I had spent the previous 9 days hill walking, 15 Munros for my second Munro round and 1 Corbett. My legs were wrecked and needed a rest, so what better solution than to use the arms instead for a packrafting trip in the Fisherfield?!
I’d last been in this area some 5 years previously, and it had rained constantly, so I had bailed east for some sunshine hill bagging instead. This did at least mean that I was able to resurrect a previous route plan.
Not wanting to leave my van in a layby for three days, I drove down to the excellent, cheap minimal-facilities site at Firemore Beach near Poolewe and paid for a weeks camping (£40). For this you get a bin and a lovely open view out to the Isle of Ewe! This spot is one of my happy places and I’ve been here several times before.
I set about packing for what was to be a three day trip with a couple nights out in the tent. As usual, I stuffed in an extra dehydrated meal for unplanned eventualities!
The forecast was for sunshine and light winds from the SE increasing gradually over the following three days to maybe 20MPH – this would suit me fine for doing the route clockwise with a lovely sail home via Loch Maree on day three. The weather was set to deteriorate into Saturday so I hoped not to need the backup meal! The route is about 53KM with 1000M of climbing, so should be easily achievable in three days.
Parked Up at Firemore Beach Campsite
Day 1 – Wednesday 16th August 2023
I left the campsite rather later than planned, having reduced my weight several times – mainly due to my knackered legs from all the Munro bagging!
The cycle into Poolewe is about 9KM followed by a further couple KM on a mix of tarmac and track. Between the obvious metal gate and were the track Y’s a handy unmarked track heads off right to the River Ewe, this proved a handy start/end point with a decent spot to hide the bike in the trees!
Paniers packed into a rather heavy rucksack I was now off on foot through Kernsary and picking up the track heading NE to the Fionn Loch.
Pick a boat!
I got setup and paddled out into the Loch initially for a gander at the island. The wind gods had not yet turned on the SE Fan, and indeed there was currently a nice breeze coming from the NW so I was able to get the sail up and make serene progress down the Fionn Loch.
I reached the remote estate house at Carnmore in good time. This brought back pleasant memories of a long distance through-walk I had done some 8 years previously to get the Fisherfield and Fannich Munros for my first round. There is a bothy here too, but given the dirt floor I recommend kipping in a tent and just using the bothy to escape the midges!
After Carnmore, the wind dropped completely so I paddled to the causeway that separates the Fionn Loch from the Dubh Loch. This makes for what must be the quickest portage ever! The Dubh Loch is a special place, surrounded by mountains, with the climbers crags of Sgurr na Laocainn to the north and the extremely steep slopes of the Munro A’ Mhaighdean to the east.
With the wind now gone, the midgies rose up for their late afternoon snack – Me!!
I paddled into the Dubh Loch and broke out the drone for some footage which I shall hopefully turn into a wee video.
Dubh Loch Drone 360
The surface of the Loch then became like glass and the surrounding mountains were reflected into it utterly perfectly. Its one of those moments I don’t think I will ever forget, it felt like I was paddling in the space between two mirrored worlds, it was a really special moment that I did not want to end! The perfection of the reflection (!) was frankly astounding and at its best while I was moving. Pics don’t do it justice because the moment one stops paddling, your wake catches up and spoils the clarity of the reflection. I should have brought my GoPro for hands-free filming – I was unable to get the right angle with the drone to do it justice.
I couldn’t quite get over this experience, its as close as I’ll ever get to floating in space!
The first walking section and climb up to my half-planned campsite came next, and it was bloody hard work given the state of my wasted legs, and no tracks but the views back to the Dubh Loch and beyond were rather nice.
On the way up the hill, I picked up a passenger. I’m not a huge fan of spiders and I think this is the meatiest blighter that I have encountered in Scotland. I am informed that it is a Garden Spider, unlikely to bite, but can give a nasty nip. Lots of horizontal threads, that I have since learnt are trigger lines for the web. The spider sits there feeling for vibrations on its trigger line, I guess I walked through one!
Eventually, I reached the bealach at Gorm Loch Mor, which was extremely midgey! I donned my midge net and no sooner than I had, someone set the SE Fan to level 2 rendering it null+void! I got my palace for the night setup, had ma freeze dried food (Chicken Biryani and rice pud with Strawberries) and enjoyed a rather lovely sunset before bed.
