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Thread: Loch Shiel circuit April '19

  1. #1
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    Default Loch Shiel circuit April '19

    I first attempted the Loch Shiel circuit in August 2015 with my youngest son, but we were forced to beat a hasty retreat when the sheer number of midges became too much for him to bear after setting up camp only 1 mile into our journey.

    Three and a half years later, I was back, this time on my own.
    I left my details at the Glenfinnan Hotel, giving myself up to six days to paddle the length of Loch Shiel and head either around the coast or over the hill to Glenuig and back via Loch Ailort.

    The forecast for the next few days promised sunny spells and showers with a fresh wind which would either make or break the trip.

    As I launched from the slipway, the wind was blowing nicely down the loch, funnelled by the towering hills in the perfect direction south towards Pollock and hopefully Loch Moidart.







    I was soon flying along, with rolling waves passing beneath the boat,



    pushing me at a brisk pace towards the shingle beach at Eilean Dubh where our earlier trip had ended in ignominious failure.





    After a brief pause to stretch my legs and re-arrange the load, I was off again, marvelling at how quickly the conditions regularly changed from relative calm to a howling gale.





    Conscious that I was alone, I kept fairly close to the shore.

    Looking over my shoulder, I could see what looked like a white cloud rapidly catching me as it skimmed across the loch. Within seconds, the wind had turned ferocious as a squall battered me with hailstones the size of marbles.



    I turned hastily towards the eastern shore, aware that I needed to run for shelter quickly.

    At about 4.30pm and after only 2 hours paddling, I had almost reached Pollock and decided that as I’d already exceeded my expected distance, I’d pull in and make camp for the night.
    I settled on a small shingle beach that offered a good view towards the turn in the Loch and more importantly was sheltered from the worst of the wind.

    No sooner had I set up the tent and a small tarp, the sun came out and I was sat in my shirtsleeves enjoying a brew listening to Nevis FM.



    After a bit of an explore, I prepared sausage, bacon egg and beans on the firebox, before a pleasant evening around the fire and phoning home for a weather update.





    The promised conditions the next day were very similar, with a brisk easterly to push me towards Acharacle.

    After a leisurely breakfast, I set off at about 9.30, pushing out onto a lively loch.





    I squeezed through the narrows where the landscape changed dramatically, becoming more open and noticeably flatter and soon stopped to pay my respects at the burial island at St Finnans,





    before being blown past the flat expanse of Claish Moss



    Arriving in Acharacle at about mid-day, I was disappointed to find that the bakery was closed, but delighted that the café next door was open, and enjoyed a portion of chips and refilled my water containers, ready for passing onto the sea.



    The lazy river Shiel was a delight and I had a 5 minute encounter with an otter just downstream of the fishing pools which briefly took my mind off the imminent portage to come.





    I’d be entering Loch Moidart shortly after low tide and would need to by-pass the tidal falls where the loch enters the sea.

    I’ve never been one for minimalist packing, and was alarmed that the trolley wouldn’t be able to support the weight of all my gear, so was forced to perform about 4 shuttles along the 300 yard track between the river and the sea.



    As I paddled out to inspect the falls from below,



    I had my 2nd otter sighting within an hour, and was able to catch a couple of images on camera as he hunted, oblivious to my presence.







    Rounding Castle Tioram past the tourists, I dragged the boat across the bladderwrack onto one of the islands, pitching my tent in the well-used hollow, surrounded by towering trees swaying in the breeze.









    It looked the prefect campsite, but was clearly heavily used by the local deer population and I was paranoid about ticks, performing an elaborate sweep of the tent floor as I rolled out my sleeping bag. After finding one and squeezing the life out of it, I expected to be infested with them before leaving.

    After pasta for tea, I sat on the rocks at the sheltered end of the island and watched the sun go down, enjoying yet another otter encounter as one clambered around on the rocks in the gathering gloom.





    I woke during the night to total silence. The wind had gone and there was a chance that I’d be able to make the crossing to Glenuig.

    I broke camp at about 6.00am, and headed around the corner onto the North Channel in perfect conditions.





    As dawn broke, I neared the open sea, where the swell was a little disconcerting, and, aware of the vulnerability of being a solo paddler, I decided to beat a retreat.
    I’d expected all along to have to portage over the hill, but hadn’t reckoned on the 1 in 10 gradient!

    Fortunately, as I put the wheels back on my trolley near the ford that connects Eilean Shona to the mainland, a passing 4x4 stopped to ask what I was doing. When I told the driver that I intended to drag a heavily laden canoe 2 miles up a steep hill, he raised one eyebrow James Bond style before very kindly offering to transport my gear over to Glenuig for me.

