The idea for this trip came about during one Easter visit to the area in 2018, during which I experienced hail, snow and brilliant sunshine (often at the same time!) while paddling down Loch Veyatie. The packrafting possibilities of the area a very apparent from the summits of any of the many peaks in the area, these peaks are not particularly high, but they are all rather shapely and offer tremendous views.
I was not keen on abandoning my Campervan by the roadside for three nights so I booked into the Birchbank Caravan and Motorhome site (members only) at Elphin some months beforehand in the hope that I would experience some decent weather when the time came. The forecast in the leadup was far from promising, but continued with the caveat that Sutherland might escape the worst of the weather, so I remained hopeful.
After dumping the van at the site, I informed the owners that they should not worry if they did not see me for a few days. Turns out that the owners are outdoorsy types with good local knowledge with Tom having co-written previous editions of the SMC’s North West Highland climbers guidebook and some walking guides. Beware that miss-pronunciations of ‘Veyatie’ and ‘Sionasgaig’ WILL be corrected 😉 The site was £12/night without electric so worth it to save worrying about roadside skum-bags. Its also worth noting that having your breakfast at the café and asking nicely might get you permission to abandon your vehicle there.
I set off walking with far too much stuff (beers!) for the put-in on Loch Veyatie. This is accessed down a decent track at the north end of Elphin. The trip started well, as one of my beers had split on the way down the track; a group heading down the track with Canadians behind me witnessed my stylish start to the trip supping beer on the shore line at 2PM – wasting beer is just wrong!
Half the planet was loaded into the boats tubes, wind applied and I was off. I had thought that the guys in the Canadians would have caught me up on Veyatie, especially as I was paddling into a breeze, but I did not see them again. At the far end of loch Veyatie on its southern shore, you reach a lovely wee beach. I had been here before, but a lovely spot like this deserves a re-visit especially as the sun was shining.
Heading onwards, I reached the river between Loch Veyatie and the Fionn Loch, the ‘Uidh Fhearna’, where I stopped to remove my skeg. I managed to paddle most of this, but boy was it bony, A short paddle on the Fionn Loch brought me to a decent location to abandon the boat. The weather and the views were simply spectacular!
Having grabbed everything I needed for an overnight camp on Suilven, I headed off in hill walker mode. The higher I climbed, the better the views got. I was able to get water higher up, some distance from the Loch. Suilven is steep, steeper than I remember from my last visit 14 years ago although the camping kit, water and beers might have something to do with that!
Upon reaching the bealach, I decided that I could not be bothered to carry my tent etc higher. Camping here would enable me to bag both summits the following morning before taking the tent down. I put up my brand new Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, and marvelled at the space and head height in a 1.1KG 2 person lightweight tent. It was a decent spot, with a wee breeze to keep the midges grounded and a view to die for from both doors.
The following morning, I left the tent pitched and headed to Suilven’s eastern summit, the lower of the two, but the one with a wee bit of scrambling on it. The last move is actually quite exposed, but I have since been told by my friend Sharon not to be so soft! Walking back past the tent I then headed for the main, western summit, bagging it just before the cloud rolled in. Back at the bealach, I saw the guys in the Canadians. I got the tent away just in time and ended up walking back down to the boat in the rain. Thankfully this was pretty short-lived.
I loaded the boat again, now somewhat lighter after having consumed most of the beers! and set out on the Fionn Loch, surprising a fisherman in a wee boat who thought he had the place to himself. At the far end I had a wee look down the start of the Kirkaig, before bagging the boat for the 2KM portage to Loch Sionasgaig.
The portage is not exactly well trodden so don’t expect a track, there are also quite a few ticks about so worth tucking everything in.
At Sionasgaig, there was a nice wee beach and a breeze to make the setup nice and easy. I also had an audience, a couple in a Canadian Canoe, sat on deck chairs who had taken 4 trips to do the same portage.
