Kayaking

F**king up on a river: The scare, the backlash and moving on.

A few months ago now I had a couple of f*ck ups on river and have been trying my ass off to up my paddling game ever since.

I should have this badge.

The first f**k up came about due to a combination of attempting a river above my capabilities and lack of communication/attention which resulted in my running a rapid I had no business running.  No one else in the small group recognised I was in a seriously closed off state during discussion of the line down, having resigned myself to a stupidly long carry.  I should have stayed with the group and talked it over with them, but instead I walked back to the boats and prepared to carry the whole section.


Long story short, I ended up following the wrong person down the rapid resulting in a painful swim, panic attack and complete destruction of the small three person group.  I was on the bank, one went to chase the boat I had come out of and one was further upstream in an eddy with no idea what had happened to the other two.  A long time was spent searching for each other in an overgrown woodland where you could not see the river for all the trees, not knowing which side to search as a short footbridge connected the two banks.  Blowing whistles or shouting did nothing over the roar of the river and heavy rain batting against giant leaves.  Having went over events afterwards I know the team member left in the eddy had got out the boat, ran to bottom of rapid as they were almost certain we had run it but with no idea where we were, scouring both banks before making their way slowly down river.

Eventually I was reunited with them who had feared the worst and we hugged it out, agreeing to stick together in the search.  At one point the third person was right beside us, calling out.  We hollered back to let them know we were right here and safe but the acoustics of the woods were against us and we lost them again.  After realising we were still split we decided to make our way downstream on foot.  Through paths that abruptly ended, dragging a boat (I still had no idea where mine was), scaling fences, falling through bracken and brambles, fighting our way along paths that weren’t there we eventually reached civilisation in pitch dark and pouring rain.

It was a frightening experience and I had a surreal moment on the way home where I thought I might have actually drowned in the river and was now dreaming, to wake up any moment as a ghost.  I’m not joking.

The second f**k up made the first one pale into insignificance.  If anyone has ever paddled the Leny near Callendar, Scotland will know about the Falls of Leny and that a large majority of paddlers will carry this section for good reason, eddying into the huge eddy at the top of the falls (river right).  On this particular day the level was at 1.4, a level which I had never paddled it at before and although I was feeling a bit apprehensive about this, I smiled and kept that to myself.  There had also been an update out in the Scottish White water page that there was a tree down near the falls and to take extra care.  In the lead up to the ‘Last Gasp Eddy’ I was not feeling in control.  I let my apprehensions take hold, was aiming straight for the stopper in the middle of the river, which I should have been no where near.  Where I should have been river right, I was middle to left, doing very little to help myself get to where I needed to be.

The next few seconds were a weird mix of vivid fear and dream like haze.  I had no recollection of people shouting instructions at me, trying to help me manage the situation I had put myself in, but I do remember trying (far too late) and failing to get into ‘Last Gasp’, pointing upstream, paddling like my life depended on it, dropping down into the top of the falls before the big drop, attempting to get the micro eddy there which was completely washed out and then getting pulled backwards into the unknown.  Oh, and the screaming.  I remember the screaming.

I slammed into the stopper at the bottom of the falls having capsized as soon as the back of my boat touched the water.  As soon as I was upside down I was able to think again.  Blind panic was replaced with a calm I don’t think my friends on the bank would have believed, after my terrified screams disappeared down the falls.  I set up for a roll but to my dismay the paddle was violently wrenched from my hands as soon as I moved it upwards.  I had no other option but to pop my deck and abandon boat, which I did without further hesitation.  Now out of my boat, eyes open I grasped upwards with my arms, expecting to break through and decide what to do next, however, this is not how it went down.

