A little exploratory trip in Galloway, Scotland…
By Matt Thompson
Paddlers: Matt Thompson, Alex Wride, Greg Spencer and Eira
It didn’t turn out to be so gloomy after all! Doom on Doon was meant to be the tongue in cheek moniker for a hare-brained idea of a canoe trip in Galloway, Scotland. Starting and finishing at Loch Doon, this circuitous journey was nothing if adventurous and verging on the pointless.
A stream that led into the hills and on towards an isolated loch linked to other lochs by a height of land portage and thence back to the beginning via a second stream. Stream is of course a grand word for a watercourse that actually has water in it. Whether there would be enough to float a canoe of all things would be another matter.
Leaving in the late afternoon, the three of us plus dog, had approx. 6km to cover in order to make Loch Macaterick. We could of course just stop when it became too dark to travel onwards, but that would leave more ground to cover the next day. We pushed on, literally at times, resorting to not only portaging the packs, but also the canoes for a stretch or two.
The last 60 metres of height gain saw the sun set; the stars begin to show and finally the open expanse of the loch. On went the stove for a cup of tea and dinner at exactly 22.30; then a tarp slung over the wall and a canoe, propped up with a paddle and sleeping bags were retired to for a well-earned sleep.
We’d decided that lightness would be our alarm and departure would happen when it was, well, the time! Waking to a bright and sunny day we were beguiled by the weather and lack of midges, when suddenly it started to rain from somewhere. Fortunately it lasted only a minute or so before deciding that it just wasn’t worth the effort to spoil such a great day.
Exploring the islands and outcrops of the loch looking for future campsites, as if we would return, before heading up the little feeder stream that would give us access through the forest to a second stream and our route downhill.
The height of land crossing was an almost flat firebreak through the trees along a vague deer track. Leading to a ditch that was deep enough to float a canoe, any section of water that didn’t mean having to push or pull or drag or worse, pick up the canoe was a relief. If it wasn’t for the hills acting as our backdrop, remote hills at that, we could have been in a remote part of Canada or northern Scandinavia.
Surrounded by mature forest with swampy marshes and patches of water full of ‘Bogbean’, lilies and tadpoles; isolated from the world we had left by silence and the distant call of pipits. After crossing Loch Riecawr, we headed on downstream again through deadfall trees and over boulders before more swampiness and vegetation that threatened to send us through to the murky, muddy depths below while we slid and hauled the canoes across.
The second camp spot was brilliant, just a patch of grass and moss on a bend in the stream, probably never visited before by humans… signs of deer before us was the only passing we could tell. It was early, but after the previous day’s exertions almost into darkness it was a real pleasure to be able to sit in the sun, read and take in the feelings of where we were.
Just a few hundred looked on the map, but without that information we could be as far from human presence as it could be. Lots of brews and snacks plus dinner of Mushroom Rissotto, we retired to sleeping bags as the sun turned the sky orange behind tall spruce and pine. Although knowing that the next day would return us to the vehicle, we knew not what lay ahead other than a rough idea of the distance – 3.6km, distance that would still be fresh ground until the last kilometre.
This trip had been almost as expected – tough! However, the achievement in completing such a small circuit was immense. A precursor to another trip which is hovering in the middle ground of my mind, one I have mulled over and looked at for a number of years; one which would require the same fortitude; either a solo trip or a good choice of partner. This trip showed the way…
Wilderness trips, workshop days in flatwater, river and traditional skills. Wilderness Canoe provides programmes of outstanding quality. A variety of expeditions and skills based programmes from a half-day to multi-day in length, primarily in NW England, the Lake District and Scotland.
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