Jun 14 10
We’ve been looking forward to the multi-day canoeing trip in Scotland with our friends Paul and Lisa for ages. We’d planned the trip back in February and this past weekend we finally set off on our new adventure. Laetitia and I have never paddled a canoe together before, so to say I was apprehensive was an understatement! I find water a little terrifying – I feel that so much of water based activities are out of my control, whereas when I have my feet on the ground or my hands on rock I (generally) know how to manage my safety. However, Paul is a super experienced paddler (here’s a link to our attempt at learning to roll a kayak under Paul’s expert tuition) so it promised to be an excellent adventure, and so it was…
Rather than hiring a canoe we had borrowed a friend’s (David) big red canoe. Dave had also lent us paddles (posh wooden ones for deep water and less precious plastic ones for shallow rocky sections of river), a few dry bags, a throw line, etc., etc. We were well equipped. Thanks Dave!
Friday’s weather as we left the Lake District on the relatively short journey to Balquhidder just north of Callander was perfect, wall-to-wall sunshine. But we knew the forecast was not set that way. Heavy rain, thunder, and lightning were predicted. As if specifically organised to raise my anxiety the Scottish motorway signs were offering helpful hints about driving conditions, and on this journey they persistently flashed weather warnings at us!
Of course we ignored the warnings – how bad could it be? Plus we hoped that our destination would be just east enough to avoid the worst of the weather front coming in from the west.
After some car positioning antics to have a vehicle at the both ends of the A to B journey, and both boats at A, the four of us were ready to set off from about half way along the north shore of Loch Voil. Our plan was to paddle west to camp at the westerly end of the loch, and on Saturday to paddle back along the full length of the loch to then enter the river Balvaig that connects with Loch Lubnaig.
With Friday’s wonderful weather this short paddle had been lovely, a gentle introduction to paddling a laden canoe for Laetitia and I. However, the calm weather meant the midges were out in force! Luckily, to keep the midges under control, a breeze picked up as the evening wore on. Perhaps this was a prelude to the arrival of that heavy rain? Also our camp fire, neatly contained in Paul’s firebox, provided a constant supply of wood smoke to drive the beasties away!
Saturday morning dawned and two things were immediately apparent…
First, the heavy rain hadn’t arrived, it was still sunny, but the breeze had turned in to a strong easterly wind! This meant we were going to be paddling in to a head wind as we went back along Loch Voil. Even Paul was not looking forward to this, how would Laetitia and I manage? We’d only just maintained a straight-ish line the previous evening paddling in calm conditions!
Second, the combination of sparkling wine (Paul and Lisa know how to wild camp in style!), a super strong Gin & Tonic, and beer the previous night had provided me with the worst kind of hangover headache imaginable. Luckily Paul had some paracetemol on hand to ease the pain before we set off.
For me the river section of the journey was easily the best part of the canoeing experience. I found paddling across the two lochs a little monotonous, especially so with the head wind. Whereas the river section was constantly interesting: bends, rapids, trees to navigate around, bridges, wildlife, etc.
After lunch someway down the river the rain finally arrived. It poured down! By the time we’d finished the river paddling, with just one section of roping the boats past a rapid that flowed straight in to unavoidable low tree branches, we entered Loch Lubnaig. Despite now travelling south we still had a head wind. Doh! Combining the fatigue of the days paddling, the drenching heavy rain, and the wind, by the time we finally spied a suitable campsite on the west shore of Loch Lubnaig all of our spirits were waning. But we had to stay tough for just a bit longer to get the tents and tarpaulin up. Paul and Lisa’s tent in particular was tricky as the inner is quite fiddly to erect and it pitches inner first. Therefore to avoid flooding their bedroom we held the tarpaulin over Paul while he sorted out the inner tent and got the flysheet over to keep the rain out.
With the tents and tarpaulin up, the fire burning and producing smoke to drive away the midges that were also enjoying the shelter of the tarpaulin, and we’d gotten ourselves a drink, everyone’s smiles soon came back.
Thanks to the shelter and warmth from the fire we even managed to dry off all of our clothes.
As we started to near the southerly end of Loch Lubnaig we spied a Scottish flag surprisingly placed right in the middle of the loch. Undeterred by our growing weariness and aching muscles we put in that little extra effort to paddle slightly out of our way to go and visit the flag. It was worthwhile – the flag made a fantastic photo opportunity. Of course the flag does serve a purpose too, marking an extremely shallow and rocky area of the loch. Not that there is a lot of boat traffic or risk of wrecking!
Soon after that we quickly arrived at the car park at the south end of Loch Lubnaig and journey’s end.
After we had offloaded the boats and Lisa had had a short paddle Paul and I took one boat just a little further down the river Leny to get closer to the car. Unfortunately despite being told there was an easy footpath between river bank and the lay-by we’d left the car in, there wasn’t. It was completely overgrown with brambles and nettles, and the exit on to the road was barred with old rusty barbed wire. Our solution was to man-handle the boat over a stone wall in to an ancient graveyard and then easily out to the road.
A quick drive back to retrieve the other vehicle and we were all back together again at the final car park to change in to dry clothes, pack the equipment, load the boats, and enjoy one final pic-nic!
Start slideshow with these images