Underwater turmoil (c) William Nealy

I kicked my legs and pulled with my arms (you know…swimming!) but nothing happened.  I tried again, still nothing and I had a moment to realise I was suspended in the water not able to get to the surface.  I remained composed, searching for something that would help me out of this situation.  My mind landed on a book I had at home “Kayak: A Manual of Technique” by William Nealy, which I had bought in humour but ended up finding really useful.  It’s essentially a comic strip book, showing you in cartoon form how to kayak.  One image sprang to mind of a kayaker out of boat but trapped in a hole, unable to reach the surface (ring any bells?!?).  The image depicted the character tucking up their legs, clutching their knees and making themselves as ball like as possible, which is exactly what I did.  I popped up in about 2-3 seconds, still keeping myself as small as possible and was held in stasis getting tugged in every which direction, trying to look at where to aim for next.  I was adamant I would not be dragged down the gorge, a bit of a bold statement at this stage but I had heard many a tale of terror from broken jaws to shattered limbs and besides, I was also a bit terrified of drowning.

Clinging to the rocks Clinging to the rocks

As I was in a gorge my options were limited but I looked towards the rock face on the right of the river bank and decided that was my best bet.  I tried to make small movements so as to not get snagged by the current, inching towards the side, but it wasn’t going to work.  That is when I spied a flash of red and noticed my boat, somehow upright, recirculating round a moving eddy.  I lunged for the grab handle, careful not to yank it out and let the momentum of the boat in the eddy pull me close and as soon as I was near enough I let go of the boat and pounced for the rock, attaching myself to it, keeping my legs tucked as the under current was trying to wrench me away.

I was so grateful for that hand! I was so grateful for that hand!

Then I started to shout for help.  As no one expected me to be where I was the group were hurrying towards the pool towards the bottom of the gorge, but I was heard and help came.  The other half of Team King was first to reach me and was able to offer a hand to ensure I was more secure on the rock and work began on getting me out.  I was shaking but thankfully I was responsive and able to help where I could, carabineer to the BA, pulled up and safely hauled onto the rock ledge.

Back on dry land...thank f**k! Back on dry land…thank f**k!

This was one of the worst moments of my life.  Not just because of the physical act of what had just happened, but the realisation of what this would do to the dynamics of our little paddling group.  We had 3 adults and 2 under 16s who are far better paddlers than any of the adults, however, that is not the point.  Although a complete accident I had been irresponsible and exposed the group to something far worse happening.

After checking me over, we managed to haul my boat out of the water, my paddle long gone.  One other team member had lost a boat at the top of the falls and this was out of sight.  I started to make my way back to the get in, dragging my boat along the forest dirt (mud on this occasion) track while the others headed down stream to look for lost boats and paddles.  Then I cried, while walking for most of the way, sweating in my wetsuit, disbelief at what just happened.

The next day I went out on a different river in my play boat and paddled like a boss.  Don’t think for one second I blanked out the experience or decided to ignore it because that’s not going to happen but I had a decision to make.  Either I could continue to paddle like I had been, hiding my apprehension to the point of stupidity, working on the basis if it shows on the outside then eventually it’ll show on the inside (bullsh*t!!) or I could start paddling my own game, making decisions for myself, learning to recognise when I’m experiencing a little bit of self doubt and distinguish these from feelings of full on scared and getting the ‘No’ feeling!

The subsequent reactions when our wider paddling group learned of the episode were mixed.  I don’t wish to go into details as I don’t see the benefit, but would suggest you take any reproaches on the chin and move on.  What I will say though is you shouldn’t hold back in talking about it with others.  I’m notoriously harsh on myself when it comes to f**king up so to hear from others who have had very similar or worse experiences, did help in restoring my confidence and I wholeheartedly thank you.

I have a huge duty of care not only to myself but to those who I paddle with too.  As the whole awful experience was caught on two GoPro’s I got to see the situation through the eyes of the team.   The speed at which my friends rallied to my aid set me off all over again, ripping themselves out of their boats, sprinting up the banking, listening, reacting and caring completely about my safety.  I want to be a better paddler so that I never need to put anyone in that position again just because I’m having ‘an off-day’.  There can be no more ‘off-days’, just making it down rapids, near misses or bad swims.  There can only be dedicated paddling, strong decisions, bossing down rivers and being the very best paddler I can be.

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Running the River Etive

I’ve run this exciting river twice now and envisage many trips back to enjoy its many drops, deep pools, bends and twists. There are many other blogs and guidebooks that show you how to find the river and get in so I’m going to launch straight into describing the paddle. I will add that as this river is gorge narrow even a little rain can change the dimensions greatly, creating stoppers with strong tow back and making some lines foolish to run. Always check falls and rapids you are not 100% sure of and have enough people to run safety when required as there are many boat and paddler munching possibilities along the Etive!
The start of the river is a run of three drops aptly named ‘Triple Steps’ (4).

