A Scottish wilderness canoe adventure, Loch Awe 2019
At the end of September, we took our first group on The Whisky Explorer trip to Oban for a four-day Scottish wilderness canoe adventure exploring the beautiful shores of Loch Awe. Altogether there were 4 clients, 1 photographer and 2 fuzzy faced canoe guides leading the way. Here is the story of how it all went.
Glasgow to Oban
We started the trip in Glasgow picking the lads up at their accommodation in the city centre. They had all travelled up the day before and stayed overnight ready for an early pickup. Once picked up we head out of the city north-west towards the coastal town of Oban. This took us about 2 hours driving through the scenic highlands giving us a taste of the adventure to come.
We arrived at the busy coastal town of Oban at 11 am and picked up some lunch before going to the Oban distillery ready for our tour at 12pm. The tour was expertly lead by our guide, who educated us on all aspects of making their famous whiskey. It really was an interesting tour, ending in the tasting room. Here we sampled three different bottles, with the Oban 14-year-old being my favourite. They even gave the drivers a tasting travel drams for later in the evening. After the tour, we passed through the shop buying a couple of bottles for the trip. It was then time to get back on the road. Our Scottish wilderness, canoe adventure was about to begin.
Starting our Scottish wilderness canoe adventure
We start at the north-west corner of Loch Awe and park at a road lay-by. Here we make our final preparations before loading and launching the canoes to start our expedition. To start with we go over canoe tandem essentials to get everyone paddling in the same direction. Then with the light winds blowing in the direction of our journey, we paddle off into the expansive waters of Loch Awe. It is only a short paddle to our first nights’ wild camp on one of the beautiful black Island’s in the middle of the loch.
We circle to look for the best camp spot. Once happy we land the canoes and start the evening routine of setting up camp. There are a few things to do before everyone can settle around the fire. The camp set-up involves: collecting wood; setting up your bivy; identifying a toilet location; starting a fire and setting up the group shelter.
These are all simple tasks once you know what to do, which we guide guests through every step of the way. Once camp is set up we got stuck into making dinner, on this trip it was chicken & sweet potato curry.
It’s always a nice group activity to help relax around the fire. Once dinner is cooking, we have some time to explore the small island and have a play in the canoes. The rest of the evening is spent around the fire getting to know each other and discussing tomorrows route, whilst enjoying the stars on a wonderfully clear night.
Morning routine on the Loch
We wake to birds singing and a crisp still lake.
I always start my day with a little walk to wake up before uncovering the embers from the night before to get the fire going again. Food and drink are such an important aspect to any expedition, breakfast being the most important meal of the day! I get the water boiling and find my wooden spoon to get stirring the porridge. Soon everyone is up filling their cup and tucking into the delicious banana and honey porridge.
We then go about packing up camp which involves; packing up our bivvy; cleaning and packing the food equipment away; loading the canoes; doing a litter sweep; and finally making sure the fire is properly put out.
It was time then to launch the boats for our first full day on the water.
A Long days paddle on Loch Awe
It was a still day again with light winds which makes for a very glassy lake. The weather always the aspect that dictates how the day’s paddle will go.
This day was very much about perfecting our tandem forward paddle technique and our J- stroke. We spent the day exploring the lakes and bays of Loch awe.
It was a peaceful day chatting away to our canoe partner, spotting interesting things on the horizon; washing our socks and underwear and generally taking in this spectacular environment. Every now and then stopping to explore or having some lunch.
Just after lunch we felt a breeze and thought we would give sailing a go. Unfortunately, once we had put up the sail it wasn’t to be, the wind had completely dropped. So we derigged and carried on paddling south towards our second nights camp.
We arrived late afternoon at our second nights camp, on the west shore close to the little island of Innis Errich, we found an absolute beauty.
Everyone got straight into the launching routine, and soon enough camp was set up. Whilst looking for a suitable bivvy camp, we came across an impressively big ant colony. With further inspection, we discovered interconnecting ant tracks throughout the forest.
As it was such a long day paddling, some of the group wanted a wash so went for a quick swim, followed by drying off by the fire.
Dinner time soon arrived and as normal, the group got stuck in to helping out, soon enough we had the beef stew bubbling away over the fire.
Whilst we waited for the stew to thicken it was time for the famous Mike Robbinson whiskey tasting quiz. This involved us getting into pairs, we had a selection of 5 different whiskeys to sample.
Mike would read a tasting description note and we would have to match our whiskey too. It went down a storm with lots of wrong answers but plenty of laughs. Soon enough the Stew was ready to chow down on and we continued sipping whiskey into the night.
It was a still and cloudy start to the day with a light breeze. I always love waking up in my hammock and peaking out to predict what the day will hold. On this morning I sensed a bit of wind in the air, which always gets me looking forward to the day.
This camp spot felt nice and wild, no noise pollution just the sounds of the forest and birds singing with the trees swaying in the wind, definately worth the journey.
It was a slow morning as we didn’t have a huge distance to paddle. Along with the possibility of some wind, we decided to have a relaxed morning. So after breakfast, we spent a couple of hours coaching the group on their canoe paddle skills which went down a treat.
Let’s go sailing
The wind picked up and we got on our way heading south again to our final camp. It was nice few hours spent paddling, sailing, navigating and exploring a few more tiny islands before arriving at the final camp. Once we launch the group jumped right to the normal routine to get the group camp ready for the evening. It is great to become part of a team whilst out on an expedition. It happens so naturally everybody getting stuck into the various task with smiles and a look of content.
The final evening was spent eating sausages, sipping whiskey and laughing into the night. We reminisced on the past few days, a great end to another wonderful Scottish canoe trip.
The final day of this Scottish wilderness canoe adventure is always a bittersweet affair, but there is always another trip on the horizon to look forward too.
On the last day, we start early to have time for breakfast, break camp and get the vehicles packed ready to depart for Glasgow. This leaves time to get everyone back to Glasgow for 1 pm, so they can carry on with the journeys. We say our goodbyes leaving with great memories.
Another great trip with a really top bunch of lads. It was a pleasure spending 4 days in the highlands. The weather was very calm for us which made for a relaxed and comfortable trip, with my personal highlights being;
- The discovery of a new wild camp on the second night, and exploring the ant Colony – definitely a first.
- The amazing whiskey tasting quiz that Mike put together for us and the many laughs we had.
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Finally here’s a short video of from the trip The Whiskey Explorer video