Wet, miserable, and windier than it looks
"Two fish suppers, and two pints of Guinness please - oh, and would you mind plugging this VHF battery charger into that socket by the cash register please?" Such are the joys of idiosyncratic Highland pubs where the fish and chips come served in real newspaper, with the Guinness, at the bar. Neither Tim nor I were thus phased in any way when our enquiry as to the whereabouts of the local campsite met with the response that in return for a small quantity of pound coins, we were welcome to pitch on the hotel lawn and were cordially informed that the "back door to the toilets would be left open, but please don't wash your dishes in the washbasin".
Clearly we weren't the first. And wouldn't be the last either. We subsequently found that there was a "proper" campsite - and this wasn't it. However, proper campsites don't let you in for a fry-up breakfast in the morning. Which is rather better than standing in the rain chewing cold mueseli!
The Ardnamurchan Peninsular is a strange sort of place - time has stood still (if indeed it ever actually began it's journey) and the normal "rules" do not seem to apply here. Perhaps that's why we were there - it wasn't for the perfect paddling weather, that's for sure. That battery charging kindness had let us discover that the weather gods were not going to be kind and allow us to pass safely and joyfully round Ardnamurchan so an alternative plan had to be hatched. And it was not going to be a nice day for it.
However, Part One of our plan had gone without a hitch - Tim plays classical guitar, and that love had led us Northwards with the intention of first visiting a guitar maker, and then going paddling. The guitar maker's abode turned out to be a humble cottage clinging to the slopes between the road and the Loch Sunart, and having negotiated steps steep enough to require crampons, we found ourselves surrounded by piles of seasoning wood, in an open shed attached to the cottage.
I know nothing about guitars, other than the fact that Led Zepplin, the Beachboys and Billy Connelly all use them. But these were no Stratocasters, even I could see that. Quite what magic was being cast is beyond me, but the stunning creations being demonstrated were truly amazing. Hand made instruments, cleft from local timbers but with the judicious insertion of high-tech materials like carbon-fibre to stiffen the interior, blended with stunningly beautiful inserts made from wood slivers and skill. Each one sounded different - each one was a wondrous work of art.
So, Tim's musical aspirations at least partly sated (did you know that classical guitarists file their nails with super-fine carbide paper, and getting it "just right" helps the quality of their playing?) we find ourselves standing beside our tents, in the rain, in the dark, full of fish and chips and Guinness, and listening to the late forecast which is telling us that we'll be likely to die if we try and go round Ardnamurchan. Which is a pity. Neither of us like dying. Much.
So - Part Two, version 2 (amended) is that we will still go out - but we'll just have a wee wander up into Loch Teacuis and see what happens. Given that virtually all photos posted on this website suggest that Scotland is a place of constant sunshine, light breezes and soft sandy beaches with glorious flat machair to camp upon, this wee report sets out to prove otherwise. Douglas Wilcox has a lot to answer for. The pictures here are intended to show that the "Wilcox Weather Window" was obviously in use elsewhere.
Tim, heading up into the Loch - in the rain.
It has to be said, in all fairness, that had the nice lady from Cal Mac not insisted that were we to presume to launch from her slip we would be required to pay her for the privilege, we would have launched from said slip. While I have no objection to parting with quantities of cash for various things, I draw the line at paying Cal Mac to use the slip I've probably paid for anyway seeing as how I'm a tax-paying Scottish resident. So, after a little driving we find ourselves in the decidedly unattractive and somewhat smelly environs of a fish farm in Loch Sunart where the operatives are more than happy for us to leave a car and use their slip. It's pouring with rain, but hey, we have the gear, so who cares? We have the Kokatat cags, Tilley hats and a perverse enjoyment of the wilderness and decent tents are all that we require for a good outing.
Standing in the rain later, in ankle deep water, eating gorp and Mars bars, and enjoying the non-view at the head of the loch is a high point for me as it suggests that we've reached the half-way point and soon I'll be snug as a bug in my tent, getting warm and dry. So we turn the boats and head back down the loch, finding amusement in a wee tidal race as we go. Other aspects of Scottish kayaking tales seem to require pictures and stories of wondrous wildlife, both aquatic and feathered. There are no such tales in this tale, mainly because even the fish are somewhere warm and dry today and any feathery beasties clearly have their claws up in front of the fire, sipping a hot toddy and enjoying an evening cuddled up in the nest.
The head of the loch - in the rain. Hopes of a cup of tea faded as the house was unoccupied.
Heading back, in the rain, towards the narrows.
Ok, not the Corryvreckan - but a lot of work to get through this little flow. In the rain.
One of our objectives for this weekend however has been to "just get away". Anywhere. And "be out there". We have the gear, so who cares? Rounding a point we chance upon a reasonably decent bit of land - with, joy of joys, a lovely clear burn which means I don't have to use the peat laden water I'd collected from a burn at the head of the loch earlier. The tents go up in a trice, and we both disappear into our individual survival pods for a while.
Wet! Still raining.
Not a bad place to be - despite the rain.
In the ruins of the sheiling nearby, someone was once encamped. He's left the ruined remains of a £5 tent, complete with 6 inch foam mattress and several packets of custard and a saucepan. A buried anchor with a severed mooring rope hints, perhaps, at dastardly deeds and mysterious disappearance in the Highlands. I slash into the remains of the nylon, hoping I don't find a body. I don't. And judging by the general decay, it's been a while since anyone enjoyed this remote spot, let alone the custard.
We talk to each other across the void between the tents - being sociable in these conditions requires a degree of self preservation and staying dry is more important than convivial comradeship in person. I could go across to Tim's tent. Tim could come across to mine. But that would mean going out in the rain. And it's raining. By 20.45 we're both asleep. The rain drums on the flysheet - it's a lovely sensation, being warm, dry and cosy, while the elements howl around me. I drift in and out of sleep and finally attain oblivion.
Morning broke with an improvement in the weather and as the sun attempts to find a gap in the overcast we return to the car, unload the boats, pack the car and return to the rat-race of civilisation. A great weekend - after all, we had the gear, so who cared?
Still damp in the morning! But hey, we have the gear, so who cares.
OS Land Ranger sheets 40 & 49 will show you the area. So will MultiMap.
Mike Buckley - 2006