The Trek and Run Team backpacked around Scotland for three weeks in the summer of 2014. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.
- Scotrail Caledonian Sleeper Service
- Robens Tents and Sleeping Bags and Mats
- MSR Stoves
- Helly Hansen Clothes and Boots
- Jack Wolfskin Clothes
- Keen Boots
- Anatom Walking Poles
- The Camping and Caravanning Club
- Ultrasun Cream
We traveled up there from London on the Scotrail Caledonian Sleeper train and started our journey at Loch Lomond, where we took this canoe trip with Wild By Nature. In this article you can see some photos and observations we made on the day, to give you an idea of the service they provide.
Archie from Wild By Nature picked us up at our campsite at Millarochy Bay and drove the two kms to our launch point in Balmaha. A family of four was to join us on the water and together we had a brief safety talk before offloading the canoes and carrying them down to the water’s edge.
Once we were offloaded and Archie had parked the van up he gave us a short introduction to paddling.
I’ve done a fair bit of canoeing before but Lamia and the family hadn’t so it was very useful for them; me too as well actually as Archie is an incredibly experienced, energetic and knowledgeable guide and you can always learn something from people who’ve done as much as he has. He was to explain as few of his exploits later, as we paddled, and they included running an outdoors centre for several years as well as undertaking some very arduous kayak expeditions through treacherous seas to the outer Scottish islands.
Archie also explained that the day was going to have a strong eco-focus. Wild by Nature is a company very aware of the fact that it’s in their interest to keep the environment as pristine as possible, hence they only operate tours within a twenty mile radius of their base (to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible). We were going to learn, Archie said, about paddling the local waters, obviously, but also something of the geography of the area, and the plants and animals that inhabit it and which are vital to our species’ survival.
Soon we were in the water and away. Archie paddled ahead on his own and told us to follow. The canoes we used were the flat bottomed type, which means they were extra stable – I’ve been using these canoes for many years and they take a tremendous effort to capsize them – and had plenty of room inside to store our belongings (lunch and cameras; dry bags were provided). The family had practically no experience on the water but after a few minutes of paddling they were heading in a straight line and coping really well.
We joined up in a raft formation just in front of Inchcailloch Island where Archie gave us our route plans. We were to canoe clockwise round the island, stopping for lunch at a sandy bay at the far end, then explore the island on foot if we wanted before completing the circumnavigation and returning to Balmaha mid afternoon. Archie also explained the reason for the island’s local name – the Nun’s Island (“The English would never attack islands,” he said, “so the clergy would often find shelter on them,”) and then we set off along the island’s south side, sheltered from the wind and eager to catch a sighting of the Osprey and Red Deer that are often seen in the area.
There was little boat traffic and a great sense of freedom – Loch Lomond is five miles wide at this point so the horizons are huge. The water was also very clear.
We pulled into the sandy beach that’s known as Port Down, a place that would make a cracking wild-camp spot during the off season, and had lunch.
The island is still covered in native species of tree – pine and oak – as it didn’t suffer the deforestation that many other places did, thanks to their being no iron ore in the area (no iron means no need for charcoal to smelt/work it). Archie spoke about the importance of trees, about how they take our waste carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen that we can breathe. No trees = no human life was the basic message, and one that we wished more adults would heed (do you really need that extra housing estate? And does your garden actually look better with decking instead of grass and trees?). As he spoke I felt sad that environmental education isn’t the first lesson of the day at every single school in the world. Whatever your chosen subject, it’s going to be pretty pointless without air. The fact that we allow the teaching of maths, English and art before the importance of the natural world shows how undeveloped our society still is, and what a long road we need to travel if we’re to have any hope of survival as a species.
We walked for half hour to the island’s high point, stopping frequently en route as Archie pointed out various natural foodstuffs such as grasses, nettles, hawthorn, brae-berries and apple wood sorrel.
Archie spoke more about the history of the area as we climbed the path to the viewpoint. About Rob Roy, the Jacobites and changing times, the often destructive power of organised religion in Scotland and the fault-line that runs through this part of the world dividing the Highlands from the Lowlands. The views of water, misty glens, peaks and waterfalls were wonderful.
Then a squall chased us back to the canoes in double quick time and we set out for the return paddle.
The rain gave way to sunshine after five minutes – that’s so often how it is in Scotland, we were to discover – and we enjoyed the tranquil loch as we paddled slowly towards Conic Hill and the small port of Balmaha.
You can see Conic Hill in the photo above, rising up slightly to the left of Archie. We were to climb it the next day, a fine walk offering tremendous views…
…and we’ll talk about that in our next article.
Coming back into Balmaha several families were sat by the landing point feeding the ducks. We’d only been on a short, four hour trip yet each one of us took a few seconds to re-adjust to the noise and busy-ness after being in the wild, naturally balanced world that Archie had introduced us to.
We thought it amazing that we’d found such solitude and peace within an hour’s travel of Glasgow, and admirable that Wild By Nature was making such efforts to teach people about the great value of the natural world. If you’re looking to see Loch Lomond from the water whilst paddling a canoe that’s easy to handle (even if you’ve done no canoeing before) and learning a lot about local history and nature at the same time, then do consider going with Wild By Nature. You don’t need any prior knowledge or even any special clothes or equipment, all you need is enthusiasm and a general level of fitness.
To discover more, please visit http://www.wildbynature.eu/
And to discover more about the Scotrail Caledonian Sleeper train, which is in our opinion the best way to travel between London and Glasgow, please visit http://www.scotrail.co.uk/sleeper