I was surprised to discover that the River Tay, in terms of volume of discharge, contains more fresh water than any other river in the United Kingdom. It shouldn’t have come as a shock as it has a catchment area of nearly 2,000 square miles, much of it mountainous. Downstream of Perth the river becomes tidal and it was this stretch of the river that we explored on Sunday morning.
The morning dawned damp and overcast. But we were keen to get on the water when we met in the small village of Newburgh, which is on the south shore of the River Tay. The tide had just turned and the plan was to use the ebb tide to carry us in the direction of Dundee and the famous bridges.
It was a journey of 11 nautical miles, a distance which slipped quickly past but didn’t seem to require too much effort. The tide seemed to be doing most of the work. I was surprised to see a number of seals. One in particular seemed to be enjoying his morning break, feeding on rather a large fish and in no hurry to move out of our way.
Coming from Jersey, I enjoyed paddling past relatively long stretches of wooded shoreline. An environment which is relatively rare on the island. The sight of deer running through the fields or walking along the shore was an added bonus.
The dominant feature of the paddle though was the Tay Railway Bridge. The original bridge was opened to railway traffic on the 1st June 1878. On the evening of the 28th December 1879 a violent gale was blowing. At 7.13 pm a train headed across the bridge but disappeared in the darkness. The exact number of people who died isn’t known but thought to be 74 or 75.
The events of that evening were described in the poem by Willaim McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” I remembering studying it for English A Level at school. So bad that it was shown to us as an example of how not to write poetry.
Paddling under the new bridge and seeing the remains of the old bridge, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events of that night, 150 years ago. It was a fitting place to complete our Sunday paddle on the River Tay. Thanks once again to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Piotr, the owner of Outdoor Explore.
Following the pattern of kayaking in cities, on Friday evening it was the turn of one of Scotland’s newest city, Perth. A quick search produced a number of options but we were really successful in that we selected Outdoor Explore, a relatively small company based in eastern Scotland.
We met the owner Piotr at The Willowgate, just downstream from Perth on the River Tay. Whilst we were waiting for Piotr, an osprey flew past, which we took as a positive sign. As soon as Piotr arrived we unloaded kayaks, added the final items of kit and in what seemed like a few minutes were ready to launch.
The plan was launch and head upstream towards Perth in the hope that we would see some of the beavers, that have come to call this stretch of water home. Sadly we didn’t see the beavers although we saw plenty of evidence of their activity. We did see plenty of other things though, which would attract the attention of kayak tourists.
Piotr was so much more than a coach, he was a passionate leader, his enthusiasm and knowledge about the river and its surroundings was infectious. Our journey through Perth was so much more than a paddle. We did manage to push the current and we were able to get through the arches of the oldest bridge to span the river, the return journey was so much easier!
The biggest surprise of the trip was that we were on the water for over two and a half hours, we only really noticed how long we had been out when it went dark! We didn’t paddle that far but what we saw and heard was fascinating and all within the boundaries of what is know as “The Fair City”, thanks to Sir Walter Scott and the publication of his book “The Fair Maid of Perth in 1828.
Well the Scottish Symposium has been and gone, all that remains is the extended paddling programme. Two things set this event from the others, firstly it is the last one in its present format and secondly the unbelievable weather.
I travelled north in the expectation that I would be delivering a range of talks, including such diverse topics as Expedition Planning, Baja and Thirds, Twelfths and 50/90’s. As it turned out the weather was superb and in reality who would want to sit in a classroom listening to somebody ramble on about sea kayaking when they could be out on the water experiencing, first hand the impact of a Scottish heat wave.
Nearly 200 people attended the final Scottish Symposium, in its current form. The programme was the usual diverse mix of workshops, talks and paddles, delivered by some of Britain’s most experienced coaches. Fortunately common sense broke out among the participants and pretty much everybody went on the water with virtually every classroom session cancelled.
