Packrafting the north west waters.

With Huw still a Packraft sceptic, and me with a race at the weekend and not wanting to do anything strenuous, it seemed like the perfect time to go for a paddle.

Doing a similar journey to one i had done previously in Inverpolly, we headed up into the magical landscape of north west Scotland. The scenery here is so different, with all the lone and oddly shaped hills rising from the post glacial knock and lochan landscape. Its no wonder it was classified as Scotlands first geopark.

View through the hills.
View through the hills.

A beautiful sunset faded into a sunny dawn and we were excited to be going. A couple of km stomping over the moor took us towards the gap between Cul Mor and Cul Beag. We were overtaken by a young adder, busy on its way in the warmth. With the dry recent weather, our plans of paddling the outflow river from Lochan Dearg were scuppered. The bony stream teased us with deep enticing peaty sections, before turning a bend and becoming shallow and stony.

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As we followed it down towards the main loch we passed a very old settlement. Although there is no obvious ruin, the marks the old occupants have left on the landscape are clear. Drainage channels, an old, almost invisible wall line and grassy vegetation tell of a land worked long ago. Here too are more recent signs of human intrusion, this time a large fenced of area of reforestation which we were glad to see.

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Finally putting on the water, we realised the wind had picked up to about force 4. A minor downside of packrafts is they do have a tendency to catch the wind. Hoping Huw wouldn’t get sea sick we set off into the waves. Paddling close to the intricate shoreline of loch Sionasgaig, it took as a couple of hours fighting the wind before we reached our landing. Here we had a short portage over the rise, before putting back onto the water, this time with a great view of the iconic slug shaped Suilven. It was about time to start looking for a good camping spot, these can be hard to find on the tussocky terrain. Eventually we docked in a calm bay, sheltered by a small knoll. There was an inviting area of flattened bracken on which we decided to camp. Now, the north west has lots and lots of some things. Fortunately the midges hadn’t quite hatched, but unfortunately the ticks had. All of them, right where we were. And all the aunts, uncle and second cousin ticks seem to have overwintered here too. We were crawling in them, it was horrendous! But the thought of getting back on the water, into the wind and the gloomy mist that had descended, was even more so. And anyway, the ticks always bite Huw first so i figured id be alright.

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Dreams of hundreds of legs walking lead to a fairly restless night. I was convinced the ticks were in my ears, my hair. A thorough inspection the next morning suggested I was just being paranoid and they had indeed all bitten Huw, so we got packed and set off. Annoyingly, now that we were going with the wind, it had dropped. But the sun was out and it was a stunning day. The last of the mist was rolling off the summits of the mountains and it was a pleasure to be drifting on the water. We passed lots of reforestation along the loch shore, it will look amazing here in a few years if the trees take. Making good time, it wasn’t long before we reached Elphin, packed the boats up and meandered back along the road to the van, completing a circumnavigation of Cul Mor and Huws first real blow up experience.

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If you too wish to get involved in some inflatable fun, take a look at Andy and Robs website http://www.backcountrybiking.co.uk/ They even hire them out!

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