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Thread: Loch Sheil and Beyond

  1. #1

    Default Loch Sheil and Beyond

    Since July we had been debating our end of season trip over morning coffee after launching the groups for the day, Loch Sheil Circuit, Rannoch Moor, Great Glen, wind behind us, wind against, just very windy, sea too rough? In the end we went for the variety pack, Loch Sheil and beyond with the knowledge that at the end of October we might end up with the wind very much against and a hasty retreat back to Glenfinnan and the Harry Potter tourists.

    Sunday evening and at last we were climbing into the minibus for the overnight trip up to Glenfinnan taking it in turns to drive and doze with the occasional coffee\toilet break. I did my shift up to Penrith then dozed away the upper reaches of the M6 and M74 before waking up as we crossed Rannoch Moor and headed down Glencoe in the early gloomy dawn.

    We pulled into the Glenfinnan car park at about 8.00am to find two Japanese tourists out in the rain photographing the viaduct. We wondered down to the monument and looked up a rough, windy and very rainy Loch Sheil and easily came to the collective decision to find breakfast further up the road as the cafe at the monument did not open to 10.00am.


    Monday morning and the cafe is shut

    We ended up in the Fisherman's Mission at Mallaig, bought a few bits and pieces from the local Co-Op and made our way back to Glenfinnan.
    On the way back we noticed little groups of people (obviously not completely sane but who were we to talk) with cameras standing close to the railway line at various points in the pouring rain. Closer to Glenfinnan we saw the reason, puffs of smoke and a large steam train and carriages huffed by full of passengers looking out through misted windows. Feeling more like tourists now we grabbed another coffee at the monument cafe and with no sign of the weather breaking decided that we should get over to the hotel and start getting ready like 'proper 'ard' canoeists.

    We changed in the minibus and I clumped into the hotel to pay the car parking fee and give our details to the receptionist who told me how good the weather had been and wished us a good trip.

    By the time we got everything down to the water things were improving, we were getting breaks in the weather and the loch had calmed down. We all felt a bit livelier and ready for some paddling. We sorted the gear and made the boats ready for a sail if the wind shifted, a bit of a forlorn hope.

    Group photo done we set off making steady if somewhat slow progress against the wind and waves but it was good to be on our way and the weather made the surrounding hillsides even more dramatic.


    Right – look tough and mean. Sam, Dave, Martin and Simon

    Planning on an early camp we kept to the right hand side of the loch looking for a nice beach and taking in the situation.


    Oh yes, Loch Sheil delivers..

    The wind starting to build again and not sure where the next suitable beach might be we turned back to a sheltered cove we had just passed and with the wind and waves now helping surged our way to our stop for the night and a suitable toast to the start of the trip.


    The perfect campsite


    As I was saying Carruthers..

    Day 2 – Tuesday

    The wonders of the Scottish weather – with the forecast saying much of the same but from the North West the loch was more protected by the surrounding hills and we had breakfast whilst admiring the stunning view down the loch and feeling the bite in the air.


    As you see it on the postcards

    After a bit of exploration we set off and cruised on down the loch enjoying the stillness and stark beauty of the mountains. Sheil is one long loch and we were glad not to have the wind in our faces.
    Lunch stop was on a shingle spit next to an old jetty. Skies started to darken and temperature to drop as we ate our noodles so we were glad to get paddling again.


    Lunch stop and its getting cold

    The afternoon bought a bit of everything from lashing rain to blue skies to wind from all directions. Do we get the sail up? Too late, no wind at all now.


    Dramatic and frequent changes in the weather as we paddle on down the loch

    Spectacular rainbows followed us up the loch arching from one bank to the other


    Looking back up the loch at the vivid rainbows

    Mid afternoon bought us to the narrows and the fishing pens and a reminder that people actually work on and in these waters. The burial island Eilean Fhianain came into view but we decided to find a campsite and go to the island the following day.

    We found a perfect site overlooking the island and after some judicious clearing of sheep and cow pats we set up camp and got a fire going as the skies cleared and a cold night began to set in.


    A domestic scene - Martin in the kitchen, Simon gets the fire going, Dave hides a log behind his back

    We spent the evening around the fire taking it in turns to look at the Moon and Jupiter through the binoculars. You could see the big craters on the moon and if you could hold steady enough we reckon we could see some of Jupiter's moons and that was before the third glassful of the evening.


    The Moon lights up the loch

    Day 3 – Wednesday

    Cold and misty as we crawled out of the tents, definitely cold enough for the down jackets to make an appearance. We sat looking over to Eilean Fhianain eating breakfast and waiting for the sun to creep above the hills. Everything was still, snow dusted the tops of the distant hills and a hard frost covered the ground.


