When I added “Go on a kayak/camping trip” to my 14 for 2014 at the start of the year I had no idea how I was going to achieve it. It just sounded like a great adventure: pack a tent, a stove and some food, then paddle across some water to wild camp on an island.
I’d done something similar a few years ago when two of us paddled to to Knoydart to climb Ladhar Bheinn from Arnisdale in the north. This was on a sea loch, where the wind picked up a little on the return leg and soon showed the limits of my inflatable kayak. While it was to Knoydart – a place you might think was somewhat deserted – Barrisdale Bay turned out to quite busy that weekend, with walkers and other kayakers. So this time I had a slightly different idea: go by myself to somewhere I was unlikely to meet anyone. And that’s exactly what happened.
But where to go ?
Rivers bring logistical challenges in that you need to return to the start point, and since I would be doing this solo a river trip didn’t seem to be a feasible option. I knew that my inflatable wasn’t up to the job of going out on to the open sea, so this discounted attractive possibilities such as off the coast of Arisaig. So that left inland lochs. Excluding both the larger lochs which are prone to winds (and therefore rougher water) such as Lochs Maree and Etive, and those with few islands suitable for wild camping such as Loch Awe, my research led me to three possibilities. These were Loch Sween (a sheltered sea loch), Loch Morar (islands at the western end) and Loch Moidart (again, technically a sea loch but sheltered). As we all know, the internet is a wonderful thing and with the aid of other people’s trip photos and reports I opted for Loch Moidart as having the best balance between safe, sheltered water and good wild camping options.
At high tide I unpacked my gear at a convenient layby (GR 682736) with access right at the lochside down a steepish bank. There were just light winds and some dark clouds but the forecast was for the sky to clear.
A large island, Eilean Shona, provides much of the shelter for Loch Moidart, protecting the loch from the winds that blow 3000 miles across the Atlantic from Canada. Either side are two channels whose water levels (especially the North Channel) are highly dependent on tidal conditions. I paddled into the entrance to the North Channel where the ‘Sgurr’ on the island of Eigg poked through the gap.
I paddled around Riska Island in the South Channel to get a good view of Castle Tioram. The castle originally dates from the 13th Century but with the current tower and walls built in the 15th to the 17th Centuries. It has been little used over the last couple of hundred years and was actually closed to the public in 1998 owing to the poor condition of its masonry.
I finally selected a small unnamed island just off Shona Beag for my wild camp spot: sheltered, grassy and with trees for firewood (GR 665730). I had the island to myself although there were a couple of yachts moored some distance away, sheltering for the night.
I pitched my tent and after a meal, settled down in front of a good fire (which had previously been used – this spot had clearly been used by kayakers in the past). By this time the sky had largely cleared and there was a lovely orangey sunset.
In my haste to get away I had unfortunately forgotten to make a note of the tide times for my return journey. By the time I woke and packed up it was low tide and I needed to drag the kayak through the mud flats a short distance to reach the water.
It was a peaceful morning. I’d spotted a group of around eight herons the previous evening and this morning they were all strategically placed at the end of spits and islands looking out for breakfast. I paddled right past an otter who seemed just as surprised as I was, and quickly darted back below the surface of the water.
However, I soon realised that the difference in water levels between high/low tides was about six feet, so what had given no difficulty the previous day soon presented shallow water, ‘new’ islands and mudflats. At one point I ran aground on the mud and had to drag my kayak again to slightly deeper water – although it was really hardly enough to paddle on. Nearing the layby I eventually had to give up and wade ankle deep through the mud, pulling the kayak behind me. It was a rather undignified end to what had been a great night away !
While my 14 for 2014 is a series of personal challenges I’m using it to help raise funds for the Naomi House Children’s Hospice in Hampshire. Naomi House cared for the young daughter of a friend and ex-work colleague who died of an incurable brain tumour in January 2014. Please read this moving article about four year old Chiara and view the link to her fund raising site .
Naomi House clearly made a real difference to the last few months of Chiara’s life, and that of her family, and so this is why I want to use my 14 for 2014 to raise awareness and additional funds for the great work that they do. If you have enjoyed reading my blog and feel inspired in any way please consider giving a donation to this extremely worthwhile charity.