Guided canoe expedition in Scotland, Inverpolly
Last autumn we launched our first guided canoe expedition through Inverpolly, Scotland. As with all our multi-day expeditions, the aim is to give clients an unforgettable experience and encourage them to fully immerse themselves in the adventure. We aim for you to reconnect with the wilderness and to explore these amazing environments. At the same time learning how to enjoy the simplicity of a journey through some breathtaking scenery.
Inverpolly Nature Reserve
Inverpolly nature reserve is located in far Northwest Scotland, just to the North of Ullapool. It is a spectacular location made up of striking mountains towering out of the landscape divided up by many Lochs and rivers. It is one of the wildest places we have been in the UK, with only a few settlements dotted around the outer edges of the reserve.
There are only a few tracks regularly walked, mainly for the pursuit of mountain climbing and bagging Munros. We think the best way to explore this unique landscape is to travel via the waterways. This trip provides good opportunities for catching the eye of some Golden Eagles, Ravens, Dippers, Red Deer, Stags, Otters and other wildlife native to the Highlands.
The journey ahead…
This was a four-day trip meeting the clients in Inverness before travelling to the incredible Inverpolly nature reserve. We spent four days Canoeing and mountain climbing, managing to bag the famous peak of Suilven. We spent all three nights wild camping under the Scottish stars with some incredible weather. It was a fantastic trip with an amazing group, here’s the story of how it went…
We started this expedition in Inverness and met up with our group for some breakfast and to discuss the coming trip. After breakfast, we spent some time collecting final supplies and packing all our equipment into dry bags and barrels. We then travelled North to Elphin, a small highland village 2 hours North West of Inverness. This is a spectacular journey through the Northern Highlands, passing through the beautiful town of Ullapool and past the famous Knockan Crag.
Once we arrived in Elphin we loaded up and transported the boats to the shores of Cam Loch, where our journey begins. It is only a short paddle to our first camp so after a short skills session, this gave the group a first chance to get the paddles wet and get used to the canoes.
After a short paddle, we arrive at our island camp, which has great mountain views, one of them being the summit of Suilven. On all our trips we aim to teach you the skills that allow you to feel comfortable in such a wild and isolated environment. After showing our group how to store the canoes, we had an explore of the island. We then taught the group how to set up camp using various wild camp setups such as bivis and hammocks.
First nights festivities
We then got stuck into preparing dinner with help from our friends at the Wild Bushcraft Company, Ed Hayhurst. One of there lead instructors came with us up to Inverpolly to be our bushcraft chef expert on the trip. Dinner for the first night was venison steaks burgers, so we showed the guys how to butcher a roe deer from skinning to cooking on our hot plate. Vegetarian options are also available.
Once the main part of the butchery session was finished we had time to go over some fundamental canoe strokes and techniques. The lake was perfectly calm allowing the group great conditions to practice manoeuvring the canoes. With two instructors on hand to offer expert guidance to really help hone in their skills. Soon the sun was setting, the red deer’s rutting calls could be heard on the horizon. It was time to get back around the fire to enjoy dinner and to have a great evening of getting to know one another.
It’s always nice to wake up on the first morning of any wild camp with the sun shining. Waking up in a sleeping bag really helps you settle into expedition life. It is a much slower way of life than normal, giving us time to slow down and enjoy all the little things in life, like a warm cup of coffee whilst looking out on the morning Loch.
The morning routine is a fairly relaxed couple of hours where we get the fire going from the night before, start cooking breakfast and get the water boiling. We then have time to break up camp and pack up kit; finally packing the canoes and making sure the camp is left as we found it. It is then time to get stuck into the day’s journey, we always start by talking through the daily plan.
The second day is a really exciting one of adventuring, it includes journeying from Cam Loch to Loch Veyatie. This involves portaging a 10-meter waterfall making sure we catch the last river eddie. The portage is only a small one but gives a great introduction on a few good techniques of how to carry equipment over this rough terrain. Even though portaging is one of the hardest parts of expeditions, it is also one of the things that makes it a great test and challenge. Before long after multiple trips back and forth, all our equipment is packed back into the canoes on the shores of Loch Veyatie.
