Glenn Charles

Adventurer | Photographer | Connector

Today I am a Time Traveler with a Camera... Tomorrow, who knows

Canoe and Kayak Scotland - Two Micro-Adventures

This past week I had the opportunity to travel up to Scotland and do 3 very cool things with some good friends.  First we got out on the river Tweed and Till for an overnight canoe trip around Berwick.  This was my first time out in a canoe on an extended trip and I must say I struggled to keep things going straight.  The weather was a bit cool, and with time, started to drizzle and rain a bit.  The river itself was a magical place, with meandering curves, a nice flow of water and some interesting rapids for a first timer. 

We paddled for several hours and then took a break on the shoreline for lunch.  Careful planning saw us eating wraps made of hame, tomato and brie, with some hot coffee thrown in for good measure.  Our host, Ollie Jay (Active 4 Seasons), was fantastic at giving me tips for maneuvering the canoe and dealing with the the rapids.  Most of these runs were very simple with only slight overfalls or rapids.  However there was one point where Ollie pointed out that I might want to make sure everything was strapped down and that I take an aggressive position in the canoe that gave me a wee bit of pause. 

The funny thing is that with these types of rapids, you really can't tell what it is like until you get on the down river side and look back.  For this rapid we pulled the boats over to the shore, got out and took a look, and then set off for the run.  I remember thinking as I went over this rapid that I was in the wrong spot, and how much I really did not want to get wet.  Luckily I was close enough to the proper line and the canoe paused ever so slightly and then slid down and through.  Safely on the other side, it was good to hear that we really had no other obastacles left to run.  The only issue left was a simple portage around a deep ledge and then we would finished for the day.

There is really something special about camping out with friends and so, having found a great little spot high up on the banks of the river, this was going to be no exception.  As the light faded, we quickly made camp, which for me and Richard meant a simple tarp and bivouac solution.  For the others they were using tents, something that for the most part I choose to pass on these days.  The feel of sleeping out, somewhat exposed to the elements is an exhilarating part of the experience for me. 

Even the best laid plans can run afoul and as we began to put together dinner, the cry went out for the Pasta, which apparently we all forgot to bring.  This led to a quick inventory of food, upon which we realized that breakfast was missing as well.  The lesson, well, communication and food inventory is critical before heading out into the wild.  We at least had the mince, a box of wine and a bottle of whisky so all was not lost.

The stars came out and the wind began to blow as we sat around the camp fire staying warm and telling stories.  These are the times that make you realize what you miss during solo travel -- I must admit, this comrade was a real treat for me given my past 3 years of solo adventure travel.  The night progressed and we spent the final hours high up on the hill stargazing, with the lack of light pollution, the skies were bright and clear with a gazillion  stars smiling down at us. A few shooting stars and wee bit more whisky and I think we were all set for a good nights sleep.

Tarp camping is not for everyone as you are still somewhat exposed to the elements.  In this case we had our down bags in a bivy to protect them from moisture, but still, the wind kicked up and blew cold air onto our faces, the only part of our bodies exposed to the elements.  Once again, for me, that feeling of cool air rushing across your face, while the rest of you is toasty warm in a bag, well, lets just say that is true heaven for me.  A good nights sleep behind us, and sunny skies to start the day and we were off after eating any left over scraps of food that could be found.

We finished the canoe trip with a short paddle to our car and then off to the coast we went for some sea kayaking.  This would be the first time using our new Reed Chillcheater touring cags, fleece, and aquatherm dry pants so we were excited to get going.  The day was bright and not too cold with a bit of swell in the water.  Perfect conditions to go play amongst the rocks and caves of the Scottish coast.  I had never been in the North Sea before, and there is something large about those waters.  Even though the conditions were not big, there was no doubt that these were serious waters that in the right conditions would challenge the best of paddlers.

Once again, Ollie Jay was our guide and he did an excellent job of leading us through rocks and caves, creating a nice game of follow the leader.  There were only a couple of times that I chose not to follow, and most often was pleased with my decision as I watched others struggle with their timing.  It is so important when shooting these gaps to allow another set to come through after the person in front of you. Unfortunately the tendency is to see them go through and immediately want to follow.  This of course often leads to less than positive results.

A great day on the water ended with a pint in the local pub.  We said our goodbyes and headed off for 2 days sightseeing in Edinburgh.  I could write a whole post on that city, what an awesome place.  You can see a gallery of city images that I shot posted here.  There is no doubt that 2 days was not enough and I will definitely find a way back.  The history, architecture, art, music, whisky, and food was fantastic.  I can't wait to get back and do more exploring on my Salsa Fargo.  Travelling the city by bike would be an even better experience because everything is fairly spread out.  Having a bike would make touring the city so much easier.

After a great time in the city, we were off to once again meet Ollie Jay at St. Abbs, located on the North Sea, for another day of paddling.  This time we had a special guest, Ian from the Scottish Sun, who was doing an interview on us.  When we finished up with the interview it was time to suit up and get wet.  Ian is a new paddler so we took some time getting him in the boat and acclimated to the basic kayak strokes.  Ollie did a great job of briefing Ian on what to do should he capsize, which in the end, was an invaluable briefing.

We paddled for 30 minutes or so in the protected harbour before heading out into the sea.  That day the winds were quite strong, blowing down from the high hills and heading out to sea.  We kept to the protected shoreline for the outgoing portion of the paddle and all was fine.  However, as we looped our way back towards the harbour a sudden gust of wind caught Ian broadside and over he went.  Richard took the lead, doing an excellent rescue and getting Ian back into the boat in a very timely manner.

In these waters it is critical to get back into your boat as soon as possible to avoid any form of hypothermia.  In this case, Ian had on good clothing and was back in the boat in a minimal amount of time.  As good a trooper as he was, you could tell that his sea legs were now missing, the boat somehow less stable than before.  I think this is a common occurrence when out for the first couple of times after you have gone over.  The sense of stability in the mind just disappears.  With that said, it was only a matter of minutes before Ian was back in the water.

This time Ollie was to the rescue in lighting fashion.  Before you knew it, he was on the boat, emptying it and getting Ian back on board.  It was a very impressive rescue to say the least.  We were now back at the harbour entrance and time for everyone to laugh and joke about the days paddle.  Ian was a great sport and we are looking forward to having him on The Spare Seat expedition for a couple of days.  Ian, I promise the tandems are much more stable than the singles so nothing to worry about there.

We said goodbye and now it was our turn to head out and play.  The tide had turned and the winds were up, so we had a great area to go play in.  Tide against wind, accompanied by a jetting point off the coastline created some great conditions to work in.  As before, we searched for rocks to play in and caves to explore.  Lots of hard work took us out and around the point with a stunning view of the St. Abbs lighthouse. 

By now the sun was setting and it was time to finish up our week long micro adventure.  With the wind at our backs we were able to surf and paddle our way back to the harbour.  Once again I have to give thanks to Ollie and his company, Active4Seasons for hosting Richard and I on this trip.  He has an amazing place to paddle, both in the sea and on the rivers, so if you are looking for a Scottish adventure you should definitely ring him up.

Micro adventures are fun and accessible to all.  This trip saw me extend my own personal boundaries by getting in a canoe and paddling off for two days on a river with several interesting overflows. The comrade of good friends was another bonus to several days of adventure.

The most important adventure is the one you take, so stop waiting and just go do it.

More images from the 3 days of adventure can be found here.

Images from Edinburgh can be found here.