Tag Archives: Wee Mad Road

Kayaking Enard Bay


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It's not heavy, honest!The heatwave which we hear has been tormenting the southerners finally crept onto the Coigach last weekend, like an overdue dog looking for its dinner. Warm, sunny and no wind. Hallelui-yay!
enard05I planned to diligently hug the coast east round to Polly Bay were the Polly river drained Sionasgaig Loch, a fun stage which I packrafted last year. But once I actually got out on the water Green Island looked a doable 2km across mackerel-infested water rippled by an easterly breeze, so I took the direct line with wavelets slapping at my boat.
This was my first long solo run in the Amigo and initially the usual neuroses bobbed to the surface: ‘must get a paddle leash’; ‘what if fish farm toxins have caused mackerel to mutate into piranhas’… en-warmand so on. In fact the biggest problem was the heat. I’d put in already dripping from the walk to the beach and would stay like that for most of the day. They’d forecast a pleasant 21 but I’d guess it got well over 25.
enard06By the time I pulled alongside Green Island I’d calmed down enough to spare time for a quick look around. Finding a place to get out elegantly without slithering across a web of slimy boulder-covered seaweed was tricky, so I jammed the Amigo up a barnacle-covered slot and stumbled ashore.
These tiny, uninhabited and unsheeped islands preserve a unique ecology, or a least a distinct botany that makes them look different to the mainland. I climbed over the sooty lichen rocks into the sweeping grass and wild flowers, causing an avian scramble, and enard07a few minutes later planted a footprint on the 20-metre summit. I looked all around and as before, imagine Newfoundland was like this, a wild, windswept panorama under a pale northern sky with a surrounding coastline ground down by long-extinct ice caps. To the east was a sandy beach at Polly Bay – one for next time – with Suilven rising behind. In the other direction was Rubha Coigach which I was also eyeing up as a paddle during this calm spell.coisuili Heading back to the boat (‘what if it’s drifted off…?’) I came across a lone pink Croc flung into the grass during an especially violent winter storm.
I headed for the mainland, squeezing between an islet to what looked like a dormant fish farm above Rubha Phollaidgh (‘Dun’ on the map). We’d cycled to this point a couple of weeks ago, following the private road past Inverpolly Lodge which controls the freshwater loch fishing around here. Pushbiking seemed safely innocuous, but you’re never quite sure if some irate ghillie in a tartan strop will come after you. I’ve read of kayakers getting aggro for trying to put in at that bay.
ennardspdAs I left the bay something felt wrong, had I caught some weed in the skeg, was the boat going flat or a current suddenly against me? There was no sensation of speed as I clawed at the water although I was moving. I checked the GPS – 4mph, good enough. It seems the 4mph breeze was now directly behind me and I was paddling in a bubble of perfectly still air – never noticed that before. I became uncomfortably hot and soon began pouring with sweat; the insulating pfd didn’t help. On a day like today adapting the pfd to hold a 2-litre bladder loaded with Nuun tablets was a good idea, but it reminded me how much more satisfying it always felt paddling into a wind, even if you weren’t going so fast.
enard11The single-track WMR comes right down to the sea at a bay known as Loch an Eisg Brachaigh. When driving or cycling by I’d long wanted an excuse to splash a paddle around here; it looked like a magical sheltered place. From the south the map showed a short cut into the bay over an isthmus linking the tidal isle of Rubha Bhrocaire. Had I arrived at high water I might just have scraped over with a few inches to spare. As it was, my timing was right off, but a wee portage (right) is always good for the legs and the bladder.
enard13I plopped around the bay’s islets, scaring a seal that may have been a glistening mermaid just moments earlier. I seemed to be making better time than expected, too. Closer to the shore I was in the lee of the breeze and gliding over a flat calm. But it sure was hot and my eyes were permanently stinging with sweat which I presumed a sea wash would do little to alleviate.
North of here the rocky, cove-riddled shore lead round to another deep inlet; the hamlet of Inverkirkaig on the WMR. A short, steep river ends here, running off Fionn Loch below Suilven and another great packrafting excursion, although the river itself seems usually too boney to packraft for more than a short distance.
enard16Less than two-and-a-half hours from Garvie, I paddled in at low water where I found it was too much of an ankle-twisting bother to get to the distant shore and a bench. All around was manky seaweed so I satisfied myself with a desalinating rinse in the estuary and headed back out for lunch on a sandy beach on the north side.
Refuelled, I decided sod this pfd, I’m as likely to drown in my own sweat and the RNLI would be stretched to the limit on a day like today. So i stripped off and cooled right down. At the rate I was going I was looking good to meet the Mrs passing through Lochinver at 3pm and turned Kirkaig Point for the final 2.5 miles into Lochinver seafront.
enard18On the way in I got a striking view of Quinaig mountain (left) which rises over 800m like the rim of a crater behind Lochinver town. (A couple of days later we walked the three summits of Quinaig – definitely one of the best of the Assynt mountains.) And south of that was the reliable dome of Suilven behind Strathan hamlet, also a great climb as is well known.
Past the harbour and marina and the  baronial Victorian edifice of the Culag Hotel which had the misfortune to have an ugly fish factory built right in front of it. There are more nice old pics of Lochinver here.
Culag Hotel and Pier_ LochinverSo there we have it. Calm conditions or perhaps a pessimistic estimate meant I got to Lochinver at 2.10, just 4.5 hours from put in. The GPS logged 3.5 paddling hours and a 3.1 mph moving average over 11 miles. Peak speed was an unnoticed 4.6 coming in with the tide into Lochinver. In fact that compares well with the only other long run I’ve done here: Ullapool run, though that was into the wind at times and clocked up 15 miles.
Conditions this time couldn’t have been easier; it’s so often windy up here compared to just 60 miles down the coast in the vicinity of Skye. I felt like I could have paddled any open crossing that day and so Enard Bay proved a bit of an anticlimax. The Amigo didn’t feel especially slow or tiring to paddle just because it’s not a K40, and so now I have a better idea of what the Grabner can manage in a day.

