26.10.2017

SCOTLAND PACKRAFTING - THE ISLE OF JURA

"JURA" comes actually from the Norse and means DEER. Ever since not the worst label for an island with a density of stags and does reaching 6000 animals on a 40x15 km sized island, outnumbering human inhabitants 40 times. However, we would rather name the Island "jurrasic" for its prehistoric character for its numerous caves, wild animalsand thick fern vegetation.

Jura catched our interest mainly by the totally uninhabitated west coast with neither paths nor roads. Although unspectacular situated in southern corner of the Hebrides, not far from the mainland, it is Scotlands best kept secret!

We would claim that Jura is the place as close to wilderness as one can get in Scotland. A straight line of a couple days walking uncrossed by paths and roads is hard to get, even in "wild" Scotland.

Nigel in his Alligator 2S Pro in Scottish waters
And here the packraft comes into the game to answer the question of how long it 'll take from the northern tip to the southern most part, serving as a Ferry access. Especially the possibility to cross the fjord Tabert, dividing the Island in two parts (extending the west coast more than one and a half times), let alone the many bays and peninsualsen route (already stretching the pure lenght of the island  beyond).


Nigel from Scotland provides us a thorough guide to packraft this extraordinary place! 



from Nigel Webber
There are two ways to get to Jura: 
  1. By car/bike/foot with Calmac Ferries departing from Kennacraig on the Mull of Kintyre. You’ll arrive at either Port Ellen or Port Askaig on the island of Islay (home of many more Whiskys!). A further ferry from Port Askaig then takes you to Jura. If travelling on foot, select the Kennacraig to Port Askaig sailing rather than the Port Ellen Sailing. Once on Jura, you can catch the irregular bus, or drive the 8 miles to the main village of Craighouse. Timetable to see here.
  2. In summer, a passenger ferry operates and it’s possible to travel directly from the mainland at Tayvallich to Craighouse.
Craighouse is home to about 150 of the islands 200 residents. Camping (with donation) is possible on the foreshore in front of the village pub, toilet facilities are nearby. There are of course other more salubrious options!

Craighouse from the packraft



Paddle 1 – The Craighouse Islands
A paddle can begin from Craighouse in the sea to the east of the island. This is fairly sheltered due to the presence of several off-shore islands which are well worth landing on. They offer splendid views across the Jura and its Mountains – ‘The Paps Of Jura’. 

Craighouse and the Paps of Jura from one of the offshore islands

Paddle 2 – Loch na Mile
Further north on the islands ‘main’ road, you’ll reach a junction after a bridge with some parking. The parking is for the walk on the Paps of Jura. 
Turning right after the bridge, and then right down a dirt track brings you to a beach offering zero-facilities camping, and somewhere else to launch your packraft for a paddle up the coast (Loch na Mile on the map). From here, a good paddle could be had up to Lagg Bay, about 10KM to the north. This trip can be extended to Tarbert and to Inverlussa (zero facilities camping at each location). This is not one for the inexperienced or one to packraft alone as there are long sections where landing is not really an option. Note the bus times before setting off, and also the wind direction as it may be better to paddle this north to south.I did not do the full route here as I was on my own, and it was a bit rough once out of the bay! Better weather and company required!

Looking back towards Loch na Mile


Loch na Mile Camping Spot


It would be easy (given the right weather) to combine paddle 2 (as far as Tarbert) with Paddle 3 below. This would make a superb multi-day trip with about 25KM of paddling and 12KM of walking.


Paddle 3 – Loch Tarbert
Heading further north, you’ll reach Tarbert. NB: There are many ‘Tarberts’ in Scotland, as the word means ‘narrow strip of land where two Lochs almost join’. From Tarbert, a multi-day trip can be undertaken. You’ll want to check the tides are right for this trip. The trip can be varied to suit time/tides/wind and done the other around to suit.It is explained here as a 10KM paddle with an 8KM walk back to the main road afterwards, but there are lots of possibilities to extend it depending on your experience and the weather. The trip will be better if the tide is not all the way out! The text below is based on starting at Tarbert.

Leave any vehicles on the grass verge to the west of the road, and head down the track (west) to Loch Tarbert, and get those packrafts in the water. 

