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A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea


Postby Mal Grey » Sun Mar 29, 2020 2:00 pm

Date walked: 29/03/2020

Distance: 32 km

Ascent: 300m

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This isn’t a normal walk report, as this was a canoeing journey. However, as its in the single most beautiful part of the Highlands, and there was significantly more time spent walking that paddling, I hope it will count, and be of interest here. Even if its only so you can laugh at the ridiculousness of what you are seeing.
Secondly, apologies, I have already written about this in a few other places first, but I think at the moment WH deserves its own version too!


Some WH folk will have come across our Pirate adventures before, as I’ve written about them on here before, when there has been some walking involved. The Pirate Kids are a small bunch of growing lads who get their Crew to take them on canoeing adventures every Easter. As the lads have grown, the adventures have become more serious and arguably more silly.

My friend Lynne and I, with their lad Tobey, spent New Year at Llyn Gwynant. At some point, we got drunk enough to draw a line on a map that went from Cam Loch, on the road at the east of Assynt, through to Veyatie, Sionasgaig and then up and over to the chain of lochs from Loch Lurgainn that run down to the coast. This went right through the wonderful heart of Inverpolly linking a total of 13 lochs. We vaguely mentioned this sort of thing to our companions over the months running up to the trip, but only showed them the actual route when they were already committed! Nobody believed we would complete it.


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The route, on an old 1” OS Map I have happily acquired (too nice to use for navigation!)


After the long journey north, we all met in Inverness, finished the shopping, and headed for the start. Whilst most of us loaded the canoes and organised stuff, at the small meandering river that runs down to Cam Loch, a few were sent to the other end of the route, and to a planned escape point, to drop off most of the vehicles.

These moments at the beginning of adventures are wonderful. The planning was over, the journey was done, the sun was out and we were about to disappear into the wilderness for over a week. Unfortunately, it was very windy, something that paddlers obsess about, as this is the weather that can mean success or failure. We launched and fought our way down to the loch. Here conditions were “interesting” but safe enough for us to make a crossing, island hopping to the southern shores of the western arm of Cam Loch. The wind was behind us, so we were chased by waves all the way, trying to spin our sterns and catch us broadside.



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Pulling into a sheltered bay we could relax for a while, for this was hard going and starting to get near the edge of safety. Our plan had been to get to the far end of the loch, camp, then start our first portage over to Loch Veyatie by an unknown route. However, the waves were crashing against various headlands we needed to pass; we’d need to rethink.


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Instead, we crossed the bay with difficulty, and decided we’d have to portage. A few hundred metres round a headland, a small cove offered shelter and a possible, but not ideal, camp spot. This was to be the first of 11 portages over the next week, and one of the easiest ones.


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Camp was indeed a bit rough and ready, but it would suffice. We settled down, each sleeping on a nice tussock or two of our own, and consumed the first of many excellent communal meals. These are a key part of our trips, and we never travel light! Of particular importance is the additional Ballast we choose to carry, in red liquid form mostly, but with a few other varieties distilled more locally!


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Already, our plans needed a review. With very strong winds forecast for the next two days, we needed to change the route. Instead of working up the loch further before portaging into the west end of Veyatie, we would cross in a more direct route, as the shores over there should be slightly more sheltered from the north easterlies we were enduring. Map readers will note that there is a very short portage from the east end of Cam Loch into Veyatie, but we’ve done that before and it was far too sensible and ordinary! The next morning, we set off on our first, 2km, big portage, pretty much over the top of a hill, Creagan Mor, aiming for the slight sheltered offered by a rocky mound on the loch shore. This would take all day.


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Now, these portages are a funny thing. Taking a huge amount of kit, and some canoes, over trackless moorland, uphill, for miles does not sound like fun. But it is. Honest! The sheer ridiculousness of the idea, combined with the very sociable atmosphere as we work back and forth in a series of legs to break down the task in hand, just makes you laugh and shake your head. Normally, we grab a bag or two, head for an obvious spot about 4-500m ahead, drop them off, go back for the canoes, drag them up, and then some of the team go back for the inevitable remaining bags. Usually this would include the awkward food barrel and the bag of logs I seemed to get lumbered (!) with, that magically re-filled itself from others’ loads every time I managed to burn some. Yes, we do cook on fire (almost all from carried wood, using fireboxes to leave no trace). Pete (now known as Portage Pete), the fittest, strongest adult but on his first such adventure, came to me at one point and said “I’m not sure this is sustainable, Mal”. I giggled, glanced at Lynne and picked up another bag. He’d learn soon enough, enough stops, chocolate eggs, and the right attitude of insanity, and these things are fun!


