Canoes ready to launch

A Family Canoe Adventure

Waking up late to a view as calm and beautiful as this was inspiration for a family canoe adventure. And it was a surprise that it wasn’t the otter that made an appearance, but a common seal! A little unusual to see them this far up Loch Sunart, but a good omen for the day’s adventure perhaps…

Reflections of mountains
Loch Sunart of a perfectly calm morning (Image courtesy of C#Photography)

Our family canoe adventure

Our aim for this half-day family canoe adventure was to explore the islands at Ardery (Ard Airigh), just 6 miles from Strontian, to see if any seals were still around and, hopefully, see another otter at this ‘hotspot’.

The short walk from the carpark to the water (a little longer at low water) with the canoes and equipment brought us to a stunning view towards the hills above the Laudale Estate House.

Family canoe adventure
Launching from a sheltered bay fro a family canoe adventure

Unfortunately for us, our slow start to the day meant that the best of the sunshine and calm waters had disappeared by the time we got out of the bay.

Canoes on Loch Sunart
Two canoes following each other along Loch Sunart


Canoe adventure
The temperature dropped and the wind picked up…

Ample wildlife sightings

Within minutes a distant sighting of an otter feeding on a seaweed covered rock distracted us from thoughts of paddling, but the otter disappeared before we were all able to get a good sighting of it so we headed on towards the Laudale Narrows at high tide. Having checked out just how narrow it was compared to the rest of the loch, we doubled back towards the islands in search of more otters, seals, heron, oyster catchers – basically any wildlife we could spot from our quiet mode of transport.

And we were not disappointed with what we saw!

As we moved toward the islands, now travelling with the growing breeze, this cute ‘fellow’ popped his head above the water…

Common seal in water
Common seal surfaces nearby to watch us in our canoes

Every time she disappeared under water, we would wait patiently to see if she resurfaced. When she didn’t, we would pick up our paddles and she would reappear on the other side of our canoes or behind us. Almost as if she were taunting us with her abilities in the water compared to our bumblings. A couple of times we followed a trail of bubbles in the water, watching as something passed very close…

Tea, cake and rockpooling

After a time seal spotting we made for a beach for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

Coffee cups on beach
Stopping to explore bays and beaches allows time to brew up a coffee

It never takes long for someone to find ‘treasure’ on the beaches when we stop during our adventures. Today it was a perfect, if rather petite, sea urchin shell (or ‘test’). The word ‘urchin’ is an old word for ‘hedgehog’. It is not hard to see some resemblance between a live urchin and a hedgehog.

Sea urchin shell
The intact remains of a sea urchin shell

Wildlife watching

Suitably refreshed and legs stretched, we looked at the building breeze and decided to follow the shoreline where it was more sheltered from the wind. This gave us more chance of seeing another otter but meant passing underneath the amazing Garbh Eileen wildlife hide at Ardery.

Normally we would not pass between the hide and the islands, even though our almost silent mode of transport has minimal impact upon the wildlife,. It somehow seems unfair on visitors to the hide even though we have the same intentions – observe as much wildlife in it’s natural habitat.

We are lucky to have such a resource only six miles from Strontian and have cycled there on a number of occasions to look for otters. While we have yet to see any from the hide, we regularly see common seals. It has been known for red deer to swim out to the islands from next to the hide. Otters have also been seen playing on the rocky beach underneath the viewing windows! While such sightings are rare, they must be memories that remain with the observer forever.

Garbh Eilean wildlife hide
Canoes passing under the Garbh Eilean wildlife hide overlooking Loch Sunart in Ardery


Reflections on a canoe
Sun dappled reflections of the water on a canoe

We had some shelter from the wind on the way back, but the sun did not show itself again until back on the beach!

This had been a brilliant way to end our half-day canoe adventure. Images of the sun shining on the rippling water casting dancing reflections on the ocean turquoise of the canoes…