Suilven packraft triathlon

The forecast was good and with time running out, such days cannot be ignored.
Let’s go and do Suilven‘ I said to the Mrs.
Better still, let’s take the bikes and the packraft, park the car at Inverkirkaig, cycle to the trail head, climb up the north side, down the south side, and paddle Fionn Loch into the River Kirkaig for the footpath back to the car to get the bikes.’

What was the last bit again?
‘Paddle the loch up the River Kirkaig to the car and get the bikes.’
O K then‘.

It’s a hilly 6-mile ride from Inverkirkaig along the WMR and up to Glencanisp Lodge where the road ends. From that angle Suilven (above) rises like a sperm whale’s head over the gorse and lochans. Maybe it was the sunshine, but Glen Canisp that day looked like something out of  a Scottish Tourist Board advert, and was made all the more appreciable by the easy quadbike track we followed east. One time that would be great walk to follow the 14 miles all the way through to Cam Loch and the A835 near Ledmore.
Of course, as ever these days, I was eyeing up the pack-potential of the Abhainn na Clach Airigh river too; actually string of easy lochans and gorges (left), linked with flat or frothy river stages. That too would be a great run, more probably from the Ledmore end, and with a handy bothy at Suileag. Or cook up any combination you like; with boots and a paddle the possibilities here or anywhere in northwest Scotland are infinite.
There comes a point directly north of Suilven’s twin-peak saddle (right) where you have to leave the easy track and head south into the bogs and up. You can’t see a path up the side of Suilven, but it pretty much follows the creek running down from the saddle; an hour and a half’s slog from the quad track that’s as steep as any track can be, without using your arms. And yet, as long as you keep chipping away (left), it’s always quicker and easier than it looks. And it’s quite a thrill to approach the saddle and have the Loch Sionascaig vista erupt before you (below right) as you catch you breath.
G/f decided to rest here while I took on the last 130 metres up to the summit, about 20 minutes away. For some reason a ‘magnificently pointless’ dry stone wall straddles the summit ridge near here. A quick look on the web came up with no convincing reason to its origin, though it does extend downwards enough on each side to stop agile stock either leaving or getting to the summit. And on the actual top there’s certainly enough room to graze a few sheep as well as curiously closely cropped grass. We’d not seen a sheep all day so unless deer make the climb you do wonder what grazed the grass up here? More Suilven summit mysteries.
From anywhere up here we could see the way back; the put-in near last week’s camp and the 2-odd miles along Fionn Loch to the entrance of the River Kirkaig (left). These waters define the border between the counties of Ross & Cromarty and Sutherland. While I was planting the flag, G had been scanning the scene below with binoculars and had spotted the waterfalls on the River Kirkaig we very much did not want to get sucked into.
lochanssWe set off back down the looser south side slope, don’t want to go on but it was another validation of the knee-sparing Packstaffing Way. Without it it’s hard to see how anyone would not stumble or slip a couple of times. Passing the spot I reached last week, strange barking sounds emerged from the heather. A grouse in distress? Turns out G with better eyesight had seen a couple of dashing deer right in front of me.
Down by Fionn Loch I wasn’t convinced two-up in the Yak was going to work or be safe. But we tried fitting in on the bank and in fact it was roomy enough with my legs out over the sides. So we put in and pushed off west across the loch (left) for the river, initially following the shore. Then as it became clear the 3-kilo boat-in-a-bag managed its 160kg (350lb) load fine, I set the engine for full ahead against what I perceived [incorrectly] was a slight current as well as a breeze. Amazingly (or perhaps not) I’ve never seen my packraft track so well with the near-perfect trim.
About 40 minutes later the entry point to the river loomed, with a mild rushing sound caused by the race of water flowing off the loch. We were a little edgy, knowing a deadly waterfall lay not far ahead. We let ourselves get swept in and as soon as I entered the river the boat handled differently, like a kayak in a backwind. It was the current of course wafting us onward. I went as far as I dared and stopped paddling for a moment – a louder rumbling of white water became evident. Two up, sluggish and with no BAs, we didn’t risk it and headed for the bankside footpath.
Rolling up and looking back, it seemed hard to believe we come up and over ‘Pillar Mountain’ as the Vikings had named the prominent maritime landmark of Suilven. By taking to the water we’d saved a bit of time over the path and rested the legs for the last hour’s trek back to the car and a short drive back to Glen Canisp Lodge to collect the bikes. All up, a great day out; 7 miles cycling, 2 paddling and a dozen on foot. And the Yak had proved itself as able handle the two of us for similar flat water transits.


