An Instructors Story: From the Pool to the Sea

“My love affair with the water began many years ago.”

Experienced instructor and paddle-enthusiast, Bruce Richards, tells us how he was lured into the world of sea kayaking…

“I’ve spent nearly thirty years on the water now and I really can’t imagine my life without sea kayaking, but there was a point in my life when just the thought of touching the water made me sick with fear.”

“My love affair with the water began many years ago. My parents were eager to get me and my younger sister in the water at an early age. Neither of them were strong swimmers and they felt that they’d missed out spending time in the water as young children, so my Father being the industrious fellow that he was built us a DIY swimming pool in our back garden. At the age of 4 I was quite literally thrust in at the deep-end with a float and soon I took to this new hobby.

Soon I was in there every day, enjoying the improvement that I was making and wanting to go further and further. I made progress quickly and began begging my parents to be taken out to the sea to test my skills out on the open seas.

They gave me my wish when I was 8 years old and let me dive into the ocean on a trip to the beach. I saw a rock that I wanted to reach far out in the distance and set off at a fast pace…too fast. Before I knew it my energy was getting sapped by the tidal current and I was struggling for my life.

Luckily there was a lifeguard on hand to help me out. Paddling hard against the tide on a bright yellow sea kayak, a he pulled me from the water. That was the first time I was aboard a sea kayak, but it would be a while before I found myself with an oar in my hand.

I avoided swimming in open water for a while after that. I even stopped using the swimming pool back at home and soon I’d gone months without swimming a single stroke. My parents were a little distraught, I’d transformed from a headstrong confident boy with a promising future in the water to a fearful lad who had to be wrestled into a bathtub on a Sunday night. In a bid to get me back in the water they bought me and my sister our first tandem sea kayak, as well as a couple of buoyancy aids.

In Scotland, on a peaceful lake, there was barely any breeze and the water was as still as you could hope for. Dad gave us a fishing rod and told me to go catch us dinner. I remember feeling a little sick as we both hopped aboard the wobbly kayak. All the the memories of that day came back to me, but my sister held my hand and coaxed me aboard. Nervously paddling out, I busied myself with the rod and before we knew it were far out in the middle of a firth.

When I got a bite and pulled a shining trout from the water, I knew that sea kayaking was something I’d do for the rest of my life.

Inverness to Erchless Castle: True Scottish Scenery

Industrial bridges, thick forests and dramatic geology.

There is perhaps no greater introduction to the thrill of sea-kayaking than taking this serene yet challenging 20-mile route from Inverness…

Kayak season doesn’t technically start until May, but that doesn’t meant that you can’t take boats onto the river beforehand. Although there are increased risks carried with embarking on a kayaking expedition during the colder months of the year, you’re rewarded with much less traffic on the rivers and the opportunity to experience Scotland from a cherished vantage point. Although there are a number of Sea Kayak operators that choose to close down during the off-season, there are a handful that offer trips throughout the Winter – Kushi Adventures are one such team.

Russell Zenthon is the man in charge at Kushi Adventures. With adventuring experience going back for three decades and internationally recognised qualifications, he’s well equipped to lead all kinds of expeditions all over the world and is the ideal person to take visitors out on a winter’s trek through the Aigas Gorge.

The trek begins at 10am in Inverness and we’re told to dress according to the weather. My wife and I have driven up from Carlisle the night before, braving icy roads, hail and awful winds to make it to our cosy B&B in Inverness, so when the alarm clock goes off at 8am we are somewhat hesitant to open the windows. We were warned by all the outdoor pursuits that we contacted that should the weather turn for the worst then no qualified instructor would take us out on to the water – so it was with a sight of relief that we pulled the chintz curtains back to see a glorious clear day – cold, but clear.

Having stuffed our faces with a traditional Scottish breakfast, we meet our instructor out on the docks of Inverness having first taken the precaution of wrapping up very warm. The temperature is just above freezing and our breath hangs in the air in front of us as we shake hands with our guide and take our first tremulous steps onto our vessels for the day. My wife and I share a tandem kayak, whilst our guide hops into a solo kayak and takes us through the basics of how to manoeuvre our vessel. Before we set out he reminds us that a tumble overboard would almost certainly lead to a trip to the hospital, with uncertain looks at each other we set out.

The first leg of our 20-mile journey takes us out of the River Ness and into the Beauly Firth. This large coastal body of water is a wide open expanse, the stillness of the blue sky is reflected in the water and we’re reminded by our guide that during the summer this part of the river is usually clogged up with other adventure companies and tourists, we need no convincing that this is a truly once in a lifetime experience. The river soon narrows and we find ourselves drifting down through the River Beauly and onto the Aigas Gorge. As the sides of the river begin to rise we are dwarfed by the forests on either sides of us and are treated to some truly gorgeous views.

The rough weather might have endangered our trip, but in the end it was worth the risk.


Thanks to Dave and Sue Pollock for sharing their experiences kayaking through the Aiga Gorge.

