So far on this trip, things haven’t gone to plan. The team met in the TV room of Cannich Caravan & Camping Park to discuss what we would do today. The only part of the Caledonian Canal that we haven’t travelled yet was Loch Ness.
Today was going to be a long day, so we decided we would get packed up first thing and get to the start as early as we could. We had planned to start at Fort Augustus, due to the wind coming from the southwest.
It was 8:30am and we were parked across the canal from where we had our dinner on Day 4. When we were planning the logistics of this adventure, we decided that the north side of Loch Ness was a better place for access at the end of each day. This wasn’t the case! The road runs very close to the shoreline of the north side of Loch Ness, but there is no access. The banks are very steep, and there are very few places to pull the car over safely. Looking back on everything I know now about Loch Ness, the best way to tackle it is to do wild camping with a canoe as support.
There were force 8 winds forecasted today on Loch Ness, which would generate quite substantial waves. We weighed everything up, and decided that it was best if we just paddle the first half of Loch Ness today, and then swim the other half tomorrow, as we know that we have access at the end of Loch Ness.
The water was perfectly still when we set up the boards, and the wind was light. We decided the safest thing was to tie the boards together today and form a makeshift catamaran. We launched into the water at about 9:15am. Here we go, this is it, this is Loch Ness!
After getting out of the sheltered area of Fort Augustus, the wind dramatically picked up. We heard reports from Loch keeper’s over the last few days, that there were very strong winds coming for Loch Ness over the next few days. We paddled towards the right hand side of Loch Ness, in an effort to stay close to the shoreline, in the event that anyone did fall in.
We were flying down Loch Ness with the wind on our back and we were averaging 5-6km/hr. At this rate we would be finished in five hours. After about 40-minutes we could see dark grey clouds gather behind us, which looked like the end of the world was about to happen. About 20-minutes later this weather surrounded us, and we were in the thick of it. We had to get out of this storm and find shelter. We were all freezing cold once this rain, combined with the strong winds hit us.
Once we finally found a resting sport, we pulled the boards up on the shoreline. The wind was so strong that boards, which were stranded on the shoreline, tried to go into the water by themselves. Thankfully, Luke, being a structural engineer, built a pretty impressive barricade to keep them in place.
After the storm blew over, we had to get moving straight away, as we were all shivering uncontrollably. Once we got back on the boards, we had to get away from the shoreline, which meant paddling across the direction of the waves. There were a few shaky moments but we were out on loch again. The weather improved straight away and we were making fantastic time.
Out on the Loch the bad stormy weather kept coming in. Loch Ness is such a large expansive lake, being 22-miles long and 2-miles wide. We could see the weather travel across the loch, you could see it come in from behind, and you could see it shoot off into the distance. What an awe inspiring place! To be out on the water, floating around with nothing between you and the water but an oversized lilo was a memory we will all never forget.
The weather came again, and we were nearing a widening in the loch. We had to beat this weather and get round there. If this weather caught us we had a serious risk of hyperthermia, as we were all feeling the cold quite badly at this point. Luckily we got in the trees and out the wind about five minutes before the downpour occurred.
Once the weather passed we got back on the boards and set off. We were about 20km in and we were struggling to organise an exit point at the 25km mark. The plan when we left was to do 25km of Loch Ness today and get Caitriona to collect us at a known point on the south side of Loch Ness. We reached this 25km marker point and unfortunately, once again, this point had no access from the shoreline up to the road. What do we do?
We made the decision that if we could keep up 5km/h we could complete the loch today. It is a total of between 40-45km and at our current rate this will likely take between 8-9 hours. This has added so much pressure to make good time, we were safe in the knowledge that 25km today would be easy after the start we had made, but nearly double that has turned this into a monumental challenge. We would have never considered trying to complete the loch at the start of the day!
