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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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!
**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.