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A Canoe Journey across the Rannoch Moor - Diary of a first time Canoe Tourist!

Crossing Loch Ba

 

  • The Plan…

Start paddling on Loch Ba in the middle of absolutely nowhere and paddle as far as we can go in 3 days! 

  • The People…

Alan – Leader, guide and supplier of motivational words 

George and Connie – Expert rock hoppers and finders of wild berries

Myself – Slowworm expert

  • The Kit…

3 x Open Canoes

1 x Sail

Tonnes of random camping equipment and chocolate

Its Thursday the 27th August and we’re meeting in Alan’s office at the Mill with 5 OS maps sprawled out in front of us. We talk through the plan, the car shuttles, the kit and the weather. We choose canoes and make sure that they are set up and suitable for the trek ahead.

It’s slowly dawning on me that this trip is not going to be quite like a Thursday evening bimble down the Deveron.

Saturday 29th August 2015

It’s 5am… my kit has been packed, re-packed and finally stuffed in drybags with the vague hope that it stays dry until Monday night! 

We’re all looking a bit sleepy but Alan’s infectious enthusiasm for anything paddling related gets us going!

After an uneventful 3hr drive to Kinloch Rannoch we leave my car there and George’s car at Tummel Bridge, therefore hedging our bets as to where we will end up in 3 days time. After piling all our kit into the trailer and Alan’s car we drive along Loch Tay towards Crianlarich, Tyndrum and a welcome stop at a café. After re-fueling on bacon, egg and coffee we head for the bleakness of the A82 route towards Loch Ba.

We park up at the Loch Ba viewpoint in the rain. It’s about 12 degrees and we are about to don wetsuits and paddle away from any civilization. 

We spent half an hour strapping kit into boats and ourselves into wetsuits and started the trip by carrying the boats down to the waters edge. 

Loch Ba is a very suitable Loch to get used to the boats… these are now very heavy and somewhat more difficult to maneuver than expected. The wind was behind us as we paddled across Loch Ba, guessing which island was which and trying to find the river at the end. There seemed to be quite a lot of water around and the River Ba that linked Loch Ba to Loch Laidon was completely passable. A few bouncy rapids greeted us along with a few hidden rocks! A good practice for what was to follow!! 

As the wind was still behind us we broke out Alan’s sail and Loch Laidon was completed with very little paddling needed. We even managed to have lunch without stopping. Loch Laidon came to an end close to Rannoch Moor station and Rannoch Moor Hotel (which we didn’t get tempted with… no matter how much I dropped the hint!) and the water flowed on into Garbh Ghaoir. The rapids along this stretch started to get a bit meatier and several incidents occurred including one where Alan had to walk (trespass) across the rail bridge to instruct a stranded George and Connie where to go next. I also took a swim after Alan spun on a rock; I hit him and almost managed a rapid backwards (almost!!). At least the techniques of tying drybags into a canoe work! 

The Loch Eigheach Gaur Reservoir came as a bit of relief at the end of the rapids and we paddled to the dam at the end where we stopped for the day. 

After scouting out a flat piece of grass next to the SSE building at the top of the dam we set up 3 tents and 1 tarp for cooking. A very welcome potato and cauliflower curry awaited me once I had set up my new stove and worked out how to use it! After we had eaten, we scouted out the entry point at the bottom of the dam for the next day. 

We toasted the day with a bottle of red wine and retired for the night! 

 

Sunday 30th August

It had rained during the night but thankfully was not raining when we got up. Breakfast consisted of coffee and Hamlyns finest instant porridge oats!

We packed up the camp and attached the canoes to their wheels (George had fashioned a piece of fence wire to fix their set). There was a nice road from the top of the dam down to the bottom so it was easy to wheel the boats down. We then carried them the last 100yrds to the water. 

We lasted approx. ½ mile before the sound of fast flowing water caused us to stop at the side and scout the rapid. This particular rapid was fairly vigorous and we collectively decided that it would be too much for George, Connie and myself. Alan however made it down without any issues!! 

We wheeled our boats past the rapid and set off again thankful to still be dry! 

An island in the river appeared and we almost decided to split up and race around it. The decision not to do this was a good one as there was a decent rapid at the bottom and this one took some guidance to get down. 

The next rapid had a fun turn in it and I managed to catch the eddy at the edge of the turn that sent me down the second half backwards. I almost made it (again) but got caught in the branch of a tree. This pinned the boat and it took most of my strength and adrenaline to free it. Thankfully Alan did not have to break out his saw!

We had now made it to end of the River Gaur… this river took us 6hrs to get down although it was only 5km long! Lessons learnt about canoe touring!

As the wind direction had changed we again decided to sail down Loch Rannoch stopping off at the Crannog Tower on the way down. The sun came out and we hunted for a campsite. 

We eventually found a small bit of flat land at the edge of a field and set up camp surrounded by all of Scotland’s Midges! 

After eating we evaded the midges by going for a walk where we found blueberries, raspberries and a slow worm! When we got back to camp there was no hanging around and we went straight to bed!! 

 

Monday 31st August

The view of Loch Rannoch in the sun greeted us in the morning… the Loch was flat calm and very inviting! We packed the camp down quite quickly due to the midges and set off into the Loch to avoid them. 

We paddled down to the Kinloch Rannoch hotel and my car. We had decided the night before to move George’s car to the start of the River Tummel instead of the end, so I drove George down to Tummel Bridge and we moved his car before returning to Alan and Connie who had been sun bathing in our absence! 

We paddled all of 200yrds round into the Upper Tummel where a weir on the map had become a dam so we had to bail out again. We carried the boats around the dam and set off in a very fast flowing but wide river. We had some fun moments of ducking under tree branches before being spat out into Dunalastair Water. This was the end of the trip and a stunningly beautiful place. The only trouble we had was getting out… Where we had put the car was surround by thick reeds and we could not get the boats out the water. We eventually gave up and paddled a short way back to a cottage where a very friendly guy gave us permission to get out at his jetty and pack up there, he even gave George and I a lift back to the car. 

Once we had got 2 cars down to the cottage we packed up and got changed. We then put the canoe on the cars and I drove back to Whitehills whilst George and Connie drove Alan back round to Loch Ba to pick up his car and the trailer.  

Home, bath and a warm comfy bed!! Yea! 

Lessons Learnt for Future Canoe Touring Trips….

  • You can never have enough ropes and karabinas
  • All your stuff needs to be at least double-bagged esp. when you buy cheap drybags!! 
  • A sail is very useful and saves a lot of energy 
  • You can drink water that has not come out a tap
  • Scottish lakes are called ‘LOCHS’ ! 
  • A midge net is essential
  • Do not go down rapids backwards or sideways 
  • “Keep Smiling” and “KEEP PADDLING!”