walkhighlands

A Crossing of Inverpolly - Cam Loch to the Sea

Date walked: 29/03/2020

Distance: 32km

Ascent: 300m

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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Mal Grey


User avatar
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk
Occupation: Account Exec in the outdoor and publishing trade, amateur writer, photographer and blogger https://www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk/
Interests: Grew up going to the hills but only get to the hills occasionally, particularly for a week each winter. Big love is open canoeing, and particularly canoe camping. So I paddle the Highlands more than I walk them.
Activity: Wanderer
Pub: ODG or Clachaig
Mountain: Clach Glas
Place: Inverpolly
Gear: Bell Prospector Canoe!
Member: John Muir Trust
Mountain Bothies Association
Wildlife Trusts
British Canoe Union
Camera: Canon EOS 700D
Ideal day out: Perfect crisp winter conditions in the NW Highlands where the snow is firm, the sky is blue and the views across hills, loch, isles and sea are endless.
An early morning canoe paddle on a glassy calm loch with the hills reflected in it like a mirror isn't bad either!

Munros: 110
Corbetts: 20
Grahams: 9
Wainwrights: 71
Hewitts: 113
Sub 2000: 3
Islands: 5



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Statistics

2020

Trips: 1
Distance: 32 km
Ascent: 300m

2019

Trips: 2
Grahams: 1

2018

Trips: 4
Distance: 33 km
Ascent: 3020m
Corbetts: 2
Hewitts: 1

2017

Trips: 7
Distance: 92.2 km
Ascent: 4075m
Munros: 4
Corbetts: 1

2016

Trips: 2
Distance: 26.1 km
Ascent: 1706m
Munros: 1

2015

Trips: 4
Distance: 30.4 km
Ascent: 1580m

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 39.7 km
Ascent: 2804m
Munros: 4

2012

Trips: 1
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 750m
Hewitts: 1

2011

Trips: 2
Munros: 10


Joined: Dec 01, 2011
Last visited: Nov 26, 2020
Total posts: 3473 | Search posts