    Looking across to Eilean Fhianain in the cold morning mist

    The sun eventually crept over the opposite hill but still left our campsite in its own frost pocket. We packed and paddled over to the island


    Frost on the ground, ice on the tents

    This has been mentioned in blogs before but it is a very atmospheric place with weathered stones and the ruined chapel with its bell. Some graves were relatively new, this century and we wondered at the effort needed to bring the big slabs over and up to the top of the island.


    Grave of the first priest of St Firman, the chapel on the island


    Looking down towards Acharacle as the sun warms the stones and Dave


    Weathered gravestones

    The day was getting on and we had to get on down to the bottom of the river for high tide at 4.30pm to have a smooth entry into Moidart. We paddled off down the remainder of the loch intending on a brief stop at Acharacle, just before Loch Sheil becomes the River Sheil.

    We stopped by the old jetty and wandered up to the village where we had the luxury of a shop, a public toilet and to top it all the Bakehouse. Hot meat pies, hot fruit pies, huge wedges of apple pie, cream scones with enough cream to push your cholesterol levels into the red with one bite. Coffee was pants but the tea was good and we happily sat in the draughty ruin by the jetty eating our feast. A burbling sound signalled the arrival of a local on a quad who after making a pretence of looking up the loch switched off his engine and got down to his real purpose, checking us out.
    We learnt about the burial island, the bell (made by Irish monks over a thousand years ago). He warned us about the drop into Moidart at the end of the river, expressed a desire to canoe the river himself one day and advised us on the good campsites on Riska island down in Moidart. This last piece of advice seemed a bit dubious as the map showed no obvious landing or flat area and since he had never actually canoes or camped there himself we were a bit doubtful. Anyway, he suddenly shivered (not surprising since he was only wearing a denim shirt and jeans) professed himself to be a bit chilly and roared off back up the track.

    We carried on around the corner under the Sheil bridge and the start of the River Sheil. We could have been on the Wye in summer, slow and clear and total contrast to the previous couple of days. Around another tight corner and we thought we had entered a theme park ride. Fishing jetties, manicured banks, picturesque house up the hill. We only needed a few plastic gnomes, fishermen and a Walt Disney sign warning us not to stand up while the ride was in motion. Very surreal, and then just as suddenly a change of scene to scrubby banks and shallow water and the rest of the river meandering in unconvincing fashion down to Loch Moidart.


    Please remain seated at all times while the ride is in motion. The dolphins will arrive shortly

    The wind sprang up and we started to look for the exit into Moidart. We got there with 30mins to go until high tide but perfect level, no drop and a flow to sweep us into the sea loch.


    The gateway to Moidart at high tide

    It was beautiful but not the time to linger. We needed to find a campsite before it got too gloomy and the tide was still rushing in down the South Channel giving some chop as it sped up the shallows. We bounced over it for a bit before taking a sharp right and going with the flow past the castle and into the calmer waters behind Riska island.


    Bit of choppy stuff coming down the South Channel at high tide


    Heading down past Castle Tioram looking for a campsite

    As suspected Riska was not suitable for camping so we carried on to to a small island with an inlet that took us right onto the island with the high tide.

    If the last two campsites had been perfect this one was perfect with bells on. Natural clearing amongst scots pines with a spongy mossy covering that would give us a very comfortable nights sleep.


    Perfection with bells on

    We made camp and got a glorious fire going from dead and very dry branches and drank a toast. And despite rain showers that's where we stayed for the rest of the evening eating dinner and drinking a few more toasts, looking into the glow of the fire and thinking this was so good.


    A toast


    Another toast much later

    Day 4 Thursday

    Slept like a log and judging by the lack of activity around the site so did everyone else. Today was forecast as the rough day for winds and rain so getting up late we had brunch, bacon and beans and spotted dick. Tide was out so we waddled off to explore and gather mussels for the starters that evening. Feeling a bit full I went off with the shovel to dig the mother off all holes. I felt like smoking afterwards.

    Life was good, it certainly was for the local bird population. The rocks around the islands at low tide were covered with mussels and we soon had our starters collected for that night.


    Simon collects the starters, spoilt for choice

    The afternoon really brought in some fierce winds and storms so after a late lunch we worked off the calories by dozing and reading in our tents as the wind tore through the trees.

    The weather had calmed down by late afternoon and feeling like a paddle we glided over to explore the ruined castle, returning in the dusk to cook our mussels in white wine and garlic. They were zinging and no immediate after effects so we drank a toast.


    Castle Tioram from the gateway


    Looking back at the castle as we head back to our campsite


    Starters

    Day 5 Friday

    Decision day – up the North channel, on the sea up and around the headland to Glenuig, weather permitting or retreat up to the head of Moidart and finish by the road. Forecast was good-ish so we made an earlier start to previous days to get up the North Channel before the tide turned with a plan of getting up around the headland and catching the returning tide going in to Glenuig.

