Sunday, 23 January 2011

New acquaintances, new perspectives, familiar places.

I'd originally thought about driving over to Loch Awe for a few days paddling and exploring but then Rich (Shewie, the guy who's trivet I'd found at Loch Lomond) said that he and his friends were heading to Loch Long for the weekend. He wanted to know if we could meet up so that he could get his trivet back and said I could join them if I fancied it. It sounded like a good chance to meet some new people and paddle somewhere I'd not been before.
   On Friday I waited in all day for a pair of boots to arrive that I'd ordered for paddling, by 3pm they still hadn't come and I'd got everything ready so I just decided to head off without them. I arrived at the put in at Finnart by about 4pm and set off across to the beach immediately opposite where Rich's mates were supposed to be camping and waiting for him to arrive (he lives near Leeds). As I approached I could see no signs of life and thought these guys had taken low impact camping to new levels of stealthiness. I landed and had a look about. I could see loads of litter and rubbish (left behind by anglers I assume) but nothing else. I texted Rich who  said the guys had gone to an alternative venue three bays further north. I jumped back in the boat and paddled off into the gathering gloom.
 As I cruised along something broke the water in front of my canoe and made a snorting noise, it looked like a small seal but it was difficult to make out in the darkness, it stayed with me for about ten minutes, leaving a line of telltale bubbles when it dived and always remaining just too distant to get a clear look at in the gloom.
After about forty minutes paddling I saw lights on the shore and smelled the familiar scent of woodsmoke, it had to be the guys. I landed and introduced myself to Josh, Stephen, Stu and Ciara the canoe dog! It was a bit surreal meeting folks for the first time like that but everyone was friendly and welcoming and they directed me to the old overgrown forest road just above the shoreline which was fairly flat for setting up my bivi. It turned out that they'd changed venues due to the rubbish dumped at the original campsite and just paddled north until dusk then landed at the first likely spot they saw.
I set up my tarp and bivi bag on the levelest, driest bit of ground I could find, it wasn't ideal but it'd do the job.
After getting set up I joined the guys by the fire drinking a few beers and waiting for Rich to arrive (he was working in Motherwell and had rush hour traffic to negotiate). Eventually we saw a light gliding along the loch and Stu went down to guide him in. It was cool to finally meet Rich in person.
The evening went on with eating, drinking and chatting by the fire and watching the moon rise over the hills, I finally got to bed just before midnight.
I had an okay nights sleep but I kept sliding down my sleeping bag on the slight slope I was on which compressed the down at the bottom of my sleeping leading to cold feet, still it was half eight before I got up.
As we loafed about eating breakfast an otter swam past parallel with the shore no more than ten metres out (seemingly oblivious to our presence). We watched him come ashore just south of our campsite and disappear.
 Stephen, Rich and Stu by the fire.
The camp from where the otter landed.
The view to the south from the same spot.
 Just before lunchtime I decided to move on, I wanted to see if I could find a better place to kip on Saturday night and while the guys had been more than hospitable I didn't want to overstay my welcome and crowd them, besides I fancied a paddle and a bit more of a look around this part of the loch.
The view back to camp as I left (the line of the forest road is visible behind).
It was a really nice day for a paddle as the morning mist started to disperse just leaving wisps over the loch.

After a while I came across a beach with a flat grassy area behind. I reckoned this must be the spot Rich had mentioned that he'd hiked too one time and camped at. I went ashore for a look. It was pretty good but I walked just a little bit further up the shore and found an even nicer spot with a handy tree for suspending my tarp from and best of all it was level! I walked back, jumped in the noo and paddled round. By this time the tide was quite high (and still rising) so I could get the canoe right up onto the grass.
Pretty soon I was set up and enjoying the afternoon sunshine and lovely views while searching for fire wood. I found some nice dry fallen pine which I reckoned would burn well and salvaged some old semi-burnt floorboards from someones  previous fire place just round the corner.

 Once the tide dropped, my canoe was left high and dry where I'd parked it!
   The sunset was pretty nice and once it started to get dark I started my firebox as I'd decided to try to cook my dinner on it (I've used it to boil water for a brew before but not for proper cooking).
It worked really well and I had peppered mackerel fillets with mushroom risotto and sweetcorn and peppers which was delicious.
I used it to heat the Kelly Kettle for a brew during the evening and that worked great too.
I watched the moon rise again and sat by the fire til late then hit the sack. I slept really well and thankfully had toasty feet this time.
I woke around eight thirty and got up, the tide was really low and I could see something intriguing on the beach. There used to be a navy torpedo range at Arrochar (just up the loch, the buildings and piers are still there) and I'd heard tales of them "losing" torpedoes during test firing back in the day.
Could this be the remains of one? I don't know but I couldn't think what else it could be.
On to breakfast then......................................................
............................bacon, beans, and tattie scones (with a cuppa of course!) After breakfast I packed my stuff and headed south again. I hoped to catch up with Rich, Stu, Stephen and Josh again but I knew that they didn't want to leave their departure too late as Rich had a long drive back down to Leeds, I had my fingers crossed they'd still be there as I paddled south.
As I rounded the headland in this picture I saw woodsmoke hanging over the trees ahead and I was soon enjoying a cup of tea with the guys and Ciara as they packed up.
 We all got on the water to form a mini armada for the paddle back down the loch.
Left to right, Stu and Ciara, Josh, Stephen.
Josh, Stu and Rich passing Glen Mallan jetty.
As we approached Finnart we passed this little guy, I reckon it could be the same young seal that had accompanied me up the loch on Friday.
All too soon we were back at the cars. All that remained was to load up and say our farewells. I had a brilliant weekend and it was really nice to finally meet Shewie in person and return the trivet to it's rightful owner and to put names to the faces of Josh, Stephen and Stu who I'd previously only seen on the canoe forum.  I'm absolutely loving this canoeing malarkey!

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