Luxury Riverside Stays in the Highlands

Fancy staying in luxury in between your paddles?

Whilst we’re strong advocates for camping, this often isn’t an option when you’re looking to get some kayaking done during the Winter.

We understand that you might want to be at one with nature when you’re spending a few days out on the water, but that doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice your comfort at the same time.

Highland Heather Lodges

How much? Lodges from £359 for 2 nights
Breakfast included? No
Telephone: 01764 670440
Address: Muirend, South Crieff Road, Perthshire, PH6 2JA
Website: https://www.highlandheatherlodges.co.uk

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay that offers the same seclusion that you’ll find on the water, then Highland Heather Lodges is the place for you. These self-catered cottages offer couples or small groups the opportunity of being able to relax in peace after a long day on the river. Just a stone’s throw away from the River Earn, this is a great option for anyone who’s looking to while away their time on the river and still have a home-from-home to relax in.

Hazelwood Bed and Breakfast

How much? Call for best prices
Breakfast included? Yes
Telephone: 01471 844200
Address: Hazelwood, Ardvasar, Isle of Skye, IV45 8RS
Website: http://www.hazelwoodskye.com

Any journey out to the Knoydart region is one that will take a lot of time and effort, in short, there’s no simple way of getting up there. So, if you choose to make the long journey then it’s probably a good idea for you to have a bed waiting for you when you arrive. Hazelwood Bed and Breakfast is a perfect hideaway placed on the idyllic Isle of Skye. Being as small as it is, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a lovely bit of beach to set off on a kayak adventure from.

The Brochs of Coigach

How much? Brochs from £175 per night
Breakfast included? No
Telephone: 01854 622368
Address: 191A Polbain, Achiltibuie IV26 2YW
Website: http://www.achiltibuie.info

Rugged landscape meets modernity at the totally unique Brochs of Coigach, two stunning examples of holiday homes likes you’ve never seen them before. These award-winning homes are consistently booked out during the summer, offering a one of a kind residential experience that has more than its fair share of surprises in store of adventurous travellers. The price of a week’s stay here might be more than a little eye-watering but that shouldn’t stop you forking out for a holiday that is sure to cement your love for this magical region.

Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa

How much? Rooms from £156 per night
Breakfast included? Yes
Telephone: 03448 799130
Address: Cromwell Rd, North Berwick EH39 4LZ
Website: http://www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/our-hotels/marine/

For that extra touch class and old school charm, there’s nothing quite like the Marine Hotel & Spa in North Berwick. This stately hotel is a Caledonophile’s dream, pairing classic Scottish hotel design with lovely modern touches that add up to make a truly luxurious experience. Don’t get too comfortable though, because the rugged West Lothian coast line will be waiting for you to explore with plenty of jaw-dropping places to drop your kayak in at.

Exploring the Isle of Skye by Kayak

Have you thought of visiting Skye for an island-based kayak adventure?

The Isle of Skye is the largest of all the Inner Hebrides and also happens to be the home for some of Scotland’s most eye-popping scenery. Although it might take a long time to make your way out there, it’s certainly worth the journey.

In this guide we’re going to break down everything you need to know in order for you to sort out your sea kayak adventure in Skye, whether you’re a complete novice or an expert simply looking for some local guidance:

Getting there

If you’re travelling with your own kayaks then you’ll probably want to drive yourself there. Depending on where you live this could either be a gargantuan challenge or a simple skip across the water.

Regardless of the time of year that you’re travelling it’s always a good idea to check the weather before you travel, as many of the roads on the island are single tracks and can be eroded in bad weather. Otherwise, public transport will be able to take you on to the island. Trains frequently running to Mallaig from Glasgow requiring a change to a ferry, or you can catch a train from Inverness to Kyle, followed by a bus to Skye.

Staying

Although the Isle of Skye is full of stunning landscapes and seemingly endless rugged wilderness, there are still plenty of places to stay with a decent range to suit many types of budgets.

At the top of the range you’ll find Hotel Eilean Iarmain (from £260 per night), a stylish hotel experience which offers boutique styling with a whiskey distillery and restaurant on-site. A little cheaper (and also on the south side of the island) is the Kings Arms Hotel (from £125 per night); cheaper still are the likes of the Skyewalker Hostel (from £40). Of course, should you wish to make the ultimate saving you can always choose to wild camp.

Hiring kayaks

If you’re leaving your kayaks at home or trying out kayaking for the first time then you’ll no doubt be looking for a place to hire some vessels.

If you’re an experienced paddler suitably qualified then you can hire sea kayaks from Explore Highland for a minimum of two days for £70 (although you’ll need to hire at least four boats for this time) – you can check out their site for their complete price list.

Getting a guide

The best way to experience Sea Kayaking in Skye is by joining an organised group, this way you are supplied with all the equipment and tuition you need in addition to having a qualified guide who will be able to show you all the best places on the island.

