Apparently there’s been much debate going on behind the scenes with this trip – sea kayaking is supposed to be about roughing it and being at one with nature isn’t it? Karen was brave (or foolish) enough to put forward the idea and organise this weekend for the SCA Touring Calendar, to be based from the Loch Leven Hotel at Ballachulish. From what I can gather she put her money where her mouth was and put down a deposit on a block of rooms in the hotel. She then spent months worrying that no-one would turn up! She needn’t have! The hotel was fully booked (nearly all by the sea kayaking fraternity) and local B&B’s also did well out of the weekend!
People traveled from far and wide. Mike, Dave and myself traveled up from Dumfries, others came from Penrith, Troon, Ayr, Glasgow …. . We all managed to arrive safely on the Friday night – our journey was not without incident – the dim switch on the car headlights would not work so we came all the way from Glasgow, along the Loch Lomond road with the lights stuck on full beam. I got lucky and got loads of flashes! (One of the many Highlights of the weekend!)
We all met in the bar to discuss the plan of action for the next day. It was eventually decided that we would head up Loch Leven for a few miles and get on the Loch at a rocky beach with roadside parking opposite Eilean Munda. Decision made - and after a wee bit more socialising people drifted off to bed. Breakfast was booked for a very civilised 0830. Yes – that was full breakfast with … well … everything!
The poor waitress had only started 2 weeks previously and I think this was probably a bit of a baptism of fire for her! Especially when those staying at B&B’s gate crashed breakfast and plonked themselves down demanding coffee. Ok – they didn’t demand but were very polite and asked nicely!
After Breakfast Karen called a ‘briefing’ in the car park. We were going to head up the Loch towards the narrows – through the narrows – yes – tide was going to be against us – and lunch on the island past the narrows. Rendezvous on island at 1300 hours.
The launch site - pic: MB
It’s a leisurely pace – plenty of time to look around and take in the beauty of the Loch. Most of us were on ‘Otter Watch’ having been assured that we were likely to see them here. Elaine was especially looking out for them as they seem to be alluding her! There were loads of mussels on the side of the rocks – shame no-one had their Trangia!
Helen & Dave in the Feathercraft folder - Pap of Glencoe in the background - pic: MB
And we're off - pic:MB
Scottish sea kayaking at its very best! - pic:HMcK
It wasn’t long before wind started to whistle down the Loch – going became a wee bit harder – but hey – the marker denoting the beginning of the narrows was in sight – and reality hit! This was a tidal Loch! Yes – I know – I should have realised .. but I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by the flat water (am sure I wasn’t the only one!). Dave got his binoculars out to inform me that – yes – the narrows were running!
The start of the Narrows in the foreground - view West from the top of the Narrows - pic: HMcK
We got to them first – boat was performing well and we’d got into a great rhythm. Even so – paddling up the narrows was VERY hard work. We eddy hopped up the race in between ‘PLF’! We were then allowed a wee bit of time to catch our breath while the others made their way up. Everyone made it up safely and we carried on up the loch to the island where we were having lunch. That was hard work too! The wind was coming down the Loch and the flat water had disappeared. Two golden eagles appeared circling in the sky above us and one of the group saw otters playing in the water.
We were all ready for lunch and arrived at the spot practically dead on 1300 hours. It had started to get a wee bit colder now and everyone searched for a sheltered spot to eat lunch and chill out. After half an hour we were all getting cold and keen to get back on the water. Luck was with us and the tide hadn’t turned yet so we had the wind assisting us from the back and the tide pushed us through the narrows without any effort on our part.
One of the guys had a self-made sail rig up and Robert used umbrella power to help him. The journey back took half the time it took us to get up the Loch and before heading for the cars we took the time to explore Eilean Munda.
The island was used as a burial place by the MacDonalds of Glencoe, Stewarts of Ballachulish, and Camerons of Callart. Those murdered in the slaughter of 1692 are buried on the island. In 1495 the Church was burned down when it would have been used for the last time, though apparently it was rebuilt and used again and for the last time once more in 1653.
Burials from St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Glencoe, have continued to the present, the last taking place in January 1972, and the last interment of ashes in 1979. Most of the Chiefs of the Glencoe MacDonalds have been buried there. The last ones were Ewen, 17th of Glencoe, 25 August 1840, his heiress Ellen, 1887, and both her sons, Alexander Duncan, 1894, and Duncan 1907, and her younger daughter, Caroline in 1954.