    The tide goes out a long way in Moidart, a very long way and we scraped our way around into the North Channel before grinding to a complete halt some way short of the causeway. However the bed of the little stream that we were in was gravelly so we were able to drag the boats along without too much wallowing around. Beware, some of the other more muddy channels when the tide is out. Some of the mud is very sucky.


    Low tide and a long drag for the Friday morning launch

    After lifting the boats over the causeway and a final drag to water with some depth we paddled slowly up the channel towards the open sea. Seals started to pop up around us, the surrounded hills gave way as we rounded the final bend.


    A life on the ocean waves beckons

    The breeze picked up but no crashing waves so the paddle was on and we were out onto the sea.
    Keeping well away from the breaking waves on the rocky shore we savoured the rare treat of paddling opens on the sea, trailing a few lines out the back for any fish and keeping a wary eye on the horizon for any incoming nasty stuff. No turning back now.


    Keeping a wary eye..

    Out past the protection of the small islands the swell was moderate and you could feel the power of the water as it eased the boats up and down. We kept a steady pace for about about an hour catching a couple of mackeral and a pollack on the lines before rounding the corner into the the expanse of the Sound of Arisiaig and following the coastline down to Glenuig Bay. What a great paddle!

    By the time we landed by the pub in Glenuig it was turning miserable and as our thoughts for the day had not gone any further than getting around to Glenuig we camped on some scrubby grass by the water and gave in to a night in the pub. I wondered over to the community shop across on the main road to see if any buses were running so that I could get over to Glenfinnan and get the minibus. No the lady told me, no buses because it is half term but I will drive you over. Profuse thanks and offers of petrol money were pooh poohed and 30 minutes later I was being dropped off back at the hotel. “Its what we do around here..” she said “.. we help each other out” Her name was Morag and during the journey I heard just about everything about the area including 'Betty the Bothy Beast' and other local characters.


    A damp end to the day

    Day 6 - Saturday

    The following morning as we were packing up a car stopped and another lady asked how our trip was. Talking as though she knew me I made polite comments while I tried to get my bearings, Morag's sister perhaps? No, she was raking leaves in the pouring rain last Monday at the hotel when we arrived, she invited us to the village hall as a band was playing that night. We already had plans though. It had been a pretty wet night and some of Sam's mates from Glenmore Lodge were coming over to paddle on the Sunday in Glencoe so we went for the Clachaig. A drive down past Loch Sunart, one of the future, and on the ferry to Fort William and up to Glencoe. A cold afternoon and the mountains were spectacular. Camping up the road from the pub we enjoyed a cramped shower at the campsite and a raucous night at the Clachaig in the climbers bar with a band to bellow along to. A great way to end a great trip.
    Thanks to Sam and Martin for the pics. Thanks to the very friendly locals and Morag for the lift and once again thanks Scotland - why are you such a long way away?

  2. #2

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    Fantastic!! Well done folks! wish I was there

  3. #3
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    Nice one!
    Andy

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    Default Loch Shiel

    Great blogg that. Some lovely photo's which really capture that Loch to a tee
    To travel alone is a risky business, especially in the wilderness; equally risky is to have dreams and not follow them.

  5. #5
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    Fantastic blogg. People are very friendly and helpful in that area which all adds to the great experience. Thanks for posting the pics.
    Woodlander

    Life should be a journey from curiosity to understanding.

  6. #6
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    Default Loch Shiel and beyond

    is a cracker of a blogg paddlers,the four seasons in a couple of days r us okwillie
    "Every action of our lives touches on
    some chord that will vibrate in eternity"

    Edwin Hubbel Chapin

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    Nice blog...well done guys.
    All Aboard

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    Smile Brilliant

    An excellent blogg with some mouthwatering photos.

    Good drinking too by the look of it!

    You don't go in for half measures, you lads!

    Good!

    Cheers,

    Charlie.
    It's turned out nice again!

  9. #9
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    Great stuff Dave, thanks for sharing

    We did the sane trip in summer and had to deal with a midge fest and very low water down the river into Moidart, quite a different scene you guys had

    Hope to make it back for another go one day, maybe next autumn as the colours in your pics are stunning.

    Thanks for the peak round the corner too. We had to cut our trip short in Moidart and head back for the cars, I often wondered what the world was like at the end of the north channel as we only saw the crashing waves out on the horizon.

    Stunning, thanks again and thanks for the memories
    Rich




  10. #10

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    What wonderful pics of what was clearly a fantastic trip. One small "gripe" though, and that relates to your fire on what seems to be pristine grass.



