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By Erik Rasmussen

Kilchoan 2015: Planes, trains and automobiles. And a Frenchman in a van.

30 May – 6 June 2015: Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan

Not the title of a crappy sequel to the classic John Candy movie, but how a dozen CKC members got to this remote part of Scotland.

SATURDAY, 30 MAY 2015

Kilchoan is the most westerly village on the British mainland. It is so remote that you have to travel 26 miles down a single track road to get there. England is at least 5 hours away by car. A few of us (Dan, Kenneth and me) got the train to Edinburgh and were then lucky enough to get a lift in Alex’s car the rest of the way. Dave flew to Glasgow and got a lift from there. Others drove from various parts of the UK. And Philippe came in his van.

Lorna (coming from the Norn Iron branch of CKC), Geors, Richard, Phil & Jacqui (and 6 month old Ollie) and Sue completed the group. Geoff and Alex were the official leaders on the water.

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Geoff was the driving force behind the trip and with his wife Sandra gave all of the CKC group tremendous hospitality on arrival. A dozen people turning up at odd times through the afternoon and evening, but all got a good feed and a glass or three of wine at their house in Kilchoan. Sandra’s pavlova was the subject of much comment, most of it suitable for mixed company.

At the last minute, Alex took the executive decision to rent a third holiday cottage to add to the other two. This had the benefit of less people having to share rooms. With a week long trip, this was well worth doing.

SUNDAY, 31 MAY 2015

Windy, from the west. F6 out in the main channel between Kilchoan and the Isle of Mull. However, we were keen to at least wet the kayaks, and so we hugged the coast just for a mile or so west of Kilchoan. Even well inshore, progress against the wind was hard work.

Eventually we reached a small bay in the lee of a headland and had a rest. Geoff gave us the option of heading out into the channel for some surfing. Three of us declined this “opportunity” but most of the group ventured out. Even the more experienced paddlers said that turning in the wind made the boat feel a bit “wobbly” but no-one capsized. Until …

What do a dancer called Kenneth and a Frenchman called Philippe have in common? They both re-defined “rock-hopping”. Both of them had finished out in the big stuff and were coming into the little bay side by side.

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My recollection is that they were alongside each other parallel to the rocks when a wave caused Kenneth’s boat to hit Philippe’s causing him to capsize. Philippe got out of the sea and onto the rocks but in the confusion a wave then took Kenneth’s boat onto the rocks. More wave action ensued until for a split second Kenneth was sitting in his boat perched on a rock completely proud of the water. Anyway, the waves kept on coming, Kenneth managed to stay upright, and eventually he was back on the water.

MONDAY, 1 JUNE 2015

Very very very windy. No kayaking. Not even Katie and Lee (see Katie-and-Lee-at-sea on Facebook) who were circumnavigating Britain went out in it today.

So we had a 6 mile walk to Ardnamurchan lighthouse for a brew and a piece of cake.

In the evening, we all repaired to the local pub for a few drinks at the Kilchoan Hotel. This was a pattern to be repeated throughout the week.

TUESDAY to THURSDAY, 2-4 JUNE 2015

A weather window appeared for a few days, so the decision was taken to do a 3 day/2 night wild camping trip to Loch Sunart, a sea loch.

On Tuesday, the wind still had a bit of bite in it, so the first 2 mile crossing from headland to headland as we headed east in a following sea was testing for some of us. But no capsizes!

My experience is that each time I go out in conditions that test me, I get just a little bit better at dealing with them. Some titbit of advice on a course from way back or from a more knowledgeable paddler pops into my head and I try to apply it.

The sea conditions are unpredictable even as you get further up the sea lochs. In the space of 10 minutes or so the sea can go from benign to very choppy. Waves close together and a bit confused, rather than long regular swells, seemed to be the norm.

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Tuesday evening we arrived at the spot Geoff had earmarked as our campsite for the night. Problem: it was boggy after so much rain and the spring tide meant that we had to be a good distance above the high water mark. Strike one. Dave then paddled off to scout around the corner but that location was too boggy also. Strike two. Then we got lucky and found a bit of level dry ground just across from the SE corner of Oronsay.

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The feeling of remoteness, wild scenery and yet being with a lot of good company was priceless.

Throughout the week, there were so little signs of human activity. We may have seen just one sailing craft each day. The coastline was usually devoid of people.

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After a night’s camping we left our gear there and headed further east up Loch Sunart, reaching Salen.

After a second night’s camping, we struck camp and headed west. We had to be on the water by 9.30am to catch the high tide in the creek so we could go directly west. Any delay and we would have had to go the long way around Oronsay. We made it.

We eventually headed around the point opposite Tobermory. We edged up the coast and then made the crossing to the south of the small island just south of Tobermory harbour. Just outside the harbour there was a waterfall which some more hardy paddlers went through. The reward for our efforts over the last few days was fish and chips in Tobermory.

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After lunch there was a choice of an open crossing to Kilchoan or getting the ferry. A few of us opted out of the crossing as the inshore forecast was eventually for F5 to arrive. As it turned out, most of the crossing was in benign conditions with just a bit of lumpiness at the end. Oh well, there’s always next time.

FRIDAY, 5 JUNE 2015

The group split between those opting for a short paddle on the north side of Ardnamurchan, or a walk tracking the kayakers route. We all met up at Sanna beach where Kenneth led an impromptu dance class. Yes, really!

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In the evening it was a farewell dinner at the local pub. The manager arranged what was in effect a private dining room for all of us, but at budget prices.

SATURDAY, 6 JUNE 2015

A long slog back to London for many of us. Some took the opportunity to see more of Scotland.

The Thames just doesn’t seem as awesome after experiencing Kilchoan. Ah well, next year!

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Tudor Grashoff, June 2015

(Photo Credits: Richard Gooderick and Alex Hester)

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