Scottish Heaven


Now THAT’S what I call a wilderness camp

Long range weather forecasts are not good for the health. From two weeks prior to the long drive north they were yo-yoing between good and bad, but there was a glimmer of hope of some sun so off I went.

A totally tedious ten hours on the motorway although I do enjoy drying my hands in the Dyson Airblades in the service stations on the M6.

The crossing from Oban to Mull was flat calm…pity I wasn’t in a kayak. Nice encounter with a couple of Black Guillemots in the harbour at Oban.

Black Guillemot or ‘Tystie’

I was ticking and twitching with anticipation as I approached the slipway of the Ulva ferry and loaded up my Tarpon 160 with clobber and food and water for three days wilderness paddling. Out of mobile phone range as well, I soon discovered.

As I paddled west along the north coast of Ulva the great bulk of a White-tailed eagle lumbered overhead. It was pretty calm but I had my sights set on making the open crossing to Lunga on the Treshnish isles for an encounter with Puffins. Alas it wasn’t to be…as I nosed the kayak passed the end of Gometra island the SE wind was just too gusty to be comfortable. I would get there…getting back would be the problem.

Top remote machair beach camp on Ulva

So I had to settle for a circumnavigation of Ulva and Gometra and found a pretty respectable camp location on a little machair beach. I was kept company with loads of common seals, a pair of golden eagles cruising the nearby ridge and a pair of ringed plovers sharing incubation duty of their nest on the high tide line. no sign of any people.

Common seals (so must be some fish around somewhere)

Next day it was time to do some serious fishing. I had brought a cool bag full of frozen sandeels and mackerel strips but after a couple of days in a sweaty car they were barely in a fit state to use. In fact later I later had to ditch the entire lot…bag, bait and even the freezer blocks which were impregnated with rancid fishy stench.

So that is why I failed to get a single bite after a couple of hours bottom fishing in Loch na Keal. It’s the only possible explanation.

While fishing and enjoying the sunshine my eyes were drawn towards a strip of golden sand on the nearby island of Inch Kenneth, so thats where I headed for my next overnight stop. Arguably the best location and view in Scotland?

Inch Kenneth island (doesn’t sound particularly Scottish)

I deliberately chose this site upwind of Ulva ferry so that if the wind picked up the following day I would at least have a downwind paddle back to the car. And pick up it most certainly did. During the night I could hear the gusts approaching which virtually flattened my tent when they hit. I peeped out of the tent at dawn and was dismayed to see a sea full of whitecaps.

Keeping the heavily laden Tarpon straight with a stiff following wind and sea was hard work but I was soon back at the car. Should I have a shower in that rather slick looking campsite I was passing? No, that would not be in the spirit of wilderness camping experiences, so I opted for a pool in a mountain stream. Not happy that a gust of wind blew my loo roll into the water.

As a change from all the saltiness, tides and battle against the wind, I couldn’t resist a paddle on a little freshwater Loch in eastern mull which had a surface like glass. Nice grassy shore to pitch the tent complete with otter swimming past, and at last….fish! A small brown trout on my mini Rapala.

It’s a fish!

Virtually everyone I saw on Mull was over 60 and wore clothing like the back pages of an RSPB magazine. And spend much of the time peering through huge telescopes at distant crags where, no doubt, eagles dare. But not everbody is a bird fancier…..

No more flapping for this Hooded Crow

Time to get back to the mainland and meet up with a team of chums from Devon and Cornwall for the very exciting prospect of two or three days camping up Loch Etive, arguably Scotland’s most impressive sea loch. And to make it even better, the weather forecast was about as good as we could have ever hoped.

So our motley Armada of five sit-on-tops and one sea kayak merrily cruised off up Loch Etive with its astonishing array of mighty peaks rising steeply from the shore fjord-style. As the north face of Ben Cruachan came into view we were rather surprised to see a fair amount of snow on it, especially as we were paddling in t-shirts and shorts.

Stunning Loch Etive

Our dream camping place did not disappoint….sandy beach, large flat grassy area, stream, loads of firewood. Yeah OK hordes of ticks (to be discovered burrowing into soft feshy bits over the next few days), and enough midges to be annoying when the wind dropped in the evening. I shudder to think how bad they will be in August.

Midge deterrents fully operational

Next morning provided the sort of vista I have dreamed about. Cloudless sky, mountain scenery at its best and a loch with a surface like a mirror. Get on the water quick to have a go at the fish, and get away from the midges. We pathetically caught only two Grey Gurnard between us, mine so small I didn’t even know I had hooked it.

The perfect fishing location. Pity about lack of fish

After milling about in awe of the scenery we paddled up to the head of the loch. We were surprised to see that the occasional booming noise we could here from our campsite six miles away were logs being dropped into the hold of this freighter, moored at surely the most scenic wharf in the country.

The briefest venture into the shallow water up the river Etive produced another brown trout, whereas trolling a plug for a dozen miles along the edge of the loch produced nothing.

Etive brownie

Lunch break lolling on the grass in the sunshine was livened up (for me at least, the others remained prostrate or asleep) by the appearance of a Green Hairstreak butterfly feeding on the Thrift.

Green Hairstreak

The return leg to the tents was a mighty slog as the rocketing temperatures had generated a healthy sea breeze which was in our face the whole way. Strange that the water splashes all over my face and arms left absolutely no salt deposits (as I would expect from paddling in the sea), the surface water seems to be almost fresh.

Carpets of Thrift

The following morning I quietly broke camp (and noisily cussed the midges) at 6am before a silent and easy paddle back to Taynuilt on flat water.

Another jaw dropping dawn

Just a 600 mile drive back home. Piece of cake. Or might have been if it wasn’t for traffic jams around Birmingham and Bristol. And no Dyson Airblades in Michael Wood services.

Farewell Scotland