Back in 2011 travel writer Catherine Mack and her son Louis embarked on a family adventure with Wilderness Scotland. Catherine and Louis joined the family canoeing trip down the Great Glen, an expedition trip starting from Neptune’s Staircase and finishing at Fort Augustus.
In Louis, this trip started a love affair with canoeing and kayaking that’s still going strong. Below, Catherine details how this trip changed Louis’ life.
“I remember standing on the banks of Loch Ness with my twelve year old son, Louis, at the end of a week of canoeing and wild camping along all the lochs that link up to this, the mother of all lochs. I asked him if we should come back and paddle Nessie when he was sixteen. He just looked at me and smiled. We were both exhausted but, at the same time, totally exhilarated. And silently bonded after days of sharing a canoe, tent, stories and songs as we paddled our way through the elements and exquisite landscapes of the Great Glen Way. And it really had been great.
It was undoubtedly this family canoeing holiday that unleashed something in Louis. Our instructor on the trip, Dave, was always so encouraging towards him and told him he was a natural paddler. He put Louis in charge of steering the canoe at the back, while I gave whatever middle age muscle I had left to propel us forward from the front. He was the brains, and I was the brawn because it was Louis who had the paddling skills and Dave had spotted this early on.
What Louis had also discovered on this trip, however, was an indescribable love of paddling. The peace of the water, the challenge of negotiating the currents and weather patterns, the notion of not needing much in life to take on an amazing journey. He was hooked. He has always been someone to sit back and see life from a different perspective and canoeing or kayaking was definitely something that enabled him to do that.
Although we live in London, I knew that we had to try and get paddling into his life as often as possible. He joined a local kayaking club and started pool training in winter. Learning to capsize properly, roll the boat, do slalom races and so on. Although it wasn’t the racing that appealed. It was the white water, be it on sea or in rivers. Negotiating those eddies, strategising his journey downstream and so on. For the last few years he has helped out at a sea kayaking summer camp in Ireland, our home country, to gain more experience. His Christmas present last year was a week at Plas Y Brenin in Wales, one of the top outdoor mountain training centres in the country, so that he could up his skills levels and qualifications.
And more recently, he has taken on a couple of six week long kayaking courses at the wonderful Lee Valley White Water Centre on the outskirts of London, built for the 2012 London Olympics. It isn’t about winning medals for Louis, however, he just wants to be out on the water. And any seventeen year old who gets up at 7am on a Sunday morning to catch two trains to Lee Valley must really have found their passion.
And now Scotland calls again. This time for the longer term. University applications are due in and the choice is hard – International relations are Louis’ thing. Like I said, he has always liked to look at the world from a different perspective. And one of his top choices of university is Edinburgh. Because not only does it have great courses in this area, it also has a top kayaking club. And that was high on his list of priorities. In his own words, “It is important to have kayaking as part of my life at university simply because it has been a key part of my adolescence and something that I don’t feel I can let go of. I think, in some ways, it has become a sort of addiction but one that I am determined not to give up. I often feel calmest, but simultaneously exhilarated, when I run a section of white water, paddle across a lake or navigate a coastline. Maybe that is just because I am literally ‘going with the flow’.”
It is always hard for a parent to watch their young ones fly the nest, but I do actually believe that not only kayaking but also learning about the joys of being out in wilderness has really equipped Louis for adult life. He doesn’t really need me up at the front of the boat anymore, far outstripping me in terms of both brains and brawn at this stage anyway. Doesn’t mean I won’t be back to join him in Scotland for a paddle again sometime though. In fact, it gives me the perfect excuse.”
Read Catherine’s initial thoughts on the holiday: “Letting Children Go Wild Again” and article “Mother and son go feral in Scottish Highlands”. You can follow more of Catherine’s travels on www.ethicaltraveller.co.uk and on Twitter @catherinemack