Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Going with the flow

We left Eilean Fhianain with a brisk easterly breeze at our backs - one of the reasons we'd chosen this particular trip was the predominantly easterly wind which was forecast - it would either be at our backs or we'd be sheltered on the west coast.

A last look back towards the mountains of Loch Shiel.......

...and then steadily onwards along the stretch of water which isn't quite Loch Shiel and isn't yet ruly the River Shiel.  Shallow water lined with salt marsh, this is a great place for waterfowl and waders to feed and to rest.

Talking of feeding and resting.....

....we landed near the jetty at Acharacle in order to check out the options for first luncheon.  Acharacle (Torquil's ford) is named for a Norse leader who was killed here along with all his men in a battle with Somerled, Lord of the Isles in 1120.  Torquil's men found the water too deep to cross and they were killed making a last stand near this spot.

We walked up the small road which leads from the wooden jetty to the village shops......where we had a choice of eating in at the Acharacle Tearoom or purchasing lunch to eat outside the Bakery. 

As we were in our paddling clothes - and it was anyway such a nice morning - we chose to eat outside the Bakery.  The coffee and Foccaccia bread are particularly recommended by your reviewers!

Acharacle is a handy stop in this area, it has a couple of options for food, a shop, and public toilets with a tap outside for topping up water.

Fuelled up and rested, we got back on the water, our boats being drawn along by the now noticeable current towards the fine triple arched road bridge over the River Shiel, built in 1935.  The footings of the bridge supports were clear of the water which certainly hadn't been the case on our winter trip, and the river flow was markedly less too.

Shortly after the road bridge the river narrows quickly and swings into a rocky gorge.  At the end, the old bridge crosses the river at the point of a ninety degree left bend.  Built by Thomas Telford in 1804, it was too narrow to carry motor vehicles and was replaced as a road bridge by the 1935 version.  You can walk from the road to this bridge and cross it, but the south side is private property.

Beneath the bridge is a small rapid where the water runs over a rocky shelf - with more water in the river it can prove exciting, but as the level was quite low it was little more than a quickening of the flow.

The rapid marks the end of the narrow section, the water slows and the river becomes wide and shallow.  A wooded hill makes a lovely backdrop to a very relaxing section of the trip where we were able to just go with the flow in the literal sense.

If making this journey when the water level is relatively high, it's good to know that there are a couple of potential egress points to allow a portage around the tidal fall where the river empties into the sea.  The first is at a gauging station marked by wires crossing above the water - we used this during our winter trip when the river was quite full.

The second point is a small patch of flat grass jutting out into the river, which Douglas, Lorna and I used to land and carry our boats up to the track alongside the water; Mike found a spot further down again, but after that there's just one option immediately above the falls - miss it and you're committed....

We put the boats on the trolleys we carried specifically for this section and portaged along the estate track through woods of beech and pine - despite pulling the boats this was a very pleasant section.  Once again the trolleys (three KCS Expedition models and one Lomo model) proved their worth and performed faultlessly.

A short detour to view the tidal fall is well worth the effort - if only to assess whether you feel it could have been paddled.  The drop from river to sea is the result of isostatic rebound, the continued rising of the land in this part of Scotland following the release of ice from the last ice age.  The fall itself is affected by two things; the amount of water in the river and the height of tide - in simple terms, when the tide is low the river has further to drop.  On neither occasion we've been here have we felt the slightest inclination to run the fall in fully laden sea kayaks......

This is the fall in comparatively low river levels but also a low tide.......

.....and this is the fall on our winter trip with more water in the river but a higher tide. 

Immediately beyond the point where the river ends, we arrived at the shore of Loch Moidart.  We carried our boats down over a patch of saltmarsh to place them, for the first time on this journey, into salt water.


  1. Very nice, Ian, brings back great memories and the strong desire to repeat this tour, hopefully next year. Allow me one little remark though, imho there are no salt marshes in the lower reaches of Loch Shiel. Nonetheless Claish Moss and the shallow parts of the loch are a great place for birds! Looking forward to the next part of your trip report!

    1. Hi Frank the salt marsh is in Loch Moidart! :o)

    2. In fact one of my friends thought some level grass in a salt marsh higher up Loch Moidart would be a great place to camp, until the tide came in during the night!

    3. Hi Frank, great to hear from you! Of course,you're correct....it can't be salt marsh in fresh water Loch Shiel! :o)

  2. Mmmm...the food looks good, especially after some paddling! The bridge over the River Shiel is very reminiscent of the one at the end of Loch Tay at Kenmore. Going by memory but I wonder if they were built around the same time? Warm wishes to you, Ian.

    1. Well spotted Duncan, there's a lot of similarity, but actually the bridge at Kenmore pre-dates the bridge over the Shiel by 160 years - it was built in 1774. Maybe the bridge at the Shiel was designed as a nod to the past?

      The food from the bakery was really good - heartily recommended!