First drop at Triple Steps

The first drop can look quite intimidating and, as I was still recovering from a bad swim a few days previously, I didn’t run this one, ferry gliding across to the left hand bank and putting in at the eddy above the second drop. I went down the first drop the second time and you want to aim for the middle, slightly left of the rooster tail, taking into account the force will likely push you forward into the second drop without much time to think about it. When I put in at the top of the second drop, I ferry glided out a couple of feet, turned the boat and attempted a boof off the drop! In higher levels there will be a lot of turbulence and pull back on the falls so be ready to paddle hard out of the pool, leaning forward and staying strong. 

Second drop at Triple Steps

There are a couple of mini drops until you enter a calmer pool. From here you can run the final drop, which is a little higher at about 12-14 feet. You take this line at an almost diagonal angle, hitting the edge of the drop towards the middle, but aiming towards the right hand rocks. The force of the water carries the boat down to a lovely open pool which will allow you to roll back up or collect boats and paddles quite easily!

The beauty of this section of the river is its ability to be run over and over again, as the drops are so close together. You can also leap from the cliffs into the pools, but obviously use common sense when doing so.

Once you’ve had enough fun on this section and wish to press on, the river twists and turns a little without much difficulty, although do take care in lower levels as the bed is a bit of a rock garden, often having to squeeze in between rocks not much wider than your boat. The next rapid is ‘Letter Box’ (4+), which would be highly advisable to scout. In higher levels you will get pulled back into a stopper (I’ve seen it happen) and think it has been named ‘Letter Box’ as there is generally only one line down, with not much wiggle room if you get it wrong! Take this as far left as possible, aim for a straight boof to avoid pencilling in and avoid the rock wall on the left.
Next up is ‘Ski Jump’ (3-4) which is a lovely wide drop into a soft cushiony pool. You should notice, as the river falls over the edge, a rock, which you want as close as possible to you right hand side. Aim straight and you will fall easily upright into the pool.

A few twists and turns will bring you to ‘Crack of Doom’ (4). I portaged this the first time round as I was viewing with the memory of my last major swim, but I ran it the second time, with a slight hiccup when I hit a very slippery boulder that spun me round. Thankfully I thought quick and reacted by forcing the back of the boat into a mini eddy allowing the water to pull my front end round avoiding running into the gorge backwards! You want to follow the flow down close to the left, avoiding rocks, before sliding into the narrow gorge section between two boulders, which can be quite tricky. In lower levels you want to stick to the left and drop into the pool below because a rock ledge is exposed just under the surface on the left which you would not want to land on! In higher levels however, you will be aiming more for the left to avoid getting caught in any tow back.

Top half of Crack of Doom

 
Just round the bend is ‘Crack of Dawn’ (4) which I’ve not run yet. This is where I got out on my first visit and the second time round was too shallow, with boulders appearing just under the surface, which would make a nasty landing after a 10 foot drop! 

Darren seal launching, Crack of Dawn in background

 
A few moments later we bumbled down ‘The Great Waterslide’ (4), which was a bump and a scrape over a 5 foot drop, plopping into the water rather effortlessly.
Now onto the grand finale, the reason we’re all here, the rush we got out of bed for. ‘Right Angle Falls’ (5+) looms just around the bend. Definitely get out of the boat and have a look at what awaits you. There is an initial curved drop into a pool just before ‘Right Angle’ and care will need to be given. After speaking to a few who have run this before, lower levels can come with its own problems. The curved drop meets opposing forces of water which can cause unwanted turbulence and possibly even a capsize! Take care when dropping in, be prepared to brace or lean and of course if you do capsize….MAKE THE DAMN ROLL!! Personally it’s always these kind of things which catch me out so I focused hard on not letting it. I took my time getting in my boat, breathed and told myself I could do this no problem but if I were to capsize I haul ass and make the roll like never before!  

