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Steering clear of Nessie during kayak outing on Loch Ness with Explore Highland

By John Davidson

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Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland
Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland

Nessie always goes for the slow paddlers at the back, we are warned before we even take to the water – and at this time of year she’s fattening up for winter.

Clara, my nine-year-old daughter, sees right through this. “I don’t think Nessie’s going to eat us,” she tells me, as we sit in our tandem kayak on dry land with our guide Donald Macpherson taking us through the basics.

This is the first time Clara has been in a kayak, and this tandem set-up is a perfect introduction. She even gets to take the front seat, while I sit in the back to take control of the rudder.

Having gone through the safety briefing, out first test is getting into the water without taking a dip. Thankfully, my demonstration works and Clara follows suit, already seeming comfortable in her new surroundings.

She pushes us off from the jetty at Dochgarroch and we paddle across the canal to the far bank. Thankfully there’s not much traffic on the water today as we meander south past the moored boats and the weir into Loch Dochfour.

Despite being so close to the main road, it’s amazingly peaceful down here on the water, and we follow a diving bird as we make our way towards an old wooden jetty.

Looking at one of the navigation buoys, we can see that there’s a slight flow in the water in the direction of the weir. Donald explains that this is because the loch is man-made and is actually a flooded remnant of the original River Ness, which would have run from Lochend all the way into Inverness.

In between the two wrecked coal barges.
In between the two wrecked coal barges.

The 19th-century engineer Thomas Telford took advantage of this stretch of water when he was designing the Caledonian Canal, saving six miles of digging and lining work by flooding the river and creating the weir to control the water flowing into the Ness.

After paddling past the buoy, and avoiding the weir, Donald sets us our first challenge of the day. We have to paddle fast in a sheltered inlet towards an old boat house, do a ‘handbrake turn’ and reverse park in the shed.

Once we realise he is serious, we get going! I love doing these little tight manoeuvres but I don’t really know what to expect in a tandem, so I try to quickly coach Clara with which stroke to do as we approach ready to slam on the brakes. She does a great job and we manage to back-paddle nicely into the boat house.

Clara is having great fun out on the water and I am too, getting to grips with the rudder steering and the dynamics of tandem kayaking.

As we exit the boat house, Donald sets our next challenge, which he calls ‘between a rock and a hard place’. It’s a narrow gap between – you guessed it – a rock and the hard place is a metal bar sticking high out of the water, meaning you have to get enough momentum to sail through the gap while you lift your paddle vertically so you don’t hit either side.

Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland
Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland

From here we had a gentle paddle down the eastern shore of Loch Dochfour, sheltering out of the flow and the light breeze while admiring the trees overhanging the water in their beautiful autumn shades.

In the midst of a number of days of horrible weather, we seem to have picked the one day when there is a little bit of sunshine, making the colours stand out, and almost perfect calm, with mirror-still water in places on the journey.

Chatting as we head gently towards Loch Ness, Donald tells us about a time he spotted a kingfisher on this stretch, just sitting on a branch overhanging the water. Today we see a buzzard overhead and there are lots of ducks around which Clara is delighted to see!

Past a couple of little islands, we head along the last stretch of canal into Loch Ness. On the right here is Bona Lighthouse, which marks the entrance to the canal. You can still see the window where the light once shone, though now this intriguing building is a holiday home with an idyllic view down Loch Ness.

Round the corner, we land on Lochend beach to stretch our legs and enjoy a bite to eat. From here, you get a real sense of scale as Loch Ness stretches as far as the eye can see.

Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland
Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland

After our little refuelling stop, we are back in the water, paddling over the top of a wreck before heading for another buoy which we have to round before heading back into the canal.

On the way back into Loch Dochfour, we have a bit of fun surfing on the wake from a passing boat before Donald gives us our final test of the day.

The figure-of-eight involves doing just that around two wrecked coal barges in Loch Dochfour. There are a few narrow gaps and overhanging trees and the test is to complete the circuit without touching trees or barges with any part of your boat or paddle.

Working in tandem, this is no easy task but we manage to do the first loop pretty well. Getting round the back of the second barge proves a bit trickier as Clara and I both nudge something with our paddle before getting very close to the barge on the exit. Not a bad effort, though, and unfortunately there isn’t time for a second attempt to perfect the circuit!

Now we are making our way back up the canal, avoiding the weir again and just enjoying being out on the water. Before we even finish the trip, Clara turns round and asks if we can go kayaking again. From my seat at the back, I can see her cheeks go wide as she grins with delight at this great outing.

We even manage to safely disembark back at the jetty! I think we could be back on the water together next season. Here’s hoping!

* For more details on trips with Donald Macpherson, see www.explorehighland.com

Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland
Kayaking Loch Ness with Explore Highland. Picture: Explore Highland

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