Sea kayaking around Ardnamurchan

I met Martin in Sedbergh where Jane and I had just spent the weekend. Jane did a night swim on Windemere on Friday and on Saturday we walked in the Howgills, a gentle set of quiet hills in stark contrast to the Lakeland fells across the other side of the M6. While Jane drove south back home, Martin and I headed north through Fort William to the Ardnamurchan peninsular for a sea kayaking adventure.

It was 6:00pm by the time we arrived at Ardtoe, but we made the quick decision to pack the kayaks, get going, and find somewhere to camp on the far side of the bay before it got dark. We soon found a perfect sandy bay with a raised grassy terrace to camp on. The sunset and view towards the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rhum and beyond towards Skye was breath-taking. Wine accompanied the meal and whiskey helped us absorb the situation – no people, no traffic, no light pollution, and no mobile signal.

First camp with view towards Skye

Our plan was to kayak around the peninsular and finish just 8 miles south of where we had started. I would then run back and fetch the car. A favourable forecast a few days ago looked like this plan would work, but now a predicted change of wind direction and strength added some jeopardy to this ambition.

In the morning everything was relatively calm, and the tidal stream helped us make steady progress along the north shore heading west. In the following two hours we had the good fortune to get clear sightings of an otter, porpoise and sea eagle. The blurred telephoto image of the sea eagle was the best I could do from a kayak that was moving up and down in the swell.

Sea eagle perched on the rocks

Sanna Bay had originally been our target for the day but the distant lighthouse on Ardnamurchan Point beckoned us on. This is mainland Britain’s most westerly point and it certainly felt special paddling around this landmark in such good weather. Shortly afterwards we found a hidden entrance to a small sandy bay and yet another excellent place to camp. Here we picked up an internet signal and the forecast confirmed our fears. Our best option seemed to be making an early start the following morning to avoid strengthening winds expected in the afternoon.

Sea Kayaking around Ardnamurchan - Lighthouse from the sea
Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

But first we had the ritual of gathering wood and lighting a beach fire to enjoy while sampling the delights of Martin’s cooking and a few cans of beer. By now the stars were out in all their glory, but it was only on our way home did we hear that the Northern Lights were visible later that night. We slept through it of course in blissful ignorance.

Martin doesn’t really do early starts but coffee delivered to his tent at 6.00am eased the pain. We were packed and on the water an hour later. The wind was still moderate but paddling against it and the tidal stream made for hard work. An added challenge was that there was absolutely nowhere to land on this exposed section for the next 10km – a committing paddle in worsening conditions. By the time we got to Mingary Pier the wind had picked up and big waves made the final stretch an exciting ride.

map of route Sea Kayaking around Ardnamurchan
A map of our trip around Ardnamurchan

After landing we found a shelter by public toilets - a convenient place to get out of the rain and have a brew up. An updated forecast showed wind speeds of 48mph later in the afternoon with not much improvement the following day. Although we dithered it was really an easy decision to make - I needed to get the car which was about 30 miles away.

For the majority of the way I managed to hitch a lift with a kindly couple who wanted to know before I got in the car if I was a murderer?! I assured them I wasn’t today, and soon ascertained that like me they were originally from Essex. It is a tortuous windy, single tracked road along the south coast, but I only had a 4-mile run back to the car from where they dropped me off.

Martin and I eventually had a leisurely drive home with overnight stops in Glasgow and Kendal. This enabled an afternoon of culture in Carlisle where we visited the cathedral and an enormous second-hand book shop (where else would Outside’s Book Man go?).

On the face of it, it was a long way to travel for such a short sea kayaking journey but there were no regrets. A long day of unforgettable paddling sandwiched between two fantastic camp sites was well worth it.

Sea Kayaking around Ardnamurchan
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