Hi Mark, as I said somewhere above, the west coast of Scotland is a very big place and despite being out on the water pretty regularly we seldom see other sea kayakers, even in the Clyde.
The reason the Sound of Arisaig is so popular with commercial groups is a mixture of sheltered water, graded crossings and offshore islands but particularly the stunning, white sand beaches (and machair for wild camping) which are about 7km apart. On the weekend in the summer we were there, two local companies were running three tours (one hotel based) and two companies had travelled a long distance. We stopped to talk to two of the groups and waved as we passed three others who were either afloat or ashore. We also met three small groups of two or three independent seakayakers. That makes it sound terribly busy but the reality is that the sea is huge and 5 minutes after meeting someone you are alone again.
Some very happy sea kayakers enjoying a commercial tour of the Sound of Arisaig based on day trips from a local hotel.
Suitable wild camp sites are another matter, there are not that many, (especially if you have a lower limb disability like me). I am not even sure if the terms of the Scottish Land Reform Act recognize the right to wild camp in a group as large as 14 (particularly if it is a commercial trip). I ended up camping that night in a commercial camp site north of Arisaig (which was actually quieter than my intended "wild" camp site). We may criticise yachts for dumping sewage but think of 14 poos round a wild site several mornings on the trot. I think that is also several too many. Talking to two of the guides of one of the groups, it was clear they were working with the other groups, following each other round the Sound so that they each landed on a free site each day. That is great but what about independent travellers in the area?
The group using the hotel were clearly contributing a lot to the local economy. On the occasions we have camped in a larger group, we have chosen commercial camp sites on places like Arran, Gigha, Mull, Arisaig etc.. rather than wild camp. Perhaps commercial operators should also consider using commercial camp sites on at least some nights of their trips. I know many other individuals on this board do the same if they are in a large group.
With the current degree of commercialism in the summer, Arisaig is no longer then a wilderness area. I am not saying that is right or wrong, it is just an observation.
The rationale of this new trail is to generate income for the local area, which is a very good thing in an area of high unemployment. It will also be good if it encourages more sea kayakers to take up this fantastic activity because there really is plenty of space round the west coast. However, particularly in the Clyde part of the proposed trail, there are not that many wild camp spots round the route that this trail would follow. Would commercial guided tours tend to use those sites or would they choose to stay at local hotels or commercial camps sites, such as the excellent Carry Farm on the West Kyle of Bute? I don't know but the experience of Arisaig suggests they might prefer the wild spots.
I am very much for developing sea kayaking and the infrastructure to support it. Parking, access to the water, access to showers and toilets, perhaps more commercial campsites, opportunities for retailers, outfitters, coaches and guides to expand their businesses but I think it needs to be carefully planned, otherwise congestion on land at honeypot launch sites and wild camp sites could increase.
Lastly my advice, if you intend to visit the Arisaig area, as you should, is to Google for the dates of commercial trips and avoid them (in the summer they run through the weekdays as well as weekends). Or for a real wilderness experience, do as Ian and I did last January, go mid week in winter! If you compare the August photo with the January photo the weather will probably not be much different!