Learn Canoeing on Calm Loch Waters

Learn Canoeing on Calm Loch Waters

Rediscovering the Gentle Embrace of Scottish Lochs

I grew up surrounded by the remnants of Native American and Inuit cultures – arrowheads, intricate artifacts, and tales of their profound connection to nature. As I pored over these archaeological treasures, I became fascinated by the depth of knowledge and skill required to craft their tools, especially the iconic birch bark canoes. This sparked a lifelong love affair with the art of canoeing.

Five years ago, I decided to turn my passion into action and began taking lessons on local rivers and lakes, honing my paddling prowess. A few years later, I embarked on an epic 2,000-mile journey down the Yukon River in Canada and Alaska, an expedition that solidified my appreciation for the transformative power of canoe travel. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of exploring various waterways, from the mighty Mississippi to the wild Scottish Highlands.

Venturing into the Heart of the Highlands

When the opportunity arose to journey into the remote lochs of the Scottish Highlands, I couldn’t resist. This was my second such expedition in Scotland, following a previous attempt that was cut short by the ferocious Storm Caroline back in 2019. This time, I was determined to break into the heart of the Highlands, to paddle the breathtaking Loch Maree and then portage over a mountain track to a series of even more isolated lochs.

The region we aimed for typically takes at least two days to reach on foot, testament to its sheer remoteness and isolation. These lochs are renowned for their tricky winds and unpredictable weather, a product of their geographic proximity to the coast and their orientation along a southeast to northwest axis. The pandemic and its accompanying restrictions had thwarted our plans multiple times, making this journey all the more eagerly anticipated. After enduring months of lockdowns and limitations, the chance to escape into these quiet, wild places was a much-needed balm for the soul.

Uncovering Hidden Gems on Loch Maree

As we launched our canoe onto the mirror-like waters of Loch Maree, the sense of adventure and anticipation was palpable. We paddled across the calm surface, uncovering forested islands that had once been visited by Queen Victoria herself. At one point, we even witnessed the thunderous passage of fighter jets, a stark contrast to the serene solitude we were immersed in.

Ian Finch, the photographer and canoeist who shared his insights with us, described one of his personal highlights as the first island campsite we established on Loch Maree. The waters were glass-calm, and we paddled onto a secluded beach to set up our primitive camp on the sand. As we explored the island, we came across the distinct tracks of stags, their presence a testament to the untamed nature of this wild haven.

The following morning, the skies and waters were blanketed in the most vibrant shades of purple and pink I had ever seen. These moments of pure, unadulterated beauty are the kind that defy replication, forever etched into the memory and the heart.

Navigating the Challenges of the Highlands

Of course, adventure in the Scottish Highlands is not without its challenges, and weather is a constant factor to contend with. As Ian mentioned, your expedition is entirely at the mercy of the wind and weather, requiring meticulous planning and adaptability.

Our greatest test came several days into the journey, as we faced miles of paddling into a relentless sideways wind on Loch Maree, with the daylight quickly fading. With no safe harbor in sight, we had to make a difficult decision: push on and risk capsizing, or attempt to drag our canoe across the rugged coastline to reach our shelter. After a grueling effort, we managed to haul the canoe a mere 400 yards before conceding defeat and continuing on foot in the dark.

That night, we navigated the undulating terrain along the lakeshore, arriving late at our shelter, utterly exhausted. It took us two more days to return to the canoe once the weather had calmed, a testament to the unyielding power of nature in these remote regions.

Embracing the Serenity of Scotland’s Lochs

Despite the challenges, canoeing in the Scottish Highlands can offer some of the most breathtaking and remote experiences imaginable. The region’s position in the northwest of the UK means it is often blustery and difficult to navigate, but when the conditions align, the beauty is truly awe-inspiring.

A network of lochs and connecting rivers allow for a true geographic puzzle of adventure, where you can paddle from one remote body of water to the next, with the occasional portage to link the journey. And for those seeking shelter from the famous Scottish weather, the region is dotted with “bothies” – free-to-use stone shelters that were once frequented by cattle herders, now maintained by an official association.

As I reflect on my time canoeing the lochs of the Scottish Highlands, I’m reminded of the profound truth that the most precious experiences often lie in the calm between the storms – both literal and metaphorical. It is in those fleeting moments of serenity, when the waters are mirror-smooth and the skies burst with vibrant hues, that we can truly connect with the gentle embrace of nature and rediscover the restorative power of adventure.

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