    But perhaps you were using an existing fire ring - - - or had turfed the spot. Mike.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike__B View Post
    What wonderful pics of what was clearly a fantastic trip. One small "gripe" though, and that relates to your fire on what seems to be pristine grass.



    But perhaps you were using an existing fire ring - - - or had turfed the spot. Mike.
    Hi Mike - correct, there were existing fire rings at all the campsites or we would be turfing although, sad to say, at our first campsite somebody had decided that bottle tops were biodegradable.

  12. #12
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    Great blogg fellas, paddling, foraging, beers and plenty of fresh air with the added bonus of meeting some friendly and interesting characters. That makes for a cracking trip.

    Good one. See ya on the water.

    Rick
    For all the high hills,rivers,lakes and mountain peaks are where man finds the peace he seeks

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    Paddlling and then on to nature's table, lovely blogg!

    "Pedal five hundred miles on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature" - Pierre Trudeau

  14. #14
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    Default An outstanding trip & blogg to match

    Well done gents, an outstanding trip & blogg to match.
    Some fantastic photos along with an excellent account.

    Regards
    Howard Mc

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    A great blog with some stunning pictures.

    We camped on the same island on Moidart and the tides were never right for us. I remember trudging through all that mud to unload and load the canoe. I hope you didn't get infested with ticks as I did on Moidart!

    We too found the people in Glenuig very friendly. We finished our trip at Loch Ailort and the owner of the Glenuig Inn that we had spoken to the day before stopped and gave me a lift back to Glenfinnan.

    It looked a lot calmer at the end of the North Channel than it did when we got to the open sea!

    Great blog, thanks for sharing,

    Lynne
    All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shewie View Post
    Great stuff Dave, thanks for sharing

    We did the sane trip in summer and had to deal with a midge fest and very low water down the river into Moidart, quite a different scene you guys had

    Hope to make it back for another go one day, maybe next autumn as the colours in your pics are stunning.

    Thanks for the peak round the corner too. We had to cut our trip short in Moidart and head back for the cars, I often wondered what the world was like at the end of the north channel as we only saw the crashing waves out on the horizon.

    Stunning, thanks again and thanks for the memories
    Rich

    Thanks for the comments - I gave up on Scotland in the summer many years ago after being hounded from the Glenbrittle campsite on Skye by the midges . We were convinced they followed us back to the border to make sure we left.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lynne View Post
    A great blog with some stunning pictures.

    We camped on the same island on Moidart and the tides were never right for us. I remember trudging through all that mud to unload and load the canoe. I hope you didn't get infested with ticks as I did on Moidart!

    We too found the people in Glenuig very friendly. We finished our trip at Loch Ailort and the owner of the Glenuig Inn that we had spoken to the day before stopped and gave me a lift back to Glenfinnan.

    It looked a lot calmer at the end of the North Channel than it did when we got to the open sea!

    Great blog, thanks for sharing,

    Lynne
    Lynne

    Thanks for your comments - I read your great blog when researching the trip so being forewarned checked the tide tables and worked backwards from Glenuig to work the tide to our advantage as much as possible. Being late October there were no midges and frosts put paid to the ticks.

    Cheers

    Dave

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    Not sure how I missed this blog but having read through it now... An excellent tale with photos to match.

    TGB
    May the gentleness of morning, greet your silent passage through endless waters...

    May all your winds be gentle. And for ww - May it rain the night before.

  19. #19

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    great tale, its a beautiful part of the world, and to experience it from an open must be one best ways to see it.

    i would agree that before or after summer is best. I think that postcards of scotland should have warnings on them similar to cigarette packets, in large writing across the bottom saying - THIS VIEW MIGHT LOOK NICE BUT YOU'VE NO CHANCE OF STANDING AND ENJOYING IT AS YOU'LL GET BL@@DY EATEN ALIVE

    i wannagoback.

  20. #20
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    Feeling left out,Guy's I can't see any pics!!!
    "Access all areas, Under the radar"

  21. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by TOPTEC View Post
    Feeling left out,Guy's I can't see any pics!!!
    Sorry - pictures back.

  22. #22
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    Superb!!
    "Access all areas, Under the radar"

  23. #23
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    Brilliant looking trip guys.

    The boats were tied together for the whole trip it looks like.

    Any chance of sailing at all?

    Alan L.

  24. #24

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    Brilliant blogg and great pictures. Looks like a fantastic trip.

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Juno2 View Post
    Brilliant looking trip guys.

    The boats were tied together for the whole trip it looks like.

    Any chance of sailing at all?

    Alan L.
    We rafted up in order to rig the sail quickly if the wind was in our favour but paddling in a general westerly direction the wind was predominantly against all trip. If we did this trip again we would consider starting from Glenuig and reversing the route. It would be nice sailing up Loch Sheil on a westerly to Glenfinnan.

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