Canoe and hike, Loch Ericht

For the first part of this year’s trip to Scotland a friend of mine joined me for a 3 day trip around Loch Ericht on the southern edge of the Cairngorm mountains.
The plan was to take my new (to me) toy – a Nova Craft Prospector 16ft canoe down the Loch towards the Ben Alder Cottage at the southern edge then hike up Ben Alder. Things didn’t quite go to plan and we discovered that adding a canoe into the mix can have a big impact on progress.

Journal

Day 1
We started out from Perth bright and early and made our way up to the small village of Dalwhinnie at the north edge of Loch Ericht. Once there we turned into a side road just before the Dalwhinnie filling station and followed it down to a tunnel under the railway line. A gate blocks access to the loch side by car but it’s possible to carry the boat the 200 metres or so down to the water.
We got the gear and supplies loaded and set off at around midday, a late start but in line with expectations. The wind was strong coming up the loch but this had been expected based on some reading so we pushed on, making slow but steady progress into the headwind. The loch was choppy but with the waves coming head on we plowed through them without much concern.
After about 2 hours of paddling with no let up from the wind, it shifted direction and became a strong crosswind. At this point we had waves hitting us broadside and starting to come into the boat which made us decide to strike for shore and beached the canoe having only come about 6km.
A short wait to see if the wind would shift or drop proved fruitless, so we decided to switch to hiking earlier than planned. We shifted all our gear into backpacks and stashed the canoe high on the lakeshore out of site from the track which runs alongside.
From here we hiked another couple of hours, passing the various buildings which make up the Ben Aldur lodge and eventually made camp on the lake shore, with Allt Udlamain (river) on the opposite bank. We’d covered about 8km by foot and covered a respectable distance from our lunch time start but were some way behind where we’d planned to be due to the slow going in the canoe.


Day 2
After heavy rain overnight we woke up and reviewed the plan. My friend was heading back south on Friday morning so we needed to finish and be back at the car by Thursday evening. With this in mind and worried about wind conditions on the return leg after our scare the previous day, we changed the plan to something less challenging.
Leaving the tent to dry we set off again down the path which runs alongside the western shore of Loch Ericht. Frustratingly, the wind had dropped overnight and the weather was now perfect for canoeing.
Up to this point the path had been a solid access track for lodge vehicles, but it soon became a more narrow and interesting path. As we progressed the weather improved, with the rain drying up and the clouds burning off to give beautiful views of the loch. We stopped for lunch on a stony beach near Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave – the cave he purportedly took shelter in after his defeat by the English nearby – then headed back towards the tent.
I normally dislike taking the same route back and prefer to follow circular routes, but with the sun out the Loch looked completely different. We arrived back to the tent early evening having walked roughly 16km.


Day 3
We passed a quiet night and set off early under cloudy skies. The wind was again quite low so we were not too worried about the return canoe leg. The hike back was pleasant, and the boat was fortunately still where we had left it. With a moderate tailwind we made it back to Dalwhinnie far more quickly than expected.
A quick sort out of the gear and we were driving on to Aviemore by early afternoon for a much deserved shower and a few beers.
Not the trip we had planned, but enjoyable and a good learning experience for future trips involving the canoe.


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