Spring Raftpacking - Scottish Highlands from david hine on Vimeo.
In April I went packrafting in the North of Scotland. I headed up north first by train, to Lairg, and then by bus to Durness. The little Durness minibus is the same vehicle that started my journey south from Durness after I had finished my west coast stravaig in 2012. So it seemed like a good way to start, and this year I wanted to cross some of the northern peninsulas and sea lochs that I had skipped last year in favour of an inland route through the mountains. I'd then head inland, hopefully taking in some summits, before paddling out towards the east coast via a confluence of rivers. Plans had been bubbling away for some time, but the best laid plans are nothing before the fickle Scottish weather. I sometimes feel that for every gram of planning that goes into a trip, two grams of pot luck go towards the final outcome.
"Been like this for 8 weeks now!" Donald the minibus driver was explaining to me how consistently fantastic the weather had been in the two months before I arrived. I was the only passenger on his bus, and we were driving north through beautifully snow capped mountains on a clear blue sky day. "There's a change coming this weekend, mind. Going to be windy.".
The change really did come that weekend and it blew away my main route plan. I don't mean to sound too sour about this, it's just the ironic timing of the change in conditions (immediately as I was setting out) which underlines to me how uncertain any plans can be. But hey, when one plan fails there are always other options. I always plan alternatives.
Another aspect of this trip was deeply unsatisfactory, too. I accepted a lift down an estate road from a bin lorry (just a few miles). While having a ride in a bin lorry was a new, and fairly novel, experience, it is without doubt at odds with the spirit of backpacking. Later on in the trip, I yet again succumbed to the shame of non-self-powered transport and detoured a whole section of the route. The first of these vehicle rides was only short, but the second created an absolute break in the trip. Hence the map below is made up of two separate parts, the section in between is the section I missed out.
Despite the issues, for the most part I had a good time. There were some great moments, some flashes of sunshine and, in the end, even being out in north of Scotland in howling weather is far preferable to not being out there at all.
|On the shore of the Kyle of Durness, preparing to cross.|
|Red flags were flying on the military firing range, and loud explosions were audible nearby. I was allowed to proceed when the military exercise was over.|
|At the North Westerly point of the British mainland, 'Cape Wrath'. The word Wrath in this context is from old Norse, meaning 'turning point'.|
|The lighthouse at Cape Wrath. Overnight it shone out over my shelter, I could see the powerful beams reaching right out to sea.|
|A nice spot to camp, just above Sandwood Bay. It became extremely windy overnight, and the fair weather was pretty much over after that.|
|Sandwood Bay is stunning. The area is protected by the John Muir Trust.|
|Passing through the 'village' of Kinlochbervie, with the forms of Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack on the horizon.|
|Camped by Loch a' Ghairb-bhaid Beag|
|a pair of stags above Loch Stack|
|Loch Stack and Ben Stack.|
|Putting in on to Abhainn an t-srath Chuileannaich (don't ask me how that is pronounced).|
|Some nice walking through Amat Forrest|
|Ruined crofts in Gleann Mor|
|Crossing the pass from Gleann Mor to Strath Vaich|
|Abandoned crofts at Loch Vaich|
|Reaching Loch Fainnich on an overcast and extremely blustery evening.|
|Hiking off the shame of motorised transport. My pictures don't do it justice, but Glen Affric is stunning.|
|Putting in on Loch Affric. Even though the wind was behind me, it was soon too strong to paddle in. I took out and walked up the glen instead, through old growth Scots Pine.|
|With views of the mountains, and old growth Pine trees, I didn't mind too much that I wasn't paddling the Loch.|
|The River Affric as it interconnects Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin.|
|Camp beside the River Affric.|
|Putting in on the shore of Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin.|
|It was a great morning of paddling on Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin. The loch is studded with pine covered islands, which I paddled in between. Looking back, the view was of snow capped peaks.|
|Putting in on the River Glass. The river wasn't particularly exciting, but became a lot more scenic as it turned into the River Beauly.|