Loch Sheil/Moidart/Ailort and Loch Etive.
Mike Norman, Ian Newman,
Simon Quick & David Savage
Sunday morning - 7.45am. Simon pulled up on my driveway and we loaded my drybag, canoeing kit, tent bag, foodbox and canoe and headed north. First stop Mainsgill Farmshop and Tearoom, just along the A66 - famous for its camels! Change of drivers and on to Corran Bunkhouse at Onich on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Now I have stayed in many a bunkhouse - dark, damp gloomy and grubby, but Corran is a palace! Spotless, great facilities and a very warm welcome from the owner who gave us an exhaustive conducted tour. He recommended "The Inn" at Ardgour, just the other side of the Loch and accessible via a FREE ferry ride across the Corran narrows.
Monday Morning - and another beautiful day as we set out to drive to Glenfinnan where we were able to leave the car in the hotel carpark for £5/day - much better than a layby!
Loch Sheil, surronded by the mountains and with the monument (to Charles Stuart) at it's head was stunning and we set off down the loch to look for a campsite.
Gaskan Wood met all our needs - a flat tent site, stream and plenty of firewood. There was the remains of a fireplace but we cleared that away completely and made our own on the beach so that we could be sure to leave not a trace of our ever having been there in the morning. I'm a 'tarp' fanatic, so up it went - and just as well, for in the morning it was raining at breakfast time.
Tuesday morning Up at 7.30am, leisurely breakfast (under the tarp) and we were off down the loch by 9.00am. A stiff northeast wind carried us along to St Finan's burial island, last resting place of the McDonalds. It is very atmospheric on a sunny day, but in the mist.........your descendants would need real determination to get you there; although there is a stone jetty, the path up to the burial ground is very steep and uneven.
Ian contemplates the view from Gaskan Woods
There are many generations of McDonalds interred on the island; some of the graves must be hundreds of years old, whilst others are 21st century.
On then towards the River Sheil which flows out of the borrom of the loch and into Loch Moidart. as Moidart is tidal, it is important to get the timing right to enter the loch from the river as at low water there is a large fall. He arrived just before high water, so just a simple short grade 2 rapid into Moidart. Moidart was quite windy but we found a pleasant grassy camping spot opposite the ruined castle Tioram on the south side of the loch.
Wednesday. After a wet evening and night - very hard to light a decent fire to drink whisky by - we decided to look at the possibility of paddling out of the loch via the south Channel and attempting the open water rounding the headland and into Loch Ailort..... about 3 miles of very exposed and committed paddling. The swells were large (4~5 foot), so no photos I'm afraid - all energy devoted to keeping the canoe running! At least the wind had dropped!
Mike & Ian paddling around Smirisary headland
We finally camped halfway down Ailort and the weather improved so we were able to have a splendid fire to drink by.
Thursday - and on to the head of Loch Ailort. The tide was falling as we arrived and a farmer was just letting his sheep onto the foreshore to graze on seaweed, whist we busied ourselves to catch the 'Hogwarts Express' train back to Glenfinnan and the cars.
Time for lunch in Morrisons in Fort William and then the long drive down Glen Etive to the head of Loch Etive, one of the most remote lochs in Scotland.
We camped halfway down Loch Etive in another beautiful remote and isloated spot........ what a view!
Friday morning, and our first thought was to paddle the entire loch right down to the Falls of Lora, but during the moring the wind picked up - around 15-20mph from the northeast and with 'wintery showers' so we headed back up the loch to where we had left the cars. The wind became so strong that progress was getting almost impossible, so for the last couple of miles we pencil rafted the canoes to make better progress back to the car park.
A super week - what a priviledge to be able to spend time in such beautiful lonely places - we never saw another soul whilst out on the water!
The final 'icing' was our encounter with "the monarch of the glen" as we travelled back up Glen Etive towrds 'civilisation' and a final nights campsite in Tyndrum.