We stop for a quick drink, snack and get the canoes ready for sailing. With a light easterly wind providing the goods we raft up the canoes, set up an improvised sail and sit back to sail the entirety of Loch Veyatie. Sailing is a great way to travel in canoes whilst conserving energy. We teach you how to raft the canoes, how to prepare the sail and also go over key elements to make it a successful journey. We end up sailing for just under two hours exploring the lake, enjoying the views and eating lunch. We soon get to our first stop, where we stretch our legs and climb a small hill to get a better look at the impressive surroundings of famous summits and lochs.
Off to second nights camp
It is then time to jump back in the canoes and head for our second nights camp. The next part of the journey gets interesting where Loch Veyatie narrows to form a shallow river. This can make things pretty exciting when the easterly winds make a big swell on the lake. Once we make it safely into the river things settle down and we break off into single canoes trying to find our way through the shallow waters. Soon it gets too shallow so we have to take the boats for a walk, also known as Lining. This is great technique which allows you to keep the weight in the canoe and navigate big or small rapids safely and quickly. The river soon flows into Loch FFion where we arrive at our second nights camp.
Once we arrived at camp we slip into the expedition routine of setting up camp, collecting firewood and getting the fire going. Before long we are preparing dinner whilst enjoying the views and good company around the fire. This camp consisted of tarping off of our canoes on rivers banks.
A windy and early start to the day, the group soon got up once the smell of fresh coffee was wafted around. We had a busy day ahead, the morning’s plan was to climb Suilven from camp. Then the afternoon we had a long but rewarding portage over to Loch Sionascaig where our third night camp spot awaited. After a quick breakfast, we set off up the impressive Suilven.
Suilven is a very striking mountain standing alone amongst a sea of lochs, there are only a handful of ways to hike to the top as it is incredibly steep all the way around. We head up the South facing slope, which starts picking out a track through the boggy heather. Soon leading to the steeper slopes where we made our way to the top of the ridge. Once on the ridge you then gain another spectacular view of this incredible landscape. We then make our way westwards along the ridge soon getting to the summit.
Once we enjoyed the views we made our way back down. It didn’t take long to make our way down the mountain and back to camp where Ed had prepared lunch for us. We spent an hour to enjoy lunch and have a little rest and finish packing the boats ready for the afternoon’s portage.
The afternoon’s portage was a long one, just over three-kilometres across very boggy and rough heather ground. The aim of portage is to choose the easiest route overland to connect the Lochs. This portage consists of two long walking sections broken up with two small Lochens to allow a bit of ease in the middle. To complete it we break it up into lots of legs, shuttling equipment back and forth in various loads, with tea breaks in between. Soon enough we set our sights on Loch Sionascaig, the end of the portage. Our group did an amazing job and we tackled the portage in an incredibly quick time of about 2 hours, where it normally takes 3 to 4 hours. A Lot of gym memberships on this trip.
Once we had a good rest and packed the canoes for the last time that day. We set off on the final leg aiming for our nights camp on the Eilean Mor, a beautiful island in the middle of the Loch.
This was our final night in the highlands and it turned into an absolute banger. The skies cleared and the winds dropped as we arrived on the island, giving us a stunning evening sun, along with a peaceful loch. This made it perfect for a quick swim to wash away the days’ efforts. The group arrived to a set up basecamp. Ed and Ant had raced ahead to get the camp ready so the group could enjoy their final evening. We ate a delicious venison stew using the offcuts from our first night, this ensured we used all of the meat of the sustainably hunted doe.
Post dinner, we climbed the small hill of the island to watch the sunset and await the coming star soaked sky. The evening was then spent reflecting on goals accomplished, individually and together.
The fourth day of the expedition was an early start, with a quick breakfast to allow us to pack and have the camp clear ready to leave by 8am. The final leg of the journey is normally a steady paddle to Boat Bay. This day was far from that, overnight the wind had picked up causing some very choppy conditions. This made the final leg of the trip very exciting! We rafted up the canoes, decided on a plan and went for it. With some strong consistent paddling, we soon made it to the shelter of Boat Bay, where we completed our final small portage. We arrived back at the vehicles and after some high fives and hugs our journey was at an end. We enjoyed a slap-up meal at a cosy pub in Inverness and back to the busy world. We would like to congratulate our clients on this trip for their true grit and positive attitudes from start to finish.
How to book your next adventure
We make our expeditions specific to every groups needs and expectations. Tailor building them so we can achieve goals set by the clients. You can book as a private group or look for trips already running and meet some new people along the way. These trips typically run in spring and autumn to avoid those pesky famous scottish midges.
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