At 3.59am I was fast asleep tucked up in bed in Holsworthy; fourteen hours and 750 miles later I was paddling across a peaty loch in the far northwest of Scotland, under sunny skies and beneath the gaze of Arkle, one of the spectacular mountains of that part of the world. I had soon hooked the protein portion of my supper on a mini Rapala.
I found the perfect sandy beach and set up camp to cook my trout. I was pretty peckish (only had one extra large pasty on the drive up, much of which ended up in the footwell) and pretty pooped. Just as I settled down I noticed a pair of Ringed Plovers getting very agitated close by and I knew I was camped more or less on top of their nest. So I packed everything away again and shifted fifty yards down the beach. The plovers then seemed even more touchy and I soon found out why:
I had plonked my kayak about a foot away from their nest so, with a groan, packed everything away again and went back to where I was in the first place. Mrs. Plover seemed very pleased about this and snuggled down on her eggs. I however was so tired that, despite having brought with me a small container of Lurpak specifically to fry trout in,I burnt one side of the fish to a cinder while the other side was still very much sushi. I gave up cooking and instead demolished half a Genoa cake for main course. And the other half for pudding.
I slept like a newborn sloth and awoke at dawn (alas about 3.15) to the sound of some fantastic Scottish breeding birds. A pair of Black-throated divers circled the loch with weird croaking calls, a Greenshank displayed, a snipe drummed and cuckoos cuckood. What a campsite!
I paddled back to the car and headed on down to the sea at Scourie’s nice little curved beach where I packed up my kayak ready for the trip to Handa island. I could not believe my luck with the sea conditions-light winds, small swell and mainly sunny skies! The locals seemed a bit dour:
I paddled out into the sound of Handa and the great vista of cliffs and steep mountains and faraway islands….unbelievable. A small group of sandy beaches on Handa lured me on and I was greeted by a noisy welcoming committee of Arctic terns. And then I hooked a decent pollack on my Dexter wedge lure. Fishy action in the most spectacular of settings.
My number one aim was to paddle right round the island but when I was on the exposed west coast beneath the huge cliffs , the swell and its bounceback combining with windchop and tide gave me quite a bouncy ride and I felt very small and vulnerable.I had done my homework and watched the fantastic video on youtube by Frank Needle of GB Paddling about his tour round Handa by kayak….I think he managed to pick the calmest day in history (and it was his images that inspired my trip). However despite the slurpy conditions I still managed to complete the circuit of the island including a tour round the amazing great stack of Handa, and was thrilled with all the puffins.
The calm waters of Handa sound were a welcome relief and I was soon back at my beach supping a cuppa. Next it was time to fulfil a longstanding ambition….to be attacked by a Bonxie!. Bonxies are big chunky aggressive seabirds that don’t take too kindly to intruders in their nest area and will think nothing of dive-bombing a person and whacking them on the head and maybe covering you in their last smelly fishy meal.However although there were hundreds of Bonxies on the island they were quite happing hassling some of their smaller relatives, Arctic skuas, rather than giving me grief. Pity really.
I set up camp on the machair at the top of a white sand beach and watched a school of dolphins splashing about in the far distance while the eider ducks crooned and my semi-stale spinach stuffed pasta squares bubbled.
Aaaargh. In the morning the rain was lashing and my hands were numb within a few minutes of crawling out of the tent. Wet sleeping bag, my worst nightmare. I fumbled everything back into my kayak and headed back towards Scourie, but en route it stopped raining and brightened up so I spent the day touring the islands on the north side of Edrachillis bay.There was an ever improving tremendous backdrop inland with the brooding bulk of Quinag the main feature. I stopped for yet more, even staler, pasta on the sheltered shore of Loch Shark.
I lost my Dexter wedge so gave up fishing (sorry, folks). But this was more than compensated by a stunning view of one of my favourite birds which allowed an unusually close approach in my kayak.
Next day I drove via Lochinver ( the ‘Lochinver special’ baps from the catering van on the seafront are highly reccommended) to Inverpolly. I wanted to paddle round one of the remotest freshwater lochs in Scotland. The access involved a portage down to a subsidiary lochan, a paddle across this then a five hundred metre Ranulph Fiennes style manhaul to the edge of Loch Sionascaig. Epic stuff and boy did I get hot.
There was a howling easterly wind coming down the Loch and at one stage I was making no headway at all. I dodged in behind the islands for shelter and eventually got to the little beach at the far end. My Mini Rapala hooked seven or eight very black coloured trout en route.
I feel I have lived up to the ‘Wilderness’ tag on the side of my kayak over the last week. Good thing I don’t own a Prowler.