Packrafting the River Kirkaig
The minor waterfall (left) we took out before might be rideable by the likes of Roman Dial and his intrepid chums, but the thundering 100-foot Falls of Kirkaig (see map, above left) would only appeal to gonzo hairboaters high on Red Bull and Go Pros. From there though, the river far below the track seemed packable to the brave, certainly at a point where the path drops down right alongside and the river where it broadens out, just under a mile or so from the road bridge. All grade II or less; even I could manage much of it. Beyond the bridge it’s just half a mile to the sea at Loch Kirkaig, which would be satisfying to pull off, but even at the relatively high levels (now dropping), it gets pretty shallow in places and would not be a clean run. But don’t take my word for it. I read the river is listed in the SCA whitewater guide, although it’s not logged on ukrivers.

Packrafting in Scotland – Osgaig river


See also this, a year later.

While dodging stray sheep and oncoming traffic along the ‘Wee Mad Road‘** that leads off the peninsula to the outside world, I often throw a pack-hopeful glance over to a creek called the Abhainn Osgaig.
It runs for a kilometre or two down from Loch Bad a Ghaill to Loch Osgaig, which in turn drains into the sea at Enard Bay. Most of the time what you can see from the road looks a bit boney, but the other day, following a week of gales and squalls, it was full enough to catch the eye. Driving back from a recce for another packrafting plan, I squelched over the bogs for a closer look, as most of it appeared hidden in a gorge. Sure enough, from some nasty-sounding sluices at the west end of Loch Bad, the river drops briefly into a narrow gorge you can’t even walk along. Viewed from the bottom end it was running hard enough to put me off. If I was thrown in I suppose I might surprise myself with some quick moves and get through without dumping, but I don’t fancy any white water that looks like it needs head protection. It’s a bit frustrating to be such a ninny; a creekboater wouldn’t shake a cag at this one, but I can just see myself flailing around like a squid in a blender, bouncing out of control from rock to rock.
Below the gorge (2nd and 3rd pics, left) it spreads right out so even I could acquit myself; if anything it looks like I’d need to step out in the shallows once in a while.
Back in the car and driving on slowly, I spotted at least one more waterfall I’d not want to drop in on uninvited, but there’s plenty of room to walk round that one so it would be fun to bike out there one time, tramp upstream from Osgaig loch for a good sticky beak, and put back in for the 10-15-minute ride back down.
Although I’m always on the look-out, there aren’t many packworthy rivers close by, so while the Osgaig runs deep enough to float my boat – and at a time when it’s too windy to do any other boating of substance – that is this week’s mission in the YakRight now it’s pelting down again and the sea is heaving. I’ve just heard the Shipping Forecast out in the Atlantic (Rockall, Malin, etc) is F11, just below a hurricane so the prospects for rain and high water are good.

A few days later I got fed up waiting for a break in the weather – it’s the worst May for 37 years they say, and most of the time too windy for solo sea kayaking in my Incept. So we schleped up to the Osgaig between downpours, and I took a bit of a run at the lower half just below the uninviting waterfall.

I miss the fun sensation of scooting down a river in a packraft, but I wasn’t really getting any this day. Even in what passes for spate round here, the Osgaig is just too shallow and I winced as the poor Yak scraped over the boulders while being relieved I got Alpacka to spec it with a butt patch. Bouncing off, or hanging up on rocks lined me up all wrong at times, but in an Alpacka one firm pull lines you back up. Fact is there was no rhythm or flow and I felt like someone with a flash new toy desperate to find somewhere to play with it. It wasn’t even worth running the remainder of the river down to the loch.
Day-boating like this is not really my thing anyway. I’m more into pack-rafting and have a great one- or two-nighter lined up round the back when the cabin fever hits the red zone. Of course no one comes to Scotland for a sun tan,, but at least I have the Ardeche Gorge to look forward to in late July. No two ways about it, that will be a great run. See this: same river a year later.

** Check out the cute vid.