Loch Maree, 12th, 13th and 14th April 2012 ( Lotsa pics ).
I had a meeting in Penrith on 12th April, and the forecast had been steadily improving all week, so I decided to head north and take a trip to Loch Maree. I was packed the previous night, and I picked the canoe up on my way to the meeting, and the canoe on my car raised a few eyebrows when I arrived. The meeting seemed to drag on forever, but eventually it was over, so I filled the car up ( for the first of three fill-ups on this trip ) and set off.
The drive wasnít as bad as I thought it would be, and I was able to pick a map up at Tisoís in Perth, which is just off the A9. The A9 is a very scenic road, and I saw lots of wildlife. Unfortunately most of it was dead, This must be the roadkill capital of Britain. I saw dead deer, foxes, badgers and literally thousands of dead birds ( mostly pheasants, who obviously havenít evolved fast enough to escape their four wheeled predators ).
I arrived quite late at The Loch Maree Hotel to ask if I could park there, but it was obviously being refurbished and there was no-one around to ask, so I parked at Slattadale car park and got on the water as fast as I could in the gathering dusk.
I had contacted Scottish Natural Heritage beforehand, and the only island that they wanted me to avoid landing on was Eilean Ruairidh Mor. With the strong wind however, I had to paddle towards this island to gain its shelter before turning back towards the other islands and finding the first nightís campsite. In the shelter of the islands it was very calm,
and I made good progress, but even so, it was just before dark that I found a beach with suitable trees for my hammock. I collected some driftwood for my fire first though, as the weather looked good, and I find it easier to put my hammock and tarp up by headtorch than collect firewood. Once I was sorted out I relaxed around the fire for a while and had some food and a few drinks before heading for the hammock. It took me quite a while to get to sleep though, as I still had lots of caffeine flowing through me from all the energy drinks I had consumed on the drive up.
I had a lie in the next morning, and only got out of the hammock when forced to by my bladder. After breakfast of oarcakes, squeezy jam and raisins washed down with coffee,
and packing up, I had a little look around my part of the island, collecting some fatwood on the way.
Almost all of the wood that I found was resinous to some degree, lots of it very much so. This made for very hot but smoky fires. When I got home, I thought that Iíd got a good tan, but on closer inspection I discovered that Iíd been varnished by the resinous smoke.
When I eventually got going, I paddled through the narrows between Garbh Eilean and Eilean Subhainn, and then went east, exploring the islets and bays as I went along.
I could see some heavy showers passing further up and down the loch, but I was only caught in one, so I took shelter in the trees of a pleasant sandy bay.
Once the shower passed,
I continued towards the burial island of Isle Maree, and stopped for a look around there.
Itís very different in character from the other islands, with itís broad leaved trees and without the waist Ė high heather which is prevalent elsewhere. I had a wander around here for a while,
and left my own twopenneth in the money tree
before I left to have a look at a likely looking bay on Eilean Eachainn where I hoped to spend the night. I crossed over, and it turned out to be an excellent campsite, with a fairly sheltered spot for my hammock, and lots of driftwood on the beach. After this little reconnaissance I went off to explore around the rest of the islands at this end of the group. It was around here that I caught my only glimpse of the Black Throated Divers, and a couple of not very good photographs.
I was first alerted to their presence by a weird gurgling noise, but this and a few little chirrups stopped as I approached. I sat still in the water watching them for about five minutes before I paddled away from them, not wanting to get too close and disturb them. On the way back to my campsite I meandered around the rest of the small islands in the area, landing occasionally to check out potential campsites, but none was better than the one that I had already found.
Although Iíve only ever seen photoís of the Canadian Shield country, I think that these islands are the closest that Iíve seen in the UK to what they have over in Canada.
I had a very comfortable camp that night, having more time to prepare than the previous one.
My hammock was strung in the shelter of the trees,
and another tarp was spread over my canoe and poles near the fire in case of a shower.
I had more time to prepare the fire, so I lit it using only some fatwood scrapings and shavings, and my firesteel.
As the evening was drawing on, I saw a couple of lads in what appeared to be inflatable canoes pass by to the south of Eilean Subhainn, but I never saw them again. I had a leisurely dinner watching the showers chase each other away to the west, as I was sat warming my feet by the fire with a drink in my hand.
before they cleared with the dusk and Venus appeared
As the fire was built on shingle, it took some putting out in the morning. Several pan fulls of water later, the steam finally stopped.
The next morning there was a strong wind from the north west, so I decided to paddle around the southern side of the islands and try to get to see the ďislands on an islandĒ on Eilean Subhainn, before going to the group of islands to the north of Garbh Eilean to spend the night there.
On the way, one bay reminded me of bays that Iíd seen in Mediterranean, with pine trees growing down to a sandy beach above crystal clear water.
The easiest way to the islands on an island was to enter what seemed to be a lochan on the south of Eilean Subhainn, but what was as it turned out a very sheltered bay with a narrow, shallow entrance.
I pulled the canoe up onto the shore at the northern end of this bay and started walking towards the islands on an island.
It was rough going, waist high heather over very uneven ground interspersed with bog, and as I got nearer, the bog was quite extensive and had killed some quite mature trees.
As on other islands that I visited, there was lots of deer sign around here, but I didnít see any on this trip.
After I had taken a few pics of the islands on an island, I retraced my steps back to the canoe.
I continued along the southern side of the islands, exploring the bays and inlets, noting places to camp if I ever returned here.
As I passed my first nightís campsite
and entered the narrows between Garbh Eilean and Eilean Subhainn,
I was hit by the wind for the first time. It was a very stiff paddle through the narrows,
and I was pleased to get to the north eastern end of Garbh Eilean and find some shelter. Whilst I explored these islands to the north of Garbh Eilean, wherever there was a crossing exposed to the wind there was what appeared to be a very fast flowing river between the islands.
Once you started to cross there was no stopping or I would just get blown back to where I started. Fortunately there were no long crossings, and the whitecaps out on the open loch didnít make it into the narrow channels.
I stopped in several places amongst these islands to find a place to camp,
but the only good places were exposed to the north west wind. I decided to return to the sheltered Mediterranean bay that Iíd passed earlier, and with the wind at my back through the channels I was soon back there.
It also gave me the option of easily taking the shortest crossing back to the southern shore if it was still windy in the morning. This would have given me the safest, but longest paddle back to the car in a high wind.
I soon unloaded the canoe and hung the hammock.
Again, there was plenty of firewood to be had, and I had the leisure to light the fire using the fatwood again.
was soon set up and relaxing beside the fire. The wood around here was so resinous, it dripped from the fire.
I had a lovely evening by the fire, but it felt a bit colder than previous nights.
It hadnít been dark very long when it started to snow,
so I took that as a sign to get an early night so that I could get a good start in the ( hopefully ) morning calm.
The early night worked a treat, and I was up with the larks to see the snow covered mountains and calm loch.
The firewood did not want to be extinguished, even when dunked in the loch, and it gave off bubbles of smoke when immersed.
I had a quick bite to eat, packed up and was on the water before the wind decided to change its mind. As it was calm, I took a more direct route back to the car and arrived there after a pleasant paddle over calm water.
I was pleased that Iíd got the early start though, as the wind had picked up considerably by the time that Iíd loaded the car and set off. All that remained now was the seven hour drive back to Cumbria.
Ps, apologies for the number of pics of Slioch, but it dominates the loch and in the conditions that I had, its mood always seemed to change.
"I want to see the wild country again before I die, and the Mountains" Bilbo Baggins.