Day 2 – Thursday 17th August 2023
I didn’t get a great nights sleep due to the howling gale going on, still from the SE. The nature of my location in a corrie meant that the sun took ages to reach my tent, but when it did, Gorm Loch Mor looked seriously inviting.
Given the loch was only 1KM from end to end, it would have been quicker to have walked the pathless terrain on its northern shore to reach my exit point up the slopes at the far end, but that would be missing the point – I mean who wouldn’t want to paddle a wee loch like that given a boat? The western end of this loch is well worth the short detour – almost an infinity pool with views to the surrounding mountains.
Gorm Loch Mor Drone 360
I got to the far end packed up, and began climbing up to the bealach at about 550M that would give me access into Lochan Fada.
At the bealach, the Munro A’ Mhaighdean was only 400M additional ascent above me, I did consider doing it, but there’s no point in doing it without its companion Ruadh Stac Mor, and that was going to mean an extra 1000M, I also had Lochan Fada to paddle into the SE wind still on fan level 2. The Munro’s would have to wait – a good excuse to return to this wonderful part of Scotland, I told myself.
Looking at the map, the direct descent to Lochan Fada looks implausible, there is a more gentle route down, but it would miss out half of the loch, I went for the steep route down.
Solo trips with no phone signal always make for a cautious descent, and I got to wondering how many other folks had trodden this trackless route down to Lochan Fada. I ditched my bag on a rock for a photo, and noticed this horse shoe perched on top – I wonder how long its been there for?
Reaching the Loch it was time to take a wee seat, eat some food and take in the splendour of my location. Given the beautiful weather, I felt like the luckiest person alive.
Lochan Fada Drone 360
Despite the SE wind still on fan level 2, the 6KM paddle up the loch was surprisingly easy, the scenery absorbing any cares I might have had – just magic.
I pootled around at the far end, exploring some limestone crags extending some 5M or so above the water, before converting back to hillwalker mode, vowing to return someday and camp on the lochside and setting off on the track for the mighty Loch Maree. Lochan Fada is at about 300M with Loch Maree at about 10M so this walking section was mostly downhill, and the views to Beinn Eighe made the time pass quickly.
I had no real planned camping spot for tonight but I did want a wee view and I did not want to get eaten by midgies if the wind dropped. I settled for a handy wee flat bit about 1KM from Loch Maree with easy access to the falls for water.
I need not have worried about the wind dropping, overnight it went to fan level 4, coming from several directions at once due to being funnelled by the Munro: Slioch, and flattening my tent in the process. I began to wish I had brought my bombproof (but heavy) Hilliberg Akto rather than the lightweight Big Agnes Tiger Wall.
Day 3 – Friday 18th August 2023
I awoke early having had a shocking nights sleep, and was breakfasted, packed up, and heading in the direction of Loch Maree by about 8am. The wind was still howling, about 30-35MPH straight down the loch and forecast to get stronger still. I had some trepidation regarding my trip down Loch Maree which has a well deserved reputation for upturned Kayaks! My backup plan here was the Westerbus from Kinlochewe to Poolewe, but that was not until 17:00ish – and would be a poor ending to my wee journey.
I inflated the boat… I had the possibility of sacking it at various points right up to Letterewe and walking back on the lochside track for the Westerbus, but also knew that there were significant sections where egress would not be possible due to steep rock faces rising from the loch.
Initially, as is the norm due to a lack of fetch, things were fine and the first couple KM passed without incident. The waves as expected got ever bigger as I progressed towards Letterewe, but my comfort levels also increased with the wave size. It was the sections where egress was impossible that put the wind up me, especially where they jutted out into the Loch resulting in extremely choppy water, often accompanied by winds redirected by the cols on Slioch hitting me from the right. Getting out around the bits that jutted out was hard work with the wind wanting to send me into them, and me not wanting to be too far from the shore, I found that things calmed down 5-6M out from the jutty-out bits and allowed me to PLF around them.
