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Thread: Arrochar to Stirling Bridge; where Vikings fear to tread.

  1. #1
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    Default Arrochar to Stirling Bridge; where Vikings fear to tread.

    A couple of months ago a senior member of the canoe club (JK, as he is generally known) asked me if I was interested in doing a cross-Scotland trip he had been looking at. We are both old enough to have retired from public service related jobs but young enough to be foolish, so of course I said “yes, when are we leaving?” Having set aside the dates, we held a brief planning meeting which mostly consisted of drinking coffee in the sun. JK admitted to only having one of the maps, but that was okay because I had the other. It still has the price on; £2.40 for an OS map, so bound to be up to date!

    A couple of days later I found myself in charge of two canoes and a load of gear at the head of Loch Long by the village of Arrochar.



    JK had taken his van to Stirling and was getting a taxi back, while I watched the tide come in and ate bacon rolls! Thanks to a bit of slick organising he was back by 11am and we were soon on our way. The first part of our journey was pioneered by Vikings who sailed up the sea loch then dragged their boats overland to Tarbet by Loch Lomond. This enabled them to head south to Magikelly Land and the golf courses and fancy hotels at the southern end of the Loch. Tarbet is derived from Norse, meaning “take boat”, so we did.





    Having dealt with the inevitable amused locals (though probably not as thoroughly as our predecessors) we arrived at the lochside and quickly got under way. The early morning rain had cleared and there was no wind, so the middle of the loch was a good place to avoid midgies.



    The bluebells were everywhere.



    Looking south to Magikelly Land.



    And north.



    We had the unlikely experience of meeting a considerate jet skier, who slowed to avoid hitting us with a wake. We paused for pictures of the equally unusual experience of flat calm water in the middle of the loch.



    Our route was north to the pier and hotel at Inversnaid. This is a stopping point for walkers on the West Highland Way and tourists from the Trossachs. We sat on the pier and ate lunch, ignoring what lay ahead.





    What lay ahead was a very steep road. Some of it was flat, but that only intensified the experience of 150metres of ascent over 1.5 kilometres. And no evidence of Vikings. By half way I was berserk; more Norse, meaning bare shirt. The midgies liked it but I wasn’t caring!

    I had met the bin lorry on this hair-pin.



    The road sign summed it up.



    Eventually the road levelled out and we suddenly found ourselves by the dam on Loch Arklet. It was a relief to get on the water.



    JK put up a sail but this was optimistic.



    We have both spent years walking and climbing in Scotland but were struck by how unfamiliar were the views for us. Neither of us had visited this glen before. At the end of the Loch we had a short but unpleasant bit of boggy boat dragging and fence hopping then a short section of road. This took us over the watershed and down to Stronachnachlachar, by Loch Katrine. This is another tourist magnet, therefore tea and cake was happily consumed prior to the last effort of the day. Getting onto the water from the vicinity of the tea shop looked challenging. A combination of the staff going home (it was 5pm) and us not being bothered with moving elsewhere encouraged us to just drop the boats over the wall and then follow them. I had spotted a rock shelf that made our embarkation much easier, but there were a few raised eyebrows from the remaining tourists!



    Loch Katrine was lovely, particularly with a helpful breeze. We headed across to the remote north side and found a campsite. We were exhausted but feeling very pleased with our progress so far.



    Dinner was chickpea curry and naans. I’d have eaten a scabby horse!

    We slept well and got up about 7am. The midgies were active so any breeze was sought after.



    Soon we were packed and on the water. As we got out away from the shore the wind picked up and sails raised.



    Loch Katrine is a beautiful place and definitely somewhere worth visiting. It could make a good multi day trip, with plenty of remote areas for camping. And the sun came out. We expected to meet the tourist ferry and there it was just leaving the narrows by the pier.



    We retreated to a bay to let it pass.



    The guys at the pier had no problem with us using it to get out. Once we had loaded up into road mode we sat down to soup and bread at the cafe.



    From here we had a short section of road to Loch Achray. The guidebook describes the route from here to Stirling as one entry but the guidebook is getting on and needs serious editing of that chapter.

    The road passed quickly, the only hazards being a large group of cyclists and a dead snake. Access to the water was very easy and the paddling pleasant.



    The guide indicated that the Black Water which connects Achray to Loch Venachar was navigable. There was a small clearing in the trees.



    This was actually a really pleasant bit of water and a big contrast to the open water we had traveled over so far.



    The postman.



    One of several beaver lodges.



    Approaching Loch Venachar.



    The locals.





    After the pleasant contrast of moving water we were soon back out onto open water. Loch Venachar is quite open and we soon had a good breeze so got the sails up.



    The wind was enough to be faster than paddling but light enough to be relaxing sailing. We both had the experience of nodding off for a few seconds before remembering what we were doing!

    The sailing club was deserted so we were amused by the poster.



    The eastern end of the Loch is guarded by a very serious collection of weirs and sluices which entailed another short portage. The guidebook describes the Eas Gobhain as usually having very little water. The first point where the road comes along side had a busy and complex set of rock ledges with a fair amount of water and no easy put in, so we carried on along the road for a few hundred metres. The put in was very pleasant, with nice mown paths through the grass and lots of bluebells. Just round the corner we came to this. Serious ditching.



    Followed by the shocking sight of half a canoe in the trees.



    That was a very sobering sight for me and I was feeling rather anxious as I tried to manoeuvre through a constant trail of fallen branches. Twice the stern of my boat got caught fast on protruding branches, requiring complicated moves to get me released, so I was glad when the river widened out with fewer obstructions, though with a background sense of anxiety about the remainder of our journey down the Teith. However, the fleshpots of Callander loomed.



    JK went in search of tea and cake while I looked after the boats.



    The gulls were queuing for our chocolate brownies, but our needs were greater.



    Then back to the river and a search for a good place to camp.



    My ancient map doesn’t show the huge quarry, just a large and isolated area of woodland. We camped in the trees just where the Teith is joined by the Keltie Water. It had been another long day so dinner was welcome. I don’t know the proper name for pasta with onions, tuna, olives and squeezy cheese, but it was most welcome. The dessert of hot banana with chocolate and whisky was excellent.



    Sleep beckoned and the next morning I reported the most comfortable night I’ve had in my hammock. Bliss.



    The sun came out for breakfast and we had high hopes of getting to Stirling. However, in the back of my mind were the memories from yesterday of a broken boat and lots of bits of trees. I was relieved that the river was widening and in places very gentle.




    There are numerous rock shelves and after negotiating a few of these my confidence returned. The water level was on the low side but the recent rain gave us enough to get along nicely. I commented to JK that all our days on the very rocky River Dee had been good practice. Torrie Rapid is probably the hardest named feature, but was a pussycat in the conditions. Then we passed the beautiful grounds of Lanrick Castle where we were pursued by a woman determined to photograph us. We entered a wider and deeper section of water. It was clearly held back by a weir, but we paddled on round several bends, quite innocently.



    I had confidently taken the lead by this point. I heard the weir before I could see it. As I came round the corner I could see the “event horizon”, but not the “event”. I decided to be alarmed and cautious! We knew about Deanston Weir but hadn’t expected it for another kilometre.



    Careful inspection showed obstacles in the salmon steps. There is no easy route to the right and the left side is high steep banks. However, careful investigating under the overhanging branches revealed a possible way down the left side. This involves a bold step out onto the top of the weir then pulling the boat out onto a dryish area of the face. From here the sticky rubber boots earn their reputation and it was an easy descent to the foot of the obstacle.





    The next section was good fun, with several steps and faster water. A group of tourists gathered to watch, and presumably be impressed! We continued past Doune, with a good view of it’s castle.



    And it’s bridge which we had crossed on our drive to the start.



    We had a brief chat with a fisherman who appreciated us stopping and attracting his attention to get directions. He said that he fished on most of the salmon rivers and thinks canoeing makes no difference to the chance of catching fish.

    The river began to slow down and mature. Our main concerns were the heat of the sun and the glare off the water.



    As we passed Blair Drummond Safari Park we expected crocodiles and hippos but saw only a lone pterodactyl.



    Lunchtime was upon us so we stopped at a beach, knowing we didn’t have much further to travel. The morning sun was threatened by some serious looking shower clouds.



    Shortly after lunch we had our first glimpse of the Wallace Monument which overlooks the city of Stirling.



    Then the River Teith, which had served us well, is usurped by the Forth, which is mostly a bit of a ditch (not that I would want to be accused of being ditchist).



    Around another corner and we see the M9.



    This is the upper limit of the tidal water. As the tide was out we had some entertaining rapids through more rock steps. Then another bend and a fine view of Cornton Vale prison.



    We knew the low tide could be a problem. It’s difficult paddling when the water doesn’t reach up a seagull’s leg.



    Another view of the Wallace Monument, this time with dramatic sky and dramatic swans.



    We had a fresh breeze in our face and the tide was slowly running against us so we were pleased to finally get a view of the destination: Stirling Bridge.



    Historically this was a strategic crossing point, featuring heavily in wars between Scotland and England. Today it marked the end of our journey across Scotland from saltwater to saltwater.



    Celebrations were delayed slightly by the difficult exit from the river bed. Here’s JK on reconnaissance.



    And here is the official finish picture. We couldn’t get a passerby to take it, so I’m not in it!





    So we made it. Three good days, with plenty of challenges but lots of great canoeing and some fabulous scenery. We were lucky with the weather, in fact the heavens opened shortly after we began driving home, but that washed some of the mud off the boats!

    Thanks for reading.

    Mike







    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

  2. #2
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    A most excellent adventure. I wish I lived closer to Scotland.

    Love the photo of the swans with the Wallace Monument in the background.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    There are three types of people in the world:
    Those who can count and those who can't.

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    Looks an interesting route, and your pictures are outstanding, Thanks.

  4. #4
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    Great blogg of an interesting route, not one I can recall seeing on here before.

    "The fleshpots of Callander" Classic! Once went to "a nightclub" in Callander upstairs in one of the hotels/pubs there, a guy had brought his dog to the disco, was sitting under a table.
    Cheers,

    Alan


  5. #5
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    Hi Mike
    A great trip and report. I'm pretty certain we saw you entering the Trossach Pier bay (Monday 20th May?) as I briefly mentioned in my Trossachs blog. There can't have been too many red and yellow canoes traveling through the area!
    I agree that Loch Katrine looks like a great place to spend several days. Like you we only camped there one night, but we did find an easier entry into the water at Stronachlachar - we had to, I don't think we could have humped our canoe over the fence!

    Ian

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chainsaw View Post
    was sitting under a table.
    The man or the dog? (both?)

    Ian

  7. #7
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    Excellent stuff, and a really good looking route, suitably daft at times.
    Paddler,blogger,camper,pyromaniac: Blog: Wilderness is a State of Mind

    Paddle Points - where to paddle

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bananaboat View Post
    . This enabled them to head south to Magikelly Land and the golf courses and fancy hotels at the southern end of the Loch.
    I so hope that name catches on, although for the record I claim all of Loch Lomond as my domain even though I mostly visit the southern bit :-)

    Great blogg. Does not quite tempt me to portage more but does make me think I really need to do an overnight trip or two at Loch Katrine.
    John

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by MagiKelly View Post
    I so hope that name catches on, although for the record I claim all of Loch Lomond as my domain even though I mostly visit the southern bit :-)

    Great blogg. Does not quite tempt me to portage more but does make me think I really need to do an overnight trip or two at Loch Katrine.
    Hmmm, there's got to be some mileage in harnessing the hounds to the front? A couple of sets of canoe wheels and away you go!

    I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

  10. #10
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    Felt like hard work just reading it.....excellent blog with some nice photos.
    A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope - Epictetus

  11. #11
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    Great blog, well written.

    Looks like a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

    Did you actually paddle in Loch Long, or did you just portage from it?
    Big Al.

    Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    will we realise we cannot eat money.
    ~Cree Indian Proverb

  12. #12
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    Well done Mike and JK, you have done a trip I have had planned for a few years but not done it yet. Your blog answered a few questions that remained, thank you.

    Great photos and a well done. I don't fancy the midges.

    The pterodactyl is a beast I have come across before and when I have given it that name for the benefit of some of my past students it has probably caused them some confusion. Some people are a bit gullible!

    I hope to do the route later this year or early next.

    Thank you for sharing your trip.

    Doug
    When there's trouble on shore, there's peace on the wave,
    Afloat in the White Canoe.
    Alan Sullivan


  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by hemlock View Post
    A most excellent adventure. I wish I lived closer to Scotland.

    Love the photo of the swans with the Wallace Monument in the background.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    Thanks, I was pleased with that one!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chainsaw View Post
    Great blogg of an interesting route, not one I can recall seeing on here before.

    "The fleshpots of Callander" Classic! Once went to "a nightclub" in Callander upstairs in one of the hotels/pubs there, a guy had brought his dog to the disco, was sitting under a table.
    Any town where you can buy tea and cake at 5.30pm is a fleshpot as far as I’m concerned!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Big Al. View Post
    Great blog, well written.

    Looks like a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

    Did you actually paddle in Loch Long, or did you just portage from it?
    I sat and watched the tide come in and considered having a quick paddle once there was some reasonable depth, but I was too distracted by the cafe over the road selling bacon rolls and coffee...!

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by dougoutcanoe View Post
    Well done Mike and JK, you have done a trip I have had planned for a few years but not done it yet. Your blog answered a few questions that remained, thank you.

    Great photos and a well done. I don't fancy the midges.

    The pterodactyl is a beast I have come across before and when I have given it that name for the benefit of some of my past students it has probably caused them some confusion. Some people are a bit gullible!

    I hope to do the route later this year or early next.

    Thank you for sharing your trip.

    Doug
    Thanks. It’s a good route with plenty of variety. The water level had been low a couple of days before but a day of rain had got the river up to a manageable level.

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