A full week booked "off" - friends to paddle with, and a location! All the ingredients for a successful paddling trip! The only thing that can go wrong is for the weather to let us down, and it did, big style - but that's Scotland.
Anyway, plans made and laid for a week in and around Arisaig, the Small Isles, Skye etc and Sunday night found Dave, Cathy, Kathy and me in Arisaig and being turned away from the campsite at Back o' Keppoch seeing as how it's full! Seems the local Council is taking action to try and implement "Health & Safety" regs and the net result of this is the closure of something like 6 campsites in the immediate area and the remainder being wary of exceeding their limits. It seems that the council is wanting them to install paths, lighting and nice shiny toilet and shower blocks.
Indeed. As if it's viable for a crofter to do this, especially considering that they get the bulk of their business over just 3 weeks in August. So, a warning, if you want to go to the Arisaig area, book first and don't risk turning up. This is "big brother" gone mad, and it's having a major impact on this area as visitors arrive and can't find anywhere to stay. If you've just driven 8 hours, perhaps with young children, expecting to be able to arrive and find somewhere to camp as you've done in previous years, it'll be fun when you find there is now nowhere to stay!
Anyway, lady luck smiles on us as a family with a very large tent decides to move on as we are debating what to do and we end up putting our 4 tents on the pitch they have just vacated.
On Monday morning the team assembles at the long-term parking area in Mallaig and the boats are packed with vast amounts of kit, essential supplies and other goodies. Where it all goes amazes me every time. The sun is shining and all is well with the world. Eventually we follow the Skye ferry and launch onto a calm blue sea.
Now, understand that we (being 21st century kayakers) are fully aware that the weather is about to change on us! We have good weather today, then so-so on Tuesday and then its going to get worse, a lot worse, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. How do we know all this? Because the inimitable Dave has brought his lap-top with Vodaphone web-access, the whole lot powered by an inverter running off his car. (How does 12 volts get turned into 240? Black magic?)
Dave & Kathy, loading at Mallaig.
All goes well as we paddle round the corner into Loch Nevis, getting our first view of the wonderful landscape ahead of us. The sun beats down and with superb views ahead and superb views behind us to the Cuillins, we really are in paradise.
Cathy & Kathy.
Your editor. In a very well laden Quest.
Heading up into the loch, looking towards Inverie -
- and behind us, the Sleat Peninsular on Skye with the Cuillins on the far horizon.
After an hour or so, the exertions of this hazardous trip have caught up with us and a rest is called for - Dave takes us round the first major point and lands us on a wonderful pebble beach where we lie for a while eating, drinking and generally chilling out in the sun. Across from us, the hamlet of Inverie lies peacefully, a wisp of smoke coming from the forest where someone is burning something.
The obligatory "boats on the beach shot" - naturally, there are 2 Quests in there!
Inverie over the water.
The incoming tide encourages us back on the water in the general direction of Kylesknoydart, and thence the head of the loch. The plan is to get thro the Kyles on the remains of the flood, and that's really the only plan we have.
Swinging NE through Kylesknoydart.
I'm surprised at how much activity there is - small boats buzz around up and down the loch with evidence of a vibrant community working and living in what is billed as one of the last wilderness areas. Evidently the community is making a success of their purchase! The numerous houses and bothys along the loch side are all in good repair and many seem to be inhabited, either as holiday dwellings or permanently.
The area seems to have avoided the dreaded fish farms, although there is evidence of mussel farming.
Ardnamurach offers a possible camp site until we discover the sheep remains and decide to press on right up to the head of the loch where we opt to ignore the delights of Sourlies and pitch our tents instead on the machair to the south of it. With a pleasant wind blowing, we enjoy a relaxing evening meal and are about to settle down to the normal evening activities when the wind drops and instantly the air is black with midges.
Now these little darlings obviously are in need of company and perhaps haven't eaten for a while as they make it clear they want to spend time with us, and enjoy fine dining, us. We, in our turn, do everything in our power to dissuade them from sharing the evening, a process which culminates in a seaweed fire that creates so much smoke that we fill the entire glen! It doesn't have any impact on the midges, so it's on with the head nets and we suffer. Considerably. In the absence of any driftwood (has Jim been here?), the dried seaweed is a surprisingly reasonable alternative.
