This year's venue was Loch Awe, I last paddled it in May 2000 a full 16 years ago in the company of John Pear & Paul Richardson when we travelled from the southern end of the loch via the river Awe and on to Loch Etive. The present trip was undertaken with Marion and four others (three Andy's and an Ian!). Our plan was to complete a circumnavigation of the loch, some fifty miles over three and a half days paddling.
Loch Awe has a Canadian feel to it, flanked by rolling hills covered in forestry with a majestic snow capped ridge line overlooking its northern shores. The weather at the end of March and running into early April was, overall, very kind to us. Caught somewhere between the last throes of winter and the beginning of Spring we experienced: rain, hail, wind and spells of bright warm sunshine. On three of our four nights stars lit up the sky.
From memory Loch Awe must have seen a little development over the last 16 years, there appears to have been some growth in holiday accommodation around the loch shore. However, with the exception of a brief stop off at Dalavich we only saw two other people around or on the loch over the entirety of our visit.
We began our journey on the eastern side of this huge body of fresh water leaving vehicle and trailer at a forestry commission car park and paddling south for just a short distance into a force 4/5 head wind in quite challenging conditions. We found a rough campsite in a bay sheltered from the wind and so the pattern of: journey - camp - journey - camp ... began.
Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday saw long spells of paddling, 6-7 hours each day. We turned to head north when about half a kilometre from the southern tip of the loch and continued our journey via paddling, sailing when possible and weaving from side to side of the loch as conditions and sight seeing demanded.
The camp sites were not the most pristine with several being contaminated with debris from previous users. However, with the exception of one night we enjoyed some excellent fires, courtesy of Andy Hoe, our "fire starter"!
We didn't make it to the most northerly end of the loch, instead opting to turn round about 4km short. Again our return journey saw us make several open crossings in order to take in the small settlement of Dalavich and make a visit to Findhorn Castle - a real highlight.
Our journey finally ended on Thursday evening after a long afternoon of paddling into a headwind which always threatened but never really materialised into something serious. After a paddle of approaching 50 miles the trip was over. One more night in the wilderness ahead of the long drive home.
Sat in front of the log burner two nights on Marion & I are still trying to adjust to life "with walls", the sounds of lapping water and calls of birds being replaced by the drone of Carlisle's traffic. Its not an easy process!