There are a number of companies that specialise in providing this service. Once more, Explore Highland offer a good range of Kayak adventures, you can also check out Sea to Skye Xperience for a similar range of activities.

Wild Camping & Kayaking

Have you considered combining wild camping with your next sea kayaking adventure?

Wild camping might divorce you from a few home comforts (toilets, running water) but it also gives you a chance to experience nature in its truest form. If you’ve just got the taste for sea kayaking and fancy testing your skills over a longer distance then you should think about taking part in a long distance tour supported with some wild camping.

As you may or may not know there are legal provisions in Scotland that permit residents and visitors alike to ‘wild camp’ on almost any form of  ‘enclosed land’ in the great outdoors. Understandably, this does come with a handful of caveats and rules that are worth looking over before you decide to head out on your first camping.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003 was put in place to ensure that all people have statutory access to Scotland’s great outdoors, this access is granted as long as those people do so responsibly whilst caring for the environment and keeping in mind others’ privacy and livelihoods. If you want to get the complete low down on this law then it’s best to head to the official website for Scottish Access Code – but we’ve boiled down the basics so that you can get a head-start before planning your routes.

The Scottish Outdoor Access code can be split up into three key principles:

Respect other people

This goes beyond simply being polite to others, whenever you’re exercising your right to access it’s important that you do so whilst respecting the privacy, safety and livelihoods of those living, working or enjoying the land.

The Land Reform Act gives you the freedom to walk across pretty much any enclosed lands in Scotland, but you need to ensure that you are not disturbing livestock, trampling on produce or otherwise damaging someone’s livelihood. Likewise, managers of land are required to respect visitors’ use of the land.

Look out for the environment

The most important tenet to remember when enjoying the land in Scotland is to leave it as you found it. That means making sure that you leave no trace of your time spent on the land.

A few holes in the ground from your tent pegs are acceptable, but any meals should be cooked on a burner and wood should never be chopped from trees to create a fire. The environment is easily contaminated so you should also be sure not to bring any invasive plants onto the land with you. Getting rid of Japanese knotweed is hard enough to from a back garden, let alone the great outdoors!

Consider your personal responsibility

Whenever you venture into the great outdoors it’s important that you consider your personal responsibility. Any adventure, whether it’s a simple hike or a 5-day sea kayak expedition, comes with its own unique set of risks.

It is impossible to eradicate all risks from a trip regardless of how many assessments you take – the best way to stay safe is to remain constantly vigilant and keep in mind your own safety, as well as the safety of others.

From Inverness to Dornoch: A Simple Paddle

There are some days when it’s fun to see what you’re capable of…

I spend the majority of my time on the water taking groups out onto peaceful lakes, gently drifting by mountains and soothing first-timers’ nerves, so every now and again it’s fun to set a challenge for myself.

It’s easy to forget about the simple pleasures of taking a sea kayak out onto the open water when you’ve spent so long drifting around the same old routes, so it was with a thrilling sense of eagerness that I set out for a days’s paddle from Inverness to the pleasant seaside resort of Dornoch. The distance of just over 30 miles was certainly not an easy one to tackle in the space of a day, but with everything that I needed packed into my trusty Riot Edge 11 all I needed was an early start to get on my way.

To beat the morning traffic I made sure to get dropped off at my starting point of Inverness the night before, where a friend of mine was kind enough to put me up for the evening. Inverness is a fine town to visit for a few days with a lovely selection of places to eat and welcoming pubs, perfect for an evening of quiet pint sipping. Unfortunately for us, the ‘sipping’ portion of the night turned into ‘quaffing’, which inevitably led to us groggily stumbling home at an ungodly time whilst I dimly wondered what it would be like to set off for a 33-mile paddle on a killer hangover…

Thankfully, my host was kind enough to serve me a full cooked breakfast before I left. I hungrily wolfed down the gloriously greasy plate before wondering how I was going to cope with an intense day of paddling on a full stomach of booze.

I usually recommend newcomers to have a good night’s sleep and a big meal before they tackle a long day of paddling, I’d somehow managed to do the exact opposite of that and soon found myself alone and drifting down the River Ness and out into the Moray Firth.

All fear of sea sickness left me as I carefully glided the Riot Edge out onto the serene waters of this awe inspiring body of water. I had around 30 miles of smooth paddling ahead of me and although I knew that the distance was still a lot to get done in the day, I had a quiet confidence that I’d be able to get it done before nightfall. There’s something powerfully hypnotic about taking a kayak out onto the open water by yourself, the ripples made by the nose of your vessel creating a ceaseless pattern in the water that is only interrupted by the dip of your oars into the water.

This journey was not what I’d call an exhausting one, I was able to easy myself up and out of the mouth of the Moray Firth only having to drop my skeg a couple of times to correct my course. As the sun set of over the distant mountains I spotted the beaches of Dornoch and my friend waving me in, a barbecue emitting a warm glow that made my heart sing.

It had been a good day.


Thanks to Bill Terrence-Smith who was kind enough to offer us a glimpse into his fun day out by himself.