Wilderness and wild places have had a profound effect on shaping a life and a lifestyle to which the outdoors has been central. There isn’t, what I would regard to be, real wilderness remaining in this country. However, wild places cling on tenuously in the face of an insatiable desire to bring about “development”. Much has been written and spoken on the need in our “over-civilised” society for such wild places, it is my personal opinion that they are of the most fundamental importance and their loss would be to our ultimate bankruptcy.
John Muir said: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
Over an extended period of time I have deliberately attempted to devote some time each year to not only visiting wild places, both here and overseas, but also to spending quality days as a resident in them.
It’s more than a decade ago now that we took a trip for a few days to explore the area of Lochs Sunnart and Teacius by open canoe, a trip planned to last for several days wild camping by the water side each evening. It was early spring and we were treated to a wildlife spectacle as a school of porpoises swam by us on the open waters of Loch Sunnart and seals followed us swimming under our boats. Deer were close by overnight and some of our larger native birds of prey circled high above the wooded ground that we chose to camp on alongside Loch Teacuis. The weather for the first few days was fine and cold but we knew before embarking on the journey that this was not likely to hold through till the latter stages of the expedition. Lying under a tarp in the darkness of the last night it was a restless few hours as a booming wind could be heard above our heads. Strangely, upon waking on the last morning the light revealed grim grey skies but a relatively calm surface to Loch Teacuis. We set off after breakfast making steady progress from close to the head of the loch in the direction of its “mouth” the gateway to the larger Loch Sunnart. The closer we got the more difficult progress became. Beaching the boats some hundred metres or so short of the “confluence” and peering into the expanse of Loch Sunnart, past the island of Carna, revealed what could only be described as maelstrom as the wind howled and white breaking waves crashed against the island and all along the shore. I can no longer remember why but we attempted to make some progress by tracking the canoes on ropes along the stony beach but I remember well the glaringly obvious which was that the open crossing of the Loch that we needed to do to complete the trip was, under these conditions, impossible. After the passage of an immensely physical time attempting to drag boats into the wind it became clear that we had no option but to give in to the elements. We were competing with forces much greater than ourselves and to continue was folly, so along this wild shore, above the high water mark, a temporary camp was established to offer us some respite from the conditions. We rested for many hours in this wild place. Surrender it was.
Twilight began to gather and was accompanied with abatement in the wind, the waves calmed. We made the decision, that in these less than ideal conditions, we would attempt the open crossing of the Loch. As we paddled the wind consistently dropped and the ever growing darkness was accompanied by rainfall that built in intensity. With head torches lit up we pursued our bearing across the Loch in the direction of Glenborrodale. As the last glimmer of natural light faded into the dark wet night a light was turned on, on the shore, directly in line with the bearing we were paddling. One light in this dark world that we were negotiating made all the difference. Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour later canoes beached we stood soaking wet but exuberant on the beach – wilderness journey complete.