Drop in before Right Angle

 

Centred, I started off, sticking to the right and following the curving flow down into the pool before the falls, leaning forward, staying strong and putting in positive, stable strokes. Before I knew it, I was in the pool aiming for the right of the drop which I didn’t want. Knowing I missed the eddy I edged the boat to the left and corrected my direction, aiming dead centre of the water cascading over the lip of the falls…and I was off, falling, placing my paddle to the right, head down, eyes fluttering to a close, meeting the water with the nose of the boat, overturning, instinctively rolling up and hearing the roar of pride from Fergus, being grasped by arms and then hugged. 

Going over Right Angle

 

This was on par with pulling off the ‘Falls of Linn’ on the Tummel and I felt exhilarated and stunned in equal measure. I realised, however, this was no small accomplishment and I have started to run features on rivers which demand respect, strength, determination and often courage to succeed intact. I’ve been watching the videos, reading the blogs and pouring over my friends’ photos of massive waterfall drops and today, this part of the journey has been experienced by me and I could not be happier.
Scraping our way through a rock garden, having to get out at one point we make it to the last rapid on this stretch, which is a 5-6 foot drop into a pool. There is a rock just under the surface on the left hand side but towards the middle there is a bit of tow back so try to boof it and gun it out of there!  

Darren running final rapid

 

All in all a fantastic but challenging river to run requiring safety on many of the features for intermediate and in higher levels advanced paddlers alike.

A couple of final points I think are particularly important. The first is something I have come across on blogs and magazines about river grading. I feel strongly that the grading is in place for a reason and a very good one at that. It provides an indication to anyone running the rapid of what to expect, how much care needs to be given and if there are any specific routes to be taken. There are some who argue the grading system in place on the Etive is too high but I wholeheartedly disagree and feel the 4-5+ grading is highly appropriate, the rapids aligning themselves accurately to the descriptions provided below by the UK Rivers Guidebook.  I’ll also be damned if anyone is going to make others feel naive or overly cautious for looking out for themselves and valuing the life of others.

“Severe waves, drops, stoppers and other obstructions. The route is not easily recognisable and will usually require careful inspection from the boat or bank. Grade 4 encompasses a wide range of rivers, from those with pool-drop rapids to those with extended continuous rapids; so there is a huge variation in difficulty. It is common to distinguish easier grade 4 rapids by grading them as 4- and harder rapids as 4+ (or in some cases, 3/4 or 4/5).”

Describing rationale for Grade 4 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

“Extremely difficult rapids with precise and technically demanding routes to be followed. Stoppers, currents and waves will be powerful and inspection is essential.”

Describing rationale for Grade 5 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

What the grading systems fails to mention is the level of damage that can be incurred on taking on a grade 4 and above rapid. You must at least consider the consequences of a swim or a missed ‘must make’ line down a rapid. There have been reports of broken limbs on ‘Letter Box’ and broken backs on ‘Right Angle Falls’ which I’m not sharing to scare people, I only want to highlight the reason behind these grading’s, which need to be respected.

Lastly but equally as importantly, it is imperative you always run rapids you are happy undertaking. Never let others cajole you into running a rapid and always listen to what your head is telling you. Remember that you learn much from watching and championing those who are capable of tackling the big stuff today, cultivating your own abilities and bringing you that much closer to running that rapid more confidently tomorrow. 

Hugging it out after surviving the falls

 

The Leny, Callendar

The Leny was really my first taste of white water and since we’ve run it numerous times, I wanted to put in writing how much I love this stretch of river. The first time I ran it at 0.8, swimming about 70% of the time, I knew it was going to teach me a thing or two about kayaking on white water.  Please note I’ve only run this at a maximum 0.9 and know from kayaking pals that the whole river changes above this level. I know this is probably quite obvious but I wanted to include the note and if I ever get to the point of running it above a metre I’ll be sure to add to the entry.

We run this from the put in, a long layby just passed the turning for the Ben Ledi Car Park, to the get out, a public car park just passed the Lade Inn, on the left.

