Loch Linnhe & the Sound of Arisaig

Two days in the West Highlands at their very best...
Towards the end of the drive north, I had stopped briefly on Rannoch Moor. A bitter wind raced across the moor between the hulking shapes of mountains sensed rather than seen.
I had intended to camp at the head of Loch Etive, and paddle south in the morning but a short way down the glen the road became impassable. Tired, unwilling either to abandon my plan or drive further still, I pitched the tent just off the road and settled in for an icy night.
A dawn start had proved the road impassable further down the glen and wasted precious daylight; I settled therefore for Loch Linnhe, keen to get on the water and enjoy what was quickly becoming one of those perfect winter days in the Highlands.
On the water, a calm start gave way to a icy wind, which surfed me rapidly down the outside of Shuna Island and on, passing several small skerries, into the calm of Port Ramsay at the north western tip of Lismore. I dallied here among the islands as the seals followed before exploring the small headland of Rubha Ban: the north west corner of Lismore.
Wishing I could continue, I returned and crossed directly to Port Appin before following the shallow coastline north towards Castle Stalker. Across the loch, the mountains of Kingairloch caught the late afternoon sun, Fuar Bheinn and Creach Bheinn on the far right - but as the shadows lengthened on their slopes I pushed on, passing The Knap and through the Sound of Shuna, the water mirror calm as I glided into a rocky beach. As the bow nosed against granite pebbles, an otter rolled in the small bay, a splash and then gone.

The Sound of Arisaig
After another freezing night in a now wet and icy tent at the head of Loch Nan Uamh en route to Mallaig, the next day dawned clear and calm and having camped by the loch, I was perfectly placed to head out around the Arisaig peninsula.
Frost coated the deck as I slipped quietly past Eilean Goblach, the sun still low, lighting the flanks of the South Morar hills above.
After weaving through the second cluster of skerries on my route west, I crossed from An Glass-eilean to Eilean an T-Snidhe, covering the 3km quickly on glassy seas, the lowest of swells rolling beneath the oily calm.
In a narrow channel between the islands, an otter slipped from his perch and dived, surfacing twenty yards from the bow. To my amazement he neither paused nor hesitated, but with obvious intent swam directly towards me. This bold approach ended some six feet from bow and we watched each other for a few moments before he turned, arching his back and dived.
Bemused, I paddled on. heading now for the sandy cove: Port nam Murrach and the point, Rubh' Arisaig beyond.
Here the low swell was more noticeable, heaving lazily against the rugged shore and I passed close in, enjoying the movement in the water and the sense of exposure around this small headland.
I stopped briefly the sands behind Lunga Mhor, the largest of the skerries that guard Arisiag, before heading into the Loch nan Ceall. The tide was low and I dragged the boat up across the kelp, leaving it upturned beneath a stand of birch and oak, before setting off on foot for the car. It proved a long walk, failing for the first time in years to hitch a lift in these parts, though even the gathering clouds and showers that followed did little to dampen my spirits...
Footnotes (December 2011):
For whatever reason, since I first entered this post some 3 years ago, it has become one of the most visited. No doubt the popularity of the area around Arisaig has something to do with it, but whatever the reason, I thought it worthwhile updating the text.
I have paddled this coastline on several occasions since but have never felt quite the same sense of magic on subsequent trips. Perhaps it was the clear blue skies, the snow clad mountains, the solitude of winter seas, perhaps the otter...whatever the cause, as memories of other trips fade, I remember those two days in brilliant detail, as though they were just last week.

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