Tag Archives: Paddleboarding

MTB, paddleboarding and big mountain adventures in Wester Ross 

A very last minute cottage booking and three of us were off to Wester Ross for our September hols. 

On the way up, Tracy and I had a quick spin at Laggan. This was the first time I’ve been when the lower section is open and it’s a great trail centre to get some flow and take in the beautiful scenery.

   

 

Sunday was a bit dreich and went for a wander to the fairy lochs, near Badachro. There is a scattering of aircraft debris at one of the lochans from an aircrash in WW2. All crew and passengers were killed when the plane crashed into the hill returning home from the war. 

 
 
We’d hoped to paddle the length of Loch Maree (20km) and got the perfect day for it on Monday. We started at Tollie Bay to take advantage of the gentle tail wind and as we made our way down to the get in, the mist lifted to reveal a very atmospheric and glassy Loch Maree. About a third of the way along we reached the islands; five large and over 25 smaller ones, many of which have their own lakelets. We weaved our way in between the islands enjoying the contrasting colour of the purple flowering heather, green woodland and rock formations. The midges were fierce so had a floating lunch stop. 

A couple of weeks ago I’d confidently declared I’d never fallen off my board and it would be almost impossible to do so. There was a lot of hilarity when my fin caught a shallow rock and propelled me off the side of the board with my phone stuffed down my bra! Needless to say a bowl of rice came to my phone’s rescue and I have since bought a replacement aquapac cover to fit it. 

There are lovely beaches dotted along the shore of the Loch and you feel dwarfed by the giant Slioch on the north. 

   

   

We then had the most stunning mountain day I’ve ever experienced. I’d been biking in Torridon last year and after hiking Ben Alligan became fixated with Liathach. We set off early, leaving our car just east of Glen Cottage and followed the path up the east bank of Allt an Doire Ghairbh. This was relentless and being completely sheltered from the wind, stopping for a rest equated to a midge attack. 

I remember looking up to see the top of the ridge poking out through the cloud and then realising we are emerging from a cloud inversion. It was incredible. 

  
   

When we got to the beallach, we made the short trip north east to the summit of Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig (915m) to soak it all in. This is a classic viewpoint for taking in Beinn Eighe. I felt like I was in a plane looking down on the cloud cover below. It’s hard to put into words how special this moment was so I’ll just leave it for the photos. 

    
 

We retraced our steps before continuing along the ridge, crossing the two tops of Stob a’ Choire Liath Mhor to the highest of Liathach’s two Munros, Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m). From here you have two choices – a few hundred metres of scrambling across the pinnacles of Am Fasarinen or the footpath below which had a couple of bits of fairly decent exposure. While contemplating the route, we got chatting to a pretty experienced mountaineer who offered to guide us across the pinnacles. He’d been up countless times, including in the dark in winter, and knew it like the back of his hand. He shared tales of some of his wilder days on the hill, and turned out to be the guy who logs when you’ve completed the Munros and signs your certificate. 
   
    
   

We enjoyed a sunny break on the top of our last summit, Mullach an Rathain (1023m), with fine views of Loch Torridon before descending the steep scree slope into Toll Ban. Here we came across another mountain legend, Andy Nisbet, who we’d seen getting the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival a year or two ago. Rather handily he’d parked at the bottom of the descent and gave us a lift back to the car. 

I don’t really walk anywhere these days so my legs took a real pounding. Our rest and recovery day involved some sunbathing and paddleboarding on Mellon Udrigle beach. It was wildlife galore with giant jellyfish, playful seals and a curious sea otter (first ever otter spot!). An amazing backdrop across the bay with the Assynt mountains and An Teallach clearly visible. 

   

    
 
 

And the sunshine continued……

Next up was some biking in Torridon taking in the route which follows Loch Damph before picking up the path which climbs around the south side of Beinn Damh to the beallach with Beinn na h-Eaglaise. A wee bit of hike-a-biking required. 

  
    
 

The descent was fun with some rocky singletrack and slabs before reaching a burn. After crossing slightly upstream, there was a great section through the forest which literally pops you out on the road just west of the Torridon Inn. 
  
   
   

Ben Alligan and Loch Torridon in the background 

I also managed to squeeze in another great ride. This time, parked up at Slattadale on Loch Maree and biked north west along the road for a few km towards Loch Bad. At the end, there’s a path on the right which takes you along some great singletrack to Gairloch. 
   