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After 4 hours or so, we reached the crest of the hill, and broke out lunch, and my guitar. These are the things that keep us going, that and the incredible landscape around us.


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Now it would be downhill, after crossing an annoying boggy section. However, it wasn’t the easy gentle slopes we hoped simply to slide our boats down, but a steep and awkward couple of sections that needed teamwork to lower down. Time was slipping away.


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At the bottom of this hill, a nameless lochan. We decided to paddle it, for there’s a good chance nobody else has ever been stupid enough to do so. And it would relieve the pain of the portage for a few minutes. The get out was rather boggy and each canoe needed a line throwing to haul it in.


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We were knackered, and still had two more portage legs to get to the shores of Veyatie. Gradually, we realised we were stood on a flat bit. We camped, enough was enough.


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The following day, with gales still forecast, was a day of rest, other than moving camp to a lovely, more sheltered spot down on the loch shores. This was a good camp, with views of magical Suilven. Plenty of calories were replaced, bread was cooked, ballast was depleted.


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Often, the calmest time of day is dawn. To attempt to get back on schedule, we planned an early start, if the wind was low. A glance out of the tent as the light crept into the day and it was “go, go, go!”. Delaying breakfast in lieu of some snacks, we hastily dropped camp and hit the water. We’d planned to paddle out of Veyatie and down the short river to Fionn Loch, but having lost a day, we decided to shorten the route by missing out Fionn Loch by a different portage to Loch Sionasgaig.

It was good to be on the water again, though already the wind was building again. However, we quickly crossed the loch and got around a headland into more sheltered waters. This is a magnificent place to visit, a wild arm of Veyatie that leads, via a magic little sand-bar, into Loch a Mhadail. All around rocky slopes would give tough walking, and of course there are lots of large wet things in the way of any foot travers. Above, the mighty hills of Cul Mor and incomparable Suilven looked down on us.


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It was barely even breakfast time, and we’d already finished our paddling for the day. It was day four, and so far we’d actually paddled for just 2 ½ hours. Time for another portage, after a breakfast in the middle of nowhere.
We’d come up this portage in 2015, so knew it would, at least, be mostly downhill. However, it still took a while. Here, we discovered how useful having teenagers along was, as Nick and Matt worked incredibly hard as long as you kept bribing them with food. The younger Pirates too, were getting competitive, Tobey and Alex racing me to drag a canoe on each leg. They always won. This portage took 5 hours, taking us to the lonely ruin at Clais where we would make our next home.


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We re-roofed the empty gable end at the lee-side of the ruin, to form our kitchen and living room, and spent a convivial evening in a wild place where folk once lived.


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[Continued]
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Mar 29, 2020 2:03 pm

Day 5 was bright and breezy. A reccy to a nearby hilltop brought us magnificent views of the hills around, an incredible landscape of rock, bog, heather and water. The remarkable hills that make this region so distinctive stood proud all around, we really were in the heart of this land.

Disappointingly, this reccy proved that the nearby north eastern bays of Sionasgaig were exposed to the wind, and getting to our planned island camp might prove a tough trip that marooned us for days anyway. Encouragingly, though, the southern end of the loch looked pretty calm, and another shortish portage would take us there.


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Launching from a sheltered cove, bathed in warm sunshine, finally we were doing a proper paddle, in grand weather, surrounded by astonishing scenery. For a couple of hours, it was wonderful, though the wind was now in our faces and a fair bit of effort required.


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At the southern tip of the loch, guess what? Another portage, into Lochan Gainmheich and the Loch An Doire Dhuibh, were we hoped to find a camp. This was a short haul, and then we were back on the water, and through the channel between the lochs.


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Ahead, a 700m crossing was all that separated us from what we hoped was a sheltered camp. The wind, though, had found us once again, whistling down between the hills. It would be a tough battle, and we chose our route to take the waves on at the right angle.


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It was worth it. As we approached the shore, under the massive flanks of Cul Beag, a little cove came into view, tucked behind a little island in perfect shelter. A sandy beach led to a little hollow beneath beautiful scrubby woodlands, and there were just enough spots for our tents. Here we would spend two nights, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better spot. The evening was idyllic.


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The next day is one that will last forever in my memory. A day of rest, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, where we ate, swam, fished, relaxed and just enjoyed living in this most incredible landscape. These trips are as much about the time spent camping in the wilderness, as they are about the journey, and this was one of the very best. The kids took the canoes out to play on the sheltered waters of our cove, and later went on a successful Easter egg hunt. Teenaged Matt was the only one to leave camp; being less knackered than us old crocs he just “nipped” up Cul Beag in a couple of hours. The adults simply relaxed, recharged and revelled in their highland home.


