A wild night in the north-west

A little over seven years ago on a trip exploring the far north-west corner of Scotland I found myself facing difficult conditions on the outer coast with strong northerlies and endless heavy swells battering the rugged cliffs of Sutherland. An overnight trip out of Loch Laxford on which I'd intended to head south towards Handa Island was cut short, soon after leaving the relative shelter of the loch and after a particularly exciting few moments in big clapotis which extended as far as I could see south. Alone and well outside my comfort zone it was an easy decision. A second trip which began by breaking out through not insignificant surf at Clashnessie was also cut short very quickly - outside the islands which partially shelter this beautiful bay, the swell was running at over 3m and with the winds between F4 and F7 it was another easy decision. I retreated to Kylesku and enjoyed a remarkably sheltered overnighter, paddling into the heart of the wild mountains, camping at the very head of the loch, on an island within the burn that turned the salt water of Loch Beag peaty brown. It was a trip on which I Iearned much, and the memory of that camp and the fjord like atmosphere deep within Glen Coul which captivated my imagination, has remained clear in my mind ever since.
Faced with similar conditions very recently, a similar trip seemed an obvious choice, though we started a little further north at Scourie with the intention of running with the wind and swell, past Badcall Bay before turning into the shelter of Loch á Cháirn Bháin - setting for the story of Eric MacLoed (The Kerracher Man) who turned his back on a career in southern England, choosing self sufficiency in the Highlands in its place. Taking his wife and two young children to the then ruined croft in Kerracher Bay, his story is a remarkable one and worth reading.
Heading out of Scourie Bay, the coastline is immediately wild, indeed an afternoon could easily be spent here, playing on the waves among the reefs if so inclined.
We did a little of that, cautiously though in loaded boats...
...before heading out beyond Eilean á Bhuic, the island which forms the southern entrance to the bay.
On open water, conditions immediately picked up though Handa Island still protected this stretch from the biggest northerly swells - a long view south towards the unmistakable bulk of Quinag.
Breaking the run of long surfs temporarily, we stopped in a sheltered cove, drawn to investigate this wonderful arch though it was not possible to pass through - it could potentially be paddled at the height of the tide.
Running south once more - this was perhaps the highlight of the trip: dramatic paddling on rolling seas beneath big mountains and stormy skies, fulmars carving across the waves and spray flying from the bow as we surfed on towards the outer islands beyond Badcall Bay.
Entering Loch na Mola, a porpoise surfaced just as I saw a golden eagle being mobbed by the gulls - we watched for some time before landing for a short break on the steep beach at the back of the bay (a lovely camp in the right conditions).
Chris, shortly before entering Loch á Cháirn Bháin. The Kerracher croft was soon visible and I was struck once again by how little it appears to have changed since the photo's in MacLeod's book were taken following the restoration work undertaken in the late seventies and eighties.
Beyond Kylesku, having passed beneath the much photographed bridge (opened as recently as 1984), we turned south again to paddle the last few kilometres to the head of the loch. Showers rattled through the glen with increasing frequency though it felt a different world to that on the outer coast and once again I was captivated by the atmosphere of the glen, waterfalls cascading in all directions, steep ribbons of white amidst the precipitous mist shrouded slopes above.
Landing at the head of Loch Beag - at low water it would have been an awkward drag up the burn to reach a suitable camp and so we headed out of this inner-sanctum, back towards the shingle beach beside Glencoul bothy. I had been keen to remain within the inner loch - a wild place, but in poor weather, a comfortable camp with an easy landing and launch was preferable.
A ruined barn adjacent to the bothy provided shelter to change into dry kit and we set camp immediately above the kelp on the tide line, the bothy occupied already.
Later, in the failing light and between showers, a view towards Eas a Chúal Aluinn - Britain's highest waterfall.
We turned in eventually, beneath brooding skies for a long night throughout which the rain fell in sheets, paddling north and out of this dramatic sea loch late the following morning, the winds still fresh, still from the north and the rain still falling. It is not everywhere such trips can be enjoyed so much, in such weather.


Ian Johnston said…
Probably my favourite kayaking area Will, so much variety in a really dramatic setting - superb!

Will Herman said…
Hi Ian - Likewise, never fails to inspire, even if the weather fails to improve!