From Gairloch it’s back on the A832 towards Poolewe. Not long after Loch Tollaidh there is a path marked on the right to Slattadale. I thought this was the start of the downhill section but there was still a fair bit of climbing before starting the super techy descent to Loch Maree. This section definitely got the adrenaline flowing! 

This was a good varied route but be prepared for a full on descent! 
  

We’d have been really spoiled if the weather had been perfect all week and our last day provided the alternative side of Scotland with fierce wind, rain and low cloud. We thought we’d give Beinn Dearg a bash and on the walk in passed a few folk who’d given up and were calling it a day. We managed up Beinn Dearg (1081m) but it was hard to stay upright and required full on nav so didn’t feel too wimpy leaving the other tops for another day. Always good to get a reminder of how much we need to respect the outdoor environment and make sure we’re safe/comfortable in all conditions. 

  
   
 
    

 
  

If this week couldn’t get any better by day, it also couldn’t get any better by night. We had 4 nights of aurora in a row, visible with the naked eye from the back of the cottage. Those lights were dancing and so was I. 

Thank you Wester Ross for spoiling us beyond belief.  
   
    
  

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Going wild

After watching @steamingboots film of his winter camp up Beinn a’ Chrulaiste I had become fixated with a similar adventure. Gill had suggested some ideas for the weekend and then on Thursday I asked if the others wanted to camp up a ‘hill’ in Glencoe. I’ve learned to be suitably vague with details.

So after work on Friday we loaded up the car and headed up to Glencoe. After an electric sunset over Rannoch Moor we packed our bags in the failing light and set off for the summit. It was a clear night and despite no moon, our eyes adjusted and we managed without head torches for a good while.

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We weaved our way up through the patches of snow and managed to find a nice grassy spot near the summit to camp.

I’ve been desperate to see the aurora for years and despite several late night dashes to East Lothian, I’ve always returned disappointed. I missed some spectacular displays the previous two nights and was hoping this was going to be my time. Nothing visible to the naked eye or camera lens but still a magical moment as we watched shooting stars and the milky way.

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We were quickly to bed seeking the warmth of our sleeping bags but it was a cold night and we didn’t sleep too well.

The alarm was set for 5.50am to catch the sunrise. I normally struggle with early rises but peeked out my tent and the start of the orange glow and a beautifully calm morning was a winner.

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We warmed ourselves with coffee as the sun slowly spread through our camp, our frosty tents glistening.

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The moment the sun reached our faces reminded me of the Banff Mountain Film Festival winner North of the Sun, although our journey was one night, not nine months!

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The sun warmed Buachaille Etive Mor and it would have been easy to stay put for the day soaking up the panoramic views but we had to crack on with our next adventure – paddle boarding into Barisdale Bay on the Knoydart Penninsula. If I though the wee windy roads north of Assynt were something, the road into Loch Hourn is on a different level!

We hadn’t timed things too well and the combination of an incoming tide and headwind made it look like we might not reach Barisdale Bay. We couldn’t rest and refuel without being pushed backwards and it was energy zapping. We hugged the shoreline and took advantage of where the rock jutted out creating a welcome haven of calm.

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We arrived at Barisdale Bay exhausted but with a real sense of achievement. It is nestled amongst the towering Beinn Sgritheall, Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buide and has a great sense of remoteness.

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Another stunning sunset (with views over to Skye), another perfect morning.

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We started our paddle back with a glassy Loch Hourn, enjoying the sun on our backs and the tide carrying us along. The wind picked up towards the end reminding us nature is boss.

The best memories are the ones we earn and we certainly did that!

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A wee poem about the Great Glen Paddle by the Fairy Pimp

The Great Glen Sup Challenge

Tartan Trail Fairies have a quest
To complete, it’ll have to be their best
The test,
Physically, mentally tough
The Great Glen Way upon a SUP

Travelling north against advice
The fairies did’nae think it twice
With steely grit
And legs, strong as girders
These gals are no yer average sisters

Setting off from Corpach
It’s warm, it’s dry, it’s still
With SUPs and fairies all pumped up
Anticipation, thrill

Lying on the bank at Moy
Fairies resting easy
Some food, some drink
A battle plan!!
It’s all a bit too easy

Loch Lochy entered, Confidence high
Wings flutter in the fall
But the fairies are taken unaware
By a full blown autumn squall
It hit them fast
To the shore they fought
Day one complete
Food for thought

