Paddlers: Steve W., Gordon, Colin, Bill, Damien, Hugh, Geoff
Weather: A week of cold, northerly winds. Occasional sunny periods and a couple of showers.
Route: See Map
Day 1: We assembled at Helensburgh Pier at 10.30, Geoff and Colin having started a mile or so further east at Craigendoran. It was cold and a bit bumpy from the brisk northerly wind.
A fast, if bumpy, paddle to Kilcreggan with a well earned break on the shingly beach. Because of the F3/4 north-easterly wind, the decision was then made to head straight across Loch Long to Dunoon rather than the shorter crossing to Blairmore and then across the Holy Loch. Again good time was made.
On the south side of the pier there is a steeply shelving shingle beach well sheltered from the wind. There is also a cafe and toilets just above it. Lunch was taken.
Along the shore from Dunoon there is an almost continuous strip of housing, including the village of Inellan. Landing places are rare at high tide. The one possible launch site actually dries out completely making low tide exit or arrival very difficult. The rock/shingle bar to the marker tower is dry at low water.
During the afternoon the wind had swung from North East to North West and as we rounded Toward Point we had it straight into our faces. Th paddle up to our planned campsite at Toward Sailing Club took around 20 minutes of very hard work.
We were met on landing by the Club Chair who made us welcome and kindly provided a key for the club and its facilities. Our thanks should go to Steve W. who made the advances.
The site itself was flat and mown and extremely comfortable. The club house provided us shelter for the very cold wind. After dinner a walk up to Toward Castle, which has recently been purchased and is in the middle of an Access dispute. Geoff insisted on maintaining Public Rights before meeting the others for the brief walk back, a hot drink and bed.
Day 2: This morning we established what was to become the normal pattern; Awake at 7am, Breakfast etc, Pack up at 8am, , Pack Boats and depart between 8.30 and 9. Even the most efficient could not beat 1.5 hours and it is best to plan for 2.
The paddle today involved paddling NW up the Kyles of Bute then south and, after the battle the previous night, we were worried that it would be a very hard paddle up against the wind. In fact it was very calm as we crossed the mouth of Loch Striven and headed up the west shore of the Kyles
The wind against us was gradually strengthening but we made good time and headed for the shelter at Burnt Island/North Bute for lunch. This is the only “established” wild camp site on the trail and consists of a shelter and a composting toilet. Camp sites are very limited; certainly not enough for a group our size.
During the break the weather deteriorated significantly and shortly after relaunching we were hit by a sizeable squall. It was simply a question of hanging on until it passed through.
The paddle south was both interesting and wind assisted. As we approached Tignabruich we were greeted with the sound of the local pop group entertaining at the lifeboat station for their Open Day. Colin went off to try to find a replacement stove whilst the rest of us chatted to locals and an arriving all female group of kayakers staying close by.
By this time we were getting hungry and a cooked lunch at the Kames Hotel further south, looked promising. We arrived there just after 2pm having effectively done our planned days paddle.
The food was excellent, if a bit pricey, and is recommended but we still needed another hours paddling to reach our planned camp site at Carry Farm. This had been pre-arranged but proved to be a mixed blessing. The campsite was on the beach looking north; a beautiful view. We were able to have a good fire adjacent to our site and there were toilets and warm showers. What not to like? The cold northerly wind cut through our clothing and wrecked the fire. A windbreak from spare paddles and nylon tarpaulins was erected but simply caused the wind to swirl and choke everybody. Disappointingly it was extremely difficult to sit by the fire and get warm so early to bed.
Day 3: What else not to like? The beach goes out for miles so for departure Hugh’s strops came into action. These enable 4 people to carry the loaded kayak easily, avoiding all the problems of carrying over rocks, slips and strains and were absolutely invaluable on this trip.
The route now took us south to Ardlamont Point then north west to Tarbet. Both before and after Ardlamont there are some lovely sheltered beaches that seem to offer excellent wild camping. Ardlamont itself can be very rough in strong winds from the south; care must be taken. In our case the continuing northerly had little effect and we were quickly around and heading west .
The paddle was very attractive with the Ardlamont peninsular on the right and Arran on the left. We eventually stopped just before crossing Loch Fyne to Tarbet.
We had originally planned to stop at Portavadie but Colin was still looking for a stove so we headed straight across to Tarbet. Tarbet is an attractive village on the main Kintyre road with a car ferry to Portavadie. Two miles to the west (an acceptable portage) is West Loch Tarbet, a car ferry to Islay and Jura and the Atlantic. There is a good selection of shops and cafes, including an ironmongers which stocked the requisite stove. The chip shop closes at 2pm (we arrived at 2.05) but the cafe next door does good, relatively cheap food.
After a prolonged lunch we again started on the route north. Our initial stop was North Bay, just under Stonefield Castle Hotel, which had been identified and checked out by Steve. Group decison making was usually consensual but on this occassion there was a sharp division between those who thought it early to stop and were unhappy with the potential sites (too rough and uneven) and those who did not want to take the risk o not finding anywhere else and anticipating a drink in the hotel bar. By a vote of 4-3 we agreed to stay. Iy must now be admitted that this was the correct decision as no better sites could be identified the following day.
After pitching and eating we wandered up to the hotel for a drink. We were made very welcome, ha a couple of drinks and then headed back in order to light a fire and drink some whisky. A pleasant night.
Day 4: Dorus Mor is a tidal gate situated at the end of the Craignish promontory. It is serious enough for the guides to suggest an alternative portage across the promontory further up Loch Craignish. At Springs the flow can reach 8.5 knots and if there is a strong wind blowing against the tide it moves from the interesting category to the dangerous. The original plan had been to reach the canal by Day 3 and get through Dorus Mor at slack low water about midday so that we could then “ride” the northbound tide. However the forecast obtained on the start day had suggested F4/5 northerly winds and even more worrying gusts of F7. Although newer forecasts suggested lighter winds, the decision had already been made to treat this day as a Rest day give the winds had time to moderate.As a consequence the revised plan for day 4 was to get to the canal and camp somewhere along it.
