The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail – Part 2: Oban to Arisaig 120km

Wheeling my kayak down the hill at Gallanachbeg, it was difficult to guage what the water was doing beyond the shelter of Kererra. Instead of heading immediately north and through Oban’s natural harbour, I opted to head South and make the crossing to Mull by jumping off Bach Island on Kererra’s South West corner. This allowed me plenty of distance to cross the Firth of Lorn on the northerly flowing tide, allowing it to carry me some of the distance towards Duart Point. Overfalls are something to be mindful along this stretch of coast, however they sit far enough off the shore to avoid them if you wish. Arriving at less than peak flow, I enjoyed a bouncy run up through some of the lively water before reaching the point itself. Up until this point the water had been flat calm, with a warm, hazy early sun inviting me to stop and enjoy the scenery a while. However, on rounding Duart Point, the rain started to fall. A very sudden and intense headwind transformed the downpour into a horizontal, face stinging onslaught, which permeated my hooded storm cag leaving me drenched within minutes. A motor vessel anchored nearby revealed how my progress across the bay had dropped to pretty much zero and ahead I could see the headland I was making for disappearing into the gloom. I hastily calculated a bearing – switching my course further south in attempt to gain some shelter in the lee of the coastline. Battling hard, I managed to make enough headway to reach the shore and as I hauled my kayak up the rocks, the squall disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived and the sun was out once more! Time for coffee and a drip dry.

Standing ankle deep in water and packing away my flask, I noticed a stream of bubbles in the water, headed straight for me. I kept perfectly still and a soggy, little brown face appeared less than a metre from my toes, giving a great big squeak. My little otter friend climbed out on the rocks on my left and squeaked some more, he was clearly looking for his playmates. I suddenly realised I’d been hearing that sound for a while and felt a bit guilty, wondering if their absence was due to my presence. I waited for him to move away and quickly vacated the area, leaving them to it, and as I paddled away I vowed to buy myself a better camera.

Like the last time I paddled here, the Sound of Mull was dreary. Rainy and grey with mist frequently obscuring my destination from view. I got so far with the aid of the tide, but by early afternoon, it was against me making the rest of the day a bit of a slog. The otters however are joyous and they were everywhere! They’re either completely oblivious to me or they just don’t care; Lone individuals, family groups and youngsters. Swimming, playing, chomping on freshly caught fish and cracking open shellfish. I always try to slide past as unobtrusively as possible but they have a habit of surfacing within feet of my boat. It makes me smile when I see the otter spotting tour vessels and wonder if they ever manage to get so close. They should take up sea kayaking.

I’ve heard a couple of people say Calve Island is the place to camp, however last time, I passed it by unconvinced, and this time was no different. Arriving at low tide meant there was nowhere to land except the slipway by the cottage. The guide book states how this is the only residence and it is temporary at that, however when I was there last, there was definitely someone home. With darkness approaching, I had no choice and the only campable looking place was right outside front door of what looked like an annex, on a slope which threatened to scoot me and my slippery sleeping bag toboggan straight down the slipway and into the sea. There didn’t appear to be anyone around, but I went to the main house anyway to at least check if there was anyone who might object. The door was padlocked from the outside and the house was dark. Within the perimeter fence, the house had a lovely, closely cropped lawn and I was sorely tempted to pitch within the grounds. However, I figured that scenario might be a little more difficult to explain should the owners return, and so I stayed beyond the gate.

The next day’s forecast looked promising for an adventure around Ardnamurchan Point; Potentially the crux of the trip. I know incredible paddlers who have been defeated here and the guidebook talks extensively about how to avoid this section and how best to organise your car shuttle to exclude the Point entirely. Understandably, it had me feeling a little nervous. I headed north and jumped off from Mull at Ardmore Point, crossing straight to Kilchoan Bay. Stopping for coffee, there appeared to be a nice little campsite right at the waters edge, which wasn’t on the map. Perhaps one for future reference. I double checked the forecast and my timings for reaching Ardnamurchan Point at slack water. Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to make and clearly others had had the same thoughts as it seemed a veritable highway for sailboats motoring around the exposed coastline.

On reaching the Point of Ardnamurchan, it was very evident why this can be a treacherous passage. Even close to slack water, in perfect conditions, there was a lot going on with the water. Currents tugging me in all directions, clapotis and unpredictable breakers rearing up over submerged reefs. I’d love to see the place on a rough day just to witness the spectacle.

The map showed a few promising camp spots, but I’ve learned never to rely on that as often they turn out to be less than ideal. After another late finish resulting in a sketchy campsite yesterday, I’d made myself a deal. Paddle until 6:30pm, then start looking for somewhere to pitch. It was too early to start looking, however the evening was becoming warm and sunny and looking over my shoulder I spied the most inviting tiny stretch of sand in a hidden bay. As I approached, there was a huge cow grazing there, who lazily plodded off elsewhere. The sheep however were defiant and I was actually intimidated. A few of them started to move away, but the ring leader had been enjoying a lovely scratch just by the perfect patch of grass on which I hoped to pitch. On spotting me she pretty much squared up and I thought she might actually introduce me to those flinty looking horns, so I took half a paddle with me, just in case she wanted to engage in a spot of ovine jousting, and set up camp.

At some point during the evening I took a peek out of my tent and was shocked to discover just how far the tide had gone out. Huge boulders and slippery reefs were now between me and the sea and I realised my only escape from this beach would be on the next high tide – at 5am. Even with getting everything prepared the night before, it still takes me and hour and a half to get myself on the water, so a very early alarm was in order. I needn’t have worried however as the sound of trampling hooves woke me well before my alarm.

Exiting my tent, I’d not only regained my sheepy agitator and her posse; still giving me evils, but also an entire herd of cows, complete with lively calves chasing each other all over the beach. The cows didn’t seem to mind my being there however, but I moved down to the waters edge to have breakfast without disturbing them. Although they seemed to be having enough drama of their own as one cantankerous old soul was spoiling for a fight and pursued another cow around the beach, shoving and headbutting her. The others all got rather excited and crowded around shouting “fight, fight”. Well, not really, but that’s how it seemed. I decided I didn’t wish to suffer any collateral damage from their disagreement and got myself onto the water asap to enjoy a beautiful sunrise.

I was now making my way towards familiar waters around the Sound of Arisaig and as I crunched the kilometres, I passed by two kayaks pulled up on a very beautiful secluded beach and felt a bit jealous. Suddenly I realised I wasn’t making the most of this fantastic journey and I was just speeding by the all interesting bits, cutting corners in an effort to meet my daily distance. What sort of a journey is that? So, on reaching the same tropical-esque beach where we were last year rescued by the RNLI, I decided I would take some time to enjoy the place. A long lunch, clothes and kit washed in the stream, a little sunbathe and a wonderful swim later, and I decided I would stay the night and enjoy the rest, before putting these beautiful beaches behind me and heading onwards once more.

Part 3: Arisaig onwards to follow.

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