The route from here navigates the various narrows heading out to Loch Tarbert proper, and ‘Cruib Lodge’. This is an open Bothy where you can overnight for free. The paddle to the bothy is only 4KM making it an afternoon/evening trip. You can simply paddle back from here, but that would be missing the point. Overnight in the bothy, and then continue the next day.

Paddling Loch Tarbert

Narrows before the Bothy


Packraft in front of Cruib Bothy

From Cruib Lodge, head west, sticking to the northern shore, passing EileanAird. At the narrows, cross the loch, and follow the southern shore to GlenBatrick.Here, you’ll find a private house, but it’s perfectly legal in Scotland to camp on the shoreline under the ‘leave no trace’ Scottish Outdoor Access Legislation – and the owner was friendly!

Glenbatrick Bay - looking through the narrows


Glenbatrick Bay 


Glenbatrick Lodge, Paps Of Jura Behind

From Glenbatrick, pack up the raft, and walk out to the road at Knockrome via the 8KM ‘Evans Way’. The path is better in the middle section than it is at either end! If the weather is good, you should be walking with the Paps of Jura as your backdrop.

Evans Walk


Should you wish to extend the trip, you have several options:
  • Tour Loch Tarbert: Head to the opposite shore, aiming for An Sailean (there is a private estate house at Ruantallain), and then onward to the beach at BreinPhort, before paddling back east into Loch Tarbert, or, doing Evans Walk.
  • Head North up Jura’s wild west coast: A 17KM paddle will get you to Glengarrisdale Bay – where there is another bothy. It’s possible to walk back to the top end of the bus route (Inverlassa) from here, but it’s about 13KM on a vague rough path that gets better the further you walk.
  • Head south back to the ferry terminal: 14KM of wild paddling – beware the tides as you enter the sound of Islay – they run fast here, too fast to paddle against.
If you choose to go north or south, you should be suitably prepared and experienced. There are limited landing possibilities and if it goes wrong, it will be hard and time consuming to walk out to the road over the pathless, boggy, rugged terrain. I have not done the north or south options I mention here (I know my limits!), I explored Loch Tarbert instead!

You may well have heard of the Corryvrecken  Whirlpool? The forms in the narrow strip of water to the north of Jura between Jura and the uninhabited isle of Scarba. Its caused by the tidal flow here and a huge pinnacle that sticks up from the sea floor, ending just 30M below the surface. This does get sea-kayaked in slack-water, and using a counter eddy that forms close to Scarba. I don’t know whether anyone has as-yet pack-rafted it? Maybe you could be the first?!

Gulf of Corryvrecken with Scarba beyond




Gulf of Corryvrecken with Scarba beyond
Other idea’s
  • The Corryvrecken can be reached on foot from the road-end. The public road finishes 5KM beyond Ardlussa, and remains mountain bikeable for a further 8KM to Kinuachdrachd. The view over the Gulf of Corryvrecken is a further 3.5KM on foot. This route passes Barnhill Cottage - literary fans will know this as the location that George Orwell penned the novel 1984 back in 1948.
  • Evans walk – about 16KM return – path poor at either end of the walk
  • Paps of Jura – this is a full day’s undertaking on very rugged/loose terrain
  • The walk to the bothy at Glengarrisdale Bay
  • Head up to Inverlussa - you’ll find a large, flat grassy area suitable for camping (but note that there are no facilities). There’s also a 2KM section of white water on the River Luss, no grading so inspect it beforehand. Its also a grand place from which to launch your Packraft.
Inverlussa Camping



Safety
Jura is remote, and its western shore and wee mountains are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.  The weather can get very bad very quickly. Aside from a few areas where a 2G signal can be gained from the mainland, there is zero mobile phone coverage, and you’ll only find WiFi in the main village ‘Craighouse’ – believe it or not, they even have fibre!
Jura sports some of the fastest tides on the planet – you’ll not outpaddle them in a Sea Kayak let alone a packraft! These tides mostly effect the Gulf of Corryvrecken and the Sound of Islay to the north and south of Jura respectively, but check the tide times before you paddle! I paddled back through the narrows on Loch Tarbert from Cruib bothy on an outgoing tide – hard work but doable!