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.
I know that this isn’t a film review website but after watching the recently released “Edie” this afternoon I feel that I must put some thoughts down.
It follows the journey of Edith Moore, after the death of her husband, who she has looked after for 30 years, but what was in effect a claustrophobic marriage. When her daughter wants to put her in a Care Home, she heads north to Lochinver, following a dream that was ignited by a post card from her father many years earlier.
As somebody in her 80’s climbing Suilven, an iconic mountain rising to a height of 731 metres, was clearly going to be a major challenge. She was assisted in her endeavours by Jonny, who just happens to work in the local outdoor shop. He was in a prime position, therefore, to be able to sell her a significant amount of high quality outdoor equipment.
Jonny was also in an ideal position to provide appropriate training for the proposed ascent of the mountain. The relationship between Edie and Jonny is the corner stone of the film and is what helps make the film more enjoyable than might be expected.
One of the most emotional points in the film is when they are rowing and Edie reflects on her wasted life. So many years spent in unhappiness, which can never be regained. I enjoyed the performances by both Shelia Hancock and Kevin Guthrie.
The background to the film is the superb landscape of north west Scotland, although this is a film set in the mountains there are glimpses of a coastline far below, which many of us are familiar with, and if we aren’t, it is an inspiration to head north to discover the superb coastal and mountain scenery.
A showing of Edie may not be that easy to find. At our local cinema it was only shown Monday to Thursday at 3.00 in the afternoon. So if you had a normal job watching it is virtually impossible, that may well explain why there were only 5 people at the showing we went to. It deserves to be seen by a wider audience though.
At times the film seems cliched and the end was never really in doubt but it is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 102 minutes of your time.
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.
Those of you who read my previous post will know that I damaged my Achilles heal, last week, whilst kayaking on Gozo. So here are a few ideas about possible site updates.
The following few days was a time of new experiences for me. I had never been put in plaster before, I had never been put in one of those lorries where the cab extends vertically alongside and aircraft, so unscathed you can be wheel chaired onto the plane. I had never traveled through an airport on one of those beeping trucks and I have never had to undergo a course of daily injections last nearly six weeks.
Having arrived back in Jersey I have had time to reflect on the experiences of the last few days. Firstly the medical attention that I have received both in Gozo and Jersey has been excellent. On both islands I was seen promptly by medical staff, including orthopaedic consultants.
Secondly whilst traveling, everything was smooth and timely at Malta, Gatwick and Jersey Airports plus on the British Airways flights. Care and attention from staff in all locations was great and fully appreciated.
I have started to develop a greater understanding of the challenges facing people living with a physical disability. I had to wait in a toilet in Malta as it was too difficult to open the door whilst on crutches. Many thanks to the anonymous Good Samaritan who came to my assistance.
In terms of missed opportunities I am disappointed that I won’t be able attend the French Sea Kayak Symposium, which starts on the 21st April. In addition I won’t be able to assist at the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium, starting on the 25th May. Although it is far enough away that I will hopefully be able to travel to Scotland for the weekend and experience some of what is sure to be a superb event. I have been involved with the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium since the early 1990’s and it would be disappointing not to be able to attend the last one. Even if it is the role of honorary coffee drinker as opposed to active paddler.
In 1983, on my way to a sea kayaking trip in Svalbard, I flew over a spectacular archipelago, which I promised myself to visit one day. After 35 years of waiting this summer was the year I was going to finally get to paddle in the Lofoten’s. Sadly a destination that will have to wait for another year.
All disappointing but it is important to maintain some perspective, it is only an injury, I will get better and other opportunities will come my way. So facing several months of inactivity it is an opportunity for some new challenges.
I will be able to make sure the Jersey Canoe Club mega SUP racing in conjunction with Absolute Adventures is organised and runs smoothly, although no active participation for me this year.
Later on in the year I will have time to complete my Greenland Paddle. At the moment I can’t put any weight on my leg and I haven’t learnt “woodwork for sitting down” so that will have to wait until my leg strengthens as the summer progresses. It should be complete for the autumn so that I can then work on my Greenland rolling.
One of the things that I have planned are a number of site updates, including completing a number of the Sea Kayaking Guides, which I have started including the one on Jersey. So plenty to do but the main aim for the next few weeks is to keep my plaster dry!
On Thursday morning we received a telephone call from Gordon Brown with the very sad news of the passing of Duncan Winning. Duncan was an immensely influential figure in the world of sea kayaking but more importantly he was an incredibly generous individual and thoroughly decent person.
I first met Duncan in May 1992, when he attended the first Jersey Sea Kayaking Symposium, and was one of only two people from off the island who attended every one. Always willing to give his time and energy to ensuring that the event was a success.
Douglas Wilcox has written eloquently about Duncan and some of their shared experiences on his blog and I would recommend that you read his post.
There is very little that I could add except to mention two things, firstly Duncan did achieve some form of local fame in 1999, when he was able to paddle through the centre of his home town of Largs, due to flooding. Secondly in 1998 at the Jersey Symposium he built a junior sea kayak from wood, the Jersey Junior, over the course of 3 days. A beautiful kayak, which is still treasured by my family.
I last saw Duncan in January when Nicky and myself called in to see Duncan and went out for lunch at the local restaurant. Although he was quite at times the passion that he had for kayaking still shone through with that glint in his eye.
After lunch we sat looking across to Cumbrae, talking about the great times we had on the island in the 1990’s at the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposiums. Duncan said that he wouldn’t be able to attend the event this year but we did make tentative arrangements to call in and see whilst traveling to the event from Jersey, sadly that is not to be.
