Phew. Well, where to start.
I’ll just tell it like it was and hope it works out…
So last week, Steve and I kayaked across Scotland to raise a few quid for LOROS. Rather than the fairly standard Fort William to Inverness, Great Glen route, Steve decided that we were to add on about half again with a paddle through the sea loch, Loch Linnhie from Oban first.
After virtually no preparation on my part, we travelled up and as usual, how far away Scotland is took me by surprise. Carlisle was halfway. On the way we passed the northern shores of Loch Awe and already the seeds were sown for the next adventure…
Oban was pretty enough, but the on/off rain finally made its mind up as we browsed the Oban Sea Kayak shop, and the streets soon flooded. Our accommodation was the Corran House Bunkhouse. When we mentioned our trip and the fact that we were doing it for charity, the landlady insisted that the room would be reduced and the (huge) breakfast would be free.
After a final night of preparation in Markie Dan’s, a solid night’s sleep and that breakfast set us up nicely. Beforehand though, we had decided that we could still catch the tide after watching Scotland play Argentina in the rugby world cup. The loss, after being 12-6 up with 8 minutes to go could have been an omen. As could the wind and rain that was back as we set off from the beach right outside the hostel.
The fully loaded boats felt pretty stable in the calm conditions of Oban’s natural harbour, sheltered by Kerrera, but as we passed out into the Lynn of Lorn, the swell began to combine with the wind and spring tide to make conditions more challenging.
After 5km or so, we pulled in to the beach next to the Marine Science Centre on the southern side of Ardmucknish Bay. A headland gave us a decent viewpoint to assess conditions in the bay and the crossing we were about to make from here around the headland of Fionn Ard.
The picture I took shows what we saw. Some small waves, wind and rain. We were fresh, it would be fine…
Halfway across this 3.5km crossing, the wind, tide, flow out from Loch Etive and torrential rain all conspired to create a swell of 5 feet or so with waves whipped up by the wind crossing the swell and breaking over the top of my kayak.
It was terrifying, exhilarating and great fun, all at the same time.. My heart pounded in my chest. There was no chance to rest, retrace our route or short-cut this experience. We were committed and only effort would get us out of it.
Steve was quicker through the water, his sea kayak much more suited to the environment. I did my best to keep up, but quite often, because of the size of the waves and the disorienting effect of the boat being thrown about on the waves, I lost track of where he was and the point of the coast we were aiming for. Steve sensibly took the decision that we needed to get ashore as soon as we could and so rather than rounding the headland and possibly exposing us to even worse conditions, he headed for the bay of Camas Nathais.
The wind and rain continued to batter us as we staggered out of our boats and onto the beach. Everything was shades of grey. Stuck in my head was the Withnail and I quote about going ‘on holiday by mistake’.
I fired up the stove, believing that things wouldn’t seem quite as grim with warm coffee and some homemade flapjack inside us. Unfortunately, they were. We were soaked to the skin (possibly beyond that if that’s possible). As the realisation of what we were up against dawned on us, we weighed up our options. We could sit where we were and get colder and hope that things improved, we could paddle back out into the tempest and around the headland, or we could drag the boats across the headland – about 800m of knee deep seaweed and stone track.
I am delighted to say that Steve and I share an outlook that in situations like this, it is better to DO something – anything to try and improve the situation. So off we went, manhandling our fully laden boats across the hill that separated us from some (hopefully) calmer water and getting back out on the water.
The effort seemed to be worthwhile and although we had lost a lot of time, we were able to put back in in the shelter of Eilean Raibhach and continue along the coastline.
Before long, the weather and waves were back and we were forced ashore again on Rubha Clach Tholl. We had just crossed the mouth of Loch Creran and paddled straight through the tidal race there. This means that the tide is flowing out of the Loch and through some form of underwater restriction, causing waves to ‘stand’ on the surface, meaning that even though I was paddling full-speed forwards, when I looked across to the shore, I could see I was travelling backwards. After expending far more effort than was sensible, I made my way around the race and to the headland.
We really did have a lot to learn. Loughborough canal really was nothing like this…
By now, the ludicrousness of what we were doing was hitting home and the giggling fits began. My colleagues 500 miles away were just coming to the end of their working day in their air-conditioned offices and were going to walk a few yards to their cars before driving home to eat a balanced meal and putting the TV on.
I was peeing on my feet because the wind and rain made even the simple things a challenge. Still, at least there were no midges.
But we needed to get on. We were already hours behind the schedule we had set ourselves. Castle Stalker was just along the coast and that promised to be a highlight.
The weather improved as the light began to fail and we needed somewhere to camp. The main A82 road ran along the south-east edge of the Sound and so we headed for the island to try to camp away from it. The whole island appeared to be a marsh. Bits that weren’t marsh were streams. It was hopeless. We headed back across the sound towards the road and an area of what looked to be flat grass. It wasn’t. We were stuck.
Just then, a lady walking her dog appeared. She may or may not have been real.
Steve asked if she might have an idea where we could camp. She suggested that we ask at the farmhouse. When we did, the gentleman that owned the place saw the state we were in and invited us in. Not only that, but he offered us each a bed for the night, a shower and somewhere to dry wet kit!
We shared our basic pasta meal with him and opened our bottle of 14 year old Oban single malt to toast the kindness of strangers. After our free breakfast and now this, it felt like the people of the Highlands knew what their environment could throw at us and so needed to help.
I slept in a room that appeared to have been the owner’s son’s. It also appeared that the room had not been touched since that son, a fine young horseman by the look of his rosettes, had left home 20+ years before.
In the seconds between laying down and falling asleep, I had the feeling that I was still on the water. Like being drunk, but rather than spinning, the world was bobbing up and down on the waves.
Day one was over. We were miles short of our campsite, but we were safe and dry for what felt like the first time since we’d left Oban.
Read about day 2 here.