Kayaking the Great Glen Fault
Charlie Stainforth, September 6, 2014
Two summers ago I headed to Scotland with a group of friends to kayak the Great Glen Fault. After some technical and physical 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 3 days, until we reached 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 as judged by the Applecross guide, 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 ease ride when our crafts were momentarily propelled forward by the shallow waves on the Loch. At the end of Day 1 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.
Waking early on Day 2 to the glassy Loch and to 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 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.
Day 3 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.
Pack lightly and take the train to Fort William and away from Inverness. For the cheapest tickets check thetrainline.com. Equipment hire and transportation £350. Contact Applecross Peninsula for equipment hire.