Loch Shiel is a 28 kilometre long freshwater loch which meets the sea via the outflow of the River Shiel. The loch and its surrounding mountains are heavily glaciated, the water of the loch contained in a trench which reaches a depth of 128 metres before becoming shallow near the outflow - the classic glacial valley loch.
Due to the effects of isostatic rebound, this part of Scotland is continuing to rise following the release of the weight of glacial ice and the original sea level outflow of the loch is some 4.5 metres above current sea level. It takes only a short pause for thought to deduce that somewhere ahead that 4.5 metre difference was going to make itself very apparent! That however, lay well ahead of us.
We'd subconsciously moved into the very middle of the loch, aligning ourselves with the symmetry ahead. This was the first of some very unusual effects we experienced during the afternoon and following day. Realising that the greater interest lay as ever on the edge of the land, we moved close in to the west shore.
The reflection of the steep banks of the loch were incredibly clear on water undisturbed by the slightest breath of wind.
Symmetry and reflection were to be found everywhere one looked - we paddled on, each of us lost in our own thoughts and appreciation of these rare and very special conditions. For my part, I kept returning to thinking how incredibly fortunate we were in being able to experience this place at this time.
The overcast sky lent a stark quality to some of the trees lining the shore. The woodland here is in a semi-natural condition and due to difficulty of access has been relatively lightly grazed or cleared. On the eastern side of the loch there are some areas of dense forestry plantation but we paddled along past woods of birch, oak, rowan, holly and (as here) alder, that most water-loving of trees.
Later in the Spring these trees would be in the full glory of early leaf and the woods alive with birdsong. This early in the year the buds were yet to open, the shapes of the trees strong silhouettes and, very fittingly, the few birds singing could be heard individually and clearly across the still water.
In places we found that the reflections on the surface of the water had more clarity than the objects themselves; an alternative and inverted reality that confused the eye.
....and at times the coincidence of shape, colour and reflection was simply breathtaking. This snatched image with Mike framed by a halo of colour and shape looked like something from a child's kaleidoscope.......
.......it was definitely time to stop and put the reality of a small beach beneath our feet! It was now early evening and we assessed our progress to determine which of several potential campsites we could reach in good time to get set up during daylight. We don't push on unnecessarily, and besides - with all this scenery around us why rush? We felt that a small application of Golden Steadying Liquid would assist in the process and accordingly took a small dram of Linkwood (cask strength), watered to the correct specification using the rather abundant supply of crystal clear loch water.
About thirty minutes further paddling brought us to two potential campsites a couple of hundred metres apart. The first had better ground but the second was more sheltered. Almost as our keels touched the coarse sand of the beach a chilly "sundowner" breeze started up..... our decision was made.
It took no time at all for us to set up camp, change into "shoregoing" clothes and put our paddling kit out to air in the breeze. Stoves on, hot drinks and a hot meal were soon produced. This was the reality we'd been waiting for through a stormy winter; camping on a beach surrounded by wild mountains and entirely self-contained. We might be on fresh water, but this was most definitely sea kayaking reality!
Before it got dark we gathered driftwood piled up at the side of the shore by the recent stormy weather and made a fire in an area of sand behind the beach where it would cause no damage and we could erase all trace in the morning. Using a "Wilcox Ignition Aid" (TM) we soon had a good fire which provided hot embers to bake our potatoes, served with butter and salt and which by unanimous vote were declared the best yet.
We retired to our tents warm and very content. An owl called a few times and then there was complete silence. The wind had died and the absence of sound was palpable and very relaxing.