The Bude Old Gits Big Autumn Adventure of 2007 took us on an appallingly long haul north to our starting point beneath Ben Nevis at Fort William. We broke the journey at a Travelodge in Dumbarton and while my companions opted for a tobacco impregnated cell I,in the true spirit of a camping trip,bedded down in the back of my car. Bad move, with a main road on one side, busy railway line on the other and a very twitchy car alarm that went off every time I turned over.
Irritatingly the route north was made even longer by a huge diversion around much of the West of Scotland, and when we dropped much of our group at Fort William, Austen and I then had to drop our cars 70 miles away in Inverness and catch a taxi back. This,combined with a disastrous lack of sleep and minimal nutritional and fluid (coffee!) intake and excitement overload meant the start of the paddle for me was blighted by a pulsating headache.
However it was great to be underway at last and shortly after setting off overlooked by the vast bulk of Ben Nevis we hooked our first,but embarassingly tiny,brown trout in the broad Caledonian canal. The scenery was classic Scotland with swathes of purple heather hillsides. A kingfisher flashed past and a peregrine circled overhead.
After seven miles of broad canal,a few swing bridges and a couple of lochs we suddenly emerged onto the expanse of Loch Lochy. A daft name but a stunning place-this is what we came for! Carving across deep black waters of a huge loch flanked by mountains….even the sun very nearly put in an appearance.
The advance party had gone on ahead and selected the ultimate campsite on an idyllic beach backed by a hazel wood. They even had a fire going to keep the hordes of midges, who seemed very keen to introduce themselves to us,at bay.My Bude companions cut quite an image in their designer surf and sportswear whereas I opted for a more agricultural angle with thermal long johns and dealer boots from Mole Valley Farmers.
Supper consisted of a vast feast of pasta and fresh trout (sardine sized but tasty) followed by banana custard and washed down by a few swigs of Glenfiddich, and then a few more. Inexplicably my headache vanished.
Next morning I was bright(ish) as a button and was thrilled to catch a 3lb pike right beneath my kayak as I dropped my spinner down after unhooking a trout.
We exited Loch Lochy onto a two mile section of glassy flat canal flanked by Scots pines.
This soon expanded into the shallow island-studded Loch Oich and at the eastern end of the Loch we split up with half the group following the canal and half paddling down the unchartered waters of the fast flowing River Oich. The five mile stretch of river proved to be quite entertaining with several white water sections-but not so entertaining for Andy who took an impromptu swim.
We guffawed when he mentioned something about a tumble dryer to get his clothes dry but our jaws dropped in incredulous amazement as we rounded the next bend into Fort Augustus and there on the end of a jetty was a little wooden shed with ‘Tumble Dryer’ on the front door. Fifteen minutes later Andy was warm,cosy,smug and smelling of fabric conditioner.
Fort Augustus heralded the start of 25 miles of Loch Ness and when Andy whooped as his line zinged out he was convinced he had foul-hooked a monster of sorts. Not quite- but it was a decent,and unexpected ,sea trout.
We had clocked up well over 20 miles for the day so were looking out for a campsite but none were forthcoming along the rocky and plunging cliffs of the southern shore. Time to point out that most of us had paddled big milages before but two of our group, in a conventional sit-in double kayak, had NEVER paddled before and this trip was one of their annual physical challenges which previously have involved climbing mountains and cycling to Paris.Part of their challenge is not to do any prior training otherwise ‘it is all too easy’. Potty.
Just when we were started to get despondent we came upon the lovely wooded beach near Foyers and were soon feasting on the dozen or so brown trout as well as Andy’s sea trout. Another Top location!
Paddling conditions on our final day got interesting as a westerly wind picked up and set up quite a chop on the eastern end of the loch. Conditions like that in the sea at Bude would be trivial but it’s a bit more unnerving with your buttocks separated from a thousand feet of peaty black water by only a couple of millimetres of plastic.
Anyway we surfed out of the end of the Loch back into the canal but had soon opted to use the River Ness for our final stretch. This included a couple of weirs to keep us on our toes.Andy stayed dry-no tumble dryers on this section.
We hauled out in the middle of Inverness and a couple of hours later were gorging ourselves on the best Indian meal I have ever had, in Pitlochry (mind you, I don’t get out much).
The thought of another Travelodge or night festooned with car alarms didn’t appeal so we drove back to Cornwall through the night.