Fairyboard windmills twirl in the breeze
Kilted fairies paddle with ease
A pine lined canal
Such a beautiful choice
The old swing bridge,
The start of loch Oich

In the heat of the day
There’s fairies at play
Headstands on boards
A shipwreck explored
And on through the loch
Till the end of the day
All’s going well
They’re nearly half way

Morning has brought a change in the weather
More of a wind blowing the heather
Today’s fairies look tough, as their costumes show
Superheros all
It’s the fab four fashion show

Caroline as Hula, all coconuts and cape
Julie as Popeye, with spinach to take
Tracy as She-ra, red, white, gold and blonde
Gillian, kickass! With a sword twelve inches long

Setting off for Augustus
Along the canal
The sight of our heroes
Anything but banal
Wind getting stronger
But our fairies won’t crack
Their motto, their ethos
There’s no turning back

A short day
An afternoon rest
But tomorrow, it’s Nessie
And are put to the test

Blow up Nessies, grass skirts and lei
That’s the fairywear order today
A strong gust blows past
All hope it won’t last
As the get out is fifteen miles away

A short stop for brunch
Another for lunch
With no sign of Nessie joining the fray
The sun riding high
Though not alone in the sky
An airshow unfolds
Flybys to behold
But the fairy formation
Takes all the acclamation

The fairies paddle on
Their carbs all but gone
Ness like a mirror
Not even a shimmer
Breaks through the picture they glide upon
Sunset detected
Urquhart reflected
It’s walls to be breached
Sanctuary reached
Four hardy souls
Surpass all their goals

The next day starts well
But by launch there’s a swell
Nessie has risen
To fairy derision
A decision is made
It’s cakes and lemonade

Independence
Referendum day
But which way will the fairies sway
At the end of loch ness
They each don a dress
Will the Saltire and Jack
Split up the pack
For Scotland, so near
The fairies, no way
The Great Glen complete
It’s big smiles today

By Andy Cochrane, the Fairy Pimp

Great Glen Paddle Boarding

The Great Glen Canoe Trail is described as ‘One of the UKs great adventures, requiring skill, strength, determination and, above all, wisdom on the water’. Sensible people travel the 60 miles (96km) from Fort William to Inverness by open canoe or sea kayak. Silly people decide to do it on inflatable stand up paddleboards (SUPs), which they neither own nor have any experience.

The trail guide strongly advises paddling in the direction of the prevailing wind but the forecast was for north-easterly / easterly for most of the week. After some last minute discussions we decided to stick with our original plan and headed up to Fort William after work. We’d practised towing techniques and made a plan for if the group was split by strong cross winds but I was still pretty nervous about the safety aspect of the trip. Guess there is definitely something in ignorance is bliss. Andy kindly came along in a sea kayak for the first part of the trip.

We had originally talked about doing the trip completed self-powered and carrying camping gear on our SUPs but this would have made things really tricky, especially when you factor the portages and extra weight. We decided to run shuttles and opt for the comfort of dry bunkhouses.

Day 1: Corpach to Loch Lochy

There was lots of excitement as the Tartan Trail Fairies registered and donned our outfits for day 1. Of course we wanted to go from sea to sea and started at Corpach rather than taking the easy option of launching above Neptune’s staircase.

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It took a few portages to master getting the boards and gear on and off the pontoons without risking puncture or skint knees on the rough surface. The sun was shining on our fairy wings as we cruised along the canal to Gairlochy, chatting to the boaters, cyclists and walkers who were curious about our crafts, and outfits.

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After the Gairlochy locks, the canal opened up into Loch Lochy (12 miles) and we felt a true sense of wilderness. We were aiming for a layby about half way up Loch Lochy. The water was like glass reflecting inversions of the surrounding mountains. This is the Scotland we’d been accustomed to over summer and this was one of those moments.

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In our limited SUP experience, one of the problems we had noticed is how the fairly static stance causes your feet become numb pretty quickly. We tried to factor in an off the board stretch and snack every hour with an on the board stretch every half hour in between. We pulled into the shore about 5 km short of the layby and in an instant the calmness broke as a headwind picked up; a reminder of the fickle nature of weather. The last section was a battle and we got off the water just as the light was fading.

