Kayaking the Great Glen Fault, Scotland

, September 6, 2011

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During the summer of 2008, I headed to Scotland with a group of friends to kayak the Great Glen Fault, the slice of water that cuts through the belly of the country. After some technical and physical training sessions before the trip, we decided that sea kayaks would make for the best vessels on this famous traverse of the Scottish interior. Starting at Fort William, we headed north for three days, until reaching our finish point at Inverness on Scotland’s northern coastline.

After meeting our Applecross guide at Fort William early on the first day, we routed directly to the southern shore of Loch Lochy, only a short drive away. A brief session explaining how to use the rented equipment and the best way to pack belongings into the watertight compartments was all that was needed. With our hulls tightly stocked and minds in gear, we slid our kayaks into the water and made our way up the Loch – the adventure begins.

Depending on the capability of the group, the progress of the first day is generally kept slower than the others to ensure that everyone is comfortable. Being somewhat over enthusiastic, our team insisted on powering ahead, enjoying the easy ride when our crafts were momentarily propelled forward by the shallow waves on the Loch. At the end of the first day, we moored up at an idyllic camping spot on Loch Oich, sheltered in a cove looking out to the end of the Loch. Here we were provided with a hearty meal of rice and vegetables around a fire as the sun dipped below the surrounding hills. Perfect.

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Waking early on the second day to the glassy Loch and our longest day of the three, we knew the real challenge was still ahead. The physical challenge was at least entertained by spectacular scenery and a Canadian-scale wilderness through rural Scotland. The rhythm of our paddles took us through the reed-filled waters of Loch Oich and onto Urquhart Bay, passing under the ruins of Urquhart Castle at the end of the day. We needed to apply ourselves to some portage between Loch Oich and Loch Ness via the canals and Fort Augustus Locks, deciding to unpack the kayaks before carrying them.

The third day started in Urquhart Bay from where we headed into the final leg of the trip. As the end of Loch Ness approached, the waters narrowed into a busy canal that gradually directed us toward our destination at the mouth of the Dochgarroch locks. Our aching limbs and grumbling stomachs were greeted by a pleasant café providing a much needed roll and cup of tea. From the finish a short bus ride took us into Inverness and the major transport connections away from the town.

My favourite memories of the trip are held in the mist that rose off the water of Loch Ness early on the morning of our final approach; the mystery and magic that cloaks the infamous expanse at night clears and reveals the truly majestic waters that glide gently through Scotland’s heart.

Equipment hire and transportation £350. Contact Mountain and Sea Guides, Applecross for the full setup.