It was a tired group that came off the water and headed back to the hotel for a hot shower and a wee rest before meeting in the breakfast room for a slide show by Roddie McDow from Bute on paddling Iceland and Croatia. IF you ever get the chance to see and hear this show, do not miss it! Fascinating. The experience of being separated by appalling conditions while trying to round a headland, then having to spend two days not knowing if his two companions were alright, must have been "interesting".
We were having an early dinner and jokes had been flying back and forth about dress code for the evening all day – at least that’s what I thought they were! We arrived downstairs to find Rob and Sue in fine eveningwear, matched by Nigel & Allison – and there was me in my jeans! I managed to blag my way out of it by showing off a lovely silver bracelet that I had added to my ensemble. A few of us were caught with lack of evening dress and were suitably admonished! Next time we’ll be more prepared!
Well, Karen had asked for folk not to wear the usual SCA get-up of old Ron Hills and a burnt fleece!
Dinner after a hard days paddle - a fairly formal affair! - pic: HMcK
We mounted a take-over of the dining room! There were 25 of us in total and things all went relatively smoothly. We did have to stop Mike and Jeff singing raucous songs – and that was at the beginning of the evening! Mike did atone for this by helping with the clearing up after dinner. He’d make a good waiter! After dinner we all congregated in the breakfast room again for another slide show, this time by Hugh Kerr sharing the experience of a trip round Islay (another "must see" if you get the chance) and then it was back into the lounge for drinks, planning for the next day and more socialising!
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Sunday dawned slightly more overcast than Saturday. We were setting off from the hotel slipway and paddling down Loch Linnhe to just before Castle Stalker. By the time we’d had breakfast the shuttle had been done and we were ready to get on the water. Another briefing by Karen made sure we all knew where we were going and whose group we were in. Peter was leader of the trip and anyone going past him was threatened with dire consequences – whips were mentioned at one stage!
I was standing on the slipway waiting for my group to launch and all of a sudden I heard a splash. Turning quickly round I saw some turbulence in the water. Apparently a seal had come in like a torpedo, snatched a fish from the water 15 ft away from where I was standing and turned around and headed back out into the Loch. I always seem to just miss things!
Looking back towards the hotel and slipway - pic: MB
We launched with our group and drifted with the current down past the bridge to meet with the others. Another leisurely paddle followed with conditions slightly more challenging than Saturday – and there were waves coming at me from sideways on! It was a great opportunity to catch up with people and chat and after a coffee break we continued down the Loch to where we had planned to have lunch.
SW down Loch Linnhe - the hills of Morven behind the group - pic:MB
Seals popped their heads up every now and then to check on our progress and we eventually reached the island. We found a suitable, if somewhat small, beach to land on and made our way up the rocks to some grassy knolls that gave us stunning views down Loch Linnhe towards Lismore. Mike discovered that he had left his flask in his car and had to throw himself to the mercy of the group. Jeff and Anne took pity on him and gave him their spare flask.
Dave and Robert - Lunch stop Sunday - pic: HMcK
All too soon we were back on the water. Mike had a wee .. ummm … mishap – I think someone must have moved his boat cause all I heard was a big splash and there was Mike floundering in about 2 ft of water! It was one of those occasions that you wish you’d had the camera ready! Luckily (for Mike) no one did!
(Editor's note: I swear that seal was after me! In reality however, I fell in while getting back into the boat!)
The water was now flat calm again and the light playing on the water gave it a silver sheen. We could see the headland where the cars were parked and paddled towards it. I know it was because I was tired but it didn’t seem to get any nearer for ages. We eventually got there and once the boats were out the water the boys went off to retrieve the cars.
Karen - well organised!
A great weekend was had by all – many thanks to Karen for organising it all. General consensus of opinion was that it should become a yearly event!
There are more pictures - click here for the full picture set.
Click here to link to a map.
OS Landranger 41 / Ben Nevis covers Loch Leven. Landranger 49 / Oban & East Mull covers Loch Linnhe.
The Scottish Tourist Board site at visitscotland.com is one resource for finding accommodation and things to do in Scotland.
Loch Leven Hotel at Ballachulish is a pleasant place to stay.
Historical information on Glencoe and the Clan Donald from The Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh.
Helen McKenna - 2005
- - illustrated trip report by Helen McKenna