Scotland Trip – 12th – 16th September 2014
On Friday 12th September, nine of us set out for Loch Moidart on the west coast of Scotland. Ian travelled up the day before and the Grant clan, only two of them this year, Steve and Callum, made an early start and arrived by about lunchtime. The group consisted of Ian Blackburn, Tricia Wilson, Colette Sumpton, Frazer Hopwood, Steve and Callum Grant, Mick Hartley, Geoff Gedling and his friend Luke Taylor from Whitney near Oxford.
We met up at the Green Wellie Shop at Tyndrum for something to eat, and then travelled in convoy across Rannoch Moor and down Glen Coe to Lock Linnhe to the Corran ferry to avoid the long drive to Fort William and Glenfinnan and around the coast. In fact the ‘long route’ was only about 15 minutes longer time wise and a lot cheaper as we found out on the return journey. It is a beautiful drive amongst some stunning scenery!
We had seen large numbers of cyclists in groups along the way and discovered that there was a ‘round Britain cycle event’ under way. Their route was over Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe which would cause long delays as they could not keep up speed on the long uphill section. Geoff and Luke had a 50 mile detour to make as there had been a cyclist involved in a serious collision just south of Crianlarich and the police had closed the road. The detour took one and a half hours and although it was very picturesque we could have done without the delay.
Moidart is a sea loch few miles from the bottom of Loch Shiel which we paddled a few years ago. The River Shiel flows from Loch Shiel into Moidart and there is a convenient car park a few miles down a single track road, right by the beach which makes loading and unloading very easy as long as the tide is in.
Once the canoes were loaded up, we paddled across to where we set a ‘base camp’ on a large patch of grass interspersed with mature Scots pine trees. It is an ideal place to camp and it becomes an island at high tide which adds a bit of fun. The nearest road is about 6 miles away, there is no phone signal and we had to take everything we needed with us including enough water to last the four days. We set up camp in daylight, cooked a meal and chatted around Ian’s fire until we went to bed at about 9.30.
The weather was warm and sunny with no wind – ideal paddling conditions, and the tides were in our favour, so we set out to paddle down the North Channel and out into the sea. The route we would follow would effectively take us around Eileen Shona which is a mountainous island. There are a few holiday cottages on Eileen Shona and the only way to get to them is by boat, and once there, there are only footpaths to get around. If you like stunning scenery, no people, no mod cons and isolation, then this is the place to go!
The views were amazing in spite of some haze. We could see Rum and Egg in the distance and some higher mountains which may have been North Uist beyond them, and the coast line is a large concave curve so that much is visible for several miles both north and south. The North Channel is only negotiable about 2 hours either side of high tide - after that it becomes a sand bank. We fished as we paddled by trawling a spinner behind us and it is a successful way of catching fish. A lot of those we caught were small Pollock and were thrown back as they were too small to eat.
As we reached the sea, it was flat calm and not a breath of wind, and we paddled out around a headland which is about half a mile long and turned south to paddle along the coast to the South Channel. We stopped a number of times, changed our spinners for mackerel feathers and began hauling in mackerel. At least Ian did! He caught 27! Others in the group also caught fish but not in the same quantity as Ian.
The tide was ebbing and we knew of a lovely sandy beach just by the entrance to the South Channel which is exposed at low tide, but when we reached it the tide hadn’t fallen far enough so we pulled up on a sandy cove nearby and had a lazy lunch. After lunch we made it over the sandy beach before the tide fell too far and into the channel. The water was wonderfully clear and the bottom was clearly visible even when about 15 feet deep. There were star fish, crabs and the occasional sea urchin moving about on the bottom. All around us seals were popping up to take a look – they were curious and quite amusing. As they became used to us being there, they came closer to the canoes and would pop up anywhere for a while and then silently slip below the water. On one occasion a seal was seen swimming under water and it passed under a canoe!
All the while we were fishing there were seals, lots of them and where there are seals, there are fish! Some of the sea weed covered rocky islands had seals basking on them and as we paddled closer they clumsily flopped into the water and disappeared.
As we made our way back towards the camp, we could see Castle Tiaram in the distance through the haze. We had paddled around the castle from the car park on our way to set up camp. All around us the spectacular scenery was unspoiled and natural. There were a few houses to be seen, but they were few in number and blended in so well that they did not spoil the views.