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This day of idyllic rest was, though, but an interlude. Ahead of us was our biggest challenge; the portage from camp to Loch Lurgainn, and the chain of lochs that led to the sea. This was a complete unknown. Most of our other portages we’d either done before, were short, or had read about other idiots doing similar ones. This one had just come from looking at the map and hoping for the best. Around 2km in length, it went over the high land between Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh, passing a lochan that had almost definitely never been paddled before.

At first, the terrain was tough, a steep climb through woodlands full of birdsong and buzzing bees, out onto the moors. It took several people to drag each boat, but went quicker than expected and the day was bright and sunny. Soon, the views opened out.


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Steadily we worked our way uphill, now crossing terrain that would have been a boggy nightmare in any other year, but was dry and mostly solid. By now, our system was working well, and we’d burnt all the wood and drunk all the ballast, for over the hills lay some of the cars, with a re-supply safely stashed.


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After maybe 10 portage legs or so, just as spirits were beginning to flag, Lochan Fhionnlaidh came into view, and lunch was declared. I tried to get everybody out onto the lochan for a picture of us paddling this remote little stretch of water, but the wind had different ideas and my photo models were scattered all over the place, unable to get their paddles in properly for the water was too shallow. Still, we paddled it!


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From here, it was downhill all the way. It was getting late, though, it had taken 5 hours to get up the hill, and it was now mid-afternoon. If it took as long to descend due to it being steep or rough, we might struggle to find a decent camp in time. We lifted over a fence and looked for the best route ahead.

Joy of joys, a faint path led down a shallow grassy gully, at a perfect angle to drag our canoes, fully laden. Progress was so much faster.


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Halfway down, we met a lady and her two kids. These were the first people we’d seen, let alone spoken to, in a whole week. Apparently, our progress across the landscape had been quite the topic of conversation on top of Cul Beag! I still find it astonishing, and very satisfying, that it is possible to spend a whole week in the Highlands without meeting another person. OK, you might have to choose a rather daft route!

After just an hour, we reached Loch Lurgainn, launched, and paddled down to the bay below the little car park, where we re-supplied from the vehicles there.


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It was getting late, but we were determined to press onwards, for at the end of this loch lies one of our favourite camps, where we have spent time before. A last hour, inevitably into a headwind, brought us to a magical sandy beach where at last we could rest.


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This is another truly special camp, one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It felt like we’d come home, and we’d achieved most of our mad plan despite the winds. One more day’s travel would get us there, and we had two days in hand.


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With more stable winds forecast at last, we decided on another rest day, for today had been tough. Whilst the kids played, somehow they had energy left, the rest of us just sat and stared into the flames.

[Continued]
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Mar 29, 2020 2:07 pm

The day we spent at that camp was another special one, a day mostly spent sitting about on the beach, or whittling, or playing the guitar, with that magnificent view as a backdrop. Towards the evening, when the wind dropped, we paddled out for a gentle drift about on the water.



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The final day dawned. Today, we would head for the sea. It would be a day of short paddles and short portages, with one road portage later on. For this last part, we’d stashed trollies in the car collected when we’d re-supplied.

We awoke to calm but truly atmospheric conditions, and started our day by moving the canoes and gear round the corner to a short portage onto Loch Bad na h-Achlaise.


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Paddling this loch, with the outstanding Coigach hills behind, a very short but rocky portage took us onto Loch Bad a Ghaill, and a respite from the lifting and carrying.


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The haul from here up to the road, albeit only a few hundred metres, was tough. By now, we were all shattered, the accumulated efforts of a week’s tough hauling, combined with lots of little niggles and injuries, were taking their toll. At last, though, we reached smooth tarmac and loaded canoes on to trolleys before pushing off for a mile’s portage to Loch Osgaig, leaving the hills behind.


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The surroundings for our final mile’s paddle were markedly different, bleaker and flatter, but we didn’t care. We were nearly there. For one last time, we landed, and hauled our gear to the road again, where we stashed it near the cars.


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Originally, we’d wondered about paddling the river down to the stream, but the map & pictures had shown it was likely to be rocky and so it proved. We would simply walk to the sea, carrying nothing but a little bit of food, a celebratory glug of single malt, and the guitar for a final song. Half a mile of the boggiest moorland we’d encountered, and a drop to a boulder beach at wild Garvie Bay, and we were done. A final Treasure Hunt for the Pirates brought the trip to a fitting end.


