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Pendle Paddlers

Loch Sunart - Sept 2012

Written by Geoff Gedling


14TH – 19th SEPTEMBER 2012

We have ventured north of the border for about 8 years now and each time it has been both challenging and exciting, but also a wonderful time of exploring and becoming acquainted with new areas. This trip has been no exception!

Eight of us went, the Grant clan, Steve, Julia, Scott, Callum and Meg the Dog, Ian Blackburn, Trish Wilson, Andy Rushton and Geoff Gedling.


After a long drive, we finally met up at the first night’s bivi. Geoff and Trish arrived last just before dark and managed to set up and cook a meal by dusk. Trish was camping by the loch side near the Grants, Ian was on top of a hill and Geoff and Andy slung their hammocks under the trees.


Next morning, we set off by about 9.00 and paddled east towards Riska an island near the north side of the loch. There was about a force 2/3 blowing from the west which helped us along, but we had to cross about 800 metres of open water to hide behind the larger island of Cana in the lee. That was quite difficult as the waves were coming side on, but we all made it.

Cana provided some excellent shelter from the wind and there were loads of mussels ready for picking as the tide was low. We emerged at the south end into a quiet bay and stopped for lunch. The tide was beginning to flowing now which provided some help as it was going the same way as we were. However, after lunch we had a tough paddle into the wind for about a couple of miles. The wind against tide pushed up some peaked waves that were difficult to paddle against, but once into the spur, we moved with great ease as the tide pushed us along which was fun.

The next job was to find a site for the night which we finally did by about 5.30. We found a spit of land backed by trees, so there was something for ground dwellers and tree dwellers alike. Trish pitched right at the end of the spit and was surrounded on three sides by water – a superb spot. Andy and Geoff found some trees for their tarps and hammocks. The Grants all managed to crawl in under a single tarp – amazing! Julia decided it was too crowded and pitched a small tent alongside.

Geoff brought a frontier stove from work and once it was stoked up was very efficient for cooking on. Andy and he cooked fish, mussels and sliced spuds in garlic butter. Ian had his brilliant fire pit made from an old calor gas container.

High tide was about 8.00 am, so we used the tide to paddle down towards Sunart taking the west channel which Steve had said several times became a grade 3 when the tide was in full flow or ebb. I think he was trying to rattle us, but it didn’t work. There was a strong flow and as we glided along we all fished for our supper. Andy had moved up market since last year and came equipped with a mega rod and mackerel feathers catching 4 at a time!!! And they were a good size. Ian also had mackerel feathers and caught quite a few. The rest of us had to manage with spinners, but between us we also caught some. That night there was feasting!

Later we had a banana party and cooked bananas with choccy drops in Ian’s fire.

We were all in bed by 9.30! It was dark and we wanted to make the most of the daylight on Saturday so we were up by 6.00ish.

Funny thing happened during the night, we had visitors at 1.30. I woke up and heard distant voices and could see flashlights. They came closer and after about 10 minutes a voice said, ‘Hello, how’re doing, would you like to come round for a few beers.’ We had a short chat, and it seems they had a place about half a mile away and had seen us arrive and thought it would be friendly to have a drink with us. I declined and thanked them, we shook hands and they disappeared back into the night. Weird!


Up early, about 6.30, breakfasted and ready for the day by 8.30. The tide was just beginning to ebb, so we paddled back the way we had come drifting along and fishing as we went.

This time we took the west channel that Steve had warned us about – no problem! The tide was ebbing quickly and there was a strong current around the rocky outcrops, but some easy eddies to break into, and that’s often where found the fish, just lurking out of the current, waiting.

We ambled along taking our time and looking for what we thought ere good places to catch fish. Andy did well again, but lost his feathers when they became hooked in seaweed. Ian lost his feathers the same way, but not before between us we had a good haul. Mind you, probably 85% of the catch was down to Andy and Ian, real pro’s!

For lunch we stopped in a small a bay just by the mouth of the spur and discovered a bothy up a small hill. There was a picnic table on the top of the hill where there was a lovely view down the loch so we had a leisurely lunch and enjoyed the view, and the midgies!

The we paddled down the west side of Cana hoping for fish and looking for mussels, but realised, nearly too late that a strong wind had sprung up so the return paddle was very difficult taking about 90 minutes to cover about 2 miles. By now the tide was beginning to flow again so we hitched a ride back up to our camp. Cooked what we caught and turned in by about 9.30


We were getting good at getting up early and being on the water by 8.30, which we did again. It was decided to head back across to the north side of the loch to find somewhere to camp for the last night. The wind and weather had been unpredictable, so it made sense to be on the same side of the loch as the cars on the last day in case Tuesday’s weather prevented us paddling. At least we could walk back to the cars and bring them to where the canoes were.

The trip down the loch was uneventful. We took the west channel again as it was shorter, but as we emerged into the loch proper there was a strong westerly and the section across to the north side was challenging with large waves rolling in at about 45degrees from behind us. Trish found it difficult but battled on and made it into the lea of Riska. From there we kept close to the north shore and dodged in between rocky outcrops to get as much protection as we could from the wind.

As we rounded the headland into the bay where we spent the first night, we decided to camp there again. The MacGrant clan had to be back for Tuesday evening so they waved as they paddled on to the next bay but one where the cars were parked in a layby. The waves were so big that as they receded into the distance, there were moments when all that could be seen of them was the top of their heads above the peaks.

Now down to four, we set up camp and while Trish had 40 winks in her tent, the rest of went fishing again. Not much doing, but we caught about 6 between us which was enough for supper.

That evening as we sat around Ian’s fire at the top of the hill, we got smoked out, rained out and midged out. Early night again.


Up at the break of day, breakfast and pack up. We were on the water before 9.00 and back at the cars about 45 minutes later, and on the road by 9.30. Geoff and Trish caught up with Andy and Ian at the Corran ferry and agreed to meet up at the Green Wellie Shop at Tyndrum, the other side of Glencoe. That was lunch stop. We set off again hoping to meet up at Happenden Services about 30 miles south of Glasgow. Andy was waiting but had driven off by the time Geoff and Trish had had a cup of tea and cake.

That’s when everything began to go pearshaped! Geoff put £30 fuel in to get home and after we driven about half a mile when an urgent warning sign lit up, so we stopped and turned the engine off. It wouldn’t start. Didn’t know what was wrong, so I phoned the RAC. Eventually, Donnie (he wasn’t called Jimmy even though he was from Glasgow) figured out the problem. Diesel pumps have black hoses and nozzles – right? Not necessarily in Scotland! Geoff had put £30 unleaded petrol in his diesel tank!

Finally after many calls, Donnie tracked down a garage that would send out a van to pump out the petrol and replace it with diesel. By now it was getting dark and after paying for the work we set off and arrived back at Geoff’s by about 11.30. Not a good way to end a great trip – but I for one will never forget to double check which type of fuel to use.

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