Packrafting has taken a back seat to Hillwalking for the past few weekends, so this weekend it was time to get back into the boat. I have a wee list at home of trips that I want to do and area’s that I want to explore by boat. The Ardnamurchan, specifically Lochs Sunart and Shiel (Aye, I know the latter is not strictly Ardnamurchan!) were two such area’s. The tides were right this weekend with High tide at ~8AM and ~8PM allowing me to head west on the outgoing tide and return on the incoming tide.
I was on the road by 6PM, just missing the ferry at Corran. Once on the other side, I set off to just beyond Salen and a wee parking spot with a view, spotted on google maps and settled down to pizza and beer. The parking spot was busy with 2 other vans there overnight – one in the prime view position. Loch Sunart was like glass, and I was looking forward to a relaxing paddle tomorrow.
The following morning dawned windy vs the evening before, blowing across the Loch. Just before I got in the boat, that prime-positioned van shifted so I opted to occupy their spot to guarantee evening views on my return! I got on the water and started padding west, into a stiff south-westerly breeze (which was in contrary to the 5MPH max, SE breeze that had been forecast!).
Taking the waves sideways on, progress was not exactly quick, but I reached a wee inlet with some islands for lunch with a view in a reasonable time.
360 Loch Sunart
After lunch, the wind dropped, and I made it across the narrows to Carna Island without issue. I paddled around the coast looking for a point to land that would give easy access to its summit Cruachan Charna (Its a marilyn – hill with prominence over 150M). I landed and set off a few steps into the undergrowth, only to end up with several Ticks on me. I brushed them off and got back in the boat – that’s one hill that will have to wait!
Carna island has three houses on it, and I landed near the pier for a quick look. I was given a somewhat guarded welcome by the lady in the house closest to the jetty – worried about her cows. I did ask if there was a better route to the summit, but was told to return in the Autumn once the ferns (and ticks!) had died off – she runs boat trips for folks bagging Cruachan Charna.
360 Carna Island
I set off back van-wards on the incoming tide, which, due to the narrow inlet around the other side of the island was actually flowing against me for a short while. I stuck to the south shore until after the salmon farm, with the wind not really playing ball (it was blowing from all directions!). At the narrows, the wind got its shit together and I was able to pop the sail up and blast across the loch in reasonable time. I stuck to the north shore back to the van.
My views from the van held out until about 10:30. Views which were enjoyed while consuming some overpriced beer (Brewdog), while sorting out pics to upload over 4G. Gotta love the ESN rollout awarded to EE, which has brought 4G coverage to area’s that hitherto never even had a basic 2G service.
I had three options for Sunday. Option 1 was to leave the bike at Salen and drive to Strontian, about 9 miles away and Kayak back to the bike, Option 2 was to go do an out/back on Loch Shiel 3 miles over the hill, while option three was a bike-rafting trip on Loch Shiel taking the bike with me to Polloch and then heading over the hill to Strontian and back to my start point. The wind was blowing from the SW, so I headed for Loch Shiel on the bike for option 3. I had never tried taking the bike on the boat before, so option 2 was the fallback! I had several reasons to paddle on Loch Shiel, not least of which was that I wanted to visit the burial island that is Eilean Fhianain.
After cycling to Loch Shiel, I was thankful to avoid an audience as I messed about strapping the bike to the boat. I dragged the boat out into the water, and realized that it was listing to port. Some adjustments had it sorted, and a photo should ensure hassle free attachment next time!
I made good progress up the Loch, spurred on by the breeze on my back, and a wish to try and stay ahead of the midges and Cleggs that were chasing me down the Loch. I stopped briefly half-way to attempt to get some drone pics, but soon gave up as I became clegg-feed. The boat handled fine with the bike attached, although I did have to shorten my paddle and take shorter strokes in order to avoid clouting the bike. I soon found myself at Eilean Fhianain, and headed up to the top with my lunch where the breeze was strong enough to keep the damned Cleggs off me!
360 – Eilean Fhianain
Eilean Fhianain did not disappoint. Its a super spot. I had a wonder around the gravestones, some from the days of the clans, dated many years before Scotland was a part of the UK. I got back in the boat, and headed onwards bound for Polloch.
As I paddled towards the wee inlet, the wind started howling and whipping the Loch into a frenzy. My boat is less stable with a bike strapped across the front, and getting into the inlet required some zig-zazzing to avoid taking the waves sideways on. I had been to Polloch last autumn so I knew the best get-out point, but unfortunately, I also knew the brute of a hill that awaited me once I was on the bike!
At Polloch, the Boat-Bike became a Bike-Boat in reasonable time, and I was off to tackle the hill. Its a steep wee shite, and I failed to attain the summit without a short push, after that it was 4 miles downhill into Strontian and then 9 miles back to the van.