I had two very close shaves re getting ejected from the boat while paddling around jutty-out bits where waves broke over the side of the boat, but I made it to Letterewe. In for a penny, in for pound, I convinced myself that the islands were going to provide me with some shelter and serve to reset the ‘fetch’ somewhat, so I continued. The islands did indeed provide shelter, but it was short lived, and I reached the large jutty-out-bit at between Letterewe and Ardlair where the wind, swell and waves launched me unceremoniously onto the gravel beach with my having little say in the matter!
I portaged the boat to the other side of the spit where the contrast was massive, and provided a lovely spot for some food.
I could now see the end of the Loch. I was still hopeful of being able to use the sail at some point, the wind thus far was way way too strong to contemplate sailing.
I thought I had paddled the worst of it now, but Loch Maree had one last sting in its tail where the Loch narrows and generated monster waves, that bit done, it was plain-sailing (literally) right up the wee stony ‘beach’ where I had abandoned the bike on Wednesday.
I was glad to have paddled my route as planned despite the wind, but was really, really glad to see the Loch Maree section done. Roughest water I have ever been on, and well aware of a lack of a plan B that comes with being solo if things go very pear-shaped! You’ll note that there are no pics on the rough water – I was too busy staying upright!
Highlight was definitely paddling in space on the Dubh Loch, with Lochan Fada coming second – such a lovely place to be in a boat.
All that was left now was the 11KM bike ride back to my abandoned van – via the shop in Poolewe for some treats of course!
On The Water
- Boat: MRS Alligator 2S Pro
- Paddle: Anfibio Vertex Tour – Its V light at 890g, but I rather missed the rigidity and power transfer of my celtic 4 piece padloc paddle
- PFD: Anfibio Buoy Boy
- Anfibio Deck Bag
- Ortleib Atrack 45L rucksack + the optional attachment kit which I use to secure the boat
The atrack works well as it accepts the two drybags that I use in the boats tubes via the T-zip and fits inside the boat. This makes for fairly quick transitions. It also has good load carrying capability and enough adjustment to keep it comfortable and the load stable. The zipped hip pockets are an added bonus for treats, money, keys etc. Given that it has a waterproof zipper it would also be ideal for those who must store their kit on the bow while packrafting. The 4 internal pockets make organisation of kit much easier than a drybag style rucksack, and the long back zipper means everything is accessible without having to practically empty the pack. Paddles sit nicely in the mesh side pockets. Only downside is the weight vs a drybag style bag.
Food and Drink
- Jet Boil Alu Stove + 1x100ml Gas
- Sawyer Mini water filter + squeeze pouch
- ‘Food On The Move‘ dehydrated meals
- Sea to Summit long handled spoon (excellent for getting the last of the food out of a pouch!!)
I’ve been consuming ‘Food On The Move’ meals for some years now, not cheap, but they do taste good and re-hyrdrate well. Its worth signing up to their mailing list for the frequent offers. The best-b4 dates are generally 3 years out so I buy when on offer ready for my next. I do tend to go for the 175g ‘extra fill’ pouches. I recommend the Chicken Moroccan Cous Cous, Korma and Biryani pouches as well as the Rice Pud with Strawberries! They also do multi-packs which cuts down the cost somewhat. They can also be cheaper in multi-buy form via ebay.
- RAB Neutrino Endurance 200 Down Sleeping Bag
- Thermarest Xtherm Sleeping Mat
- Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 – Loads of space but not great in the wind especially if the wind swings around to hit the tent on its side!
- Wetsuit top with normal leggings
- Hiko Contact Lightweight Neoprene Boots for paddling
- Normal walking boots + Socks
- Hiko Gloves
- Change of clothes for evening (lightweight trousers, base layer)
- Patagonia Packlite Synthetic Jacket
- Lightweight goretex waterproof – i’ve stopped using a Cag as rubbish for the walking sections
- DJI Mini 3 Pro Drone + LCD Controller
- 10,000mAH fast charging USB-C PD battery pack (for phone and drone)
- Flextail Gear Tinypump 2x – This did 4 full inflations of the boat + a light for the tent on a single charge
In an effort to cut further weight, I shall prob purchase:
- Alpkit lightweight synthetic sleeping bag
- Summer weight sleeping mat
- Jet Boil Stash stove
- Anfibio Rebel 2K Packraft as mine is heavy, and overkill for this sort of trip!