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Cumbria Canoeists

September 8, 2014

In July, the Cumbria Regional Development Team organised a three-day camping trip to the Slate Isles and the Garvellachs. This was one of the first overnight camping trips led by Cumbria Canoeists and offered paddlers the opportunity to take on a relatively committing camping trip with experienced coaches, learning as they went. On a bright and breezy morning twenty paddlers set off from Easdale with six leaders supporting three groups to spend the day exploring what is a fascinating part of the Scottish coast.

From the outset, the Slate Isle of Easdale itself offered some interesting paddling, with a complex interaction between the Atlantic swell, wind and waves. For those with helmets, spectacular rockhopping in the choppy zone around the island was an early diversion, while others enjoyed the scenery. After a quick stop off at the fascinating village of Easdale, the group carried on south-westwards to the isle of Belnahua in increasingly calming seas.

With its ruined quarrymens’ houses and flooded quarry loch, Belnahua is unique. Over lunch, the groups sunbathed, swam in the bright blue loch or wandered through the thick grass to take in the stunning panorama: the Garvellachs and Colonsay in the far distance, Luing, the coast of Mull and a scattering of flat slate islands just offshore.

Out to the west, the Garvellachs form a chain of three main islands. With perfect conditions, the groups threaded their way from one side to the other along the chain, paddling through jaw-dropping scenery. After a great first day, the group collected at the 13th Century monastery on Eileach an Naoimh for an atmospheric overnight camp.

The second day dawned with conditions improving. With so many possibilities for paddling before the next overnight stop on the southern tip of Luing, two groups led by Jim Wilson and Richard Simpson decided on a show-stopping itinerary: crossing back east to Lunga and heading south along the west coast of Scarba before going through the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Mike Sunderland’s group retraced their tracks around the Garvellachs – one group circumnaviaging the west side, the other on the sheltered east – gathering for lunch at a bothy with fresh water.  The rest of the day was spent on a couple of short crossings and exploring Lunga, finally crossing to the magnificent camp site positioned at the foot of Luing. Conditions started to build as the day wore on, with the group scattering as they climbed over steep oncoming waves, with some swell adding to the mix. The group re-assembled at the mouth of the Corryvreckan, with tucked up cags hiding a range of emotions from trepidation to excitement. The distant white horses in the main channel slowly subsided as slack water approached, and with Jim and Richard’s guidance, we sailed through the last bit of tide and on into the calm of the shelter between Scarba and Jura.

After kicking back on a beach on the south-east corner of Scarba following this epic journey, the group set up camp on the southern tip of Luing. With the group on a high from the day’s paddle, we set about an unending supply of whisky, marshmallows and other snacks over a beach fire. To complete a fantastic day, the more talented singers of the group took the floor for an hour or two of songs and stories.

With just one last day of paddling back to Easdale left and normality rapidly approaching, the group packed up with some heading out along the east side of Luing and another group heading west. Through some heavy showers, the two groups converged at Cuan Sound, a shallow and fast-flowing stretch of water between Luing and Seil. Having negotiated this with ease, the group once again met some very interesting tidal interference coming out of the Sound, which increased in severity towards the open bay.

Back in the harbour at Easdale as the unpacking operation began, we reflected on what had been an unrivalled success of a trip. A great group of people, coaches and guides, world-class kayaking with just enough excitement to gain in confidence made for some indelible memories. Many thanks to Jim Wilson, Mike Sunderland, Richard Simpson and their assistant guides, Joe Stalker, Sue Simpson and Cedric Entwistle-Brown for a wonderful weekend.

The feedback gave a glimpse into how memorable the trip had been: What a very special few days, really great trip- thanks so much for organising it! A great big thank you for making the Easedale weekend such a memorable experience

we had a great paddle with crossings, lagoons, rock hopping and even whitewater rapids great to see how you built the confidence of the less experienced paddlers

Thanks for a fantastic trip, it was a real adventure - Please count me in on any trips you have

Just to say what a fantastic time we had. It was all way beyond my expectations - I'm still on a high!! For Geoff that was the best trip he's ever done (and maybe ever will do!). Many thanks for all your support and encouragement - I really appreciated the effort the team leaders put in to keeping us within our comfort zones!! I feel re-invigorated to get out and do some more trips.