From the get in until the 1st bridge, there are no real rapids and this gives you time to warm up by ferry gliding and catching eddies. As you come up to the bridge catch an eddy on either side to have a look at it because there are some challenging eddies to try and make on the way down. This rapid is good for practicing ferry gliding or surfing a wave in the higher levels, but is actually quite a tiring rapid as it’s  relatively narrow and can flow quite fast.

Fergus ferry gliding

A little further down the river on the left hand side, there is a small play hole we normally practice bracing in or shooting across. It’s relatively forgiving however, there are a couple of rocks directly below so ensure you have a quick role or a solid brace!

Dani below the play hole

There is a train of big bouncy rapids just before the falls and on the right hand side, the remains of a railway bridge. On the way down there are a few eddies to retreat to if the speed is too much. Make sure you make Last Gasp Eddy on the right as this is directly above the falls, dropping into the eddy as far right as possible. There is a small drop and at higher levels the stopper could cause a capsize! Portage is moderately easy here but make sure you stop and have a look at the falls!

Ian running the falls

You get back in at a large deep pool, great for practicing roles, edging, bracing etc before making your way towards Wee Stinker. I’ve always run this just right of the middle, before curving slightly to the right to hit right of the rock above Wee Stinker before the drop, ensuring a smoother landing.  Again, at higher levels the landing can be rather bumpy so really positive strokes off the drop and keep paddling out of it.

Ewan running Wee Stinker  

From here there is a bouncy stretch just before S-Bend. S-Bend can be handled a few different ways so suggest getting out for a look before attempting, if you’re unsure.

Generally I run it by eddy hopping down the right and hitting the last eddy before the bend. Take care in getting into this eddy as there is a guard rock located at the top of the eddy which has caught many a paddler out, so try and catch it a bit further down than normal. Depending on the level you can miss out S-Bend and go down the chicken shoot but the rapid is such a thrill to ride!

Fergus on the surf wave at S-bend

From the eddy, ferry glide to the other side, however there is a big surf wave in the way! Try to stay as high up as you can, concentrating on giving positive and hard paddle strokes and either go into the eddy on the left or turn on the rapid and shoot down the curve. I’ve capsized on the hole before, tucked up and dropped into the pool where I rolled back up but I did take a few knocks. This is a grade 3/4 which is mainly that is due to the hole in the middle and the stopper at the bottom. It’s also far easier at 0.7 as even at 0.8 the whole dynamics change.

For the rest of the river, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty, but keep alert and ready for rocks as the remainder can sometimes be a bit of a scrape.

NOTE: Watch out for hidden rocks. I’ve paddled the river up to 0.9 and there have always been something to catch you out. Also if this is your first time running the river, I’d recommend getting out for a wee look at anything you aren’t sure of but Wee Stinker and S-Bend if nothing else.

That time we…had our first overnight Kayak Trip

As most things with us, this trip had been planned a few weeks before we embarked on an overnight adventure.  We were going from the top of Loch Shiel, near Glenfinnan House.  Some lovely people in Glenfinnan allowed us to stash a motorbike there for the duration of the trip, enabling us to have a van at the get out and to also know there was a higher degree of safety to our belongings.

We loaded the boats, getting in just beside the Loch Shiel Cruises ‘Port’ and were on our way.  As we started off about 1pm, we were prepared to paddle about 4-5 hours to give us enough time to set up camp in the light.  I will add here that the geek in me was loving the start of this excursion because Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan was used in the Harry Potter films.  Namely where Buckbeak flies with Harry and a lot of the long shots of the ‘Dark Lake’!  It was even more stunning in the flesh. 

Coffee Break Stop on Island

Coffee Break Stop on Island

We managed a couple hours, stopping for a brew on a wee pebbly beach.  We maybe made it 9 or 10 miles in total and camped on a fairly flat grassy beach.  The tents went up, followed by an awesome shelter courtesy of Gus.  The wind had been blowing in our faces almost the whole time, but as soon as we stopped and put the tents up it disappeared!  The midges descended upon us straight away so the nets, spray and fire came out on force.  We’d planned ahead in as far as a Tupperware full of spicy chicken curry materialised and we had a filling meal with rice and beer, followed by a few Rusty Nails*, watching the fire and stars without light pollution, feeling inconsequential, safe and warm.  

