The rain that had begun as we arrived at our car park camp site the previous night continued into the grey halflight of the following morning. ‘Rain always sounds worse inside a tent’ I told myself as I lay awake, mentally preparing myself to unzip the door flap and start day 3. When I finally did, I was greeted by ‘fast wiper-setting’ rain. Bang went another theory.
We were back to the world in greyscale. Clouds were being blown down the loch at half the height of the mountains either side. You felt like you should stoop to keep your head out of them.
Wet wetsuits were the order of the day once more. The benefit of paddling in a wet suit is that once the rain has made its way past the ‘waterproof’ cag (cag being the trendy, kayaker’s name for a cagoule), the water will be held against your skin. It will then warm up and provide some insulation. This works OK while you keep moving and keep that layer of water warm.
We stuck close to the south-eastern shore and the busy A82. We were close enough to see the drivers passing by with their ‘rat race frowns’, oblivious to us and the presence of anything outside of their limited field of attention. On the water, and despite the rain, we were seeing otters, cerlew, dozens of noisy oystercatchers and many other species that my limited ornithology doesn’t run to.
Before long we were alongside the extended line of hotels and guesthouses that form the outskirts of Fort William. Despite the place not being a favourite of either of us, the idea of a cooked breakfast and a new pair of sandals for Steve (we’d had to gaffer tape his to his foot each morning after they failed on day one) was lifting our spirits. We paddled right into the harbour and beached outside of the town’s leisure centre – quite why a town with Ben Nevis, Loch Linnhe and a thousand other natural sporting arena needs such a facility I’m not sure.
By now we were back at maximum wetness, and as we tramped across the hideous, dual carriageway bypass to Morrison’s, the wind began to chill us. Morrison’s that day had many attractions. The Large Big Scottish Breakfast (it really did have two adjectives), coffee that didn’t require my pruned fingers to operate a stove to enjoy, somewhere to sit that was heated, but best of all… they had HAND-DRYERS.
We took turns visiting the gents to hold open the front of our (own) rolled down wetsuits and blow the beautiful warm, dry air over our underwear. First the front, then the back.
Then the front…
Men came into the toilets from time to time but quickly turned and fled when they were greeted with the site of a half-dressed wildman, standing in a puddle, grinning as he heated his groin.
My update on the (excellent) TrackMyTour app I was using to allow people to follow our progress catches the mood…
We were cold and wet. Our confidence had taken another beating and for a moment we were questioning our sanity and the reasons we were doing this.
On the last occasion that we had been at such a low, we met the lady who guided us to the warmth and hospitality of the farmhouse. This time, our salvation came in the form of a gang of British Waterways employees who were gathered in the lock-keeper’s office. They had been gathered for their annual medical checks, coming from their various workplaces all along the canal. While their dental hygiene was pretty shocking, the joking and banter, an incident with superglue, as well as the coffee they produced for us was priceless. The professionalism of these guys, who while laughing and joking were still delivering the important safety information we’d need in the next 60 miles or so was fantastic. And the lift they gave to us and our boats to the top lock was ‘above and beyond’.
Someone seemed to be watching over us on this trip…
After the challenge of the next flight of locks at the fantastically named Neptune’s Staircase, 6 miles of steady paddling, on the perfectly flat, non-tidal canal, in improving weather further lifted our spirits.
Our target for the night was Gairlochy. The BW guys had told us of a shower and tumble dryer there as well as space to camp. We arrived just as darkness was falling and the rain stopping. It was our promised land. The shower heavenly. The lift (ho ho) that having dry underpants brings cannot be underestimated.