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We’d only gone and done it. Our mad line on a map had become reality, a daft group of middle-aged adults, teenagers and kids had heaved and hauled our way through this outrageous landscape. It has been truly arduous, very tiring, and the wind had not helped us for the first few days, yet it had also been incredibly enjoyable, a complete hoot at times, and the camaraderie was wonderful. We ended the trip with a little song I’d scrabbled together to a familiar tune, later edited to a video by Rob, which might capture the spirit of our trip a little.

“O’er the hills and o’er the bogs
With whisky, wine and lots of logs
We heave and haul canoes all day
Over the hills to where they'll float”


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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby jacob » Wed Apr 01, 2020 11:57 am

Impressive and detailed photoreport, very reminiscant (is that spelled correctly?) of your Sweden canoe trips.
Excellent shots, thanks for sharing.
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby arjh » Wed Apr 01, 2020 8:31 pm

Absolutely magnificent :clap:
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Apr 02, 2020 2:14 pm

jacob wrote:Impressive and detailed photoreport, very reminiscant (is that spelled correctly?) of your Sweden canoe trips.
Excellent shots, thanks for sharing.


Thanks Jacob. A different sort of portaging than the Scandinavian trips, but probably even more rewarding.


arjh wrote:Absolutely magnificent :clap:


Thanks mate. One of my top few adventures ever.
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby mamoset » Thu Apr 02, 2020 3:54 pm

That's some adventure there Mal, looks like you all had a great time :clap:
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Huff_n_Puff » Thu Apr 02, 2020 4:22 pm

Just brilliant - loved this report, the colours in your photos are beautiful, what an amazing achievement from all of you :clap: :clap: :clap: ... almost makes me want to try the water ... :shock: :shock: well almost ...
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Beaner001 » Sat Apr 04, 2020 9:21 am

Brilliant report Mal, so inspiring. I’d love to do something like this when my kids are old enough but wouldn’t know where to start :lol:
I have read your blogs on the song of the paddle website you have posted the link before and really enjoy the adventures you guys have. Hope to keep reading more from you and thanks :clap:
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Mal Grey » Sat Apr 04, 2020 12:11 pm

mamoset wrote:That's some adventure there Mal, looks like you all had a great time :clap:


Thanks mate. I was brilliant. We would have been back up there this Thursday, a bit down about that, but revisiting my memories via the report has cheered me up no end.



Just brilliant - loved this report, the colours in your photos are beautiful, what an amazing achievement from all of you :clap: :clap: :clap: ... almost makes me want to try the water ... :shock: :shock: well almost ...


Cheers. I try to avoid actual interaction with the water, its cold!



Brilliant report Mal, so inspiring. I’d love to do something like this when my kids are old enough but wouldn’t know where to start :lol:
I have read your blogs on the song of the paddle website you have posted the link before and really enjoy the adventures you guys have. Hope to keep reading more from you and thanks :clap:


Thanks. Plenty of advice and help over on SOTP, that's how I started out myself. The first trips with my friends' kids were just simple day trips, then over-nighters closer to home. One advantage of canoeing is that you can take a little bit more stuff to keep young kids entertained; a few toys, Treasure Hunt maps and treasure to hide etc. You can also take slightly larger tents, mats, tarps and cooking gear to make living a bit more comfortable. You could call it "wild glamping" :lol:
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Scotjamie » Sun Apr 05, 2020 10:23 pm

Just revisited WH after an absence .... and first report I read is this one - brilliant in all ways.
Well done
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby LoveWalking » Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:57 pm

Wow, excellent report and stunning photos of an amazing adventure.
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Apr 06, 2020 11:18 pm

Just wonderful, in every possible way. I'm really bereft of words. :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire read. :D :D :D :D :D :D

I think I've said before, you must keep posting these reports of your watery adventures.

Thanks for posting. This has clearly given many of us a great deal of pleasure.
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby LoveWalking » Tue Apr 07, 2020 6:52 pm

Alteknacker wrote:I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire read.

Same here, it was clear to see how much fun you all had :D
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Re: A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Postby Mal Grey » Wed Apr 08, 2020 11:25 am

Scotjamie wrote:Just revisited WH after an absence .... and first report I read is this one - brilliant in all ways.
Well done


Thanks Jamie



LoveWalking wrote:Wow, excellent report and stunning photos of an amazing adventure.


Thank you. One of the best trips.



Alteknacker wrote:Just wonderful, in every possible way. I'm really bereft of words. :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire read. :D :D :D :D :D :D

I think I've said before, you must keep posting these reports of your watery adventures.

Thanks for posting. This has clearly given many of us a great deal of pleasure.


Cheers mate. We were grinning most of the time, maybe not when carrying the bag of logs! There's something daft about these sort of trips that makes the tough times so ridiculous that you can only laugh at your own stupidity. A group like this of good friends and mixed age groups makes it so good too.
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