Scottish Canoe Routes

We grabbed the opportunity offered by a few free days after Easter and a rare good weather forecast to head up north and attempt a trip that had been on our list for many years, Loch Maree and Slioch.

We arrived beneath Beinn Eighe at about 6pm and camped amidst the sound of the waterfalls swollen by the previous week of rain and snow, glad that we had picked a loch and not a river trip. Listening in our sleeping bags, the roar of the water resolved into several separate sounds and you could make out the different notes of the falls behind us and the deeper note of the huge ribbon of water falling off the plateau on the far side of the loch.

A call to Scottish Natural Heritage told us which islands to avoid because of the black-throated divers and we put in at Slattadale as blue sky built from the west. Loch Maree is not a paddle to be hurried so we meandered amidst the islands stopping here and there as the fancy took us. After Isle Maree we hopped across to the opposite shore and continued with the mist shrouded and snow-flecked Slioch building into a more and more demanding-looking project all the while. We were intending to camp as near to the ascent path as we could. The shore wasn't that accommodating as we approached, but just before reaching the river at Gleann Bianasdail we sensed a good camp — there was something welcoming about a particular group of trees —  and around a point the shore fell back into a little sandy bay - perfect. Sue had spent the previous week perfecting a tin can stove and now babied this into action to boil up water for tea. We were again lulled to sleep by the soft roar of waterfalls, this time those in the little valley at the base of the Slioch path.

The next day dawned fair and cool - perfect for climbing, except that the tops were still sticking up into the clouds. We had been worried by how much snow might have fallen on the peaks during the previous week, but as it turned out Slioch was mostly clear, apart from a few snowbanks that gave some quite exciting step-kicking. The mist was more of a problem, making route finding quite challenging for us. I had hoped all the way up that the cloud would clear and we would get the view down across the islands on the loch, but it was not to be. The poor visibility made the descent even more exciting and it was with some relief that we got back to the twin lochans on the shoulder of the mountain, and out into the clear.

We got back to our camp just in time. We disturbed a number of goats who had discovered our winebox tucked up inside the canoe. They had nibbled the tap, causing it to leak, but we had so far only lost a little of the wine. A few minutes later and we would have been facing total disaster.

Listening from the tent next morning it was hard to judge conditions because of the sound of the falls, which was the same sound used by an angry loch whipped up by the wind. But the water turned out to be glassy calm and built only slightly as the sun got up with the result that our 12 mile paddle back to the car was an easy-paddling delight.

Returning from trips into the wild is always a bit disorientating. We both woke up at home next morning with a slight feeling of unease because of the double-glazed silence. Walking up to work through the streets of Sheffield my mind kept trying to populate the scene with wild stands of scots pine, so characteristic of the beautiful region around Loch Maree.

Loch Maree and Slioch