Gus Built Shelter

Gus Built Shelter

After a fairly good nights sleep we got up to a wet and windy morning.  We packed up, chocked down some cold porridge** and hot coffee then set off again.  We knew of a Burial Ground as Gus and the ‘Angry Plums’ had been there before, so we were going to stop off there and I think it’s called Eilean Fhianain.  I managed to find a link to a webpage which shows its exact location, which I’ll link to at the bottom.  The island was completely mesmerising, melancholy and beautiful.  We took our time to visit some of the graves and stood in astonishment gazing upon monuments, dedicated to those who have long since passed.  We had toyed with the idea of staying on the Burial Island but am very glad we decided against it as it would have been totally disrespectful and disruptive of the peace which surrounded this exceptional place.

Burial Island

Burial Island

We said our goodbyes and headed off once again.  The wind was picking up again, along wide a side of rain, so the going was a little tougher than the day before.  Despite this, we were making great time and would be hitting the river soon enough.  When we reached the river and once we were passed ‘Acharacle’, the wind dies down again and the river started to take us a little faster, making the going a bit easier for a while. 

We paddled under Shiel Bridge  which comes from ‘Moidart’ to ‘Acharacle’ and an even older and smaller bridge a little further on, aptly named ‘The Old Bridge’.  Be careful when going through this and out the other side that you don’t hit an eddy line like these two idiots!  It’s all caught on Camera, so don’t worry…

Just past the bridge

Just past the bridge

We passed ‘Cliff’ and a few more bends to ‘Shielfoot’.  We did pass a couple of Anglers, one was brand new and motioned us to go behind him and another who was not quite as friendly, but as it was such a gloriously miserable day, with no sign of any other kayakers for miles, I’m sure he was just feeling harassed by the level of disturbances he surely would have had that morning  😉

Leaving ‘Shielfoot’ behind we reached the rapids that join ‘River Shiel’ to ‘Loch Moidart’ – What a RUSH!! The white water was bubbling all over the place so naturally just went for it, one after the other.  We all made it down without any trouble, including Gus in his ultra long  Sea Kayak!   Another pit stop here for lunch of smoked sausage, Mars Bar and a brew, camping food at it’s best!  From where we took a break we could see the ruins of Castle Tioram, which we paddled right around when we got back in the water. 

As Loch Moidart is a salt water Loch, we start to get pushed on a little by the waves and soon the Castle is behind us as we travel on towards ‘Kyles Wood’ and turn toward the top of ‘Eilean Shona’.  This was my absolute favourite part because not only did we see a couple of seals but also the scenery was breathtaking.  We turned into a sort of valley, ‘Kyles Wood’ on our right and were reminded why Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

We managed to hit the tide at the right time and avoided a carry across a road/path, but if you were to miss it, it’s not a big task to carry over it.  We took in some amazing scenery and stopped off on ‘Coral Island’ to stretch our legs which is a little white coral island, just before you enter the sea.  From turning into the top of ‘Eilean Shona, we had been staring into the sea in the distance, evaluating and debating the roughness of the ocean.  As we were on the island, we looked again and deemed it to be suitable enough to paddle on without much difficulty.

On Coral Island being a poser dick

On Coral Island being a poser dick

I can tell you now, I learned an important lesson that day.  Always check the weather forecast and let someone sensible/professional know of your intentions!  We survived, that much is true, but we had one hell of a scary ride.  As we started off, the sea was not too rough, but before we knew it, we were scattered, moving up and then sinking low on massive waves, parallel to an unforgiving almost evil looking coastline.  Powerful waves were completely smashing against a ragged shoreline and I did at one point in all seriousness think I was going to end up in the water, hurtling towards those cold hard rocks!

But as always in ‘Baw’s to the Wa’s’ situations I found my inner calm and beasted my way through the danger, unashamedly I shall admit I left Fergus and Gus behind.  My reasoning was I was one less being to worry about and turning round to check on them while timing massive waves coming for me at the same time was pointless and pretty reckless.  I should also admit to you all that this is not the first time I have been in danger so you should maybe not follow any advice I give, ever!

Glenuig Alive but not very well...