The key note lecture on Saturday evening, delivered by Gordon Brown and was very much in the form of a tribute to our friend Duncan Winning, who sadly passed away earlier this year. He was one of the most influential sea kayakers of the 20th Century as well being a vital cog in the machinery of the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium. His presence at the event was sorely missed.
As the Symposium drew to a close, after a weekend of perfect weather and the extended paddling programme started you couldn’t help but think that Duncan would have been with pleased with the way the weekend had evolved.
Over 6 weeks has passed since my incident in Gozo, which resulted in a ruptured achilles, I still have my leg in plaster and at times feel frustrated by my inability to get out on the water.
This weekend I had arranged an Advanced Sea Kayak Leader training course with paddlers visiting the Island from both the UK and France to take part. I was really looking forward to working with Olly Sanders, but it was not to be last weekend. I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange for Calum McKerral to fly down from Scotland and cover me at the last minute.
I was able to spend some of the evening preparing for the Scottish Se Kayak Symposium, which starts this Friday evening on the Isle of Skye. Having attended them all since 1995 it is an event, which holds great memories for me. Some fantastic paddles, inspirational talks and great social evenings over the last 20 plus years.
As this is due to be the last one it was an event I was particularly looking forward to attending and to do some more paddling in Scottish waters. In fact the plan was to remain in Scotland for a further week and to paddle around the Small Isles, with some of the other members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
With my leg still in plaster flying isn’t an option so Nicky and myself leave this evening on the ferry, to start the long journey north, taking slightly longer than normal as we are stopping off in Bristol to see Joan Baez in concert, on her farewell tour.
Instead of being out on the water this weekend with the Advanced Sea Kayak Leader Training, it has largely been spent inside the house preparing my talks for next weekend. I might not be able to paddle but at least I will be able to contribute to the lecture programme.
So it has been time spent re-acquainting myself with PowerPoint and searching through external hard drives for that one photo, which I feel might make all the difference but in reality won’t have an impact at all.
So talks on Expedition Planning, the weather, tidal planning, 12ths,3rds and 50/90, Baja and sea kayaking in the Mediterranean have gradually taken shape. Although there is still plenty of work to do before I am satisfied with the finished product.
Fingers crossed that I don’t have to deliver all of the talks. If there is good weather on Skye next weekend people attending the Symposium should be out on the water, experiencing all that the island has to offer. Far more enjoyable than hearing me ramble on about Proxigean Tides or the Coriolis Force, with the occasional pretty picture of kayaking thrown in for good measure. That said if the wind blows, the rain falls and people feel the need to shelter from the worst of the Scottish weather I will be ready to go.
Whatever happens next I know that next weekend on Skye there is going to be a great sea kayaking event with plenty of paddlers having a great time. I hope to see some of you there.
No visit to Skye would be complete without the obligatory paddle to Loch Coruisk. Living in Jersey where our highest point is about 150 metres above sea level it is always inspiring to kayak into the heart of the most dramatic mountain range in Britain. Gordon Brown goes as far as to say that it is in his opinion “the best one day paddle in the world.” I have to defend the Ecrehous, as they are my favourite paddle, but Loch Coruisk comes a very close second.
As we left Elgol the mountains were obscured by low cloud and rain but as we approached the clouds parted to reveal the true grandeur of the mountain scenery. We walked up to the freshwater loch, although there wasn’t time to carry the kayaks up today.
After a quick lunch we headed towards Soay, to look at the industrial archaeology and if possible walk across the island to the village. We used what little tidal flow there was to our advantage, in Soay Sound the stream is always running west.
We walked across the island to the old village and as we sat in the sunshine it was hard to imagine the scene on the 20th June 1953 when the 27 evacuees left the island on the SS Hebrides for a new life on Mull.
Unfortunately it was all to soon time to leave, as we paddled out of the north coast harbour a light westerly breeze had sprung up and it significantly eased our journey back to Elgol, surfing along on the small wind generated waves.
A great day out, one of the great paddles in the British Isles.