Oban to Garvellachs and surrounds
Those who served: Ian Bell, Simon Howlett, Roger Colman, Catriona , Julian Todd, Becka Lawson, Anthony Vaccaro
I’m proud of under-planning and not thinking ahead, especially when doing something new. Becka and I had never been out for more than one night in a sea kayak, and this trip was supposed to be five nights in the Scottish wilderness. We had the kayaks, we had a Trangia stove and enough old soda bottles to carry our regulation supply of water. At the last minute we grabbed our one working tent that wasn’t the pop-up kind. I was sure we could simply shovel enough packets of random food from the larder into the holes around this gear to make something up each day.
Becka drove us up to Oban while I provided the entertainment by reading aloud a food list for a French kayakers’ fortnight-long trip from the kayarchy website (including an oyster knife and one winkle-pick per person). By the time we reached Glasgow Becka insisted on some panic buying so she stocked up at Aldis and we arrived quite late.
Other last minute decisions that happened frantically the next morning included packing our thickest sleeping bags (which could barely be rammed into a hold, even when you fed them right up to the bow through the hatch), and our choice to wear our skinny wetsuits for the whole trip because we didn’t have enough confidence that we weren’t going to capsize and be unable to roll. The rest of the group (in their comfy, dry gear) were polite enough not to make it obvious that we were holding them up as we squabbled over what to take and Becka tried to cram in her mound of fresh fruit and veggies (it turns out that coconuts fit snugly behind the seat).
And then we set off south towards the slate islands.
We got lucky with the weather. It was never too windy or wavy, and though we had some rain during the day and at night, we had sunny respites for a few hours most afternoons during which time we could dry out our wetsuits. That was another advantage of going on a trip lead by Ian — aside from the air of quiet competence and expert decision making — the early starts and early finishes. You got your 5 or 6 hours on the water experiencing sore arms, sore thighs and a sore back from sitting in an insanely unnatural position (those who can’t take it probably don’t go kayaking), with enough time afterwards *not* in the boat to recover and straighten out. If left to do our own planning, Becka would doubtless have maxxed out the paddling for a minimum of eleven hours a day, which would mean I’d refuse to get out of bed in the morning. On a multi-day trip you need to pace yourself sensibly; it’s not a weekend blast.
The sea was flat enough to let us go past Easdale to camp on Luing then past Fladdha, lunch on Belnahua and around the far side of the Garvellachs. There, we camped by the monastery ruins on the same patches of grass where the previous kayakers had been the day before and where they’d left their two-way radio.
The next day we headed further south in a horrible wind and rain through the Grey Dogs north of Scarpa and around to the south end to lunch at the depressingly ruined, not-cosy two storey bothy near Corrywreckan. Here, we met the other group of other kayakers just getting ready to head out to sea (pretty lazy), and gave them back their radio that they hadn’t even noticed was missing. Then one more crossing and we camped on the mainland near Craignish.
The most notable wildlife were the geese who liked to fly back and forth overhead honking wherever we walked. Someone once saw an otter. Every so often there was a seal head poking out of the waves. There were no midges at all because it was still too early in the season and too cold (and, like a lot of flying insects, they’re probably going extinct). In the evenings Simon entertained us with different ways of not lighting a fire (apparently the driftwood was too salty for firesticks) until he had to use a lighter. Becka and I had neglected to pack any whisky. We also decided that a one man tent that you couldn’t sit up in was too small for two people (everyone else knew better and so they all had their own two-man tent).
The final night (cutting short one day because of the wind forecast for the Friday) put us along Shuna to a campsite on the north coast of Luing, on a gusty and cold headland of squelchy mud near Torsa Beag. Here we provided a public demonstration of how a married couple decides which of two spots, three metres apart, to pitch their tent. In the end we put it onto the wetter ground with the door facing into the weather across two cow-pats that Becka scooped and thrown over her shoulder using a paddle as a shovel. Having lost the argument, I sulked and didn’t come out of my sleeping bag for the remainder of the soggy day as I only had sandals to wear and the mud sank up to your ankles, which would have made the sleeping bag filthy.
On the final day before the wind really picked up we shot up north on a tailwind, up through the Bridge over the Atlantic before the tide changed, and then around the back of Kerrera Island to Oban. Here I was able to practice my downwind surfing, which we had been taught to do on surfskis earlier in the year on our train trip to Tarifa in Spain. The surfing was fun, except I had to keep ignoring Ian who was calling me back to the shelter of the shoreline where the waves crashed on the rocks and the paddling was just a right slog.
It got very hard work around the north tip of the island when we had to paddle south, directly into a stiff wind. No matter how much force I applied to the paddle, all the others pulled away into the wind at twice my speed. They waited for me to catch up in the shelter of a small island mid-channel, then pulled away again and got to the shore miles ahead of me. By the time we had packed everything back on our cars and vans the wind had almost died and a bunch of children had headed out into the middle of the sound on a raft made of barrels. We then all went out to a celebration dinner in the Wetherspoons pub in Oban called the Corrywreckan.
Huge thanks to Ian for proposing, coordinating and leading the trip, and to Simon, Catriona, Anthony and Roger for great company and easy-going patience with us – we had a lovely time!
By Julian, with edits by Becka