From North Bay we headed north along the shoreline trying to identify any landing/camping site. There were none until we got just south of Adrishaig.
The Crinan Canal is an important element on the trail and kayakers are well supported by Scottish Waterways who provide essential portage trolleys. Upon arrival seven trolleys were collected from Lock 4 (the last of the locks descending to Loch Fyne). The boats were then hauled up the narrow slip to the recreation area where lunch was undertaken.
After the steep but short walk up to the canal and launching from the low pontoons we were away, luxuriating in the wind free, warm and pretty environment. A joy.
Getting long boats onto and off the pontoons is not easy. The short walkways from the back were at right angles to the thin pontoons and consequently made turning the kayaks (on trolleys) to get them down and off the end, very difficult. Angled walkways would have greatly simplified the procedure we followed.
At the final exit there was simply a low pontoon and a very steep bank. It would be virtually impossible for a single kayaker to get out, and very difficult for a pair. However a team of seven made light of the task.
By mid-afternoon we had reached Cairnbaan for the portage round locks 5-14. The road has recently been given a lovely flat tarmac surface and the half mile walk was surprisingly easy.
The Waterways staff keep the canal and its surroundings in remarkable condition. The bank edges are mown and at the locks provide flat green areas for camping. We decided to camp around Lock 11. There is a toilet and shower available to those with the combination. A very kind lock-keeper provided it.
The evening was spent eating and drinking at the Cairnbaan Inn; thoroughly recommended and a lie in until 8am was ordered as we had most of the day to spend in the area waiting for the weather.
Day 5. The morning started bright but not as windy as had been forecast. However the die had been cast so we trundled the boats down to the last lock for the final canal section to Crinan. The trolleys are a very robust, expensive make known as a C-Tug. The disadvantage is that they are not small enough to fit in a kayak and they are heavy. As we found out they also do not float. They are always slightly precarious when balanced on to the rear of the kayak and mis-communication resulted in one not being also tied to the boat. The inevitable happened and the trolley descended to the depths. After 30 minutes of fishing around with paddles and a boat hook, Bill (our hero) stripped off to his wetsuit and jumped into the freezing water for a final attempt. Success!!
After Bill had a hot shower we set off around 11am for a final pleasant half hour on the canal To Crinan Ferry Bridge. At the bridge we hauld the boats up the steep bank, fixed on the trolley wheels for the last time and rolled the boats down the green slip.
After leaving the boats we headed for Crinan itself, following the canal towpath. Crinan is a small village dominated by the hotel (and associated cafe) and the boatyard. Food in the cafe is limited to bacon buns but the coffee and cake are good. Then back to the boats for the last mile or so across the loch to a wild camp site found two bays west from Duntrune castle
Day 6: The key factor was the slack water around low tide required to get through Dorus Mor and travel up with the tide through the Sound of Shuna. The exact time was a matter of some dispute between local knowledge and tide atlas but it was thought to be about 1pm. As it was we ventured out at around 10.30, stopped for a look on Criagnish Point and eventually successfully tried it about 12.15 .
Along the north side of Craignish there is an extraordinary natural feature (pictured above). It does not appear to be well known. Explanations please.The next decision was whether to carry on along the coast (via Craobh Haven and Arduanie ) or head directly north to Shuna. Because of the time the direct route was chosen and some 8km later we reached the beach at Shuna Cottage.
After a well deserved break the final push for the day was to get up and through the Sound of Seil to the Bridge over the Atlantic. This was achieved remarkably quickly.
It was thought that we could camp on the mown grass beside the pub (you can) but when we asked we were told that the manger would need to say yes and she was not back for an hour. Instead we were advised to head for Poldoran, a well known anchorage the other side of the bridge. We took the advice.
Poldoran is a beautiful location and offers a limited number of dry flattish sites. The bug plus is a short walk across the hill to the pub so after pitching and a quick cup of coffee it was off for a slap up meal and a lot of beer. The best laid plans go aft aglay. Just as we got to the top of the hill we met two yachties returning who greeted us with “Hi, Do you know the pub has got no food?” The dream shattered we pushed on for the beer and the thought we could get a takeaway put into a taxi and shipped out. SAdly we could not, so four packets of crisps, a few beers and a couple of whiskies later, we returned to our tents. It was a beautiful night but short as we planned to get up at 5.30 to leave at 6.30 and catch the tide.
Day 7: The final day started early and finished early. A prompt start at 6.30 saw us crossing Loch Feochan at 7.30. We were startled by a lot of splashing and then, to our surprise a Pod of about 14 Dolphins came leaping across our path passing in my case, close enough (paddle length) to worry that I might get tipped up. As usual photos and videos were out too late and fail to capture the beauty and excitement but ..
Across Loch Feochan we entered the Sound of Kerrera stopping about 1km up at Port Lathaich for a final tea break. This appears to be a good wild campsite.
The final push took us into Oban arriving about 10.00.
Transport of the kayaks from Oban to Helensburgh had been arranged with Sea Kayak Oban for £28 per kayak. They also took any gear we did not want on the train. The shop is just over the road from the small central slipway in the harbour where we landed so we trolleyed the boats over, unpacked and went for a big breakfast at Abi’s just across the road. Bill and Gordon paddled on to Ganavan to meet their families whilst the five of us headed for the train station for the 12:10, getting into Hlensburgh at 14.43.
Overall a very succesful and enjoyable trip with no midges!. It was undoubtedly too cold and windy for them.