Aims and objectives for the expedition: The aim of the expedition was to undertake a coast-to-coast self-sufficient journey by Open Canoe from Neptune’s Steps at Fort William to Inverness, 97km later. Our objectives were to learn a range of wilderness livings skills and to manage an expedition team afloat; providing Sea Cadet adult volunteers with the ability to run their own expeditions in the future.
Expedition report: The group met in the evening of the first day after travelling from various parts of the UK. This would be our only night in a commercial campsite. After an excellent dinner, we talked kit, sorted paddling teams and allocated jobs.
After an early start, the drivers dropped us at Neptune’s Steps before heading off to Inverness for the vehicle shuttle. The remainder packed boats and started the first section down the Caledonian Canal. With a following wind we rigged for sailing on Loch Lochy. After a great start the wind speed increased forcing us to de-rig; with large following waves we surfed our boats whilst trying to identify our first wilderness campsite. With the teams allotted jobs, we quickly had the cooking lavvu and tarp up, a brew on and the wet individuals and their kit sorted, whilst others foraged for firewood.
The following morning was still wet. This was the low point of the trip with two group members suffering from the cold. We decided to stay in camp, rest up, dry kit and use our time to learn a few more wilderness skills. It was a tough decision, as it meant we were unlikely to complete the full Great Glen Trail.
After a welcome fry-up we practiced fire lighting, learnt how to collect and sterilise water, undertook knife skills and re-warmed our lagging team members. By mid-morning we were back on the water and rigged for sailing. The sun briefly shone for our lunch, before we headed into Loch Oich. Here we paused to see the Well of the Seven Heads, before going on to find a campsite. Next morning we practiced canoe manoeuvres. Some of the team had never experienced moving water and our next section was down the River Oich. We lashed down our kit, donned helmets for the white water, and ran the river into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus.
Loch Ness was calm, but a large weather front on the horizon threatened, so we pushed on to our camp site and a welcome meal of haggis. That night, newly learned campfire skills were utilised to dry kit, whilst others practiced knife skills. Later we were afforded a clear sky that allowed for stargazing; with no light pollution this was inspiring to all. That night we made a decision; as the weather had slowed our progress down, if we wanted to complete the trip to Inverness, the final day would mean a gruelling 40km paddle and a very early start!
Next morning, we packed before first light and paddled until lack of energy scheduled our breakfast. We completed the last of Loch Ness and took lunch near Abriachan, before paddling onto Loch Dochfour. We decided to run the River Ness for our descent into Inverness. After a couple of weirs we travelled back into the sights, sounds and smells of an urban town before dropping into the salty water of the Beauly Firth.
Open Canoeing out of the River Ness into the Beauly Firth had made getting up at dawn worthwhile. With the rain sodden team in high spirits we approached the finish point, we were happy to have successfully completed the expedition, but also sad it was over.
Our thanks go to Inverness Sea Cadet Unit for helping with transport, the HQSO-Paddlesport for planning the logistics, but especially to the Ulysses Trust for its generous support of the expedition.
Written Jointly by the Great Glen Team ‘2012’.
The Expedition Team were Lt Hilary Gilbert-Jones (Gosport Unit), CPO Angie Edwards (Walton-on-the-Naze), CPO Caroline Adams (Warsash Unit), PO Danny Balfour (Inverness Unit), POC Chris Fleming (Newburn Unit), CI Terry Middleton (Central District), CI Bonita Best (Abingdon Unit) and our guide, Jed Yarnold.