Loch Laidon, A Paddle in the Heart of Rannoch Moor

It has been two very quick years since last seeing a friend, Chris, and all of a sudden we managed to come up with a trip plan within the space of a week. We both had an interest in paddling on the Lochs of Rannoch Moor which was our starting point and we just had to work out the detail around that. In fact, I’ve had one shot at paddling in the area already with an hour spent on Lochan na h-Achlaise.

Prevailing winds and gravity make it most sensible to travel from west to east, launching on to Loch Ba by the A82 and continuing via the Abhain Ba in to Loch Laidon which leads on to Rannoch Station and beyond. However, logistics chose for us this time and despite a forecast headwind for our first day, we opted to start and finish at Rannoch Station and limit our paddling to just Loch Laidon. A walk up the Abhain Ba to Loch Ba would allow us to get an idea of what is involved in a descent of this river for a later trip we hope to do.

Saturday

Arriving at Rannoch Station we were encouraged by the lack of winds which had been forecast at F3 gusting F5 and would be against us for our journey in, possibly limiting where we would get to. However, flat water and little in the way of breeze are what we had as we loaded the boats on to our trolleys and filled them up with all our gear.

First part of our journey would be just over a kilometer of rough track which we wheeled the boats on from the settlement down to a slip way on Loch Laidon. This looked much more effort on the map than it actually turned out to be, though it was definitely easier on the way in with fresh arms.

Arriving at the put-in on Loch Laidon's eastern end

Arriving at the put-in on Loch Laidon’s eastern end

Another positive in the weather was the lack of rain, just a bit grey but pleasant enough and we could see up the loch to the summits beyond, some clear, others partly hidden by cloud.

Within a few minutes of paddling, the wind picked up to a slight breeze and we stopped at one of the many beaches to allow Chris to set up his sailing rig to see if he could get something out of the wind.

Chris sets up his sail on one of the Loch's many beaches

Chris sets up his sail on one of the Loch’s many beaches

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Wind power takes over

Wind power takes over

Setting off again, we were now moving separately with the occassional meeting at the points where my relatively straight path coincided with Chris’ zigzags as he beat his way upwind. I was impressed with the sailing Chris was managing in to the wind and I may be sold on the idea, certainly various muscles I’ve not used in the past couple of months are.

View north east from part way down Loch Laidon

View north east from part way down Loch Laidon

Our progress up Loch Laidon, was about the same for a while with my shorter, direct path matching Chris’ longer but seemingly (from my point of view) effortless path. At this time paddling for me was hard but enjoyable with the views of the surroundings and a fascination with what Chris was doing proving to be good distractions. After a while though the wind began to increase and despite crossing to the more sheltered side of the loch, progress really slowed down for me and I struggled to keep up. Chris thankfully suggested a breather at a nearby beach.

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I’m guessing by now the winds were F4 based on effort and the white horses being generated and after this quick break and some tea, we were off again. Chris’ sail was made smaller to cope with the gusts and my paddling pace was down to a minimum. Handy tree covered islands we were using to measure progress were taking an age to grow in size but eventually we made it to them and with that some shelter … ironically timed with a drop in the wind.

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Turning right (NW approx) in to a side arm of Loch Laidon, we were now looking for potential spots to camp. A gorgeous but gloomy view of Glen Coe lay ahead in the distance and with less wind now, still a head wind though having changed direction, we paddled closer together and chatted.

A view down towards Glen Coe

A view down towards Glen Coe

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This area of the loch proved to be one of the highlights of the paddling and the narrows part way along almost had a river like quality as we meandered our way from one section of the loch to the other, losing sight of both in the middle.

Daylight was now showing signs of lessening, partly a result of the grey skies, and we didn’t waste time returning to an idyllic spot we had spied on the way in. Amazing to see well drained, flat areas of ground within such a huge area of saturated bog and it is no surprise then that our site showed signs of having previously been popular with the resident deer.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

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Tents up and tarp up. What a saviour the latter proved to be and so simple too. Chris had brought this along and based on its performance, I now have one ordered and in the post. A deterioration in weather soon followed and after changing in to warm, dry gear we assembled the kitchen, living room and fireplace under this simple shelter.

Hours of chat by a warm fire filled our evening and when the rain did eventually stop, it was not long before the stars came out as forecast.

Toasty, toasty

Toasty, toasty

Sunday

Waking the following day, it was obvious judging by the light showing through the tent that we had probably had a bit of a lie-in. I got up and out to find lovely views, hidden to us the previous day, now on display. Summits clear in all directions with just wisps of mist about them.

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View over to the hills of Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a’ Chreachain

Buachaille Etive Mor

Buachaille Etive Mor

After a leisurely start, we were soon packed up and off again, covering the remaining water of Loch Laidon and landing at the mouth of the Abhain Ba where we commenced our walk. What on the water had been drizzle was now getting heavier but we continued on keen to get what view of Loch Ba we could and also get an impression of the river for a future trip we hope to undertake.

Rafted up and sailing back

Rafted up and sailing back

Leaving the river behind, our entire route ahead was visible and our destination depressingly far away. However, the wind which had plagued us on the way in was now on our side. We rafted up the boats and latched them together to form a single craft with Chris’ sail adding to the effort of our paddling. Never have I been so happy with a cold breeze on the back of the neck, which signaled an imminent increase in our speed. Great fun! Soon though the wind reduced and it became obvious that separating could lead to faster progress so it was back to paddling for the remainder of the journey out.

Finish in sight, the lights of Rannoch Station

Finish in sight, the lights of Rannoch Station

We arrived back at the slip just as light was getting minimal and walked out in the dark, our arms growing achy with each step and finishing off a really enjoyable weekend in a stunning spot we are both keen to return to.

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