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Change of seasons makes Loch More area seem like two different worlds


By Ben MacGregor

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OUT AND ABOUT WITH RALPH: From skis to sea kayak on the lochs of the flow country

Skiing over the frozen Loch More.
Skiing over the frozen Loch More.

Spring seems to be gathering pace but it’s only a few weeks since the whole county was frozen hard, and it could still happen again.

I’d driven out to Loch More, glad of winter tyres in something of a young blizzard with the road covered in snow. I hoped for a trip on cross-country skis to Ben Alisky and beyond.

After two weeks of sub-zero temperatures the ice covering the loch was thick but even so, for safety, I kept near the shore where the water was shallow, enjoying easy sliding through a thin layer of snow.

Skies were mostly grey, there was the odd gleam of sun between cold snow-showers which would turn the landscape very bleak.

At the far end of the loch, I climbed up onto the moorland and found there was not enough snow for easy progress, you need a good deep covering to ski over the very rough flow country. Frozen dubh-loch and smooth bog helped in places but I soon realised that neither fitness nor conditions would allow me to get to Ben Alisky.

The ancient stone circler at Backlass.
The ancient stone circler at Backlass.

Indeed to reach the ruins of Backlass, just to the south-west, proved quite a challenge, the difficult cut of the Allt Backlass was in the way and even the deer were making slow progress amid tall rushes deep in snow.

After a quick look at the Backlass stone circle I turned back down the track towards the loch, now feeling stiff and sore after my first trip on skis for two years and glad to eventually reach the shore and an easy ski back to the car.

Although I managed an outing on ice-skates a couple of days later, it soon thawed and the skis had to be put away again, hopefully not for another two years.

A few weeks later and things were back to normal at Loch More. The water level was high and pouring over the dam – in such conditions water backs up various channels and a surprising trip is possible by boat.

Now, in the sea-kayak, I paddled across water which had been frozen a few weeks earlier. It was another very similar day, just 10 degrees warmer and the occasional shower, now of rain.

Loch Gaineimh.
Loch Gaineimh.

I ducked under the road-bridge over the Sleachd, you might need to get out of the boat and carry it across if the loch is higher. This is a favourite route of mine, the western arm of Loch More is very peaceful and eventually narrows to a deep, wide channel which you can paddle up for quite a long way.

It’s a good place to practice rolls and rescues when the water is warm in summer, but certainly not when it was only a degree or so above freezing.

Half a mile on and a small burn enters from the right, the Uidh Ruadh. It looks nothing but is surprisingly navigable and twists through endless hairpins and sharp bends giving good practice of all the turning strokes.

If this is your first visit, the feeling of exploring unknown territory is strong! Another half a mile on and the narrow channel suddenly opens out into a big body of water which no human has ever seen before. Or so it feels. Of course it’s marked on the maps as Loch Gaineimh.

You might, possibly, see somebody fishing here in summer but otherwise you are guaranteed to have the whole loch to yourself. Surrounded by moor and forest, and with sandy shores, it’s a lovely quiet spot to enjoy paddling round with a landing or two on a beach.

The bridge over the Sleachd.
The bridge over the Sleachd.

There’s a decaying fishing hut at the south-western corner, now leaning at a strange angle but still providing a bit of shelter from the wind with a view out over the loch from the doorway.

The remoteness is though illusory, the railway is less than a mile away and the gated Altnabreac road passes close to the northern shore.

The gates on this road are locked but they should not be. Taxpayers paid to plant these forests, public money built the road, public money was used to create a set of walks at Loch Caise. Ordinary people who don’t ride bikes or horses should be allowed to drive to the public railway station of Altnabreac.

The return journey down the Uidhe Ruadh and the Sleachd always seems shorter, perhaps because the current helps you along. I paddled across the loch towards Achscoriclate then headed back towards the dam, taking the same route I’d skied just a month earlier.

View from the leaning fishing hut.
View from the leaning fishing hut.

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