Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Big Paddle. Up to Ullapool

The Kyle of Lochalsh co-op seemed an absolute wonderland. I felt as if I hadn't seen fruit or veg for a long time Shopping has never been such a pleasure, even if I was wearing all my paddling gear and still dripping. I was pleasantly full as I set off again, dodging a spectacularly badly driven yacht as I headed for the Skye Bridge. At least there were no badly driven submarines around- it has been known.

A quiet afternoon took me to a bothy, and for only the second time of the trip, it was warm enough to sit outside for the evening. There was even a picnic table, with a view to Raasay.

The forecast had looked reasonable for the days ahead, but it was wrong. The following day the headwind was back, the cloud was low and it was cold again. A lot of the Applecross coast is rather surprisingly dull, and my mood took a bit of a nosedive with the day. I pressed on (partly due to a lack of campsites) to Red Point.
Here I had my only accident, when I slipped in a burn and landed face first on the pot I was washing. I had become quite obsessively careful about moving around on beaches, but I think my defences were down a little that evening. It was a reminder to keep my guard up- I tended to keep my EPIRB and tracker with me even when not on the water.

I had a little consolation that night as I now thought I had an easy few days to Ullapool, where a weekend rendezvous with the family was arranged. In the morning I dawdled into Loch Gairloch, planning a bar lunch, a campsite with showers and another big meal in the evening.
Just before landing I checked the forecast. There was a complete change, with two days of force 5 to 7 on the cards. This was disappointing, for it meant I had to get round Rubha Reidh in the afternoon to have any chance of making Ullapool on time. I turned round and moved on, eating some raisins and fantasising about beer and chips.
At least there was a good tide to help me along, but the need to cover ground meant I didn't have time to explore the many caves, arches and gullies along the coast to the point. Rubha Reidh has a mean reputation, and even on a relatively calm day the swell piled up and there were a few boomers to dodge on the way round. I bypassed the lovely beach at Camas Mor, as it seemed too exposed for a good camp, and finally hauled out in Slaggan Bay, having been in my boat for about 5 hours.
This time the forecast was right. The following day I had a rough ride round Greenstone Point, with big seas and vicious hail showers. Mellon Udrigle was a welcome respite, but it was too cold to stop for long.

I finally fetched up on a small but lovely beach close to Gruinard. I ended up spending two nights at it, as the weather was even worse the following day. From the rocks above my camp I could see breaking waves on the Summer Isles, 10km away.

Despite the sunshine it was freezing. Again I was struggling to sleep, even wearing all my dry clothes.

It was a very long day, sitting it out. Despite being close to the main road, as the crow flies, I was in a fairly inaccessible spot. Not that there was anything to do once I reached the road, other that go for long walks. It took me three hours to reach the pub, only to find it was shut. By the end of the day I had blisters on my feet instead of my hands, for a change.
Fortunately the following day was more gentle, and the journey round to Ullapool was very easy going. On a fine, and finally warm, day I had time to admire the strange creatures along the shore of Loch Broom.

I was looking forward to a rest, and there are few better places than Ullapool for a break. I wandered about, admiring the scenery, eating ice cream and declining an offer to pay for a kayaking trip across the loch.

The next day the family arrived, and CWW junior(1) and I prepared for a truly wonderful week of paddling.

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