
Seeking protection of the great overhanging cliffs we began investigating the narrow defile within whose watery cleft is reputed to lie the immense cave whose entrance is only accessible "at dead ebb of spring tide". Since we had meticulously timed our visit for high water, we expected to find meager evidence of this subterranean chasm, and were therefore little disappointed when we determined no obvious means of ingress.
Thus rebuffed we determined to circumnavigate the vast and stinking adamantine block, and set off with a stiffening wind at our backs for the western side, to seek out the furthermost entrance to this unyielding fastness, passing on our way numerous twitching adventurers, biliously clad in yellow oilskins aboard gaily coloured motor vessels whom we regarded with great scorn.
Rounding the island's rocky northern promontory, we at once found ourselves in the alien climate of Southern Italy.
The sweeping western bay sheltered us utterly from the sea breezes beyond, and adrift in a vast mattress of choking feathers, the pitiless face of the midday sun now directly overhead beat down heavy rays which stirred not a breath of air in this fetid, stifling cove.
Conscious of the deadening hand of this oppressive atmosphere I cautiously drifted stern-wards into a deceptively narrow crack in the inner wall of the bay and was treated to a brief view of the tremendous cavern within before a sudden and terrifying assault from an army of spectral-eyed, raven-toothed sea monsters rising from the deep forced my hasty retreat.
Returning with my reinforcements, together we three friends were finally able to beat back the family of frightened seals and Mrs Eldorado, penetrating further into the deathly gloom than we others dared, reported sight of a glimmer of light deep within the vastness.
And so, braving the jeering shags circling overhead and the surging tide which crashed and groaned before us, we made to beach our slender vessels on the pebbly beach within, struggling to hold them ashore against the grasping tow.
Having taken great care in our preparations for the voyage we carried not a lamp between us and were therefore hopelessly blind in the now stygian gloom.
So girding our loins and linking our bodies for safety we thrust our way by feel and touch forward into the greasy depths, all the while fearing further attacks by killer seals or a sudden fall into the bottomless Bass pit we sensed yawning mere inches from our feet.
Pitching rocks and pebbles before us to cast forth shadows of sound we crept on our way like bats, though the plunging stones spelunking into the oily pools ahead only served to increase our unease.
Tightly sheathed in rubber as we were, however, we had little to fear from the watery hollows and were soon climbing sturdily towards the waxing sunlight, though truth be told straining against its intensity as we were, this made our progress more difficult.
Finally we burst forth into the light of the Eastern shore, high in the inaccessible defile we had glimpsed in our earlier reconnoitrings, and gazed down in relief at the great frothing cobblestones below.
Though we saw no prospect of easily accessing this entrance from the sea, we were able to descend close enough to touch the surface of that surging liquid and thus lay claim to having successfully penetrated the secret passage of the Rock. The first to our knowledge in One Hundred years.
Fortunately the return journey was more easily accomplished with the light of experience and sunshine now behind us, and the shallow puddles between us and our trusty canoes seemed now a trivial barrier.
Launching from the pebbly beach into the rolling waves was merely a matter of delicate timing, and bidding farewell to the friendly seals cautiously shadowing our progress we paddled from the shady grove and the slumbering shelter of the mighty rock out into the throat of a veritable tempest.
Unbeknownst to us whilst we took our pleasure within, a violent storm had arisen without and lashed up wind and wave to ferocious assault, but we had little choice than to do battle.
So we hardy souls lowered our heads, stiffened our sinews, pointed our fragile boats into the teeth of it and made hard for the distant shore.
Though we were never so relieved to reach the safety of St Baldred's Beacon and our sandy bay many hours later, nonetheless Mrs Eldorado took time, tossed and lashed as we were, to laugh at the seas tempestuous might and stopped, casually, to drink from her water canister mid-crossing.

We were a little disappointed, perhaps, at not obtaining the fabled Land Beneath The Sea, but our survival of the journey was certainly not the least interesting incident in a climactic day's adventuring.

K. Sourville
Kayaking With Karl The Monster Rises The Dragon's Lair Into The Monster's Maw In The Belly Of The Beast


But enough of that - the important thing I wanted to tell you is that when we got back to shore, hungry as I was, I came across Mrs Munro admiring a photograph of a rather delicious looking fillet of crispy battered cod.
Cod Fritters

The instant her back was turned I was able to borrow the magazine, and on finding several promising looking recipes was, of course, then obliged to rush in to Sainsbury at the earliest opportunity and buy the damn thing for myself.
I consoled myself with the thought that it does have a section by Nigel Slater (on Meringues) and nothing I could find by Jamie Bloody Oliver.

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