Wednesday 24 January 2024

Ice, Ice Baby.....

During a winter which had so far been alternately wet or windy, the chance of some sea kayaking in settled weather had Allan and I regularly checking forecasts in mid January.  As a high pressure system built over the UK we made plans to head to Wester Ross - we were disappointed that neither Lorna or Douglas were able to join us for this short notice trip.

A family connection of Allan and Lorna's kindly allowed us the use of a house overlooking Loch Ewe as a base, which made this winter trip very comfortable indeed.  Allan headed up on a frosty morning, I left later in the day and we met at the house.  The view first thing in the morning was very encouraging as pre-dawn light coloured the sky and reflected off mirror calm water - it looked like we had a fine day ahead.

We drove to Charlestown on Loch Gairloch and loaded our boats on the slipway.  there was frost on the boats which made for chilly fingers.

There was also plenty of ice left by the falling tide.  The water in the harbour at Charlestown was free of any ice so the possibility of sea didn't really register with me as we got ready to get on the water.

After paddling out of the harbour we turned south and for a short while paddled straight into a dazzling low sun with reflections from the water - it was really hard work to see where we were headed!  We'd intended to paddle close to the shore past Badachro and around Eilean Horrisdale, but found a large area of sea ice over a centimetre thick drifting towards us on the ebb tide.

 It was pretty obvious straight away that this was hard ice which was probably drifting in and out on the tide, freezing at low water twice a day.  It was too thick to crash through with the boat or the paddle and was, disconcertingly, moving quite purposefully.  I've experienced this just twice before, once on Loch Long and near Kinlochleven - both occasions in similar prolonged deep frosts.

Manoeuvring a sea kayak in ice even a centimetre thick is difficult and unstable, the paddle has to be crashed through and sometimes glances off, destabilising things.  Add to that ice moving on a tidal flow with the possibility of constrictions and it's not a place to be....coming out of the boat would have serious consequences.  Allan and I reversed away from the ice and found a lead of clear water to take us back out into the open.  Just an hour into our winter day and it was already packed with interest!


  1. That really gives you an idea of how cold it was. I've photographed the River Clyde freezing solid a few times, often decades apart, but didn't think the sea itself would freeze like that as it only got to minus 8 here for four or five days before it thawed again..Bob.

    1. Hi Bob, I think this particular area of ice was coming and going with the tide out of Badachro Bay where there's virtually no winter sunlight so it had the chance to gradually build. Impressive though!