Canoeing for Pleasure
We wanted to enjoy nature and start exploring the local rivers and lochs so we bought a new old Canadian canoe from Martins friend, Tom who provides professional canoe coaching in Aberfeldy, Scotland.
Despite Martin having several years sailing experience, canoeing is still a new water sport for us. Tom suggested that we could start by exploring Loch Tummel near Pitlochry, Scotland .
The long term plan was to use the canoe for long camping trips. But we knew we had to build up our experience first.
Martin sailed for many years and also had a little experience in canoes and kayaks. He was very aware of the need for safety. We already had flotation devices, including one for our dog, Lucy, but the first step was to practice basic paddling skills and build our confidence on open water.
So we started with some simple canoeing on Loch Faskally, Pitlochry. Loch Faskally is close to our home and is very sheltered, giving us the ideal training ground.
The first thing was to learn how to get all three of us onto and out of the boat safely. Then came practice in paddling.
With Martin in the stern because he knew how to steer, Shannon at the bow, and Lucy between us (the captain), we headed out onto the loch in beautiful, calm conditions. Lucy very quickly settled in and enjoyed watching the world go by, much to the amusement of walkers on the shore.
Amazingly, we quickly settled into a rhythm and very quickly gained in confidence. Canoes are very capable boats and it is easy to progress if you use a bit of common sense. In just a few minutes we were enjoying the scenery, wildlife, fresh air and some great exercise.
Of course, we knew that canoe camping would be different. The boat would be loaded with all our camping gear, spare clothes and food. Would this make the boat less stable, harder to move and less easy to turn?
We couldn’t wait to find out. Loch Tummel here we come…..
Loch Tummel is about 11km from end to end, surrounded by hills with oak and birch woodlands and some plantation conifers. At the eastern end, the loch is quite narrow with two islets covered in native forest. Due to the shape, length and direction of the loch, strong winds and largish waves may be possible – something for the novice to watch out for. But in fine weather, it’s a great place for the beginner to get her or his feet wet.
For those also new to canoeing, the following guidance from the Scottish Canoe Association is very helpful. Always find out what sort of water conditions your are likely to experience on your trip before you set out.
With a good weather forecast (warm, dry and calm), we planned a two day canoeing camping trip on Loch Tummel in September.
First question – what to bring on our first canoeing and camping trip ?
First, safety gear. Flotation vests are a must – for human and doggy paddlers. Also, a change of clothing just in case we ended up in the water. Happily, our new boat is already fitted with two buoyancy chambers.
Next, to keep everything dry, we needed waterproof containers – in our case some canoe barrels and waterproof sailing bags.
Camping gear – now here is one of the great things about canoeing. You don’t need to carry anything – the boat does the hard work. So a decent sized tent, good inflatable mattress, warm sleeping bags and even a shelter can all be packed in.
Likewise, a decent two burner camping stove, lots of cook wear, coffee maker and (luxury) wine in a box can all be included. How different from backpacking!
And of course food. Up to you, but no need to stick to dried food – fresh fruit and veg, chicken, venison – it’s all possible in a canoe!
Just like any outdoor expedition, there are some key stages
First, plan your route, including choosing a safe launch site. On Loch Tummel, it is also essential to choose a responsible parking place. Don’t block traffic or any farm or forestry gates. Also, use local knowledge and any published guides to make sure you know your route and what you might find. If you can, plan where your will camp in advance. Always have a (waterproof) map and compass so you know where you are and where you are going.
Even in perfect weather, prepare for the worst. Next, make up a full equipment list. Try to take everything you might need, but also leave out any unnecessary weight. Finally, try to follow the “leave no trace” principle. Leave only footprints, take only photographs.
Martin and I started to plan our route. We would launch on Loch Tummel at a place where we could safely launch and also leave our car in a sensible place. This is not always easy on Loch Tummel as it is very popular for weekend trippers, not all of whom act responsibly.
Finding a parking and launching site was not easy but we eventually found a spot about halfway along the southern shore. From here, it would only about 1km to the island.
So we parked and unloaded our boat from the roof rack, taking her to the waters edge. We then loaded up our camping gear, keeping it all in the centre of the boat. We used lines to secure everything (just in case). Finally, we moved to car to am area of firm ground well off the road not blocking any access.
With our wellies on, we pushed to boat onto the water and Shannon took up her place in the bows. Lucy was next, just aft of the camping gear. Finally, Martin pushed to boat out into the water and stepped in – we were off!
The first pleasant discovery was how stable a heavily load canoe can be. She glided smoothly through the water and steered easily. A good boat quickly builds your confidence so you can relax and start to enjoy the whole experience. Within a few minutes we were out on the open water, with the light breeze behind us and the sun reflecting off the surface. It was amazing that we were travelling so easily with all of our camping gear. So much easier than hiking! We were really able to observe everything around us and enjoy the whole experience.
AS when we practiced on Loch Faskally, Martin was the stern man keeping us in a (more or less) straight line while I was the bowman setting the rhythm. I also reckon I had the best view from the front. Our doggy Lucy was our captain.
It was a wonderful experience to paddle across the loch surrounded by, mountains, woodland and wild life. Finding peace and quiet on the water was really special after what has been a mad year.
Lucy got really interested when we came across some Canada geese bobbing on the water – more about the geese later, but for now, Lucy was just dreaming of a free range dinner!
Before we knew it, we were fast approaching the island. And, as Tom had described, right ahead of us was a small shingle beach – the perfect landing spot.
We headed straight for the beach and heard the soft crunch of gravel under our bow. Shannon quickly got out and secured our bow line around a tree.
We pulled the canoe up the beach till she was secure and went to scout for a good campsite. This took us all of 20 seconds! Right beside the beach was a little clearing in the woodland with level dry ground – paradise!
So we unloaded the boat and pulled her up out of the water, then tightened the bowline – even with a good weather forecast, you don’t take any chances with your boat as she is your safety net.
After that, we chose our campsite, pitched the tent and sorted out our bedding. Within a few minutes we had a campsite all set up.
Time to explore our new wilderness home…….