Days 111 to 118
Thu 23 to Thu 30 Aug
As I mentioned in the previous post I'd decided to go up around the Caledonian Canal, however I still wasn't completely sold on the idea so I decided to make for the Crinan Canal aswell. This cuts off the Mull of Kintyre and would save me two days which I could then have back if I decided the weather was nice enough to go round the top!
Bit of a slog to reach Arisdaig (the Southern end of the Canal) with a 55km stretch seemingly facing force three to four winds all day - felt like I'd worked for every mile! On the plus side I did manage to see around 30 seals in one place, sadly that one place was when I was answering a call of nature floating just off the Isle of Bute - can anybody spell stage fright!
I'd completely underestimated how long it would take me to paddle through the Canal. Although its only 16km long I hadn't really thought that it would have locks on it! I hitched a ride through the first eight of these with the crew of yacht Rhum - running up and down ladders and opening sluice gates. However, each lock took at least 20 minutes and what I had imagined as being a two-hour paddle took all day. It wasn't helped by a British Waterways staff member telling me I had to portage around the remaining locks!
However, as I neared Crinan I passed a small, brightly-painted wagon on the bank. Here Canadian imigrant artist Fraiser beckoned me over and gave me a signed postcard, telling me how Simon Osborne had stopped with him as he paddled around the UK a few years ago. Things turned even more surreal when I arrived in Crinan to find a group of grinning Welsh lifeboatmen on the bank. It turns out that Ross, Mick and Jo who had put the boat up overnight in there RNLI station at Porthcrawl two months ago [sooooo long!] were up here on a sailing trip. Once again the lads showed off Welsh hospitality with seemingly endless cups of tea, mackerel sarnies and maybe one or two beers.
The next day brought low cloud, moderate winds, lots of rain and low spirits to most in the Canal basin and I set out into the grey to reach Oban. This was one of my favourite days so far seeing the islands of Shuna and Luing and paddling through Dorus Mor (a tidal race where the water flows at 12km/h during neap tides!) and under the stunning bridge over the Atlantic. Really reminded me of Alaska with the occasional float plane flying around (when the weather cleared).
Oban was a lovely town and one I intend to visit again - I quickly met up with a bunch of Ozzies travelling around in a bright yellow bus with 'Wild and Sexy' emblazoned on the sides. It turns out that they where on a six-day Haggis Tour and proved very worthwhile drinking partners! Especially thanks to Colin (a moto-cross fan at heart) and Emma (another paddler). However, here I had the hardest desicion of the trip to make - to go up the Canal or go via Mull, Skye and Cape Wrath.
After much pondering and with a heavy heart I set off up Loch Linhe to Coran (a narrowing in the loch some 500m wide) to take the Canal. Over the next two days I make my way up the 96km of the canal (with 29 locks and 106 feet of verticle lift) passing through Loch Lochy (immaginative name - but visit the Eagle Floating Pub near Laggan) and Loch Ness (be warned it's much much longer than you think it is). Sadly the only large beasts I saw as I paddled up the loch where RAF C130 transport planes low flying along it, though a group of six paddlers from Nottingham in three open boats did make more interesting conversation. I must also say hello to Phil - I meet him just outside Fort Augustus and it turns out he was walking from top to bottom of the country - good luck to him.
I'm in Inverness now and looking forward to getting off the Canal with it's locks tomorrow! It feels strange to have cut off so much in just three days but in a way I'm relieved to see the home straight so close. I just wish I could have done the whole lot.