That night we feasted well on the fish which were cooked over the fire, and also on lots of mussels cooked in garlic butter with white wine which Colette contributed. Fantastic – it doesn’t get any better!
We were all up early at about 6.30 just as it was getting light for a good breakfast in readiness for another day’s paddling and fishing. We decided to paddle to where the River Shiel enters Moidart and see if it was possible to make progress up the river. It took about an hour or so to reach the entrance to the river but the tide was high and there was hardly any flow against us, so for a while we made good progress up the river, but as we proceeded, the flow began to increase and the going became more difficult. It was quite shallow, and the water flowed more quickly where it was shallow. It was difficult to paddle in the shallow water, so those with canoe poles used them. Others waded pulling their canoes behind them. Only Ian made it to Shiel Bridge which is where the loch ends and the river begins; a distance of about 4 miles. The rest of us made it about half way and stopped for a drink and a snack to wait for Ian, but in the end we set off down the river because as the tide drops there is a narrow bit right at the end of the river where it can become a grade 4 rapid and we didn’t want to have to attempt that in open boats. We stopped downstream of where the rapid would be and fished from the rocks while we ate lunch. Ian finally caught up with us and for a while some of us played on the wave that was beginning to form as the tide fell further, but it was very narrow at that point and there were no suitable eddies so we gave that up as a bad job and carried on back into Moidart.
We paddled past the castle and turned right to explore east end of the loch where it becomes narrower and the road from Glenfinnan passes along the northern side of the loch. We could hear occasional traffic on the road which spoiled the peace and quiet we had been enjoying since we arrived. However, there were still fish around, and we kept catching them.
Back at camp, we had eaten well again, we settled down around the fire to relax after a tiring day and recount what we had seen and done. Geoff had arranged to meet Andy, a friend from Dumfries who was coming to join us, so he set off in the dusk to paddle back to the car park for 8.30. Andy, had brought his friend, Mike and his two Labradors and when they returned to the camp the newcomers were introduced. Andy and Mike set up their tents in the dark and cooked a meal and went to bed.
Steve and Callum left us after breakfast. They were heading to Mull to meet others in their family for a few days holiday.
We had enjoyed the trip along the North Channel and the sea so much; we repeated it on the Monday, and partly for the benefit of Andy and Mike. We had a glorious day with warm sunshine and calm conditions again. We paddled down the North Channel in a leisurely fashion and out into the sea. Some of us fished along the way, but Ian who had caught 27 the day before was bored and didn’t bother. Geoff caught 11 mackerel and 4 pollock, not to mention the small ones thrown back. I think we all managed to catch fish apart from Tricia and Colette who didn’t have rods and were happy to enjoy the scenery.
As we paddled along the coast, some of us turned right and paddled out to sea about a mile or so. Normally, that would be a silly thing to do, but the sea was flat calm and there was virtually no wind and it was quite safe in those conditions. We sat out there for a while enjoying the sun and views and then moved back towards the South Channel paddling around some low rocky islands that had appeared as the tide fell.
The sandy beach was still covered so we pulled up in the cove and had lunch. A walker following the coast path around Eileen Shona stopped for a few minutes and was interested in what we were doing and how we had got there.
As we made our way slowly back to camp, we became split up as we spread around fishing. Mike, who is a very experienced paddler and expedition leader was a little concerned about this, but as conditions were so gentle and no one was on their own, there was no danger on this occasion. Had conditions been less pleasant, we would have stayed together. Safety is always the first consideration, especially on a wilderness trip such as this. If things go wrong, it can very quickly become a serious incident because help is so far away and communications almost impossible.
All in all, was a very relaxed and pleasant day in superb surroundings – what more could anyone want?
Andy and Mike were staying on for another day or so, but for the rest of us, it was back to civilisation.
All too quickly the trip came to an end and it was time to break camp and head for home. The tide was out which meant a muddy trek to the water several times carrying kit and canoes. We reluctantly paddled back the way we came a few days before and loaded the cars. There was a sense of sadness amongst us all as we started the engines and began the long journey south.
We met up at the Green Wellie Shop again for some lunch and then again at Tebay Services where we said, ‘Farewell’, and it was all over again for another year.
This is the 11th year we have been to Scotland and undoubtedly this has been one of the most memorable trips we have been on. The weather was ideal, the company was good, the fishing was great, and the surroundings outstanding. Four days is too short!