Monday, 26 January 2015

In the bleak midwinter - a warm-up

After a very comfortable night in the Ballachulish Hotel we woke to a cold and frosty morning.  The routine for this and subsequent mornings was to be breakfast at 0730 and then get ready to be on the water around 0830.  At first light it was clear that the night had been cold, our boats and cars had a heavy covering of frost.

We unloaded the boats and packed ready for the day, a chilly job.  One of the advantages of staying at the Ballachulish Hotel is that we could launch almost straight from the front of the hotel on a slipway.  Despite the cold we occasionally stopped to look up..... the morning sun began to touch the hills of Ardgour across Loch Linnhe.

Prominent in the view is Garbh Bheinn (rough mountain), a really fine hill which gives superb hillwalking and climbing with soaring ridges, buttresses and gullies.  The "Great Ridge" and immediately right the "Great Gully" are the chief climbing features, both pioneered by W.H. (Bill) Murray.

As the sun crept a little higher the Ardgour skyline began to glow brilliantly.  At Ballachulish, screened from the rising sun by the the bulk of Beinn a'Bheithir (hill of the thunderbolt) we were in deep shade, but about to get a lot warmer.

Our launch point was the slipway formerly used by a ferry prior to construction of the Ballachulish Bridge in 1975.  Not the most elegant of bridges, it is however an important crossing point and greatly aided road communication when it replaced the ferry.  The ebb tide was pouring through the narrows under the bridge at over 5 knots (10 km/h) and we needed to get up past the narrows into the wider Loch Leven where the tidal stream is much less. 

My first attempt at ferry gliding across wasn't successful as I just couldn't make headway.  I returned to the slipway and used an eddy under the bridge support to gain some ground then made a ferry-glide across to the north side - a strenuous paddle first thing in the morning but at least we were now all warmed up!

Once we were clear of the narrows the tidal stream became almost unnoticeable and we could take time to look back to the bridge silhouetted against the backdrop of Garbh Bheinn.

Ahead, the sunlight streamed down lower Glencoe around the flank of Beinn a' Bheithir and we paddled on towards the warmth and light.


  1. Ian, the mountains look magnificent. What a beginning. Was the initial tidal stream increasing or decreasing? Might you have had to wait for slacker waters? Warm wishes. Duncan.

  2. Hi Duncan, the ebb was about half way through so the rate was in the fastest third of the tidal cycle, though there are some intereseting variations at this narrow entrance. We could have driven above the narrows to launch but we accepted a short period against the tidal stream at the bridge both launching and recovering, this also suited conditions higher up the loch. The effort also warmed us up! :o)

    Best wishes