Early summer 2016. Barry made a suggestion which filled me with horror (horror #1) - when we go to Scotland paddling we should go on a multi-day trip and wild camp. Having had brief, and what I deemed unsuccessful camping trips with my 3 children many years ago, I still bore the scars of such ‘adventures’. My reaction became the topic of numerous conversations and teasing by our paddling friends, two of whom wore me into submitting to a two night trial camp at Kirkcudbright.
Trial camp (in a largish tent) complete with THICK cosy down sleeping bag was a success; evenings in Phil and Tina’s camper van helped to convert me! Offspring stunned by my positive reaction, the trip planning commenced.
After a couple of days relaxing around Oban and a maiden voyage in my new kayak from Easdale to Cullipool (Luing), the trip was drafted. The relaxing time included an introductory ‘look’ at Cuan Sound from the land; horror #2 to a novice sea kayaker. Following the stunning sunsets and weather we had enjoyed I was being lulled into a positive sense of adventure, however there was still an underlying sense of fear and trepidation.
‘The day’ dawned. The usual beautiful west coast scenery became less visible during the drive to our departure point at Arduaine; the clouds drew in, the driech sky turned to RAIN and the wind picked up. ‘Stay calm, breathe, and Man up Woman’ was a mantra I swiftly adopted. Arrival at Arduaine provided a stunning view of WAVES and a blank grey wall (horror #3). Thankfully Barry was in ‘need’ of coffee so a visit to Kilmelford was necessary - thank you for the excellent time delaying tactic!
Coffee consumed, grey wall now dotted with hints of blue and bearing ever increasing glimpses of distant islands, we left the warm dry confines of the car to unload our kit and pack the kayaks. Lesson #1; How to pack a sea kayak for a multi-day trip successfully completed. Off we launched…
The waves seemed large to me, combined with paddling straight into the wind I adopted a mantra of the day “Breath, relax, sit-up, chin up”. Being of slight build, the load in my kayak improved the stability and my ability to track through the waves and stay on course. On the occasions I manage to break the deep concentration, moments of humour with hints of horror were spotted on Barry’s face! Pausing in the lea of Eilean Creagach a water container was moved to behind my foot pegs to weigh down the bow of my boat, reducing my airbourn time. Lesson #2; how to trim a packed sea kayak to suit the conditions swiftly followed (at my request) by lesson #3; adjust foot pegs for maximum performance. Adjustments made, seals chatted to, birds spotted, otters sought but not seen, it was time to paddle; our target now the north of Shuna. This next passage had a reduced repeat of the mantra and occasional hollers of ‘yee haa’ (not by Barry!).
Landing in a bay on the north of Shuna I realised that the rain had stopped, the grey clouds had mostly lifted and the wind had eased. Well-earned lunch was eaten and drunk, the north and easterly views across to Loch Melfort and Degnish were enjoyed, yet the north westerly view towards Cuan Sound had a certain person’s back turned to it.
Off we paddled towards our planned first campsite on the southern tip of Luing. Rounding the northern tip of Shuna and paddling to the east of Luing provided shelter from the wind; paddling in calmer water now seemed tame and not as exhilarating but provided the ideal opportunity to refine our techniques. Salmon farm passed, herons spotted, games of hide (or plunge) and seek played with diver birds, the calmer conditions provided opportunities to enjoy the pleasure of the wildlife, the scenery and nature of the Islands.
My muscles began to feel weary as we rounded the southern tip of Luing at low tide, to the distant but noticeable sound of the infamous Gulf of Corryvreckan. “After we have pitched the tent and eaten maybe you would like to go on a solo paddle across to the north of Jura” ………… em, that would be a “NO”!
Legs stretched, boats unloaded, and cows and calves firmly told to stay away from the tent, said tent was pitched, kettle on then beachcombing began for fire wood. Food always tastes better outdoors, especially when the potatoes are roasted on a stick on a beach fire and smothered with mayo and butter. We were blessed with an amazing but typical West of Scotland sunset as a perfect end to day one. Weather and tides were duly checked for tomorrow; paddling by 8am to catch the slack tide at the dreaded Cuan Sound!
Day 2 dawned damp and slightly overcast. Porridge eaten and boats packed we were on the water at 8am. The sea was a millpond and a good pace was maintained for the first section of the journey. After refuelling at the Cobblers of Lorn we left the eddy of the bay to meet an increased ebb flow. At last the paddling was more exciting and challenging than the first few km on flat water. Horror #3 was soon to present itself; swift moving ebb tide flowing between two small islands requiring river / white-water eddy hopping and ferry gliding skills, both of which I am relatively unpracticed. Return to Day one Mantra. Success and a great sense of achievement were soon to be short lived. Another ferry glide and eddy hop around the next outcrops presented the view of Cullipool and Easdale, both of which were across the other side of a FAST flowing ebb tide (consisting of the whole of the North Atlantic!). Mmmmm. Let’s just say that this outcrop has been named ‘5 Options Point’ and was eventually, successfully paddled with the aid of a tow line (thank you Barry), which remained firmly attached (at my behest) until the coast of Luing was reached. The tow line was option #2; #1 was to paddle solo, but that was a definite “NO” on my part!
The familiar territory of Cullipool north bay was reached successfully and presented my first surf beach landing experience. Food eaten, teabag hurling contest won (there lies another story), it was surf launch and onward to Cuan Sound …
The final section of the North West coast of Luing gave Barry the perfect opportunity to play in the waves and surf by the shore; A.N.other was happy to paddle further out and save her energy for said Cuan Sound.
Barry reached Cuan Sound first and patiently waited. “What do I do?” ”Paddle straight towards me”. “But what do I do?” ”Paddle straight towards me…………….now……PLEASE”. Eddy line crossed. “Two hard left paddle strokes then paddle to the first eddy on the right.” “ok.” Really don’t know what all the fuss had been about; easy! Following a ‘dance’ with the ferry we had the most tranquil paddle between Torsa and Luing. Calm sea, abundant plant life, shallow water displaying sea life in all its glory, with herons which are of deep significance to me, gracefully watching and flying with us until we reached Seil Sound.
During this final section of Day 2 I saw otters for the first time in my life; a memory that will never leave me was soon to be enhanced. Night 2 campsite was selected at the head of a small bay. The routine of evening one was repeated just before the rain started; perfect timing.
Day 3: my deep sleep was ended by the brilliant morning sunshine and the sound of the otters playing in the bay beside the tent. Heaven. A leisurely morning was enjoyed watching the wildlife whilst taking the opportunity to dry kit and make the most of the glorious weather. Boats packed, off we set in a moderate SW breeze under brilliant blue sky. Island hopping through Loch Shuna with clear visibility provided an opportunity for me to learn navigating on a bearing via Scoul Eilean and Eilean Gamhna to Eilean Creagach.
Yet another type of paddling condition was experienced; a slight swell with the breeze on the stern corner of my boat whilst paddling across an open stretch of Loch Shuna required me to have a set transit point otherwise I would not reach the car.
All too soon we reached the mainland. Boats beached and unloaded, car packed it was time to set off back to Yorkshire via Cumbria.
I learned more in the 3 days paddling than in the previous 12 months since I started kayaking – thank you Barry. Apparently this autumn I am also getting a river boat and will learn open canoeing. Bucket loads of patience required by Barry!
I find myself reflecting on a phrase I often used to my 3 when they were much younger; “You can’t have an opinion until you have tried it”. I have tried it and I have a valid empirically tested opinion – WILD CAMPING IS FANTASTIC. When can we go again?
Note - this was not an UlverstonCC trip but is temporarily included in our blog in order to test and populate it until more club trips are blogged...