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Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me – A Canoeing Adventure

Posted on May 26, 2016 by Eilid Ormiston

Wilderness Guide Eilid Ormiston explores the way modern life has brought us out of sync with our natural rhythms. Read how she goes back to nature on a weekend breakaway canoeing on the River Spey and experiences her very own re-wilding.

The electronic tune from the mobile pipes me awake and I roll out of bed to stumble into my wellies and pull on my jacket. Time to get up and time to take the dog out. We shuffle along the shore, oyster catchers and geese shouting their alarms as we wander by. Time to eat now, standard yogurt berries and granola and the obligatory cup of tea.


Time to make the drive up the road to work, journey time, arrival time, lecture time. Timetables, schedules, break times, lunch time and so it goes on. A necessary programme for our modern lives, the days split cells and allocated. Eating, sleeping working, leisure. We compartmentalise our lives and diary them in. We make arrangements to see friends, book a table for dinner. Browse for a hotel room and reserve online after we have read the reviews.

Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me

Peace in a Canoe

Migraines, back pain, stress, depression, obesity, the list goes on.  Is it anything to do with the way we live our lives these days?

It seems to be a given, that a break from the routine and an engagement with nature is good for us. Perhaps because it allows us to stop and get off this train that keeps to the rails and cannot pull over to explore a hidden corner?

I come to gently, my body done with sleep, to the misty light of dawn and the ethereal song of the Curlew. I stretch slowly, my shoulders and arms aching from the exertion of the previous day. I slither out of my warm down sleeping-bag and quietly open the tent zip so not to awaken my partner still dozing beside me. Sliding my warm feet into cold boots and unfolding myself to an upright position, I take a deep breath. Cool, fresh air tinged with the hint of fox that must have slipped by in the night. Off to find a suitable toilet spot, trowel in hand. Then to collect water from the river that flows all around as and has been our rail that we have travelled on. Unlike the train, we can get off and pull over to this tiny island in the middle of the river and set camp for the night. No TripAdvisor required to make the choice.

Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me

The Chariot

Our craft, a canoe, is one of the ancient forms of transport and discovery. Simple and clean. Wooden paddles that slice through the peaty waters without a sound, warm and fitting in the hand. Hunger pangs tell me it is time to eat and we huddle round our camp stove while the water boils for oats and honey. A warm comforting mug of tea in hand, we chat about the next section and what lies ahead.

Tent down, gear packed and we are water borne again. The easy rhythms of paddle in water, the pleasant sound of waves rippling under the bow and the river carries us onwards. The view in front of us draws me in; navigating the bends, I watch out for rocks, strainers, and debris in the river after recent storms. Communicating between us which line to take, a pry here, a draw there and we wind our way along in sync with each other and the river.

Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me

Thomas Telford’s Craigellachie Bridge over the river Spey

A flash catches our eye and there he is, grey marled and defined wing tip, an osprey with twig in beak returning to his nest building duties, his mate peeking out the top of her home approving of his DIY. Further downstream I look straight into the brown pebble eyes of a little Roe hiding in the reeds, his nose moist and twitching. Every bend holds a collection of ducks, some mallard, some tufted, that seem to play chicken, or is it duck, with us and wait till the last minute before splattering off, their wings beating a rhythm repeated throughout the day.

Another bend we meet a salmon fisherman, green and wadered up. Sleek rods with silvery threads flying from the tips like a spider’s thread of gossamer streaking through the air to land softly on the glassy surface. An artist’s fine brush stroke barely disturbing the surface and the final little dip of the fly to entice Salar. We are both lovers of the river, we enjoy its pleasures in different ways but both respects its power and its bounty. Although, my pleasure is free. A friendly respectful wave and a change of course so as not to disturb his quarry. We pass over to river right and glide by, no paddle strokes required. We continue this effortless flow, letting the river lift us down in the current. The levels are high and as we peer over the side and down through the brown shallow waters, we see the stones pass by with tendrils of green algae flowing out in front. Hunger pangs again, having expended calories by paddling for some five hours now. We pull in an eddy and stretch our legs. Food refuelling us and knees unfolded, we sit in the sunshine and take in the view of early spring hills with fresh snow on the tops. An increasing sound of honking lifts our eyes to see the grey sky filled with chaotic V’s of geese forging their way north. More signs of spring around as the hidden banks show us the first small clumps of primrose poking their pastel yellow petals out, risking the frosts that may still nip them. 

Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me

A “V” of Geese

On the river again, bellies topped up and limbs stretched, we continue on the river. Peeping out from behind a mackerel stripped birch I notice a mother ewe sheltering her new-born lamb, its legs wobbly and tall wagging as it stumbles on to its feet and sniffs around her for its first milk feed. I smile to think I may be the first human to see this new arrival in our world. I hope too Reynard will not find them in his night prowls along the river bank.

We chat about random things as we paddle along, memories from early days, friends that live in these parts, our times here as teenagers and laughs we had. Smells invade us and our senses more acute now, detect the distinctive aroma of maltings as the distillery towers come into view. More anglers with the ubiquitous spaniels patiently waiting on the bank, wet from numerous swims and eager as ever to play. The ghillie gives us the craic, tells us the weather looks bad for tomorrow and encourages us on to make the best of the fine day. We discuss and agree to push on, the sun warming our backs, the current pulling us forward. My arms do ache, my knees feel bruised from the gunnels and I feel a thirst. Not for the distillery’s produce but a cuppa for me.

We drag the canoe up onto the bank and wander into the village, a strange sight in our oversized dry trousers and cags, flappy feet in paddle boots, mixing with the classy Saturday shoppers in Joules and Barbour. A delightful French style café affords us good coffee and we welcome the warmth and comfort of the padded seats, I spend some time under the hand drier thawing out my hands. The polished glass cabinet holds colourful jewel-like treasures of exquisite patisserie. I smile to think of my treat awaiting for later in the tent, a little more humble oatcake and jam! I look around and notice groups sitting round the same table but not chatting, they are communicating though through social media. Silent but for the tap and swipe of screen.  I notice too, more sharply the perfume of deodorant and aftershave from the fellow customers, the air fresheners in the toilets making me sneeze.

Back to Nature: Re-Wild Me

Sunset on the Spey

Back to the boat and our natural world, pulling away from the bank and on with the journey leaving the traffic and Facebookers behind. The afternoon rolls on and the river provides us with a little adrenalin rush as she drops a level causing small rapids. Constricted at points setting us off at speed and splash. I laugh as I am soaked, trying to keep that all important line and breathe out when we succeed. The light is fading now and we are tired. Our bodies telling us it is time to stop and the day telling us it won’t give us much more light to set camp by. We find a suitable spot and go through the routine of making a home for the night. The canoe is safely beached and mats unrolled, ready to support our grumbling backs. Food cooked to fill our empty bellies again, warm and content we slide into our bags. I ask what the time is, “8.30” is the reply, “Too early for bed”. Why? My body tells me I am tired, my eyes are heavy and I feel that surge of natural chemicals wave through me, listening to the natural rhythms and I lie back and close my eyes. The sound of the oyster catchers muttering away, the ripples of the river against the bank.. and the gentle snoring of my partner.

Re-Wild Me

Once back in “civilisation” we re-join the imposed routines, the day spilt into compartments and actions defined by a working schedule, a regulated programme. How nice it is to have these opportunities to remind ourselves that there is an alternative, to allow ourselves to live by natural rhythms and behaviours that address our needs and satisfy our souls.

Eat when you are hungry, not just because you can.

Sleep when you are tired regardless of what is coming up on the television or what the clock tells us.

Converse when you have company and there is conversation to share.

Move when you can, to explore, discover and keep our bodies in good working order.

Watch the natural world around us to see the dramas unfolding of new birth, migration and feeding.

Breathe in the scents of the green world around us.

Feel the cold gritty surface of rocks, soft velvet of mosses, cool waters and sun-warmed river smoothed stone.

Hear the melodies of bird call, water ripples and human voices.

By experiencing nature by being a part of it, by interacting with our fellow species in these natural habitats, we slow our lives down and allow a healing, a refreshing of who we are as a biological species with simple needs.

Monday morning is started once again by the electronic tune of the mobile alarm, the routine begins again as it must but I have those experiences, those unique encounters and memories of a natural way of life, even for short time, allowing the necessary re-wilding of me.

Interested in your own re-wilding on the River Spey? We run two open canoeing holidays on the Spey – the 5 day long Whisky River trip, where you stay in comfortable Highland Accommodation and our 4 day long Spey Descent, camping under the stars along the side of the river.

About the author

Eilid Ormiston

Lecturing now for the University of the Highland and Islands and currently delivering a further education course in Outdoor Leadership, introducing folks to my rugged backyard and sharing their joy in new found pleasures and landscapes is my privilege.

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