The passage of Ardnamurchan Head

On the first bank holiday weekend of May, eleven SOC (Pete, Wendy, Ellie, John, Nick, Kath, Clive, Anna, Dwayne, Ann and myself), met up in a campsite at Resipole, on the north shore of Loch Sunart. It was a very cold night camping, but the clear skies presaged a glorious day on the water.

We faffed a fair bit at the put-in, as this was a first time multiday paddling for several of the group. Having a nice shingle beach right next to the campsite did help. We made good progress down the loch, stopping for “second breakfast” by an old barge, sunk on a beach and filled with rocks to be used as a jetty. At the island of Carna, we paddled into the easternmost channel, towards Loch Teacuis, then back the other side where we found clear, flat water, and small rocky islands. One of these islands had a very laid-back group of seals basking in the sun – we got remarkably close before the majority slinked off into the water leaving one younger one on the rocky island as we passed. Those in the water kept popping up around our boats. There’s a channel at high water to go a shorter way south of Oronsay, but this wasn’t open as we headed back out into Loch Sunart and turned left.

Along the north shore of Oronsay, the loch widened, and we needed to be on the other side. The weather had gone downhill a bit and provided us with a headwind as we made the crossing. As we were now also open to waves coming in between Mull and Ardnamurchan head, this was causing the boats to crest each wave and slap down, making spray which was immediately blown into our faces. As various members of the large group coped varying well with this, we split into two or three subgroups, each making its way across at a speed they were happy with. None of this stopped us from making a hefty 17 miles for the day before finding a beach, to camp near Kilchoan. A south-facing beach near open water, like most storm beaches at the end of winter, this had an ample supply of firewood, so we had a decent-sized fire and a long sociable evening spent round it.

Cheery campfire on the shingle beach east of Kilchoan

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Only a short distance west in the morning, we popped into Kilchoan harbour, as some folk did not have enough fresh water for the second night. It’s useful to note that not only did the harbour have water taps, but also a small building with showers and toilets which could be a useful place to know about on a longer trip.

Pausing to get water at Kilchoan

The weather was bright again, but as we headed out along the south side of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, we got into increasingly exposed waters and were soon paddling through a swell. This was easy enough for those who stayed a good distace off the cliffs, whilst those who wanted to play paddled closer to the rocks, dodging the clapotis, or powering through small surf breaks around rocks just off the cliffs.

Approaching the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan Head

Ardnamurchan Head is one of those iconic headlands which is a bit of a rite of passage for yachts, but as we had it, with a moderate swell and bright sunshine, nothing really slowed us down, and rounding the point revealed fantastic views of the Small Isles (Eigg, Rhum, Muck and Canna) with the Skye Cuillin in the distance. We were again surrounded by seals as we skirted round rocky islets looking for somewhere to land for lunch. Just north of the headland, we found a beautiful golden beach to have our food on and spent quite a while here watching seals watching us from the sea.

Sunshine, seals, sand and incredibly clear water – what else could you need ? Oh, yes, lunch

Beyond the point, now on north-facing coast, the views to our left were really clear and kept changing quite quickly, indicating our rate of progress. We soon encountered a sea cave that was really noisy when the swell hit the back wall. Ellie was quite reluctant to go in, but since Pete had control of the double, didn’t have a lot of choice. The swell, which seemed quite benign paddling along offshore looked a lot bigger from in the cave looking out to everyone else.

Round another small promontory, we found a small island with a little gut between it and the main cliff. I think Clive went through this first, and it looked fun, so Ann, then myself followed. The swell coming in behind us was concentrated in the gut, and I soon found myself being picked up and surfed forward at some speed. This would have been great, except that right in front was Ann, who had not yet caught the wave, so I had to stern rudder a bit frantically as I shot past her. We found a spot for lunch, and some of us practiced turning round in tight spaces when we couldn’t quite get through a gap from an enclosed little lagoon.

We’d thought about camping here, as there didn’t seem to be many good spots, but decided we really ought to get a bit nearer the end first, so carried on. What looked like an excellent campsite soon appeared, but was guarded by shallow water and seaweed-covered rocks, which, as the tide was falling, were getting bigger and slightly more difficult to get through. A short walk (OK, stagger and stumble) got us onto a white shell beach with some very flat grass behind it, all on the same shelly sand, which made putting in tent pegs blissfully easy. Lugging the boats high enough above the water was a bit of a chore, but Ann reckoned it would be high tide in the morning and would be easier getting back. Being less of a storm beach, firewood was in short supply, but Richard disappeared off and came back with what looked like a whole tree from some distance along the shore.

We didn’t have the biggest of fires, but it was enough for all of us to cluster round, enjoying a very clear night with lots of stars – but inevitably rather cold. We’d had another 17 mile day, so most were quite tired, and numbers gradually declined as the evening saw people sneaking off to their pits.

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Delightful campsite with views to the Small Isles and Skye

Contrary to previous assurances, the tide was a long way out in the morning, so we waited a while, until it became obvious that we would have to carry the heavy boats (especially the double, which took eight of us to shift) for 200m over boulders and rocks covered in seaweed. Ellie decided to paddle Mum’s single kayak, leaving Pete and Wendy to paddle the double (often dubbed “a divorce boat”) together. The swell was biggish at times, but was coming in well-defined sets, so those who preferred not to blast through a wall of surf could time it carefully, as many did. Those more confident who didn’t mind a faceful of water early in the day picked a different moment. We’d chosen our camping spots to give a shorter last day and were soon crossing open water to where we’d shuttled a car, at Ardtoe. As we were getting into more sheltered water again, and the sun continued to beat down on us, bare arms and faces were starting to get a little sunburnt as we threaded our way through small islands to the shallow sandy beach.

The final landing at Ardtoe, looking back over our last crossing

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