Sunday, February 19, 2017

Where the river ends and plunges to the sea.

 It is difficult to say where Loch Shiel ends and the River Shiel begins but...

by the time you arrive at the triple arches of Shiel Bridge (1935) the current leaves you in now doubt that this is now the river.

Slightly downstream is the older single arch bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1804. In higher flows a little rapid forms just out of sight and downstream of the bridge. On opur last visit we could hear it roaring.

On this occasion it was like the proverbial millpond.

The Shiel is an important salmon river and the season runs from early May to end September. As we were here in Mid October we had the river to ourselves.

Unlike the majority of Scottish rivers there is no weir or dam to control water levels. On our last visit the river level was as high asa the fishing platform hand rails.

The river winds through some magnificent countryside. Gentle riffles signify the presence of...

...shallow shingle raspids.

The autumn colours were stunning.

As we were due to arrive at low tide  there would be about a 3m drop over the final rapid to the sea so we decided to portage...

...through the lovely deciduous trees that line the river.

Ian's orange deck was particularly harmonious with the fallen autumn leaves.

The rapid was not nearly so fearsome as on our last visit, however a nasty eddy can catch the unwary here and with loaded sea kayaks we were happy to leave this section un-run.

After a diversion to see the Falls of Shiel, it was but a short stroll till we caught sight of the sea in the sheltered waters of Loch Moidart,

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A pier with the site of a Viking slaying at one end and a pie shop at the other.

Leaving St. Finan's Isle we entered the outer, lowland section of Loch Shiel.

At  Dalelia we spotted a tall stone cross, almost hidden by the trees. It is a war memorial erected by Dalelia's then owner, Lord Howard of Glossop, to his son. Lt. Philip Howard. Philip was only 23 years old when he died in action in France in 1918, near the end of WW1. His family's wealth could not protect him from the ultimate sacrifice and waste of war.

 At first the loch was still narrow and we paddled close to shore but...

...then the loch opened out again as we left the mountains behind.

 A brisk tailwind meant we made excellent progress...

 ...and the combination of sun and a following wind...

 ...brought great smiles to our faces.

Ahead we saw the pier at Acharacle. It was time for a stop. Acharacle is a corruption of Àth Tharracail which is Gaelic for "Torquil's ford". At the end of the Viking occupation of Scotland Torquil was the leader of a band of Vikings who fled here pursued by Somerled the Lord of the Isles. Unfortunately the water was too deep to cross and they made a final stand but all were slain.

 We pulled the boats up onto the grass beside the slipway and left them in the shade of a...

 ...magnificent rowan tree. Then we proceeded...

...along the pier to...

 ...the pie shop where we enjoyed hot soup and pies before...

...slowly returning to the loch side where boats were nodding gently at their moorings, where once a Viking band was slain..

Friday, February 17, 2017

For whom the bell tolls on `St Finan's Isle.

We arose well before dawn. It was cold in the still morning air by the shore of Loch Shiel. That cold of course is what kept the midges away. A few months earlier and a windless morning like this would have been Shiel hell with midges.

We left the tents up till they were nearly dry and...

 ...loaded the boats all before...

 ...the rising sun's rays hit the beach.

Soon we were back on the loch and as we approached a...

 ...wooded narrowing, we turned a slight bend and  there before us lay...

 ...St Finan's Isle which almost blocks  the loch. It is a moraine island which formed as the glacier which cut Loch Shiel melted depositing its rubble. At one time it probably dammed back the waters of the loch raising the shoreline.

 We landed at the old stone jetty where generations of locals have brought the remains of their dead... be buried within its relatively soft soil.

 Stones of various ages crowd the summit of the isle around the...

 ...ancient walls of St Finan's chapel. It was built in about 1500 by the chief of the Clanranald to  replace an earlier wooden structure. It was abandoned in the late 1600's so was already a ruin by the time Bonnie Prince Charlie came this way in 1745, on his way to Glenfinnan at the head of the loch. Almost certainly the Prince would have stopped here and made his way up to the chapel. St Finan (the leper) was born in Ireland and is thought to have lived between about 520 and 600. Several places in Scotland and Ireland are named after him. He is not to be confused with the later St Finan (of Lindisfarne) who died in 661 after becoming Bishop of Lindisfarne.

At the east end of the chapel lies the altar backed by a recess, which contains a stone cross. On the altar is a remarkable object. It is a Celtic seamless cast bronze bell. Amazingly it has been here for over a thousand years. Nowadays it is chained up but it is amazing that it has survived the millennia without being plundered. Of course there is a dreadful curse attached to the bell and any one who stole it would regret doing so for every second of their few remaining days... During an internment, the bell is taken down to the jetty and rung at the head of the cortège as they slowly make their way up to the waiting grave.

The bell has a remarkably pure tone and it is always a pleasure to ring it. How many objects round us today will still be in full working order in 1,000 years time?

The chapel offered a clear view down the lowland outer loch which contrasted... 
...with the mountains that crowded the long inner loch.

All too soon it was time for us to leave the peaceful isle. We could just have paddled past but why race through life? It's those that rush, for whom the bell tolls...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stags on the high tops joined us in roars of approval.

Just as we arrived at Glenaladale, the estate boat Fionn Aladail (Fair Aladale) left the rickety wooden jetty with a shooting party aboard. Her helmsman courteously kept the engine revs down until they were well past us. We were right in the middle of the Glenaladale red deer stag shooting season.

As we paddled past the delta of the Aladale river the glen stretched away into the distance then above...

...the steep slopes of Croit Bheinn 661m (the hunchbacked hill), we caught sight of a magnificent golden eagle soaring in the updraft above the mountain side.

South of Glenaladale the woodland became even denser with trees clinging to the steep slopes from shore level up to the crags high above us.

As we neared Gaskan we came across a delightful...

...wooded isle called Eileen Comhlach.

Its name could be isle of the meeting place, fellow warrior or suckling pig.  Several lochs have islands where warring chieftans met without fear of being ambushed by each other's men.

We drifted for some time in the lee of the little isle hoping that it would be highlighted against the dark hills behind by a blink of low sunshine.

Our patience was rewarded.

This little tree will need to have much patience to grow tall as its roots clutch only bare rock on the loch shore.

By now the sun was sinking fast and the shadows were lengthening. We had an idea of where to camp based on a previous trip but we had met a couple of open canoeists who had camped there the previous evening and found their night disturbed by a herd of cattle.

I had in mind an alternative but had never landed there. We decided to detour to my back-up but knew that if it was not suitable we would be setting up tents in the dark at our original destination.

As the sun sank below the clouds we were bathed in a beautiful light.

Although we had a fair way to go...

...we could not help but stop and savour the beauty of Loch Shiel at Sunset.

The low sun really turned up the vibrance of the autumn colours.

But we needed to press on, light was fading fast we were now committed to camp "B". By now the landscape ahead was of low gently rolling hills and...

...we soon left the high mountains... our wakes.

We arrived at our destination, camp "B", at sunset. After a quick check we decided it would be ideal. I went for a quick swim to freshen up before the warming rays sank below the horizon.  

After getting the tents up we quickly gathered some firewood before darkness fell.

We cooked our meal by our fire's flickering flames then afterwards baked potatoes for afters which we enjoyed with butter and salt.

Then Ian surprised us with poached pears in brandy for second afters. It seemed that the stags on the high tops joined us in roars of approval.