Weekend Warm-Up: The Last Wilderness of Scotland

Lockdowns and closed borders have a way of redefining goals. After almost a year stuck indoors because of COVID, two Scotsmen decided to cut loose with a long canoe loop. At first, they planned to link three lochs together in a single expedition — Lochs Maree, Fionn, and Fada. But by the time they set off, they were embarking on an entirely different objective.

Known locally as Scotland’s Last Wilderness, the Northwest Highlands have barely changed in hundreds of years. City dwellers find the 12-hour drive from London’s perimeter unworthy of the hassle. The wind-lashed snowy mountains, wildly long grass, cold rivers, isolation, and few creature comforts aren’t for everyone. But Ian Finch and his friend Jamie Barnes found this an Ideal venue for a post-lockdown paddle.

map of two of the lochs

The duo planned to complete all three lochs with land portage between. Barnes — a cinematographer and outdoor guide — documented the experience.

They started with the 22km-long Loch Maree. The fourth largest freshwater loch in Scotland, Maree has five large wooded islands and 60 small islands.

Little noise greeted the paddlers except for the call of tawny owl and chattering tree branches from stags wandering through. The only sign of humanity came from two fighter jets darting overhead through the grey sky.


After completing Maree, the duo carried their gear for the 10km commute to Loch Fionn, a smaller, shallow, freshwater loch. Here, poor weather constantly challenged the canoeists. Finch and Barnes had to hunker down after swells threatened to capsize them into the frigid water.

On land, they found an old hut where they enjoyed natural air conditioning through broken walls. But it was five-star luxury compared to the sodden countryside. When the bad weather broke, they resumed their paddle on Loch Fada, the smallest of the three. Fada ceremoniously rounded off the expedition without issue.

The pair’s journey was about championing adaptation, the relentless need to change course based on twists and turns of nature.

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall is a writer for ExplorersWeb. She has been writing about exploration and historical expeditions for four years. Previously she wrote about the human body in relation to exercise for publications and websites based in New Zealand. She also wrote modules for the Zealand Certificate of Exercise, Level 4. Based on Wellington’s South Coast, New Zealand, Myall is a full-time mother of two young girls, an enthusiastic trail runner, and a fanatical traveler. She also owns and operates a small travel agency.