Glenuig Alive but not very well…

We did make it around the coastline and ended up back at Glenuig, the same but also changed.  All’s well that ends well though, we ended up in the ‘Glenuig Inn’ (who do rather awesome guided Kayaking tours, as well as serving brilliant food) feeling rather tired but extremely happy that we were all alive and unscathed.

Bewildered but warm

WTF did we do?!?

We didn’t bother camping another night, instead heading home, while Gus drove we got out our face on Whiskey to celebrate, Viking style or victory in battle with a magnificent and terrifying ocean, vowing never to do anything as stupid ever again…..until next time!

*Rusty Nail; made by mixing Drambuie and Scotch whisky in equal measures

**Cold Porridge; is actually not as disgusting as it sounds if made the night before with milk, oats and honey with nuts or fruit added as an option.

That time we…Met the West Coast of Scotland!

Met the West Coast
June 14th 2014

We have visited some of the West Coast before, including Isle of Skye and Applecross , areas which  also fall under the ‘Highlands’ region.  The West Coast of Scotland spans from the western side of Dumfries and Galloway, Ayshire & Arran, Argyll & Bute, West Highlands, Isle of Skye and finishes at the Western Isles.  We visited Arisaig, in an area, which many would tell you feels more like the ‘West Coast’, as it is practically in the middle of Scotland on the coast line!  This is also in the region of ‘Argyll & Bute’ or ‘Argyll & the Isles’ depending on what regional map you reference.

We arrived at ‘Sunnyside Croft Touring’ Campsite on the Friday night to a lovely warm evening and an equally warm welcome from Julie and Ian, the sit owners.  Their campsite was modern, immaculate and very well maintained with  booking ahead strongly encouraged, as it’s a very popular site.

After setting up camp we took a walk into the town of Arisaig.  It was a 2 mile walk and it had started to rain, but we never mind these things.  My outlook is, I’m not at work, I’m walking towards a pub and I’m with my best pal – all the best things in life!  We arrived at the Crofters Bar, which is attached to the Arisaig Hotel and settled down to a pint as we decided what to order.  We settled on a Whitebait and Mushroom with Blue Cheese starters to share and a Fish and Chips main each.  The Mushroom was delicious, the whitebait and Fish was a bit batter heavy but still good and the chips were the same as you’d expect with this kind of meal.  We opted for Whiskey instead of pudding, staggering back to the campsite after watching Netherland annihilate Spain 7-1 in their first game of the World Cup!

Yummy Cider!

Yummy Cider!

Early the next day we had breakfast, donned our wetsuits and carried down to the beach, which didn’t seem that far away, until you are struggling with a Kayak, paddle, water bottle and sweating in neoprene!  Julie and Ian did offer up the option of driving the van to outside their house and shortening the carry by about 100 meters or so, but I needed the carry practice, despite my bitching and moaning.

Long story short, we were on the water all day.  We paddled to the town of Arisaig then back the way we came, via a lot of island exploring.  On our way to scoping out a bigger island with a white sandy beach we spotted our first seal.  I excitedly stage whispered and gestured with my hands to get Ferg’s attention and we both gazed at her lounging on a rock and looking magnificent.  As we got a bit closer she slid into the water, disappearing from ours lives, only to reappear again, along with about 10 or 12 of her brothers and sisters!  Their wee heads were bobbing up and down, inquisitively studying our brightly coloured kayaks and funny faces.  It was a magical experience and one I am keen to experience again.

The island we stopped for a while on was stunning!  The white sand, crystal clear water and big blue sky made it feel like we were in a form of paradise, which of course we were.  Scotland boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world for a reason.

White sands and blue skies :)

White sands and blue skies 🙂

We made our way back to the campsite to swap into our full wetsuits to try some more rolling the kayaks and swimming too.  The water was really clear and the rolls were going well but the cold soon started to take its toll on the old napper!  Before we knew it we were back at the campsite and it was 6pm, meaning we had been out on the water, save a couple of island stops and a dash back to get wet suits, for 9 hours!!  But what a day it was.  I had completely fallen in love with the West Coast Coastline and cannot wait to go back to discover more amazing islands, sing to seals and deepen this blossoming connection.

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset