After having slept like a particularly weary log, that had had its Ovaltine laced with Kalms max-strength, I awoke to the best view I could have hoped for. Not just a thousand horse-riding rosettes, but blue sky peeping around the curtains.
The world was now in colour. Scotland wasn’t just shades of grey after all. We got quickly back into character and loaded our now dry kit into the boats, moving quickly in case the the weather god’s woke up and realised that we were getting away.
We made rapid progress up Loch Linnhe with the 800m+ peaks on the north side of the water looking majestic – and deserted. If these peaks were in the English Lakes, there would be groups of people walking heavily eroded paths. As it was, we didn’t see a soul.
In an effort to save time, we took a straight line across the bay with a plan to have a break on Eilean Balnagowan
. This tiny island stood about a mile and a half from the shore and on the way across we were reminded of our crossings the previous day. Waves whipped up again and what had looked like a simple paddle across became hard work.
The stove was out in no time for our morning coffee. I have a habit of taking pictures of my stove in action. I am very attached to it. I bought it in Canada and it has been on all of my adventures since, always performing perfectly (apart from the time when the fuel pump split and leaked and I kicked the resultant fireball around a beach in North Yorkshire, trying to put it out).
As we explored the island, we disturbed a group of seals that had been sunbathing on the rocks. They slipped in to the water and bobbed around 15m from the shore, waiting for us to get off their island.
We duly did and began the crossing back towards the mainland.
Rain storms were now being rushed along the coast to the north by a wind that had steadily increased all morning.
I took my camera out to catch a picture of Steve with the mountains and rainbow behind him. By the time I came to put my camera away, the waves had doubled in size and the wind in strength. It was another sprint for land and safety.
Steve led the way again with me charging along to catch up. He was about 20m away and in the middle of the crossing when in the blink of an eye, his boat turned over. I had no idea what happened, but as I paddled towards the upturned hull of his boat, I called aloud to whoever it is we speak to in these situations… ‘C’mon Steve, get out’.
He was out in no time and was bobbing alongside his boat by the time I arrived. He had managed to keep hold of everything apart from his hat. I retrieved this, but realised that I should probably be concentrating on getting him out of the cold water, rather than worrying about his millinery.
Steve calmly gave me directions of how we should perform the rescue. This involves righting the boat, pumping the water out of the cockpit before getting him back into it without taking any water back in.
Thankfully, it worked really well and he was back in within 5 minutes. This time spent in the cold water, along with the shock of the initial roll took it out of Steve and again we were heading for land in the quickest but safest way we could.
This trip was getting serious. Steve’s expertise and our good fortune at being so close to land had saved him from getting too cold to be able to react or drive his body on.
After time spent in the sun (and wind) to calm down and warm up, the waves breaking on the beach on which we had sought refuge eased and we were able to make our way back out and around the headland.
Despite being shaken, cold and tired, we still had the two major obstacles of the day to contend with. The crossing, or diversion, around the entrance to Loch Leven and the Corran Narrows. Given what had happened so far, we were ignoring everything we thought we knew about the effects of tides, the wind and even basic paddling. We were making it up as we went along. Learning every minute.
With Steve’s confidence having taken a battering (or maybe a drowning) we decided that we should compromise on the crossing. We would head towards the Ballachulish Bridge over the narrows separating Lochs Linnhe and Leven, but not get too close to be affected by the tidal race beneath it.
I should point out that I was using a digital SLR for these pictures. It was wrapped in a camera bag that was inside a dry bag, then strapped to the deck of my boat. This means that the only time I would risk getting the camera out was when the sea was relatively calm and it wasn’t raining. As a result, the pictures make it look like we had the freakishly good weather that people were enjoying further south. That wasn’t true, but more on that later…
The crossing went well, and after sitting out another storm at Onich, we prepared ourselves for the Narrows.
The narrows, as you might expect, are the narrowest bit of the Loch. This means that all those millions of tons of water that move in and out twice a day, are all funnelled through this restriction. We knew when slack water (my favourite nautical term) was and planned our passing then. We prepared ourselves, wished each other luck and set off into the sunset…
It was a doddle. The calmest conditions of the trip so far. All that remained was to find a suitable campsite in the gloaming. Loch Linnhe this side of the narrows felt more like an inland lake than an exposed sea loch. Maybe the high seas ands the problems that they had caused were behind us.
We found a car park at Sgeir Na Sean Chroit and given the darkness, the rain starting and our full-body-tiredness, we decided to ignore the No Camping sign.
My stove pictures usually have some kind of view or perspective, but this was it. With my raincoat zipped all the way up and pulled all the way down over my face, the headtorch’s pool of light was my world for the evening. Pasta and meatballs with Mediterranean herb flatbreads, followed by Lindor dark chocolate balls and more Oban whisky.
I was asleep before my head hit the pile of wet clothes that was my poor excuse for a pillow…
Read about day 3 here.