The day after paddling from Inverlochlarig to Strathyre, I had planned to do another one way trip with a cycle ride to close the loop. The camp site at Strathyre is next to the River Balvaig, and I was lucky enough to be able to pitch my tent immediately next to the small slipway, so I intended to drive to a get out above the Falls of Leny, leave the car and cycle back to the tent to then paddle back to the car.
But leaving the tent that morning, I realised that the River Balvaig had dropped considerably overnight, and with the reduced current, an upstream return from Loch Lubnaig would now be possible. So a loop from the tent was on instead. It would mean that I missed out on the short upper section of the Garbh Uisge, but that seemed a fair trade for spending more than double the time on the water.
The winds were light, although set to increase a little through the day, and it was dry and sunny. Without the shuttle to organise, I was on the water early, making my way downstream towards Loch Lubnaig. The river is tree-lined along its length, and I enjoyed their reflections as I passed.
There is a long channel bound by sediment spits on either side, known as the Roinn Mhor (which loosely translates as the big allotment), before the River Balvaig properly enters Loch Lubnaig. Kneeling up in the canoe it was possible in places to see over to the large lagoons that sit either side.
Plenty of waterfowl was about – mostly various species of duck, though they held their distance, too far away to photograph even with the long lens. The spits peter out into small islands, which were home to a group of Canada geese.
This long channel leads to a very sudden entry into open water. Within a few boat lengths you are sat in the middle of the loch.
A small boat house sat isolated in sunshine on the western shore. It looked in good repair, with interesting triangular balconies and a converted attic space. Not a bad place to retreat to…
The A84 runs along the east side of the loch, so I stayed on the west. A cycle route follows the line of the old Calendar to Oban railway, and there were plenty of cyclists taking advantage of the pleasant weather, but little or no traffic noise on this side of the loch. The loch side is quite wooded, which adds interest to the paddle, and the valley sides climb steeply away from the water to the heights of Ben Ledi and Beinn Bhreac sitting west and east of the loch respectively.
These two hills force the loch into a sharp southwards turn, and funnel winds down to the water in unexpected direction, so what had been a gentle tailwind became a stronger headwind as I made the turn. The wooded point of Roinn Ghainmheach provided a bit of shelter, and I stopped here for a few minutes to rest and enjoy the play of light over the landscape.
And then on southwards towards the tail of the loch and its outfall into the Garbh Uisge. I decided to stop for a tea break on a small beach before the scatter of holiday chalets that run along the bank near the evocatively named Stank Burn.
Little more than a shingle hem to the hillside as it sloped into the loch, it was still pleasant to sit in the sun and listen to the wavelets slapping against the shore.
As I neared the southern end of the loch, the wind died once more. Stank Burn joined the loch, but didn’t live up to its name.
Turning northwards now, I noticed a Saltire and a Scottish Lion just visible, bravely fluttering above an empty piece of water.
As I approached, the wind allowed them to rest, and I could see they were furled to a short mast. Not a wreck, the map confirmed a submerged crannog. Drifting in on the still water, I could trace the outline of this Scottish Atlantis.
Sunshine and cloud shadows continued to chase across the hills, as the bulk of Ben Ledi stirred up the wind and sent it once more straight at me as I approached the bend in the loch. Rather more discouragingly, it picked up in strength as I entered the upper part of the loch, and blew a steady north-westerly force 4 for the rest of the trip. So it was head down and stick to a rhythm as I traversed the final quarter of my loop. It was marginally more sheltered on the western side, so I hugged the shore to make the most of what wind shadows existed. The grassy peninsula of Ardnandave gave me a target and a resting point, where I got out of the boat for a leg stretch and a cup of tea.
By now, I was feeling I had broken the back of the upwind leg and could strike for home. The last kilometre or two lead me into shelter at the head of the loch, and I was able to relax again as I entered the channel of the River Balvaig once more.
A tree-lined avenue was reflected in the river’s surface.
The water level had dropped even more through the day, so I had an easy run up the last kilometre to the campsite. Home for a late lunch in the sunshine…