We set off once again, but the wind was horrendous now! 30-40mph winds were coming from behind, and the waves were starting to pick up. They were a consistent height of about 4-foot, but some seemed to get up to about 5-foot. We couldn’t go across them, as they would overturn our boards instantly. We had to let them take us where they wanted and just tried to gently guide the direction. This was a real eye opener of the power of the water. If we fell in, we weren’t prepared to swim. We didn’t have wet suits, nothing. If we couldn’t get to the shore and dry we would be in serious trouble. We all kept our concerns to ourselves, as we all knew the dangers that were present.
As we progressed we saw that the headland we needed to aim for was on the other side of the loch. Uh oh, we have to cross the Loch in 4-5 foot waves. This was by far the biggest challenge of the day! We were starting to tire, and this is when we needed all our strength.
After battling the waves for a good hour or two we had made it to the middle of the Loch. We were in real danger now, we were totally ill prepared for if someone fell in now. It was a mile either side of us to get to the nearest shoreline. If someone fell in, it would have been an instant call to the coastguard.
We had to work as a team. I was on wave watch, letting the team know when we needed to straighten up because the waves got very big when gusts of wind appeared. Luke was in charge of the navigation and Claire was paddling like a machine. As a team, we were organised, together, and working to a clear objective of safely getting to the end!
The water was over 250m deep at this point and there was a swell after each wave dragging us back so that we couldn’t progress. If we didn’t have three paddlers at this stage, we wouldn’t have had enough power to combat the swell and we would be stranded. Everyone was needed, and everyone had to pull their weight. We were in a bit of trouble.
After another couple of hours of struggling away, we finally made it to the end of Loch Ness. We were all knackered. We had been paddling for seven hours, had gone from one side of Loch Ness to the other. But we still had about 5km to come to the end. We had no waves at this point, and the wind had died down. This last two hours were a real slog. The adrenaline was gone and we had nothing left to give, only sheer determination would get us through.
Since we were nearing the end of the adventure, we decided to have a bit of fun and were standing on the boards. Ironically this was when we came closest to falling in. We were in euphoria about completing Loch Ness and were all having a good laugh to keep moral high and help pass the last stretch.
We made it! We had completed the challenge. As we pulled up to the finish point we were greeted with the news that a swimmer attempting to swim the English Channel had died today, a man called Nick Thomas. This is news that reinforces our decision to not swim today. I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to swim Loch Ness. It was meant to be the highlight of the trip. No matter how big the achievement of crossing the Loch in one day, I don’t think it will ever hold a candle to the achievement of being able to swim it. Only a handful of people have swam the length of Loch Ness and I am gutted that I cannot add my name to that list.
However, no challenge is worth risking your life for and the Loch today was not safe enough to swim in. We saw three kayakers and two boats during the whole day, on a loch where we were told we would need a VHF radio as the boat traffic on it was supposed to be crazy. People stayed away from the water today and for good reason. Maybe it was us being naive that we took on the Loch today. If I knew the conditions were going to be like this today, we would have probably taken the day off.
If we had more time, I would have sat it out and waited for a good weather window to take on the famous Loch Ness. But we didn’t have that time. We had a strict deadline and the next few days were showing strong wind as well. We had to complete the challenge, but we had to be as safe as possible.
The last week has been truly inspiring. The scenery was breath taking at every turn and I’m sure it can rival anywhere else on earth. Scotland was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but also one of the harshest.
I have had a fantastic week; shared with fantastic people and apart from the slight disappointment that I couldn’t swim the whole thing, I feel an enormous sense of achievement that I have travelled from the West Coast to the East Coast of Scotland.
I am so proud of the whole team, everyone did an amazing job in allowing me to swim as much of this trip possible and helping us complete the trip.
I would also like to thank our sponsors for helping us:
Puravida Boardriders, Oshea Surf, Zone3, Back2Front Physiotherapy Ltd,Meridian Foods, The Grazing Shed, SwimSecure, Bunroy Park, and Cannich Caravan & Camping Park
Thanks to everyone that followed our journey.
Until next time…
Daily distance travelled – 44km
Total distance travelled – 101.51km
Daily time on water – 9hr 00min
Total time on water – 28hr 35min