Warm sun, calm seas, clear water and the exploration of a truly beautiful coastline. That was the experience for those of us lucky enough to venture onto the Lochs and channels around the western isles of Scotland this Easter.
It has become a tradition with a particular group of friends that we go to Scotland for Easter and our trips have been based around our shared hobbies of walking, climbing and, more latterly, sea kayaking. In previous years our Easter weekends have been filled with long trips and wild camps, or possibly the odd night in a bothy. This time, however, our plans had to take in the fact that we had a new addition to the posse. Being only 12 months old, Kate wasn’t too keen on long multi day sea kayak journeys and her parents suggested a compromise – a base from where we could do day paddles and return to the cottage for the evening. This turned out to be no compromise at all as we chose to stay on Carna.
Carna is a beautiful and remote island in the middle of Loch Sunart, between the mainland east of Mull and the Ardnamurchan peninsula, right in the middle of prime sea kayaking country. Added to this was the fact that our cottage could comfortably sleep 8 and even came with its own jetty, made this an ideal location for an Easter week.
We found that there were plenty of opportunities for day paddles around Loch Sunart, despite the unfavourable tides that went with the Easter week this year. Notably this meant a little forward planning for a trip around neighbouring Oronsay as the channel separating the island from the mainland was only really navigablearound high tide. Nearby Loch Teacuis and the channels and inlets around Carna and Oronsay actually turned out to be a fantastic, sheltered playground, busy with seals, herons and lots of other wildlife. Ideal places for a leisurely evening paddle.
As we left our vans on the mainland at Glenborrodale we also had the opportunity to drive up the coast with the kayaks to explore some other nearby areas. Our first paddle away from Sunart took us on a 25km trip down the coast of Moidart. We put in at a sandy cove just west of Glenuig (left off the A861 at Glenuig, signposted for Smearisary). Following the coast south from there took us past some stunning scenery, with superb views of Rum, Muck and Eigg off to our right on the skyline. After a while, the small island of An Glas-Eilean and its associated skerries produced a sheltered bay where a pair of curious grey seals popped up to see what we were doing. We chose a nearby deserted, white sandy beach as our lunch spot, I don’t think I’ve ever had lunch anywhere nicer. Just beyond this, a small Inlet snaked its way around the northernmost tip of Eilean Shona, the island that sits in the middle of Loch Moidart. At slack water, this inlet is benign and offers a way into the north channel of Loch Moidart which bounds Shona on its northern side – a dark and isolated stretch of water. At the far end of the loch, a narrow channel can offer the paddler a way through to Kinlochmoidart at high tide. However, this was nothing but mud at low tide when we were there. After exploring this loch for a while, we paddled back out of the channel where the flow against us was increasing with the incoming tide. We did right not to spend any more time exploring.The western coast of Shona provided us with some slightly more challenging conditions and an inescapable coastline. Still, some skerries at half-way gave us theopportunity for a rest and a little play before we rounded the corner into the southern channel of Loch Moidart - Suddenly we were in a different world. Calm seas and a small tidal push welcomed us into a verdant and open inlet with the picturesque ruined Castle Tioram at its far end. The incoming tide further helped us with our passage up the tidal River Moidart to our rendezvous with Kate and her mum at Kinlochmoidart (and an exceptionally muddy riverbank).
For our second paddle away from Sunart we chose to drive up to Mallaig and explore the coastline down as far as Arisaig. This 19km trip took us past countless white sandy beaches, skerries and islets. The sandy sea bed and clear water gave this paddle an almost Caribbean feel and the possibilities for playing around between the rocks seemed endless. The mountains of Knoydart towered to our left, Rum, Muck and Eigg were ever-present to our right and the Skye Cullins were behind us, I’m not sure it can get any better than this. The first part of the paddle out from Mallaig isn’t so pretty though. Mallaig is a working fishing and ferry port and is characterised by tall concrete harbour walls, large fishing boats and a thin veneer of oil on the water. We put in at a rocky beach just beyond the ferry pier, not an ideal spot, as the kayaks had to be manhandled over the slippery foreshore – not an easy task with a large double kayak! Still, it was an easier prospect than using the jetty which apparently was slippier than greased Teflon – one of our party nearly had to be rescued! The view changed as soon as we left Mallaig and the feeling of remoteness increased as we paddled away from the road that hugged the shore. The overcast sky made the coastline seem especially bleak but happily the sun shone on us for our chosen lunch spot, Portnaluchaig, where Kate and her Dad met us for a beach picnic. There is a tidal channel that can provide a shortcut to Arisaig from here but it was dry when we investigated it so we embarked on the longer paddle around the headland. This seemed surprisingly slow but on rounding the headland we picked up the flow of the incoming tide and we were swept effortlessly into the pretty haven of Arisaig and the end of our paddle.
This has to be one our best Scottish Easter trips to date, the young Kate is already insisting that we go back next year.
For further information see;-
http://www.isleofcarna.co.uk/ - Highland Cottage sleeping 8 people
Carna Farmhouse - sleeping 6 people