Packraft UK: Morar to Fort William

Packrafting through Glen Pean

Day 1 – Hike along north shore of Loch Morar

This page contains accounts of solo packrafting in remote locations. No paddlesports instructor would recommend this and neither do I. If you choose to packraft solo, then you and you alone are responsible for that decision and your safety. Nothing in this site constitutes a recommendation to paddle alone.

In January 2019, I packed up my packraft and headed on the sleeper service to Fort William. On arrival, the weather was poor, with a strong wind blowing in from the west and heavy rain. I waited out the weather in a cafe in Fort William waiting for the Mallaig train to take me to Morar. That particular journey must rate as one of the most spectacular in the UK, and it includes the Glenfinnan viaduct of Harry Potter fame.

You can read more about paddling Loch Morar in the highly recommended book Scottish Canoe Classics. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the link below. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps me to maintain the site. Thank you.

I got off at Morar, one stop before Mallaig and started walking. This was my first multi-day packraft and to be honest, I overpacked pretty massively. My pack weighted 22kg! The going along the road north of Loch Morar was slow although the rain at least stopped whilst I was walking.

As it was January and already mid-afternoon I started scouting for somewhere to camp. There are signs up everywhere warning that you must not camp on the shore, although it seems to me that there is no legal basis for the signage. I understand there is frustration about people setting up big family tents on the shore during the summer, so it is understandable. However I was intending to camp using my Trailstar from Mountain Laurel Designs and was not intending to leave any sign of my presence.

I was aware that if I walked too far I would end up on the fairly steep ground on the sides of the loch, but if I stopped too early I’d be close to the houses that dot the shoreline. Eventually I settled on a sub-optimal pitch with views over the loch but on quite uneven and wet ground. I pitched the Trailstar as best I could and got in just before a downpour.

It must be said that I was grateful to put the pack down, and given the forecast for the next day was much improved was hopeful that I would not have to carry it any further the next day as I would be able to paddle. I settled down with some whisky and a hot meal before getting some sleep.

Day 2 – Loch Morar and Glen Pean

The next morning I woke intentionally early, keen to pack away given I was only around 500 metres from some houses. I packed the raft, walked a short distance to a beach and launched into calm water, my pack stuffed into a bivvy bag onto the front of the raft to keep it dry.

Unfortunately the calm conditions didn’t last, and as I neared the end of the loch the waves were getting quite large. Although I didn’t feel I was going to capsize, it was hard going and I was acutely conscious that this was the deepest body of freshwater in the UK! After a slightly unnerving paddle across open water to ensure wasn’t blown off course I passed Oban bothy (closed at this time of year) and landed on the beach. I was relieved to be on the beach, but standing in a wet wetsuit in the wind I suddenly became very cold and I awkwardly wrestled my wetsuit off and changed into warm clothes on the beach. I ate a sandwich, but didn’t want to hang around for long as I was conscious that Glenpean is mostly trackless difficult terrain, which would be slow going at the best of times but even more so with such a heavy pack. I looked at my empty water bottle, then my filter, then decided the water looked clean enough and just scooped up a bottle full directly from the loch. Probably not a wise decision but in the end no harm was done.

I shouldered my pack and set off. It was around 12:30pm and I knew I had around 3.5 hours until darkness started to fall. I was expecting the going to be slow, but after 2.5 hours I was exhausted and had gone only about 2km. I’d had to ford a few rivers, had wet, heavy boots, had navigated some very boggy ground and had a modest climb to complete to get into Glenpean. It was modest if you were carrying a normal pack, but with mine it was hell. At around 3.15pm I decided to stop and set up camp. The terrain would probably have been dangerous if I had tried to continue at night. Better to remain safe, particularly as this area is devoid of a mobile signal.

I enjoyed some food and finished my loch water. I then refilled from a waterfall nearby. I studied the map and decided I was probably not going to make it all the way back to Fort William for my return train, but I could make it to Spean Bridge, and from the there I could take a train. I also noted that after the Glen, the next loch (Loch Arkaig) had a small road running around the north shore, and this could be safely navigated in the dark with a headtorch. Hence I could extend my day in order to catch up lost ground.

Day 3 – Glen Pean to Loch Arkaig

The next morning I woke fairly late, although it was still dark. I made some porridge and a coffee and reviewed the map again. My first target was Glenpean bothy. It was around 4.5km away, which given the progress the previous day didn’t necessarily mean I would reach it quickly. And between me the bothy stood a Lochan, which I initially intended to walk around as it was small and it would be quicker than setting up the raft.

The going was equally slow today, I picked my way down a rocky path to the floor of the glen, which was very soggy and boggy. I continued to ford the river occasionally and then, suddenly, there was the Lochan. Inspecting the path I decided it was absolutely the right decision to paddle. The path is not great and indeed the estate have a row boat chained up for use presumably by stalking clients to get across, an odd sign of civilisation in a place so remote.

I didn’t put my wetsuit on to save time, and besides the lochan was completely still. In the end, this was one of the highlights of the trip. A completely serene 5 or 6 minute paddle across in stunning surroundings. I put my worries about making it to Spean Bridge to one side and just relaxed and enjoyed the experience, grateful for 500 metres of progress without having to carry my pack.

On the other side, there were sudden signs of civilisation. Now there was a 4×4 track to follow, which was still rugged and challenging but better than walking on pathless terrain. In time, Glenpean bothy came into view and I knew that meant that the road was close. My spirits started to rise and once I reached the bothy I made myself some curry and a cup of tea. Then I set off through the felled plantation before quickly finding the road.

It had taken several hours to get to the bothy, and after another hour I reached Loch Arkaig. I was steeling myself for a long walk with my increasingly uncomfortable pack. However, I rounded the corner at Loch Arkaig having seen nobody for 2 days, and was surprised to see a mountain biker. He remarked how heavy my pack looked and asked me what I had been doing. I told him and within 5 minutes he asked me if I’d like a lift to Spean Bridge as he had his car not far away. I had intended to packraft Loch Arkaig, but knew in reality I’d have to walk most of it in the dark (packrafting at night seemed a risk too far!). In the end, I could have kissed him. Within an hour I was checked into a hotel, showered, warm and had a beer in my hand. Not quite the full trip I had intended and showed a naivety in the planning that was a definite lesson learned. Take less stuff, and allow more time!

I returned to Fort William the next day by train and then caught the sleeper back to London.

Youtube user veletron packrafted this route before me, wisely in the summer and completed the whole route. There is a fantastic video of this trip here if you are interested to see more.

If you are interested to learn more about packrafting, I thoroughly recommend the following book. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps me to maintain this site. Thank you.

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