“A Canoe Perspective” of the Scottish Highlands

5-minute read + 23-minute film

In this beautiful short film, cinematographer Jamie Barnes takes us along with him and fellow canoeist Martin Trahan on A Canoe Perspective of the Scottish Highlands:

Jamie graciously took some time to offer additional thoughts and description about this trip for us:

Canoe Tripping the Scottish Highlands

“The wind and water are ever-changing and do not conform to the plans that we make. Canoeing teaches you to let go and be more present in the moment.”
~ Jamie Barnes

Jamie grew up in the UK so he knows the area well. He’s canoed in North America too, with first-hand experience in wilderness areas much more vast than Scotland. But every canoe destination has its own unique features and charm.

“Scotland, and other parts of the UK, have some well-established canoeing routes,” Jamie said. “One of the most famous is the Great Glen Canoe Trail, a route that navigates the Caledonian Canal, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and the mighty Loch Ness. Another favorite of paddlers is the Spey River, from source to sea.”

This Highlands excursion, though, was very quiet for Jamie and Martin. In fact, Jamie noted he’s never encountered another person on his trips there.

Part of that is due to its remoteness. It’s not as accessible as some of the other routes. Also, he prefers to visit the Highlands off-season for a couple of reasons:

  • He’s able to avoid the high numbers of tourists.
  • He doesn’t love the small biting flies (called midges) that are widespread in the area during the summers.

drone view of two canoeists paddling a loaded canoe

Martin and Jamie make their way down a Scottish Loch (photo courtesy of Jamie Barnes)

Challenges of Their Trip

The Scottish Highlands are renowned for their rugged beauty, but also for the changeable and often unforgiving weather they experience.

On this particular trip, their route took them to the northwestern mountains of the Highlands starting on the southeast end of Loch Veyatie. They paddled towards this long, narrow loch’s northeast end and into much smaller Loch a’Mhadail.

3D map of the canoe trip route in the Scottish Highlands

Jamie created this map that shows their route and rugged terrain

A quick paddle over Loch a’Madail brought them to a 3-4 kilometer land crossing to Loch Sionascaig, “a vast irregularly-shaped loch that has a cluster of tree-covered islands which are great for camping!”

Jamie said, “Having spent some time paddling in Canada this year, I can certainly say that portaging is very different in Scotland! On this route, there are no well-established trails. And the trails where people have previously walked can be very muddy, often knee-deep in places.

“The best practice I’ve learned is to make your own path through the landscape, opting for routes with the least obstacles. Much of this region of Scotland is void of trees and large vegetation. The ground is mostly thick grass and spongey mosses which make it very tough to walk over.

“A benefit of this, though, is that it’s possible to slide your canoe over the top of it, providing your route is clear of any boulders or sharp rocks that could damage the hull.”

As they had packed quite heavily (Jamie admits, most of the weight being his camera gear), they carried the canoe over first then retraced their steps to bring their remaining gear.

Martin Trahan in the stern of the canoe paddling in the Scottish Highlands

Martin isn’t phased by the Highlands weather (photo courtesy of Jamie Barnes)

From Loch Sionascaig they made their way north for another land crossing to Loch a’Ghille, then a final portage to Fionn Loch which eventually merges back with Loch Veyatie through a small channel of rapids. They ended at their starting point, making a complete loop.

Jamie and Martin had to condense their time on this trip for a couple of reasons. First, Martin’s gear kit didn’t make it over the ocean (he lives in Canada). That required some creative adaptations. Then they had to hole up on an island an extra night due to dangerously high winds.

“Thankfully, our patience with the elements and our determination to complete the journey had paid off. Even if we had had to turn back earlier in the trip it wouldn’t have mattered. It was being out here that was important,” says Jamie in his video narration.

Highlights of This Scotland Canoe Trip

Anyone who’s been on a wilderness canoe trip can relate to Jamie’s comment in his video narration: “Canoeing trips are all about the basics. Stripping away the things you don’t need and taking only the essentials.”

car with canoe on top, ready to begin a canoe trip in the Scottish Highlands

Paddling. Portaging. Camping. Fighting headwinds and enduring cold, wet weather. Marveling at the landscape while being challenged by the terrain. All are part of what makes these trips special and beckon us to go back for more.

Jamie also recognized that “seeing this incredible landscape through Martin’s eyes helped me appreciate it as though seeing it myself for the first time again.”

Bending Branches in Scotland

We’re proud to have been a small part of this film because our whole purpose is to help people find outdoor adventure and make memories, like Jamie and Martin did on this Scotland canoe trip.

Jamie shared this with us:

“Aside from my love of techy things like my cameras, I've always been a little old-school when it comes to my outdoor kit. I've always favored wooden paddles—they have a simplicity about them that’s alluring to me.

“The craftsmanship of making a paddle is part of a legacy that’s been tested and proved by cultures around the world for thousands of years. The Bending Branches team has taken this legacy and continued it in their own way with a range of gorgeous paddles that are both functional and reliable.

“My Explorer Plus and Java ST paddles come along on all of my paddling journeys. When not in use, they look great up on the wall back home!”

Jamie Barnes paddles a canoe

Outdoor cinematographer and canoeist Jamie Barnes (photo by Ian Finch)

You can learn more about Jamie Barnes and his work on his website and Instagram page. His film “A Canoe Perspective” as well as his other Scotland canoeing films are on his YouTube channel.

Photos and video courtesy of Jamie Barnes.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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