Club trip to Glencoe and Loch Leven

Glencoe

Pap of Glencoe and Loch Leven

It was high time for a Garnock Canoe Club jamboree and one had duly been scheduled for last weekend. If I hadn’t known better, however, I would have wondered if the organisers weren’t trying to throw us off the scent in the communications leading up to our departure. The email entitled “Arisaig Trip” which informed us that the trip that had previously been moved from Arisaig to Oban had now been relocated to Glencoe, was especially confounding. Undaunted, we tracked everyone down to the Invercoe campsite in Glencoe on Friday evening. As various cars emptied out their occupants, something became apparent to me and that was a growing sense of being outnumbered. To explain: there was me, and then there were 10 chaps of the male persuasion. Which leads me to ask the question – oh, where were the women of Garnock? At least the conversation around the campfire didn’t resort to the usual stereotypical subject matter of football and cars (no, it was much worse than that).

Setting out on Loch Leven

Setting out on Loch Leven

I would like to say that I was up and about, bright and breezy on Saturday morning, but this was not the case at all. Unfortunately, Friday night had been claimed by the demons of insomnia from whom I receive occasional visitations. Once they appear, no amount of relaxation technique, yogic breathing, counting sheep or just plain wishing will get me to sleep. What starts as a small, nagging worry that I haven’t fallen asleep yet becomes a full-blown anxiety attack that I will be trapped in a torturous hell of sleep deprivation the following day, and, of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Not to worry, I somehow managed to find myself sitting fully dressed in a drysuit and in a kayak on the waters of Loch Leven on Saturday morning. Not just any old kayak mind you, but a beautiful white Valley Avocet with black trim. After the very favourable impressions that had been made upon us during our week with Skyak Adventures, one thing had led to another and we were now taking a lovely, nippy wee day kayak out to play. Through the foggy haze (I refer to my sleepless state and not the weather conditions), I became aware of some truly astounding scenery as we paddled from our campsite eastwards to Kinlochleven. Majestic mountains prevailed, and it was wonderful to admire the Aonoch Eagach ridge from the water having climbed it some years ago. The conditions were most favourable, especially with the wind pushing us along.

Heading for the rocks at Kinlochleven

Heading for the rocks at Kinlochleven

Upon reaching Kinlochleven, the environment began to take on more of a feel of a river, as opposed to a sea loch, as indeed the loch effectively becomes the River Leven (or that might actually be the other way around). The water narrowed in on us and became “gushy” in places, and there were lots of rocks. You can tell from my description that I am not a river kayaker. There are reasons for this, mostly relating to sharp, pointy rocks (did I mention those?), icy cold, moving water – er, and unrelenting fear. Regardless, some members of our group saw this as an excellent opportunity to toss their kayaks about the rocks. I started to believe that my tired state was causing hallucinations when I then saw bodies floating down the river, but it seems that certain individuals had abandoned their vessels altogether in favour of engaging in a whole new sport the name of which eludes me (“unkayaking”? “drysuiting”?). Having no desire to scratch wreck our kayaks, or get icily cold, Alan and I sensibly decided to have some hot soup and pull up a chair to watch the other hardy souls from the sidelines.

Loch Leven

Garbh Bheinn, from Loch Leven

Whilst the rest of the group then embarked on an elaborate climbing exercise in order to consume their lunch on top of the riverbank, Alan and I, having dined already, decided to start heading back the way we’d come. Our progress was slowed by the wind which was now doing its best to place us in reverse gear. Around the half way point, my lower back was screaming for a rest and we pulled in to a pebbly beach. Here, a solo paddler in a Capella 163 came ashore and sat down with us for a chat. It seems that whenever I write about paddlers whom we happen to bump into on the water, to my delight they somehow later find my blog and make contact. Perhaps I will hear from this lady too. Anyway, let me just say, it was nice to enjoy the company of another female paddler.

Soon our group had caught up with us and quickly embarked on a challenging and manly survival exercise on the beach involving fire-building and slater-eating, in the manner of – I think I’m safe in saying – Ray Mears. I had dared to mention the name of Bear Grylls, which was greeted with snorts of derision from the guys. I wonder if female paddlers feel similarly? 😉

Making friends with guillemot

Making friends with a guillemot

At this point, Jordan graciously offered to swap kayaks with me in order for me to try out his Rockpool Isel. This is a relatively new Rockpool kayak, designed for the smaller paddler, and I have been very interested in learning more about it. To be able to try it out was an opportunity not to be missed. Well, let me just say – I like it very much! Whilst I cannot put a kayak through its paces in quite the way Jordan can, here’s what I did manage to observe:

  • What a great fit! Part of the trouble that I’ve had in assessing fit is that the majority of kayaks out there don’t fit the smaller person well – so how do you truly know what a good fit is until you actually encounter it? The Isel makes snug contact in all the places that matter, including the excellent thigh braces. I felt like the kayak fitted me, as opposed to me trying to fit it via outfitting (or eating pies).
  • After kayaking back the remaining half of the return journey, my back no longer hurt. The seat and lumbar support are exactly that, supportive.
  • My feet loved the footplate (versus foot pegs). I could feel the blood in my toes again. Such comfort.
  • The hard chines took me back to my Capella a little and edging seemed “stickier” than the Valley kayaks – obviously not an issue to the skilled paddler.
  • The Isel doesn’t turn quite as responsively (imho) as the Avocet, but it turns perfectly well nonetheless.
  • Despite tiredness to the extreme, a less than ideal set-up, and some gusty wind, I managed to roll the Isel. It wasn’t my prettiest roll ever due to the aforementioned, but the kayak simply has that feeling that suggests that you can rely on a roll even when conditions/you are less than perfect. I really like that feeling.

Meanwhile, it was fun to watch young Jordan making our Avocet dance in the water the way it was meant to. If kayaks had emotions, ours would have been very happy to have someone with such natural skill in charge.

Eilean Munda

Eilean Munde

Before returning to our campsite, we detoured over to Eilean Munde, the “Burial Island” of Loch Leven. We stepped ashore to explore its many gravesites. I hadn’t realised that they were so numerous and it was interesting to read the inscriptions and examine the symbology (to use a Dan Brown kind of term), as well as to view the graves’ seemingly random placement across the island. Many of the slate gravestones seemed as new, no doubt scoured clean by the prevailing elements.

It was a short trip back to Invercoe where a hot shower followed by dinner in the smirry rain awaited. In danger of falling asleep as we sheltered in the car, Alan and I turned in for the night not long after 9 pm. Sleep came upon me like an anaesthetic and I would have known nothing of the party in the neighbouring tipi but for the impressive amount of recyclable materials and marked lack of perkiness that emerged from it in the morning, combined with the run on Powerade in the campsite shop.

Eilean Munda

Eilean Munde

What with all the blustery wind and rain on Sunday morning, I was gutted to learn that no-one seemed keen to go and get soaked and freeze in the Falls of Lora as had been originally planned. But a consensus of reluctance had been reached and who was I to argue? So we packed up and made our way homewards. After having nearly lost our kayaks to the wind on the way over Rannoch Moor on the journey to Glencoe, we decided to take the less gusty route home via Oban. This took us past the said Falls of Lora where, to our surprise, we found other members of the Garnock club! Apparently, a second branch of the club had arrived for Sunday’s activities. As inviting as it was to get out and join them, Alan and I were in full “going home to cosy fireside” mode and, after stopping to chat briefly, proceeded on our way. I confess, however, that a slight pall hung over me as often occurs when left with the feeling of having missed out on something. Never mind, the cosy fireside was nice.

And so concluded a fun weekend in a beautiful location, in good company (despite there being gender disparities) … what more could you want? Apart from a good night’s sleep.

4 Comments

  1. Mackayak says:

    Hi there,
    I am compiling a blog about the year so far with my new Isel, interspresed with grumblings about my broken ankle (the reason I have time to blog rather than kayak). Nice to read your review, I do think it turns a dream if you give it enough edge, and it holds that nicely too. Since I got the boat I see how much my performance is down to boat design and a good paddle (Werner Cyprus). You do have to learn what it is inclined to do going into the wind as it behaves a little differently to most boats, but I got up to that pretty quickly with a little help from GB. The boat has character…
    I sympathise with your lack of female company too!

  2. Dan Thomas says:

    > …to my delight they somehow later find my blog…

    Perhaps I should explain. When I was planning last May’s trip I naturally Googled “Cowal kayak” just to see what would happen, and up popped your blog. I didn’t think about it when we ran into you, having other things on my mind, but some time later I started thinking “Hmmm. Two new-looking Nordkapps. I wonder…”. When I got home I checked your blog and Gordon Brown’s your uncle. Mystery solved?

    Notice how I recognised the boats, not the paddlers? It just shows what a sad case I am.

  3. pamf says:

    Hi Mackayak – Thanks for your note. Sorry to hear about the broken ankle – hope it is healing well. Great to hear from an Isel owner. You have good taste. I will add your site to my Blogroll and follow it with interest.

    Take care.

  4. pamf says:

    Hi Dan – Ah, now I understand! If only I’d known that we’d kind of, sort of “met” already.

    I too think back on your lovely, golden Rockpool kayaks. If we ever meet in a symposium hall or something, we’ll have to wear badges with the make/models of our kayaks on them so we’ll know one another.

    It’s only sad to people who don’t kayak.

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