I feel fortunate to have known Duncan Winning for over 25 years, spending many happy days on the water with him both in Jersey and Scotland. He will be sadly missed, not just by his family but by the wider kayaking community.
Here is another selection of old pictures, illustrating some of the places that we have been paddling over the years. It feels like it is time to pay a visit to some of these places again, its been nearly 40 years since I paddled some of these trips.
Beinn Chuirn is mountain that doesn’t readily spring to mind when thinking of Scottish summits. After two days of inactivity, in the mountains, due to the weather out thoughts were turning to walking uphill once again. The forecast was for improving weather as the day progressed but there was significant wind chill and fresh snow particularly in the morning.
So we looked for a mountain with a reasonable walk in and hopefully fairly steep so that we could avoid the worst of the underfoot conditions. Two days of torrential rain must have produced some challenging conditions in places.
Beinn Chuirn is frequently overlooked by its more majestic neighbours, Ben Lui and Ben Oss. 250 metres lower than Ben Lui and a Corbett as opposed to a Munro it doesn’t have the same appeal. For us though on a cloudy Thursday in January it seemed perfect.
A reasonable walk in, nearly 3 miles along a gently rising valley track, heading further and further into the heart of some dramatic mountain scenery.
Although a mountain area there is evidence of an industrial past and perhaps an industrial future. Just after starting up the valley we passed the site of the abandoned village of Newton and the lead mines in the area, which closed in 1865. Further up the valley, prior to heading up Beinn Chuirn, we could see evidence of the Cononish Gold Mine, with a tunnel being opened in the hillside in the 1990’s.
Once we were past the fences we turned up the slopes of the Corbett, there was virtually no evidence of a path. This could be because very few walkers head this way and also because in places the lower slopes had remnants of the heavy snow, which had fallen the weekend before.
There is always a discussion about the rights and wrongs of using mapping software on mobile phones as opposed the tried and trusted method of map and compass. I love the feel of the paper map and actually believe that the Ordnance Survey is one of the reasons we should be proud to be British but I have also embraced technology. I have downloaded numerous 1:25,000 maps onto my phone but find that I use the ViewRanger App, far more frequently.
There are two advantages of using ViewRanger, the mapping is generally at a high enough resolution, only on a few occasions have I had to switch the OS 1:25,000 map with its detail of walls and small physical features. Secondly, the Skyline facility enables you to take photographs, with physical features labelled, its quite handy to know that you are facing in the right direction, although I wouldn’t rely on it exclusively for navigation purposes.
As we climbed higher conditions underfoot became more solid, clearly the temperature had dropped below freezing last night, and may still have been below zero. The lack of wind actually made the day surprisingly warm, but it was still necessary to put on our crampons, a few hundred metres below the summit.
We didn’t hand around too long of the summit, a quick slurp of warm coffee and a Twix between us, whilst standing before we headed back towards the valley and the reasonably long walk back to the car prior to heading towards Tyndrum and coffee and cake at The Real Food Cafe.
It was another enjoyable day in the Scottish mountains and once again we were surprised by the total lack of people encountered whilst out walking. I know that we are fortunate enough be able to go out in mid week, when it is not unusual for numbers of people in the outdoors to be reduced. I am certain though, that if we were in the Ogwen or Langdale Valleys then we would not have had the mountain to ourselves.
For those seeking solitude and that feeling of wilderness it isn’t necessary to travel to remote corners of the world, midweek in January about 50 miles from Glasgow is always an option.
How often do you hear the phrase “you should have been here last week”? Normally it relates to summer holidays and the beach when the weather isn’t as food as expected. For Nicky and myself it was the phrase in our minds as we drove north from Glasgow Airport this morning.
I have spent the last 7 days looking at fantastic photos posted on twitter and other social media, of people enjoying the snow covered Scottish mountains. At the same time I was studying the weather forecasts in the hope that the cold spell would continue.
Unfortunately the cold spell was breaking down, the winds were increasing and a steady thaw set in as warm air pushed in from the south and west. We still headed north with an optimistic plan to walk up Beinn Each and perhaps head along the ridge to the Munro, Stuc a’Chroin.
The guide book optimistically states ” the described route is very short and would be suitable for an evening walk after a late arrival in the Highlands or a morning walk before a long drive S.” The given time was 1 hour 30 minutes to the summit of this Corbett and 2 hours 30 minutes for the round trip. Now that didn’t seem to challenging.
We kitted up in the small parking area close to Ardchullarie More Lodge and headed up though the woods, where there was still a covering of snow. Reaching the open hill side was relatively straightforward but as we headed up conditions underfoot became slightly more challenging. We saw a deer running across the hillside, coming from Jersey, where there are no large land animals, such a sighting certainly created a degree of excitement. Little did we realise that within a couple of hours we would have seen 100 plus deer moving across the hillside.
As we climbed higher the snow became deeper, we regularly sank up to our waists with progress impeded further due to the increasing wind. We wound our way up the ridge, reaching the 813 metre summit in less than perfect weather with a rather disappointing view.
Feeling the need to get out of the wind we dropped off the ridge just below the summit and wound our way down the snow covered slopes to reach the more sheltered footpath in the valley. As we walked out we were rewarded with superb views of several Red Kites soaring above the edge of the forest.
The predicted 2 hours 30 minutes was in reality nearly 5 hours, conditions underfoot turning what can be a pleasant evening walk into a challenging day on Beinn Each. It was a memorable day out and in common with so many days I have spent in the mountains in Scotland in recent years we didn’t see another person.
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