Day 2: Loch Lochy to Bridge of Oich

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There was a slight breeze as we set off but conditions were still holding up. The remaining part of Loch Lochy was spent enjoying the views and getting excited about the thought of home baking aboard the Eagle. This is an old barge moored just above Laggan Lock, now housing a restaurant and pub. As someone who is obsessed with eating, the disappointment when we arrived to find it closed was too much and I found myself leaving a rambling message on the restaurant phone number. We continued a short distance along sheltered canal guarded by towering trees before Loch Oich opened before us. We had a quick bite at the Great Glen Water Park before continuing down the most stunning Loch on the trip. At just 5 miles long and the resting place for the ship wreck Eala Bhan there was plenty to explore. Just after Aberchalder Swing Bridge we got off the water at Bridge of Oich.

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Day 3 Bridge of Oich to Fort Augustus

Today was superhero day and while the others had bought outfits, I’d raided my dressing up box and invented Aloha the Hawaiian superhero. This was a shorter day distance wise but one with a lot of portages and a stronger headwind.

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Day 4: Fort Augustus to Urquhart Castle

With tales of the Loch Ness tourist boast shedding 5 foot wakes as they pass and no emergency escape routes on the north shore, Loch Ness had been built (by others) to be our nemesis. We decided to stick to the north shore and had a quick scouting trip the night before looking for get outs. We were feeling good in the morning and decided to be more ambitious with our distance, aiming for a few kilometres short of Urquhart Castle. This proved tricky as every layby was perched above steep and heavily vegetated cliffs. Conscious of time, we abandoned the car in a layby convinced the exit point was manageable with SUPs, and wrapped a fluoro jacket round a tree to avoid overshooting.

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The sun continued to shine as we set off from Fort Augustus with shouts from the Lock Keepers ‘Shouldn’t you be wearing life jackets rather than fairy wings?’ The girls had been so impressed with my Alohoa Hawaiian Princess outfit that we were all in Hawaiian outfits. Of course we had our safety gear in our dry bags but this was our style and why not wear grass skirts?

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After a few miles the tranquillity was broken as jets and helicopters zoomed passed. There seemed to be a lot of flying action that day and laps of Loch Ness must have been in the training mission! We were treated to dipped wings, flashing lights and a rather close encounter with a helicopter. Just what we needed to lift spirits as fatigue started setting in.

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The fluoro jacket was a long time coming and again the light was fading. We must have thought we were an army rescue team when deciding the get out was suitable but there was no way we were going to manage our boards and bodies up to the car without causing damage. The options were to leave the boards at the bottom or paddle another 5km to Urquhart Castle. The latter sounded more fun and with just under an hour of light left we reckoned doable. We felt like pirates landing at the castle at dark, scrambling up the walls and hauling our gear up. We were exhausted but the adventurous spirit prevailed.

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Day 5: Urquhart Castle to Clachnaharry

While the escape through Urquhart Castle at night was exciting, the challenge of an inconspicuous entry was beyond us. After some gentle persuading, a very kind manager agreed to let us launch with a few provisos to avoid any health and safety issues. My mum and dad had joined as support crew for the last couple of days and it was great having their help for getting all our gear down. We were fully kitted out in wetsuits and buoyancy aids as this was the section we were likely to encounter the big tourist boats. Naturally there was a special touch for the day and it was our home made Nessie Monster hats.

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As we passed the Clansman Harbour, there were swarms of tourists about to board for their search of Nessie and we got lots of waves and bewildered looks. It was hot work in the wetsuits and we only had one encounter with a boat’s wake. A dunking would have helped with the overheating so I actively paddled towards it but it’s amazing how stable the boards are and the rollercoaster ride was great fun. We landed on the beach at Lochend without any swims and my mum was waiting with her shoes off and trousers rolled up desperate for a shot on the board.

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It was referendum day. The postal votes had been cast and now that Loch Ness was behind us, we ditched our sweaty neoprene for sequence. The build up to the referendum was exhilarating with passionate debates amongst those in the media spot light and also between friends and family who normally shy away from politics. We were split in our voting preferences generating friendly banter in our outfit preparation.

As we set off on the last section of trip there were mixed emotions. We were exhausted but as we left the wilderness behind and signs of urban life started creeping in, the sense of freedom and timelessness evaporated. We pushed on to Clachnaharry Sea Lock, where the journey ended. We had done what many thought we couldn’t. We’d paddle boarded across Scotland from sea to sea. This wasn’t about being the strongest, the fittest, the best prepared. This was about positive attitude and sense of adventure.

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Thanks to everyone who sponsored us.  We managed to raise over £1500 for Maggies and Cancer Support Scotland which was incredible.