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Letting children go wild again

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Louis kept busy doing the steering.

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Tying the canoes up after a day on the water.

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Getting ready for the off after a short portage past the canal lock gates.

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Catherine and Louis enjoy the rewarding view down Loch Ness.

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Louis makes some new paddling friends.

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Thoughts from a family canoeing holiday in Scotland

by Catherine Mack

As I sat on the Caledonian Sleeper train, en route to Fort William to begin a four day family canoeing and wild camping adventure along Scotland’s Great Glen  with Louis, my 11 year old, I reflected on the holiday phases we go through as a family. When they were babies, we overdosed on extended family get togethers. When they were toddlers, we obsessed about ‘family days out’, with far too many trips to castles, craft workshops and wooden playgrounds where the smell of bark mulch always made me feel queasy after a while. By school age, we finally got it right, and just went camping. They ran around all day and slept all night. It was bliss.

Wild Camping in Scotland’s Great Glen

Then glamping hit, and suddenly our old Gelert wasn’t good enough. Real yummy Mummies stay in yurts, you know, where their kids learn bush skills and attend nature workshops. All very cool, until I realised that this isn’t really us.  So when I suggested we go away together, just me and him, to celebrate his leaving primary school, Louis hit the nail on the head. “Can we go wild camping, Mum? I mean, really rough it?”  Yes, yes, and yes, I thought. And then I thought again. “Can I, really? I used to be that woman, but now I’m not sure anymore. No expresso makers on the wood burning stove, no goose down duvet under canvas, no lie-ins while the kids are ‘activitied’ to within an inch of their life?

Lochs and Mountains

But as we packed all our belongings into water tight barrels, rolled them, our tent and provisions  down the Caledonian canal bank into our handsome Canadian style canoe, and paddled our way slowly but surely away from the crowds, I found myself breathing a huge sigh of relief. Because this is living, I thought. I was up front watching where we are going, while Louis steered us skilfully from the rear. All the time following our guides Craig and David, who gauged the family dynamics just perfectly (three families in all). They offered just the right amount of instruction when we did a bum steer, humour when fatigue kicked in, cheers when motivation was needed and praise when a loch was conquered. But they also left us in peace, to savour these rare moments of silence. From time to time I just looked round and smiled at Louis, and he smiled back, revelling in this challenge as he mastered his vessel, or just marvelled at the views of the mountains and lochs all around.

Across Scotland by Canoe

Sharing a canoe with my first born all day long for four days was the most precious way to turn this corner from childhood into adolescence together. This was going to be a new journey in his life, and after negotiating locks and portage, getting exhausted when the rain comes in, putting up tents and shelters at the end of a long day, coping with midges, experiencing the joy of canoeing across the wide open lochs through every element Scotland can throw at you, and then diving into its waters at the end of the day, secondary school was going to be a breeze. And holidays? When you discover the wild within again, there is no looking back really.

 

Wilderness Scotland’s thanks to Catherine

Catherine Mack created and runs ethicaltraveller.co.uk a website dedicated to eco-tourism, responsible travel and sustainability. She recently won ‘Best in Responsible Tourism Writing’ in the Virgin Responsible Tourism Awards 2011 and writes regularly for the Irish Times. You can keep up to date with her articles on Twitter @catherinemack



Featured Trip

Family Canoeing in the Great Glen

From £495 - -244 nights

Trip Highlights: Family Canoeing in the Great Glen

  • Canoe as a family through the spectacular Great Glen loch and river system
  • Journey in the company of experienced wilderness canoe guides and develop your paddling skills en route
  • Try to spot the Loch Ness Monster as you paddle down Loch Ness to our finishing point at Urquhart Castle!
  • A great canoe holiday for private family groups

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    1st June — 30th September 2013

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Wilderness Scotland
Inverdruie House
Aviemore
Cairngorms National Park
Scotland, PH22 1QH

Tel: 01479 420020
Tel: 1-866-740-3890
Email: info@wildernessscotland.com

© 2012 Wilderness Scotland

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