With the west coast of Scotland battered by the storms and further dire weather forecasts our annual Scotland trip (Annie and myself this year) headed inland and further northwards to the more sheltered (hopefully) Loch Affric in its glorious early autumn colours.
After the long journey on the Sunday and a night at the Clachaig we eventually arrived at the Loch Affric car park by lunchtime on the Monday. The trees were just starting to turn and we had sunshine to make them glow as we quickly packed the canoe for the portage down to the launch site. The aim was to get up to the top of the loch before the next bout of rain that was forecast later that afternoon.
Loaded and ready to go
Launching into the river just up from the falls we paddled steadily up to the hunting lodge, under the footbridge and into the loch proper immediately hitting a strong headwind. The loch was magnificent as always with trees clinging to the rocky shore and the mountains in the distance at the top of the loch.
However, there was not a lot of time for appreciating the views as sustained paddling was called for to make forward progress so it was heads down and paddle with meaning. We pulled into the bays as we went up to admire this incredible place and as we left the lodge behind and the loch opened up that wonderful sense of getting out into the wilds came over us.
Paddling up the loch
The campsite near the top of the loch came into view and with clouds darkening but wind dying away we cruised into the little stream that runs down the side of the campsite and quickly set about making camp. The firmest bit of ground with a good fire-ring is right on the tip as you get out but it is exposed so we moved up under the tree where we decommissioned one half-hearted fire-ring and tidied up another that was just under the tree.
Campsite top of the loch
Looking up the glen
More rain on the way
It was a noisy night with the wind shaking the tent and heavy rain beating a tattoo on the flysheet. The nearby stream also added to the soundtrack as it rose and started to roll smaller boulders down towards the loch. The following day bought a mix of rain and wind with breaks for some sun that produced wonderful rainbows and made the trees glow. We pottered around the campsite and went exploring. Late afternoon the wind dropped and the loch calmed down so we jumped in the canoe and headed off to the very top of the loch and the small river that enters there.
Double rainbow over campsite
Top of the loch – reedbeds and start of the river – and rain
On our last trip to Affric we had paddled up the river, portaged pass the falls and carried on quite a way until the river became too shallow. Too shallow was not the problem now – there was a strong flow and the river was tearing down the falls. We retreated and paddled slowly back along the shoreline looking at the wonderful lichen, moss and trees with roots that straddle the rocks, making them look as though they are on the move to better places.
Stream pouring off the mountain and more rain
Its coming for us
Bracket fungus on dead tree
After an evening dinner of chicken tikka masala, rice, fruit cake and a glass of 14 year old Clynelish we were in bed by 9.30pm as the rain that was forecast started to fall and fall and fall. The stream started to roar again and a few times during the night I poked my head out of the tent just to check how high it was. The rain eventually stopped around 9.00am the following morning and the loch had risen. The camping spot down by the side if the loch was underwater and the stream had backed up.
Water up and backing up the stream – but sun is out on the mountains!
We knew that the general outlook was unsettled so decided to go back down the loch that morning while it was pretty calm. The top of the loch in particular can whip up quite quickly when the wind comes down the glen from the mountains.
We packed and paddled back down the loch with the wind freshening behind us. The loch really was high – small trees and shrubs that were normally on the side of the loch were now partially or completely underwater. The one end of the footbridge down by the lodge ended in water, the path completely submerged. We spotted a ghillie on the bank and paddled over to check with him about water levels down by the bridge where the loch narrows into the connecting river that falls down to Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin. He said that he had never seen the loch so high and that the river lower down was big and fast.
We paddled slowly on down until we landed at a place where the loch was now coming up to the track from the lodge to the car park. We walked on down towards the car park and our original get-in. At the point where the loch narrows into the river the current was very powerful and there were big standing waves further down towards the bridge where we had launched.
Get out just before loch starts to narrow
We collected the trolley from the minibus and returned to the boat before paddling a bit further down to a safe landing and longer than planned haul along the track back to the car-park. We were famished so had lunch in the sun at the car-park before taking some pics of the falls and driving back to the campsite in Cannich.
Lunchtime in the sun
Start of connecting river roaring on down toLoch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin
‘I don’t think we want to go down there’
On the way down a convoy of fire tenders, police, ambulance and a Land Rover towing an inflatable came thundering up the narrow road. The sight of them speeding past suddenly took the joy of the trip away as there were a group of students in the car park when we left getting ready to go canoeing and we had told them about the high water level and strong flow on the river. We found out the following day that a fisherman had got stranded on a rock in the river.
I cannot remember on any of our Scottish trips seeing the lochs and rivers so high. We had plans to paddle the Rivers Glass\Beauly but instead hired some Mountain Bikes and cycled part of the Kintale Trail to finish off our trip.
Scotland wet or dry is always worth the long trip and never disappoints.
For Canoe hire, Guided trips and Open Canoe Instruction on the River Wye head to www.celticcanoes.co.uk