Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Big Paddle, Oban to Kyle

I'd imagined this stretch of the coast would, in some ways, be the easiest of the trip. Partly this was because it's the area which I know best (apart from around home), and partly because it held most promise for good camping and easy restocking.
I was itching to go when I set off into Kerrara Sound to head across to Mull. A blustery day with residual swell from the earlier strong winds made for a bouncy crossing which need a bit of concentration. The morning wind had dropped by the time I reached Duart Castle, though, and for a short time I was beginning to feel warm- an unusual occurrence.

Just as I was pondering what to do about this, a headwind sprung up. Within two minutes this developed into a force 4/5 which lasted for the next day and a half. The resulting slow progress meant two camps in the Sound of Mull. I'd crossed back to the mainland side in the hoping of getting some shelter, thereby missing a refueling stop at Tobermory.

On the morning after the second camp I woke early thinking that something odd was happening. The odd thing was complete silence- the sea was flat and the wind had died.
Ardnamurchan beckoned and the still weather was exactly as needed, even if it was very cold and initially wet. It was a good moment when the lighthouse appeared, with new horizons beyond. The rain had eased, and I had a fine but cold afternoon to enjoy the scenery of the wild north coast.

There is a particularly lovely beach which I had planned to camp at. It was a long day to reach it, but I was encouraged by it being visible from a long way off. Very tired, I came round a corner to find it, only to discover about twenty boats already beached. A large number of teenagers were running about, and preparations to camp were clearly being made.
This wasn't for me, and I was very disappointed, to put it mildly. In fact it was mainly anger that propelled me along the next few miles to another campsite. I think there is strong case that big groups of paying customers should be using commercial campsites, with toilets, rather than the precious wild spots of our wild land.
There was a bonus to my alternative site, however. It was within walking distance of the Glenuig Inn, and the day turned into a glorious evening.

The following day the headwind was back but the sun was out. Cruising through the Arisaig skerries couldn't be anything other than wonderful. As I expected, there were many other paddlers out around here. At lunch time I met a couple who had some very useful advice about future places to stop.

I'd planned to try and eat in Mallaig, but the wind was becoming increasingly strong, and by the time I reached the outskirts I was inching along. The sea was roughening up, and the shallows and rocks close to the harbour were becoming challenging. As I passed the harbour wall the reflected waves were causing mayhem. I decided just to press on, and kept going until things calmed down a little. A chap in a big RIB came past and shouted that there were dolphins in the harbour mouth. By this point, however, I wouldn't have gone back even if Moby Dick had been frolicking.
Crossing Loch Nevis was tough and slow, but I finally reached a good camp close Our Lady of Knoydart.

The following day was another one of tough headwinds, and I stopped early on the wonderful raised beaches of west Knoydart. Curiously, in one of the remotest parts of mainland Scotland, I found more folk to chat to than in any other part of the journey. I spent a very pleasant hour or two enjoying the craic with a mountaineer from Perth who was about to complete the Munroes.

I'd been longing for an easier day, and finally it arrived. With light winds and some warmth in the air, I could relax for the journey to Kyle of Lochalsh. After a brief stop to visit the grave of Gavin Maxwell and Edal  (his otter) at Sandaig I arrived at the spot I had been dreaming of for several days- the Co-op in Kyle.


  1. Some really well observed images here Iain, and well photographed too - this whole stretch is a favourite area of mine

    Kind Regards

  2. Iain, you've obviously had too many hard days paddling if you managed to miss an ice cream shop in Tobermory and your dreams are full of the Co-op!