Tuesday morning arrives with rather less sunshine, many midges and still enough water to allow us to float the boats down the Finiskaig River where they end up moored on the beach while we finish breakfast. Cathy has disappeared and arrives back with tales of having done her Timotei impression in a waterfall somewhere. She's managed to put on makeup as well. I remember I have my washing kit with me, and clean my teeth. Exposing any flesh is not an option as the midges are looking for their breakfast and have brought some mates with them this time.
Boats loaded, we paddle down the North side of the loch, enjoying the scenery and watching a small boat laying crab pots. As we pass thro the Kyles, the weather finally breaks and we pause briefly on shore to snack and put on the heavy-weight cags. At least the wind is behind us, having swung as forecast and is now pushing us nicely back down the loch.
Precipitation within sight.
We run in past Tarbert but plans to cadge a cup of tea at the big modern dwelling there are abandoned in the absence of any life in the immediate area and anyway, we've heard tell of a beached whale further down the loch. Sure enough, there, by the outdoor center, lies the body of a bl**dy great whale!
Closer evaluation reveals Moby not to have been a victim of tides, tiredness or the tyranny of man, but rather the fertile imagination of Tom McClean who owns the outdoor centre where Moby is stranded.
Onwards we flee, heading now towards Inverie where the promise of the pub offers a goal to aim for as the weather worsens, the wind increases and the waves get bigger as the tide begins to flood. Surfing happily down the loch I'm passed by a solitary porpoise going in the opposite direction but by the time I get the camera out, he's gone.
We eventually arrive at Inverie and abandon the boats in favor of refreshment. Some time later the decision is taken that the ladies will take the 3pm passenger ferry "Western Isles" from Inverie back to Mallaig while Dave and I endure the crossing in our kayaks. I'm all for spending the night locally as I have the sense that the pub would be a fun place to be that evening, but outvoted, I go with the flow having decided that if I want to paddle back, it'll be today because Wednesday's forecast is far from good.
Once we see the girls safely on board the ferry with their respective mountains of kit and their boats, Dave and I push off the rocks and perform a sort of mini deep-water all-in rescue to get ourselves into the boats. With the swell coming straight onto the rocks, a normal launch isn't going to happen. Anyway, we get underway, sealed in and pumped out and we're away.
All goes well for us as we bounce down the loch although it has to be said that rounding the corner 2 hours later to get back into Mallaig is fairly interesting. As we paddle into the harbour, the ferry follows us having first gone up to Tarbert before coming back to Mallaig! The girls wave happily from the deck and I just about manage to lift a hand in reply!
Entering the harbour at Malliag - very much calmer in here!
The ladies arrive.
(That last corner into Mallaig has a bit of a reputation, especially in a stiff South Westerly - an alternative recovery point would be Mallaig Bheag where it seems possible to get cars close to the water and the beach there is more sheltered.)
We get the boats off the water, unload and then a visit to the Fisherman's Mission for a shower winds up the trip. I've wanted to get into Loch Nevis for a long while. It's a wonderful place. Enjoy.
With force 6 arriving on the Wednesday as forecast, we all went our individual ways - some over the sea to Skye, some walking on Eigg and some playing tourist. A good couple of days.
Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger, sheet 40. Or click here.
Weather: Stornoway Coastguard broadcast the MSI announcement on channel 16. See here for broadcast times. There's no VHF reception once you are up into the Loch, and mobiles don't work either.
Tides: Other than the narrows at Kylesknoydart, the tide isn't an issue here, except in saving you a long walk in places! See the Almanac / Tides page for links to relevant tide planners.
Mallaig and Arisaig both offer good hotels & pubs, and the Mission in Mallaig offers food and showers. Mallaig has a variety of decent shops (including a supermarket) and a chandlers. As previously mentioned, it would be a good idea to book if you want to camp or site a caravan!
The Knoydart Foundation Website is well worth a visit for details of the area, and some interesting history of the estate. There are a number of accomodation options on the estate, including several bunkhouses.
The immediate area offers superb paddling - see also Helen McKenna's trip report on paddling out of Arisaig, into Loch Ailort and Alistair Rose's trip to the Small Isles. Related articles for the general area include the 7th Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium, Mark & Heather Rainsley's trip to Skye and Helen McKenna's Ring of Bright Water article detailing the trip from Dornie to the Sandaig's and Loch Hourn.
Mike Buckley - August 2005.