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Mallaig Trip Report 10-12 March 2017, Simon Kirby and Simon Howarth

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The great thing about Scotland in March is a) the lack of people and b) the lack of midges!

It can be a bit chilly in March so we planned a route to take in a couple of overnight stays in mountain bothies so that we could relax in front of a real fire each evening. As per usual, we decided to drive through the night alternating between sleeping and driving, a strategy that seems to work well and makes for a stress-free journey. The trip plan was to paddle out of Mallaig and head up Loch Nevis staying the first night at Sourlies Bothy, returning the next day part way along Loch Nevis before deploying our kayak trollies to climb the pass to Loch Morar and heading to Oban Bothy at the head of the Loch. The final day was to be a gentle paddle along Loch Morar and a gentle run back to Mallaig to grab the car.

We loaded our car with luggage and boats the previous evening before heading to bed for a couple of hours sleep. At 1.15am, we tumbled in to the car and set off. With clear roads, the journey was a breeze and we were in Mallaig by 7.30 am, in time to shop for an onion and cough sweets at the local Cooperative. The mission café in Mallaig opens at 8am in winter and does a reasonable full Scottish breakfast.

By 9.15am we’re on the slipway wondering how we’re going to get all the gear we have brought in to our kayaks; wine, Guinness and other essentials! After much faffing and repacking we were off by 10.30 with a local skipper warning us of the windy conditions out in the loch. Initially, we could hug the shore for protection but eventually our course turned south east in to a strong headwind with plenty of chop, the weight of my kayak evident as it seemed to plough through the waves rather than over the top. The next three miles were somewhat tough but conditions did ease as we found more shelter further up Loch Nevis.

Eventually the loch narrowed and we were able to take advantage of the incoming tide to speed up our progress. 3kts is hardly the Falls of Lora but we had a pleasant drift further in to the loch. Sourlies bothy eventually came in to view and the high tide meant that we were almost able to paddle up to the front door. We spent the rest of the daylight hours scouring the beach for extra firewood to supplement the fire log and coal that we had packed. Sourlies Bothy is one of the busiest Mountain Bothy Association bothies so we were surprised to have the whole place to ourselves. The bothy is a large single room with raised platform for sleeping at one end and a fireplace at the other end. A real fire is always good for morale and we enjoyed good food and spent some time disposing of some of the wine and Guinness that we had packed. A good night’s sleep was assured.

There was torrential rain in the night and the ground outside was totally waterlogged by morning. The mountain streams on the opposite side of the lock were in full flow. Breakfast was interesting . . . Simon Kirby made porridge that was a little too runny so decided to thicken it with milk powder which immediately formed powdery lumps. It didn’t taste too good either so we mixed in some chocolate for good measure. By the time we had packed ready to go the tide had gone out quite some way. Trollies were deployed for a stroll across the sandy beach to find the shoreline.
During our leisurely paddle down the loch we were able to stock up on fresh mussels ready for our evening meal. The outgoing tide carried us gently out of the loch and on to Tarbet ready for our first portage experience. Loch Morar was up and over a 100m pass along a rough track with plenty of rocks. The other Simon had cunningly made a harness system to haul his kayak like an arctic explorer up the steep gradient. I hadn’t! Much grumbling and one crash later we were up and over and sat on the shores of Loch Morar enjoying lunch on a beautiful pebbly beach. I decided to see how much firewood could reasonably be collected and attached to the top of my kayak to transport to the bothy.

Loch Morar is the deepest freshwater loch in Scotland and its 300m depth made the water look inky black. A gentle breeze carried us along the loch towards our destination at the head of the loch. The weather continually improving and skies clearing ready for a sunny finish to the day. Oban Bothy is closed during the deer culling season and luckily my enquiry of MBA had prompted somebody to contact the estate manager to have the bothy unlocked ready for our arrival. This really is a gorgeous bothy in a stunning location. There are two downstairs rooms with fireplaces and a large upstairs attic for sleeping. The bothy was very clean and tidy with a pile of ready cut logs next to the fire. With the wood I had carried along the loch on my kayak we were not going to go short.

The sunset at Oban bothy was stunning and as the temperature dropped we headed inside to cook up the onion and
mussels for tea. Mulled wine and a nip of whisky in front of the fire before heading out to admire the stars and full moon and then to bed in time for an early start the next morning.

The wind turned again in the night. Initially we made very quick progress along the flat calm loch, protected from the south easterly by the mountains. But as we progressed further along the loch we were eventually exposed to more cold wind and some rain for good measure. We found a sheltered beach on an island for a hot drink and some food before pushing on through a lumpy exposed section of water. The western end
of the loch has a number of islands which provided more shelter and as we neared our destination the weather brightened. As we approached the shore we were greeted by the first person we had seen in three days . . . the coastguard! A nice cheery chap on his way for an exercise further up the loch.

All ashore and Simon K rummaged in a bush to find some running shoes that we had hidden a couple of days earlier and jogged off to get the car. An early start meant an early finish and we had an easy trip home and were back by 8pm.

All in all an excellent trip. Perhaps not as adventurous as a full coastal trip but nonetheless good fun in a stunning location. For three days away, we spent £110 on fuel, a little bit on wine/beer and took food from home so had a very cost effective trip.

We’ll plan another for later in the year . . .