From the forest trails where I run with the dog, the south end of the loch has looked more and more inviting these last few days. For folk like me, lucky enough to live within reach of places like this, there really are no excuses for not getting out there – you don’t need to plan your week around it, you don’t need to get lucky with the weather and when you’re done you’re not faced with a long drive home in the dark, the car musty with the smell of wet gear.
My meeting ran over yesterday morning and as the sunlight forced itself between the slats of the blind and and the plastic clock on the office wall counted away the morning, all I could think of was getting out in the boat just the minute I got home.
The kayak might not have been in the water since October but I have spent a deal of time this winter filling and sanding hairline cracks in the hull. I’ve also been braving the sub zero temperatures in the garage to visit my rusty old weights bench and pullup bars so as to try and stay in shape for days like this one.
My wetsuit, dry cag and boat gear, put away dry back in October still gives off a familiar aroma of musty neoprene and nylon, quickly permeating the garage while I wrestle the roof bars out from behind the lawn mower and extract my paddles from in amongst bundles of garden cane.
Twenty minutes later I’m in the carpark at Milarochy bay, locking both halves of the paddles together, clipping on my bouayancy aid and pulling on my fingerless gloves. It always gives me a funny sense of those fast edited sequences from action movies where the hero slaps in magazines, sheathes his combat knife and zips up his cargo vest. I cant help smiling to myself.
The Loch shore is deserted, two miles away across the flat calm surface lie the islands of Inchlonaig and Inchtavannach and further west, over on the far side, the winter sun is already ominously low over the Arrocher hills. There is barely a sound and the air tastes cool and sweet.
With a final scrape of pebbles from underneath, the boat is afloat at last and I’d love to say that it was soon skimming the surface, leaving nerry a ripple or that I quickly became entranced by the rythmic song of the paddles. The truth is that after several month’s layoff my shoulders are feeling it almost straightaway and I’m minded that kayaking is great form of exercise because its hard work.
Rounding the northern tip of Inchlonaig island I’m met by two Canada geese perched on a boulder, and they call out angrily, clearly unhappy at this intrusion. I can understand. In another couple of months the loch will be buzzing with jetskis and powerboats while bigger craft, bristling with tourists ply slowly up and down mingling with sailboats and windsurfers.
The beaches will be alive with daytrippers, backpackers, picknickers and coaches will disgorge sightseers from all over the world. I can’t complain, this area depends on these people coming back each summer and the tradeoff is days like this one.
I’m into a rythm with the paddles now and there is the curiously pleasant sensation of not knowing which direction to point the boat next; everywhere I go is vast, still water, cloudless sky and deserted beaches. To the north is the craggy outline of Ben Lomond, snow still clinging to its gullys in icy blue scars, and to the west the shore of Inconnachan, fringed with pale, bare trees.
I’m cursing myself for not bringing my kettle and lighter; right now I’d love to stop there and brew coffee on a small fire of dry hardwood and just savour the isolation, but the sun is dipping and the temperature is dropping fast so it’ll have to wait til another day.
Half an hour later I’m passing little Bucinch island, I point the boat south west and head back for Milarochy. I can see the slipway hut a mile away and for some time it gets no bigger, I know I’m moving forward steadily but on this open expanse, with no nearby points of reference it can feel like you’re getting nowhere.
Thirty meters to the shore and I’m suddenly aware of rocks and reeds passing swiftly and silently beneath me in the clear water and a few moments later I’m back on the beach.
In the carpark, with the boat safely strapped down on the roof bars, I contemplate the very different journey I’ll make tomorrow morning, through the rush hour traffic to Glasgow but one last quick glance over my shoulder at the loch, now deep shadow soon makes me feel better – this is my backyard and right now I’m the luckiest guy I know.