THE WATER OF LIFE: HIGHLAND SUP ADVENTURE
Phil Plume of Cave Active Adventures takes a crew away from the crowds to Loch Shiel in Scotland for four days of paddling, camping and memorable moments.
Words: Phil Plume // Photos: Stuart Howells
No good story ever starts with “oh do you remember that unforgettable day at the office?”.
Luckily this story starts with;
We stood on the shore of the loch, paddles in hand, boards ready and bags packed, about to set off on a journey of challenge and discovery, through a natural environment filled with wildlife and history. We had answered the call to join the Loch Shiel Adventure paddle run by Cave Active Adventures and couldn’t wait to get started.
My name is Phil Plume, I’m an ex SUP racer and more recently SUP adventurer. I founded Cave Active Adventures to help others experience the freedom of adventure by SUP. I run trips across the UK, with the flagship trip being my Loch Shiel Adventure. Four days of paddling through this dramatic environment will provide everything you need to create your own ‘good’ story.
My clients, Emily Fryer (Em) and Jamie Leonard (Jay) have their reasons for seeking adventure. Em, to escape the internal office environment and Jay, who works in nature already, to be able to enjoy it as a playground, rather than a workplace. They both booked the trip as soon as they knew it was running. About the same time a filmmaker friend from my racing days, Stuart Howells, was looking for an adventure of his own and offered to document the trip. This was shaping up to be something epic.
So, there we were on the morning of the first day. Stood on that shoreline, the mountains towering above us. We loaded our Fanatic Enduro boards with everything we would need for the four days and pushed off.
Adventuring in Scotland requires a degree of flexibility and meticulous planning. The weather can be unpredictable and without plans A, B, C and D, it’s easy to get into trouble. The problem on this trip was going to be the wind, and on day one the direction wasn’t as expected. A forecast south-easterly swung around southerly just enough to allow strong gusts to travel up the loch. Paddling was difficult at times, but the nose shape of the Enduro’s soaked up the bumps with ease.
SETTING UP CAMP
After a few hours of paddling, I could sense that my team were getting a bit tired, so I pulled them into a great little camping spot and called it a day. Tents were erected, toilets dug and dinner cooked. We feasted on freshly cooked stir-fry and washed it down with a mug of wine on the beach. Does life get any better than this?
After a good night’s sleep and some good old porridge for breakfast, we hit the water again. One of the highlights of the second day of paddling was a visit to the ancient burial island of Eilean Fhionnan, a place of worship and burial for well over 1200 years. Lunch there with sea eagles soaring above was a real highlight of the trip.
After Eilean Fhionnan, the Loch twists in a more westerly direction as the terrain becomes flatter. This allowed the wind to get in behind us and give us a good section of reasonable down winding. This was Jay’s first downwind experience and with a few tips, he was flying, loving every moment. The Fanatic Enduros came into their own. The nose rocker on these boards is just right and prevents the nose from burying.
RIVER SHIEL RAPIDS
At the end of the Loch, we entered the River Shiel, a tranquil 4km stretch of water with some shallow gravel banks, some had to be traversed on our knees to avoid a nasty faceplant. The Shiel empties into Loch Moidart, which is tidal, so the mouth of the river can be a straight-through paddle or a raging waterfall. With careful planning, we hit it just right resulting in a fun paddle down a grade 2 rapid. Exciting and much more fun than a portage.
We were now on day three of the expedition and the wind was forecast to come through strong at noon. An early start ensured that we had explored Moidart’s castle Tioram and come safely ashore at the campsite before the wind kicked in. Jay had several items to tick off his adventure checklist, so he was delighted to find we were camping on a wooded island that evening. Even the sun came out for us as we chilled all afternoon.
Dried expedition food has its place and does a job, I’ve lived off it a bit myself, and it is improving; however, freshly cooked food is possible in the wilderness. You just have to be selective about what you take. Meat and dairy are out and veg is in. I cook fresh every night on my trips, and the guys were offered a real treat on the island that final night. I can’t tell you what it was, only that the guys loved it.
On the last day a short, but committed coastal trip, took us to some fantastic sandy beaches, past deserted villages, and otters feeding in the seaweed, Then onto the pub for a well-earned pulled pork roll and a pint.
We paddled forty-five miles in four days, and through expert guiding and awesome equipment from Fanatic, we reached the intended endpoint, despite the wind forecast. We camped in three wild spots, amongst trees and beside beaches, and ate three fresh-cooked meals in the wild.
The guys were so stoked to knock otters, sea eagles, seals and stags off their wildlife checklist.
Shush, don’t tell Em and Jay, but Stuart and I saw a whale on the way home!
Cave Active Adventures runs trips and tours throughout the UK. You can find them here: