Slioch in background taken from inlet on W side of Eilean Subhainn
Loch Maree must be the gem of highland lochs for the canoeist. It contains many small islands which, to explore them all, would take a considerable time. The eastern section of the loch is dominated by Slioch (980 meters) and can be accessed easily from the Nature Trail car park about 4 miles west of Kinlochewe. The islands are best accessed from the car park at Slattadale. The most westerly island is Eilean Ruairidh Mor which might be owned by the Forestry Commission and, like most of the other islands, is quite rocky and densely forested but there are a few beaches to allow easy landing. It is useful to have your map on deck when exploring this are as it is easy to get confused as there are so many inlets and islands. There is a lot more information on these Islands on Scottish National Nature Reserve website: http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/designatedareas/nnrs/LochMaree/LochMaree.asp There has been a lot of conflict between the canoeing fraternity and Scottish Natural Heritage regarding access to the loch and its islands. A few years ago there was even a notice saying "No Canoeing" on the loch side. This has all changed now, possibly due to the introduction of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which can be viewed or downloaded at: http://nnr-scotland.org/pdfs/access/ApprovedCode050604.pdf and you can technically canoe on the loch at any time provided you observe the code and avoid areas where you might disturb any of the protected species which live and breed on the islands. The protected species that we are concerned about are, the Sea or White-tailed Eagle, the Crossbill and the Black-throated Diver. The Black-throated Diver is the main problem. This bird nests very close to the water and only lays one or two egg. At the best of times this bird has a struggle to survive as its nest is prone to flooding and it is not immune to predators like the Pine martin which also inhabits these islands. These birds should be given a wide berth during the nesting time which is from mid April to mid August (virtually the whole summer!!) The trouble is that when they are nesting they are not easy to spot and it is very easy to disturb them by accident. It is for this reason that you are asked to contact the local SNH officer, Eoghain Maclean on 01445760254 between 8.30 am and 5pm or out with these times on 07900226132 or by e-mail: Eoghain.Maclean@snh.gov.uk who will tell you what areas to avoid and is generally very helpful and knowledgeable about the loch and its wildlife. The picture below has been taken by Eoghan and you should contact him if you wish to reproduce it in any way.
Black-throated Diver with chick Loch Maree © Eoghain Maclean
More about Black-throated Divers here: http://www.welcometoscotland.com/about-scotland/wildlife-around-scotland/northern-birds/black-throated-diver
And more about the history of Isle Maree here: http://www.philipcoppens.com/lochmaree.html
Rocky wooded shores of Eilean Ruairidh Mor Having a rest on Garbh Eilean
Isle Maree lies off the north eastern shore of Eilean Subhainn and has the remains of an 8th century chapel. with associated gravestones some are relatively new (17th century) but other stone slabs are much older. The island also contains a holly well and wish tree which is festooned with coins. There are shingle beaches all round the island and landing is easy. Unlike the other islands there is less heather vegetation and indistinct paths lead you to the various points of interest. There have been reports of various pagan rituals being performed and there are a few holly trees which I did not notice on the other islands.
Tombstones on Isle Maree General view of Chapel area
Coins on Wish Tree Isle Maree General view of Wish Tree Isle Maree
Eilean Subhainn is the largest island in the group and contains three or four lochans. The following picture shows a nest box which has been erected to encourage Goldeneye ducks to the island. I don't believe that the Goldeneye have ever used these nest boxes although they have been occupied by owls in the past. . Floating platforms have also been built as nesting sites for the Black-throated Divers. It seems to me as sad reflection of the state of the wild life in Scotland when we have to artificially provide nesting sites. Although the islands appear natural there is quite a bit of interference by man. I understand that some species of trees etc have been cut down because they are not "Native". It seems to me that by interfering in this way you are attempting to hold back nature and are trying to preserve these islands at some point in the past. If that is the case I wonder if the islands can really be called a National Nature Reserve. Perhaps these islands should be called a "Garden Reserve" or "Loch Maree Islands Garden" in which it would be perfectly acceptable to weed out undesirable species and encourage others. On the other hand, perhaps the general public want these islands maintained as a monument to the past.
Large nest box on dead pine tree Eilean Subhainn
A bed of lilies with Slioch in the background Ripples in the sand, Loch Maree
Car park at Slattadale Cliffs to west of Rubh 'Aird and Anail
Typical wooded island south of Rubh 'Aird an Anail
Exploring the south end of the loch is also very interesting. Starting off at the Beinn Eighe Nature Trail car park you can paddle across the loch to a prominent waterfall coming down from the Slioch which after heavy rain is quite dramatic although not quite as spectacular as the one coming down from Meallan Ghobhar which is seen a couple of miles to the south east.
Waterfall from Slioch Allt Smiorasair Waterfall at Meallan Ghobhar
Proceeding eastward towards the head of the loch you pass the remains of an old Iron Works which used local wood to produce iron. As far as I could see there was not much left of this but you might be able to make out some sort of structure in the foreground of the picture. Further east, at the head of the loch, you will find many river channels or inlets which are interesting to explore.
The remains of the old Iron Works Interesting channels at the head of the Loch
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