Loch Sionasgaig has many islands, my original plan had been to camp on one of the islands, but I had been warned that they were tick-fests this time of the year. I had already had myself a dose of Lymes Disease caught from a tick on a packraft trip from Morar to Fort William a few years ago; I was not keen on a second dose!
I had a tour of the islands, the main one Eilean Mor being of a decent size. These islands are all wooded and the bracken was indeed armpit-high.
I headed up towards Loch Uidh Tarraigean as the 1:50K map indicates that this is joined to Sionasgaig by a channel. Unfortunately, there is a sluice in the way, and some drop to Tarraigean, the 1:25K map shows said sluice! Sionasgaig would be a good loch for a multi-day camping/boating trip in its own right, but its better visited in the spring/autumn when the bracken wont be so high, there are a huge number of superb camping spots on the shores and islands of this loch.
With transitions taking time, I opted to head out to Boat Bay where I could camp and access the road to get to my next loch the following day. This is another simply stunning setting with Cul Mor and Cul Beag forming a nice backdrop.
That night, the rain started about 9PM, and it was still raining the following morning. The wind had also dropped and the midgies were simply loving it. Swarms of the damn things outside the tent. I did everything possible inside the tent, packing the inner last, leaving the fly up (you can only do this with the Big Agnus if you use a footprint). That mornings call of nature rates as the worst ever!
The walk out to the road is up a fairly steep track, then there was 6KM of rather undulating road to my next loch. Unfortunately some of those undulations climb 100M or so. I asked nicely at the fish farm and was able to ditch my rubbish on the way past.
Loch Bad a’ Ghaill sported a decent put-in, a nice breeze and views to Stac Pollaidh and the Coigach Hills.
Getting from Loch Bad a’ Ghaill into Loch Lurgainn involves 2 short portages (25M and 50M) into and out of Loch Bad na h-Achlaise. These are both up hill, but there is no chance that they would be navigable in the opposite direction anyway. As you paddle, the view you get of Stac Pollaidh is ever-changing, I could see figures high above likely posing for photos and wondered if my wee boat was visible from the summit.
Loch Lurgainn has a couple of Islands to explore – less overgrown than those on Sionasgaig, but I did not think they would make good camp sites. Before reaching the end of Loch Lurgainn I reached the take-out. The trick here is to pick a spot that wont see you crawling through the Gorse bushes that line the roadside! Best to get east of the house, but west of the track.
Back in walking mode, I began the ascent over the bealach back towards Loch Sionasgaig, taking a left turn to reach Loch An Doire Dhuibh. This is a lovely wee spot and being in no massive hurry, I took my time here savouring the moment.
This loch is a lovely wee paddle, but the wee channel marked on the map is not navigable. Given how rocky it was, I don’t think it would ever be navigable. I did manage a good sail on this Loch though, but if I was doing it again then I would get out where the track is shown close to the shore and drag the boat over the grass.
Back on Sionasgaig proper, I was seeking somewhere to camp, the wind was still blowing grounding the midges, and I happened upon a nice wee beach a short distance from the rocky channel. I had dreams of sitting on a rock with a beer watching the sun go down. I got the tent up, brushed out about a million midges from the morning, and then the wind dropped, totally, and then it started raining… Great… Within moments the squadrons had taken to the skies and I dare not risk getting back out of the tent again. Why wont the damned wind blow when you want it to?!
The following morning was my final day. I was seriously looking forward to a shower. As is the norm on a final day, due process and putting things away properly went out of the window. The good news was that it had stopped raining and was blowing again, the bad news was that this was going to be coming right down Veyatie into my face later. Ever get the feeling that you canna win?!
There was no need for any paddling with the wind blowing down the Loch, I simply got in the boat, ‘hoisted’ my wind paddle sail and set off at a good rate of knots for several KM. There is a certain smugness to be had from piloting a packraft with a sail in a stuff breeze; indeed I guess there is a certain smugness to be had at being able to do several days self-sufficient on the water with something that you can wear on your back. Packrafting opens up so many opportunities, and Scotland seems particularly well suited to it (apart from the damned midges that is).
