Sunday, 7 October 2012
Exploring Loch nan Uamh
After a comfortable night I awoke to a fine morning. The early sun hadn't reached the beach where my boat was pulled up so it was a quick start to get onto the water and away. The temperature rose instantly as I paddled into the sunshine, much better!
I planned a paddle to the head of Loch nan Uamh (loch of the caves) visiting the Borrodale Islands en route. This loch has strong connections with the Jacobite uprising of 1745; there's a cave supposedly used by the Prince (one of many) and a cairn on the northern shore marks the spot where Charles Edward Stuart finally left Scotland on a French ship on 20 September 1746 after the failed enterprise. The Highlands he left behind would never be the same again.
On one of the Borrodale islands, a dead Rowan tree had been sculpted by the prevailing wind. Red deer regularly swim out to the islands to graze on the lush vegetation, on some of them this hampers regeneration of small trees. Later in the day I watched two hinds swim strongly across 500 metres of open water back to the mainland shore with no problem at all.
Along the northern shore of the loch there are some areas of contorted rock, the bedding planes twisted and fractured into swooping lines. This is a really pleasant stretch of sea loch shore with broadleaf woods down to the water, small bays and inlets together with small islands. A day could easily be spent here on a leisurely exploration, and as a bonus it gets sunshine for most of the day.
At the head of the loch the main A830 "Road to the Isles" and the West Highland railway line come together as they squeeze through the rocky terrain on their ways from Fort William to Mallaig, the road passing under the far end of this railway viaduct. The viaduct seems to appear and disappear into solid rock - the whole line is an amazing feat of engineering and sheer perseverance. It's thought that the solid section of the viaduct may have been built as a result of an arch collapsing during the building process. X-ray scans have shown the remains of a horse and cart which fell into the pier during construction.
I headed back down the loch along the steep southern shore, an altogether different place than the gentle northern side. Here the cliffs fall sheer into the water and there are few landing places for sea-kayakers. There are plenty for Sea Eagles though; this young bird was perched on an outcrop, and flew over me to land again a few yards behind. It's so good to see these great birds doing well again.
Near the mouth of the loch is an inlet called Port an t-Sluichd (port of the gut, or gullet). When Dave and I had passed a couple of weeks previously the swell prevented landing here but today was perfectly calm. In the small bay a low pier of stones had been made to land boats on.
Ruined buildings showed that once there was a community here. There are about eight sizeable buildings, similar in construction to the ones at nearby Peanmeanach in having rounded corners to the walls to better resist the wind. there would have been some rough grazing for a few cattle, there are some areas which may have been under cultivation, and probably some subsistence fishing. It's quite an isolated spot and life could never have been easy, but a community did live their lives here. In many ways, the end of the Jacobite rebellion signalled the beginning of the end for many of these communities.