pack rafting loch lochy

I woke up early and I listened for the sound of tent fabric snapping about but could hear nothing. Clearly the winds from the previous evening had died down and after crawling out of my tent I could see that the loch almost glass calm. No sailing excitement today!

I scrabbled about in the entrance of my tent for my titanium pot and stove and once I had found all the requisite gear, I set about boiling water for a cup of instant coffee.

By the time the water was near boiling mark had emerged from his tent and proceeded to offer me single use brew in the packet fresh Columbian roast coffee packet, on the proviso that was get to share it. These packets allow you to have real coffee but without the hassle of carrying a cafetiere.

I jumped at the opportunity to have real coffee and ditched my instant crap back in my bag!

After a couple of cups of coffee and some ‘just add water’ Momo porridge, we began the slow task of breaking camp. 30 minutes later we had finished packing and were ready to depart for the day. We were eager to take advantage of the calm weather and knock of some miles off the journey.

The objective for the day was half way along Loch Oich, near Invergarry Castle. We paddled back out onto the water, the first of many strokes of the day pushing our boats on wards towards the centre of the loch.

The north shore was much steeper than the south shore, the tree covered hillside falling at an angle of about 45 degrees right down into the loch. We realised that we were right to have stopped where we did the previous night. I would be about 5 km before we were pass another suitable camping spot.

Paddling along by the north shore of Loch Lochy

We paddled on for half and hour and finally spotted some movement in the far distance. One of the canoe groups that had passed us the previous day we beginning to load their gear onto the boats, ready for the day ahead. We have lost them in the storm the previous afternoon and were glad to see that they were okay. The open top Canadian canoes the were using are far more stable than our pack-rafts, but they could still be swamped or capsized in the wrong conditions.

We chatted with them as we passed and they agreed that things were a bit hairy the day before. They too had questioned whether to go round the bay but had decided to follow our lead…

The majority of the rest of the morning was spent hugging the steep coastline of the loch, neither Mark nor I daring to venture out more than 10 metres or so from the shore. The far shore grew slowly up from the horizon and by lunchtime we were at the head of our first loch!

I arrived at a line of pontoons close to the mouth of the canal, heaved myself out of the boat and then began walking along towards the lock itself. Suddenly a man came running down the embankment towards the pontoon, hands waving frantically.

It turns out that I had got out in a private marina area and if I continued to walk the 20 meters through car-park and up the towpath then the world would end or I would be shot, I forget exactly which. I apologised profusely to wavy hand man, got back in my boat and relayed the information to Mark. Mark was less than impressed the situation and was willing to risk damnation, but I eventually convinced him to row the 100 yards round the marina to a little slipway to the left of the marina.

Mark informed me that there was a pub nearby and that we should stop for lunch. We walked up the slipway, determined to find the pub – our first on route. It turned out the pub was actually located on a boat moored at the top of the locks which separated Loch Lochy from the second section of canal that we were to paddle.

We cross over the cancel via the little footbridge that sat on top of the lock gate and dumped our boats on the grass by the side of canal, taking care to deflate them slightly now that they were sat in direct sunlight (otherwise they might over-inflate and pop!).

Out boats in the sun before we deflated them a bit. About to burst!

I headed over to the boat and followed the ‘entrance’ sign down into the bowels of the boat itself . After clambering down a small set of steep steps my eyes adjusted to the dim interior light I could see that I had been teleported into a small but fully functional bar. There was the bar itself, with pumps attached, some leather couches that looked like they would swallow you if you sat in them, and affixed to the far wall there was a widescreen TV beaming a game of football. A small child, clearly a victim of the leather sofa’s embrace, sat transfixed and silent watching the game.

The barman took my order and then I took the rare opportunity to go to the loo in an actual toilet – a real luxury! Going to the toilet in a wet-suit is problematic at the best of times, but here in Scotland any exposed flesh is immediately assaulted by hundreds of midges and I already had several irritating midge bites on my bottom!

Afterwards I returned outside and we sat scoffing our sandwiches and savoring our cold beers, happy to have a break from the rowing and loving the sunny weather. After a good half hour we looked at each other solemnly and reluctantly got up to go. 20 minutes we were back on the water, heading on a pleasant tree lined section of the canal, a mere 2 km from Loch Oich.

Heading along the second section of Caledonian Canal towards Loch Oich

Eventually we reached Loch Oich, a small, picturesque Loch, barely 300m wide. We paddled along the tranquil waters following the southern shoreline and eventually found a suitable camping spot in a flat wooded area that jutted out about 30 metres into the lake. We were fortunate that we got there early enough – 5 minutes late another group of canoeists came ashore and were visibly disappointed that we had got there first!

We pitched our tents and then set about the task of trying to replace the calories we has burnt through rowing. I scratted through the jumble of packets I had in my food bag and settled on an Aventure Food boil in the bag meal that was calling itself chicken curry.

Sadly, upon eating it I can say with full confidence that while it was pleasant enough to eat and replaced 600 lost calories it had never met chicken curry in it’s life! A bit of a shame, considering that some of their other meals, such as the Pasta Carbonara and Pasta ai-Funghi are great!

Adventure Food’s rather bland Chicken Curry – 2 out of 5

For dessert I knocked together apple pie and custard, using a couple of the mini apple pies I had in a packet, combined with some instant custard. I felt a bit like I was back at school in the canteen, but it was just what I needed – easy to make, tasty and packed full of calories.

After dinner we search around for some wood and made a small campfire in a fire circle that had been used by countless groups before us. I built a small heat reflector up behind it using sticks and then we sat watching fire TV for an our or so before retiring to our tents, exhausted.

Portage and Route information

Laggan Locks Portage

Make sure you go round the left of the marina, don’t try to get out near the canal, you will get told off!

Day 2 Route