We left Eilean Fhianain knowing that we would return one day; it's a special place. The lightest of breezes started up, the first all day so we hoisted sail to get whatever assistance it could offer.
......as curious locals lined the water's edge to watch us pass by
After less than ten minutes the breeze died and mirror-calm conditions were restored. The late morning spring sunshine was pleasantly warm, hot even, on our faces.
The lower part of Loch Shiel would originally have been beyond the snout of the glacier which formed the upper loch; Eilean Fhianan was formed as a terminal moraine. Imperceptibly the loch becomes more like a wide, shallow river and it's quite difficult to detect where Loch Shiel truly becomes River Shiel.
We were now paddling past houses on both banks and alongside a road, on which the traffic came as a bit of asurprise. We'd been on our small expedition for less than 24 hours and yet we seemed to have been out much longer.
At Moss opposite Acharacle we passed the wildlife cruise vessel "Sileas" on her winter maintenance slipway. We spent a pleasant few minutes chatting with owner Jim Michie who was tidying away the final items of preparation for her annual safety survey prior to the start of the season.
An ex-Admiralty launch built in 1940, "Sileas" has had a really interesting career and at least three names over her 75 year life. At various times a Navy launch, mailboat, a ferry at various west coast locations, a pier construction tender and for the last 15 or so years a graceful wildlife cruise boat. After extensive refurbishment to fit her for wildlife watching, "Sileas" had to be taken to the shores of Loch Shiel by road and physically pushed off a trailer into her new freshwater home.
Built by James Silver of Rosneath, her hull is of double diagonal teak planking on oak frames - she's truly built to last and Jim has clearly engaged in a labour of love to keep her in such fine condition. If you're not a kayaker or canoeist, a trip on the loch aboard "Sileas" would be a super way to experience Loch Shiel.
Beyond Acharacle we were definitely on the River Shiel as we approached the first of two bridges at Shiel Bridge (not to be confused with the place of the same name in Kintail on the road to Skye), this one the newer of the two is a fine stone triple arch with decorative castellated piers constructed in the 1930's.
I've driven on the road across this bridge many ties and it was nice to get a different view as we cruised underneath.
As we passed under the bridge we became much more aware of the flow of the river, an insistent pull of water towards the sea. We now barely needed to paddle in order to keep up a steady speed downstream.
The River Shiel is a noted fishing river and has several wooden stages from which anglers cast for salmon and sea trout. Rounding one of these at a sharp turn in the river, the water enters a tightening gorge framed by the arch of Old Shiel Bridge. We approached cautiously because from ahead was the umistakable sound of rapids.......
Douglas had scouted this section on a previous visit and knew that the rapid was a short one. Nevertheless, it takes a leap of faith to point fully laden 5 metre sea kayaks towards white water hidden around a bend in a gorge!
The boats surged forward as one by one we lined up to avoid the most disturbed water and went for it. Although fully engaging, the rapid turned out to be of moderate grade and short-lived. Looking at the debris high up the walls of the gorge, I was very thankful once more that I hadn't attempted this trip solo after very wet and stormy weather.
We were now past the initial obstacle and heading quickly towards the point where the River Shiel joins the sea. It was a little after low tide and that all this fast-moving water in the river still had the best part of 5 metres to drop before reaching Loch Moidart..........