Sunday, May 28, 2006

“Gone with the Wind” Sea Kayaking Scotland

An Idea is hatched
I was seduced by photos and tales of sea kayaking amongst the Scottish Islands – sun-kissed white sand beaches, isolated idyllic camps, frolicking seals and otters. An ideal location for a first sea-kayak holiday. I voiced my intention at the annual RCC video night in January and a group of 10 was established within minutes. It seems I was amongst others that shared the ideal.

Plan A is achieved
Over the following months, poring over maps, charts and trip reports, I settled on the Knoydart / Moidart region. I even went so far as to plan the routes. A base camp at Back of Keppock (near Arisaig), a 3 day circle tour of the Sound of Arisaig / Moidart, a re-supply at base camp, and then a 3 day circle tour of the remote Knoydart area to the Sandaig Islands. All this planning was, of course, to prove a complete waste of time!

Plan A is thwarted
Despite having lived in Scotland (many years ago) I was convinced that the end of May should provide ideal sunny still sea kayaking conditions.

By the 14th May we had 14-day forecasts for the weather – but these were rubbish, they were suggesting inclement weather
18th May (10 days to go) “Have you seen the forecast Graham? It doesn’t look good
20th May (8 days to go) “Have you seen the forecast Graham? Should we change our plans?
21st May (7 Days to go) “Have you seen the forecast Graham? Perhaps we should go up later and all throw ‘sickeys’
24th May (4 days to go) “Have you seen the forecast Graham?” “I don’t believe it – we will go anyway
And we did – some, however, against their better judgement!

The Gathering
We had all found the campsite by Saturday evening – there was Dot and Mike, Dave and Annie, Georgia, Richard, Elliott, Ross and myself – with Frances, Hannah and Finny joining us for a non-paddling week. All agreed that the location was breathtaking. All agreed that the weather was c**p. We adjourned to a pub in Mallaig and talked alternatives over sea-weed beer and fish and chips.
“Force 4 or 5 Northerly, 6 later. Sea state moderate to rough, Heavy

And so began the pattern of the week. Each morning and evening we would huddle around the VHF (normally in the rain) and listen to the forecast. Then, maps would be brought out, sheltered waters sought and endless plans and alternatives hatched and discussed.

Crack of Noon was the norm

It was difficult to raise enthusiasm in the mornings – lying in the tent (after a sleepless night listening to Elliott and Ross’s snoring) listening to the rain and wind lashing the fly. The renowned RCC ‘get-up-and-go’ attitude !! vanished and ‘Crack of noon’ starts were quickly established as the norm.

Despite all that Neptune hurled at us we managed to paddle every day – and we were rewarded for our efforts with some truly beautiful locations and idyllic camps.

Sunday saw us retreat to the inland Loch Morar for a 16k paddle – finding some sheltered lagoon-like and midge infested bays for lunch before a battle with headwind on the return leg
Monday we ventured into Loch Nan Uamh, paddling amongst seals and finding a great island lunch-stop

Tuesday and Wednesday was the highlight. The winds had dropped and the sun was out. We managed to escape the base camp and make our first ‘journey’ from the head of Loch Ailort almost 40k back to Arisaig.

We camped overnight at one of those isolated pristine sandy bays that I had dreamt of. After a camp fire meal we sat on the beach and watched seals, otters and Red Throated divers put on a show for us. The return through the Skerries of Loch Non Ceall proved a beautiful paddle.

Thursday and the wind had again picked up and veered to the West. We found sheltered water and our final camp in Moidart before the long drive home on Friday.

We never reached Knoydart and the Sandaig Islands (that’s saved for another time) – but we had a good week and our battles against the elements were rewarded by glimpses of what sea kayaking in Scotland can be. I fully intend to make an annual pilgrimage to the Scottish Islands. But next time I won’t make any plans – just go with the wind, so to speak.