    Naturally, slightly nervous about placing all my worldly goods in a stranger’s car, we soon loaded the truck and he set off up the track with a cheery wave, promising to leave everything at the edge of the car park next to the Glenuig Inn.

    Left with just the boat, a rucksack and a bottle of water, I strapped the canoe to the wheels and proceeded to haul it up the steep path towards the road.



    Three hours and 5 litres of sweat later, I found myself wearily trundling to a halt next to the pub, where, as promised, everything was neatly stacked with a tarp draped over the top to protect it from the elements.

    Conditions in Glenuig were good, with a glassy sea state and occasional rain as I made my way slowly northeastwards.





    I set up camp on a grassy shelf at the back of the sandy beach at Cooper’s Knowe. A passing dog walker stopped for a chat and said that I was the first camper of the season, in what is clearly a popular spot.









    As the rain intensified, I sat beneath the tarp, topping up my water with a stray guyrope and enjoying the views out to sea with not a building or a streetlight in sight.



    I headed across towards the beach at Peanmeanach to have a look at the bothy and to see if the resident deer were around, but there was clearly someone in residence.





    After another poor night’s sleep, I set off early towards Lochailort where I stashed my gear and set off back to the car, intending to either hitch or catch the early train.





    With paddle in hand, I stuck out my thumb for the first time in my life, and to my surprise, the first passing vehicle stopped for me.

    A mad white knuckle ride courtesy of a Latvian fisherman from Mallaig took me back to Glenfinnan where I spoke briefly to one of a party of three about to attempt the circuit.



    Within an hour the boat was loaded and I was ready for the long drive south and home.
    Last edited by Newbond; 2nd-May-2019 at 11:11 AM.
    Newbond

    'In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.'

  2. #2
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    Default

    Well done mate, really enjoyed your blogg, well written a lovely read. Hopefully someone can enlarge the pics. ps not sure the links were what you intended.

  3. #3
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    Excellent read, though the photos are only thumbnails. Having so many otter encounters must have been wonderful.

    Undertaking a trip like that is a different beast when solo, nice one.

    I too got a lift from the first vehicle that came round the corner when I stuck my thumb out. Unfortunately it was a bus, and charged me £2.50 to sit on it stinking out the rest of the passengers!
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  4. #4
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    We spoke at the hotel as we were setting off and you had just arrived back. Sounds like a good trip and looks a great luck to see the otters. Hopefully someone can enlarge the pics. We also had a good trip round and fortunately avoided the portage.

  5. #5
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    Can anyone offer any advice on re-sizing the pics?

    Just spent an hour on FlickR, but not getting anywhere......
    Newbond

    'In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.'

  6. #6
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    Hey. On Flickr, I simply go to the image I want, open it then go to the Share Photo arrow bottom right. This brings up a pop up box in which you should choose BBCode. Under this code, is a size option - I use Medium 800 x X ish. (this will now default to your choice next time) Then all you do is Copy this code, and paste it straight into the SOTP post (no need for the Insert Image function).
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  7. #7
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    Wigan
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mal Grey View Post
    Hey. On Flickr, I simply go to the image I want, open it then go to the Share Photo arrow bottom right. This brings up a pop up box in which you should choose BBCode. Under this code, is a size option - I use Medium 800 x X ish. (this will now default to your choice next time) Then all you do is Copy this code, and paste it straight into the SOTP post (no need for the Insert Image function).
    I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard someone say it, but you're a beautiful man, Mal.
    Thanks very much!
    Newbond

    'In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.'

  8. #8
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    Glad you got the pictures sorted, looks like a great trip and just shows what a few days difference can make in the weather and conditions. Wish we'd been so lucky with the otters sighting at Moidart, all I saw were fish.

  9. #9
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    Ash Vale, Surrey (by the Basingstoke Canal)
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    Excellent read of a superb trip. Well blogged.

  10. #10
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    Oxfordshire
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    Excellent blogg, I do like the Shiel Circuit.
    We were planning to do this again over Easter so might have seen you but decided to head further north to Inverpolly instead.
    Bootstrap
    There's no such thing as inclement weather - you're just incorrectly dressed

  11. #11
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    May 2019
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    East Yorkshire
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    Stayed at Peanmeanach last Wednesday. Beautiful place but arrived and left on a low tide so a long carry both days with canoes and kits to the high water line.
    Dave

  12. #12
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    Chorley, Lancashire
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    Fabulous blog and loved the pictures. I recognise a few of those camp spots. When we camped on the island on Moidart, I was infested with ticks. I think I removed 15 in total. After that we moved on and I only set up camp on sand or pebbles!

    Great trip, thanks for posting.
    All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost

  13. #13
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    Superb blogg. An area I’ve Yet to paddle but you have made me much more keen to go.
    John

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