Wilderness – paddling on Scotland’s west coast

Welcome to the west coast of Scotland our number one favourite SUP place in the world!

Words: Sarah Longhurst. Pics: Justin Priddy

A month out and we are watching a low-pressure system tracking across the north Atlantic. Behind it a high-pressure system which looked promising. When planning journeys 12 months in advance there is one thing that cannot be guessed – the weather! All our equipment, food, safety systems and back up plans are set ready for every eventuality in case of a change of weather.

As SUPers we are challenged by wind probably more than anything else. A short paddle of a couple of hours or may be a day paddling into wind can be challenging but accomplished. A four-day adventure in to a remote environment with ever changing conditions demands that as guides we are prepared for all eventualities – the comfort and safety of our clients is paramount.

Boards inflated, shuttle completed, food issued, sun cream on, we sat on the banks of a crystal clear loch – only a light breeze providing a slight change to its texture. Welcome to the west coast of Scotland our number one favourite place in the world! For the next four days we are going to travel into one of the remotest places in the UK. After months of planning we begin our pre-trip brief. Checks completed, questions answered and some laughs to send us on our way we dipped our paddles into the fresh water and began a very special journey.

Heading east into the shadow of the islands we were treated to glass like water, sunshine and silence! We realise we are actually here, taking in the true beauty of stunning surroundings and the realisation that after all the travelling we are on the water. Proceeding through the islands we met a head wind and chop exactly as was predicted. Day one was forecast to be the biggest challenge – hopping and skirting our way along the shore, finding sheltered areas to take brief stops we slowly made our way along the loch.

The feeling of being totally free from the bustling everyday normal life is something to be cherished. Relying on our guiding skills and understanding of the remote environment we decided early to make camp on a sheltered beach for our first night. As the sun slid into the west and with our tents set we ate a filling meal around our open fire and sipped a wee dram before wandering off to the comfort of our sleeping bags!

Reflect, plan, think
Early morning and the stoves roared into life slowly heating cold clear highland loch water. Often we find that the early morning and late night are the best when guiding, a time to reflect, plan, think and soak up the wilderness. ’As the sun rose behind the beach, the air slowly warming and the wrapped hands around mugs welcoming the first brew of the day, silence was only broken by new friends greeting one another as they appeared from tents, before the silence settled again and we all stared across the loch to distant Munros.

The group was excited, as we stood on the beach ready for launch into a slight breeze drifting down the loch. We are now in the groove, boards settled under feet, rhythm found as paddles graced the water and the true majesty of where we are paddling grips us! ’Being thrown back to basics and the realisation that mobile phones really didn’t have a signal and that being considerate about everything we do matters. Being considerate in this environment is an education, following ‘Leave no Trace’ principals. This is now no longer a you tube video or a conversation we would rather avoid, but a practice to really leaving no trace. We glided along deeper into the wilderness, occasionally passing a small empty croft or a stalking lodge, no roads, no stress, no hustle and bustle, no signal – perfect!

Entering a small sheltered bay we were ready leave our fresh water paradise and after a kilometre on foot and some great teamwork we arrive in a sea loch. Soaking in the grandeur of being surrounded by mountains with eagles soaring overhead we launch again with a new sense of adventure. ’Lifted on the tide, we floated ever deeper into the wilderness that waited out arrival.

Setting camp early afternoon allowed us to relax, air our kit and explore the coast. We swim and get totally lost in the beauty that surrounds us broken only occasionally by someone pointing out a porpoise cruising past or an eagle soaring overhead. Preparing a fresh starter is easy when you have picked the freshest mussels, chopped the garlic and added white wine. Accompanied with freshly baked bread, a true wild feast is enjoyed by all! ’The crackle of the sea soaked logs, laughter and a dram drifted into the evening air as we were treated to a fine sunset and moonrise.

Distant ocean
As we slid onto the water, with our boards creating small ripples on the glassy loch we are again lifted out to the distant ocean, standing, gliding silently, with the clouds covering the Munros landing like linen as they draped over and slid down to the distant shoreline.

Never work with children or animals they say? Watching the shoreline and the small islands knowing all along that seals and otters were watching wondering what funny craft were floating through their gardens. Sure enough and with a quick whisper we all stood transfixed as two otters played straight ahead and seals to our left. As we slowly glided along the shore making as little noise as possible our silence told the greatest story of being immersed in the true wilderness around us.

Arriving later that afternoon in a sandy bay under the gaze of one of Scotland’s iconic Munros we saw people for the first time in three days – a strange feeling that we were sharing our space with others. That evening, in the sun and the village with no roads we shared our stories over cold beer and fresh seafood.
All too quickly the final day had arrived as we boarded our small wooden boat to take us back to busier times, shops, roads and wifi. To guide in wilderness areas is an honour and privilege sharing knowledge and experiences with others and with handshakes, hugs and smiles we say farewell all look forward to the next journey.

WSA train SUP coaches and guides throughout the world, ensuring best practice as leaders in their field. They guide several very special journeys each year for their love of sharing passion for wild places. ’For more information contact the team info@waterskillsacademy.com

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