Soon enough, I rounded a corner and was forced back into paddling to get to the start of my next portage, back into Loch Veyatie.
The portage into Veyatie is only about 1.5KM (seemingly all uphill!) It drops you into Loch a’ Mhadail rather than into Veyatie, from here you paddle out past the same wee beach that I mentioned from day one onto Veyatie proper. It was very windy for the paddle back howling right into my face – payback for my sail that morning. Initially, I hugged the southern shore looking for shelter, come the narrows this was not allowing good progress so I switched to the northern shore for the remainder of the trip. Thankfully, half way up the loch the wind dropped and progress improved.
Upon reaching the far end I took my time packing up, reminiscing over what was a damned fine trip despite the best efforts of the midges!
A video will follow when I get onto a decent PC.
A couple days later I was out hill walking again from the campsite, Cul Mor was my chosen Corbett. From the summit of this you can see your entire route, but unfortunately not on the same photo. Was nice looking down on an area that you had been up-close and personal with a couple days beforehand.
Distances were 44KM Paddling, 20KM Walking
I didn’t start until 2PM and was done by 2PM on day 4. Less faffing, playing with gadgets and taking pictures would easily see this same trip done in 3 days/2nights.
Do it in Spring/Autumn for less midges and better island camp spots without getting covered in ticks.
Tuck everything in if doing this in summer, ticks were everywhere although I only had one latched on at the end.
You could easily add in the Cam Loch for the outward leg, indeed there are a couple of Lochs further west of this that would be a good paddle as well, then drop down to the Fionn Loch.
The wee river from Loch an Doire Dhuibh to Sionasgaig is not navigable, Doire Dhuibh is worth a paddle however, nice beaches, and there is a point before the river where the loch comes close to the path, this would provide a less tedious portage!
This is what I took, obviously your list will vary depending mainly on your gadget addiction!
- Boat: MRS Alligator 2S Pro + combing+deck etc
- Paddle: Celtic Classic XTi Carbon shaft, composite blades
- Pump: FlexTailGear Mini Includes a tent light and charges by USB-C Pumps up and deflates boat 3 times per charge.
- Old skool inflation bag for backup
- Sail: Windpaddle Kayak Sail
- LifeJacket: Anfibio Buoy Boy Inflatable
- Rucksack: Ortleib Atrack 45L + attachment kit
- While paddling, kit went inside air tubes of boat in long drybags via T-Zip. Rucksack folded inside too
Food and Cooking:
- Jet Boil Alu Stove + 1x100ml Gas
- Sawyer Mini water filter + squeeze pouch
- 1L water bottle
- 3x Food on the Move dehydrated meals (big fan of these!)
- 3x ‘Food On The Move’ dehydrated puddings (rice pudding and strawberry is yum!)
- 3x ‘Food On The Move’ dehydrated Porridge
- About 10x assorted nut/protein bars
- 6 Cans of beer!!
- Palm Neoflex Wetsuit jacket + leggings (lightweight 0.5mm)
- Hiko Contact Lightweight Neoprene Boots for paddling
- Normal walking boots + Socks
- Lightweight waterproof jacket
- Hiko Gloves
- Change of clothes for evening (lightweight trousers, base layer)
- Patagonia Packlite Synthetic Jacket
- Big Agnus Tiger Wall UL2 Tent
- RAB Neutrino Endurance 200 Down Sleeping Bag
- Thermarest Xtherm Sleeping Mat
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Phone
- Monopod + adaptor for above
- DJI Mavic Air Drone inc 2 extra batteries
- XT power 20400mAH Power Pack
- Suaoki 18W Solar Panel (on rucksack and back of boat)
- Short micro and USB-C charging cables
- 12V Mavic Air Charger
- Details for mavic charging on my blog here
- The panel fully charged the battery pack during a day of decent direct sunlight
- The fully charged battery pack will charge phone, mavic controller and 2 mavic batteries