The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail – Part 1: Tayinloan to Oban 123km

I’ve had the guide book by Simon Willis for a while, mainly to mine the info for short trip inspiration, however it was only a couple of months ago that I realised I’d quite like to undertake the whole journey. With Ireland in mind, this would be a great exercise in spending an extended period paddling solo and would give me a taster of negotiating any issues that might arise. After my week in Anglesey I had another 3 weeks available to tackle the route, and with the weather looking surprisingly settled, I packed the car and made the six-hour journey to Tayinloan, Kintyre.

The wind forecast was stronger than I would normally have ventured out in, but after some great paddling around Anglesey, in similar conditions, I was feeling confident. I loaded and launched from the Tayinloan Ferry Terminal and with a following force 5, rocketed along the sunny coastline away from where I was leaving the car.

In my Scottish travels so far, one thing I’m learning to view tentatively is the forecasted wind direction. It would appear that the glens, lochs and mountains all have their own closely guarded recipe for influencing the direction, and you can be speeding quite happily along as expected one minute, then suddenly leaning hard onto a rogue Easterly, just to stay upright.

By early afternoon, I’d reached West Loch Tarbert and the wind was expected to pick up even more. So, with large ferries using the loch, I followed the shoreline to a suitably narrow crossing point and assessed the wind. It was directly following and although fairly strong, seemed ok. I headed out. Halfway across the loch, the wind seemed to increase immensely. I was being shoved and buffeted, catapulted across the water. The waves trebled in height and all of them were breaking with foam streaming off the tops. I was getting absolutely soaked and working hard to not completely lose control in the surf. The crossing lasted minutes. Thankfully.

I wondered if I had underestimated the effects of the landscape here, but looking back to where I’d come from, it was clear there’d had been a sudden increase in wind speed overall. The sea was being torn up behind and ahead, and Ardpatrick Point was my immediate destination, perhaps with 3km of rocky shoreline before I could land. Between myself and the Point was Eilean Traighe. A small island joined to the mainland at low tide by a bouldery beach. I landed here for a coffee break and contemplated my options. The forecast was due to drop later, and there was space to camp should I get stuck here. I hoped the wind would drop and decided to wait a little while, unpacking my boat trolley and portaging the beach whilst I did so. An hour or so, and I’d convinced myself there was a slight lull. Jumping in my kayak I raced off around the point, encountering a little lumpy water, before finding shelter behind the headland. From here either the wind dropped or the shelter extended further than I thought and was able to continue up past Kilberry Head to find a lovely, albeit windy wildcamp spot for the night, and watched the sun set over the distant Paps of Jura.

The following day had better conditions and I broke camp surrounded by a lazy flock of sheep, who were obviously quite comfy in the sand. The plan was to paddle the 40-odd km to Crinan and then assess what the tides would be doing through the infamous Dorus Mor.  The route took me uneventfully across the mouth of Loch Caolisport, around the rocky Point of Knap, Island of Danna and Rubha na Cille, where the tide can flow at a mildly hindering 3kts if you time it wrong. However, neap tides were my friend that day and I had no issues there. The coastline to Crinan is rocky and mostly wooded and apart from the odd bay, there weren’t many places where I was particularly interested to stop. I pressed onwards, having both lunch and coffee breaks in my boat, and before long had Crinan Harbour to my right and a sailboat under motor bearing down on a direct collision course. I always try to keep clear of other boats, but occasionally it is unavoidable to be in the same water as another vessel. First, I worry whether they have seen me, I carry a radio and a bright white LED torch for attracting attention if I need to, then I try to figure out which way they will go next. Some opt to adjust their course, others don’t. My understanding is that I have right of way over a shallow draft, powered craft, but more often than not I am forced to stop, at the mercy of the wind and tide, and wait for them to pass by.

At Scodaig, I checked the map and the tidal streams for Dorus Mor and with a good few hours before slack water, I made a cautious crossing of Loch Craignish just south of Island Macaskin. Sneaking up on Dorus Mor, the North West stream was still running probably not far from peak flow, however it looked perfectly manageable with just a few noisy standing waves and a bit of white water out towards the middle of the channel. I kept in close to the shore and sped through without any incident other than disturbing a couple of basking seals that I’d not seen around the corner. Sorry about that fellas!

Safely through and now heading north between the rocks of Achanarnich Bay, I wondered what the Gulf of Corryvrecken was looking like 6km to the west. I’ll make it there one day for a look. I floated up quietly on a family of 3 very cute otters, playing, fishing and squeaking their way amongst the seaweed. I watched them for ages until one eventually spotted me and they moved away – all of about 5 metres – and continued what they were doing.

I pottered up and down looking for a spot to camp. I’ve been here previously, but the grassy ledges were rather full up with cows and unfortunately everywhere else looked extremely wet. With it getting late, I watched the sun set from my kayak and then had no choice but to lug everything up a tick infested bank to pitch my tent on top of a grass capped rock. A decontamination in the airlock and with zippers firmly closed, I was too tired to cook so enjoyed a wrapper strewn midnight feast by torchlight and then went straight to bed.

For Thursday, the wind was forecasted to pick up to F6 later on and so I made my quick get away from Ticksville, nice and early. The guidebook suggests a route straight through the Shuna Sound, but a detour NE along the coast gave me some respite from the increasing southerly wind. Voyaging up through Seil Sound was an exhilarating experience and the wind was funnelling into the narrow gap, whipping up some lively wind over tide waves and launching me amidst streaming spray and surf towards the Clachan Bridge – otherwise known as the Bridge Over the Atlantic. Again, the guidebook suggests tackling this either at slack water, or as the flow runs north. However bad timing meant I arrived to a fairly swift stream running south towards me. Being not far beyond neap tides however, called for just a little workout on the watery treadmill under the bridge, before I was able to eddy hop the rest of the way along the narrow sound and out into the Firth of Lorn, where I was greeted by the most spectacular views of the Isle of Mull.

A speedy following breeze and the first hint of open sea swell pushed me on towards my destination – the Oban Camping & Caravan Park, in the Sound of Kerrera, where I hoped to leave my gear for a couple of days whilst shuttling the car from the start. However, a little too much complacency rapped my knuckles as I crossed Barnacarry Bay, Loch Feochan and rounded Minard Point in a ferocious following wind with huge cross beam gusts, which threatened to upturn me into the chop with zero warning whatsoever. On reaching the bay at Gallanachbeg, I counted my blessings, landed beneath the Puffin Dive School and hauled my kayak along the road and up the hill to the campsite, where they had a fridge full of ice-cold Coca Cola and one extremely grateful paddler!

Next post: Scottish Sea Kayak Trail – Part 2: Oban to Arisaig.

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