There are 7 of us on the beach watching Carol and Erin, our two guides, slip seamlessly in and out of their kayaks like seals. We look at each other skeptically and I have the distinct impression it’s not as easy as it looks. Floating my kayak out in front of me I maneuvre myself in to position and just before climbing in I have the slightly selfish thought: “Please God don’t let me be the first to fall in.” I’ve always loved to guddle around on the water and explore coastlines; kayaking seems like the best way to do this but with no discernible skill I was going to need some help.
It’s May 2013 and so far it’s pretty much still winter in Scotland. There is snow on the peaks and the buds are just starting to bring the green back to the trees. Not that this matters though, the rest of the Introduction to Sea Kayaking group, including myself can’t wait to get started. As I pull my first inexpert stoke through the water I know it’s going to be a good week. Carol and Erin put us immediately at ease and spend the first afternoon showing us different strokes and techniques, which allowed us to better control the kayaks. It was a windy week with choppy seas so we had to learn fast but it was amazing how simple adjustments of position and gentle words of encouragement meant that we were flying through the water in no time. Surprisingly I found the hardest thing was trying to get the spraydeck (neoprene skirt that stretches over the kayak to keep you warm and dry) on! We were kayaking in upper and lower Loch Torridon, within an ancient landscape of towering mountains that rise right up out of the sea. We were lucky enough to see seals, deer, eagles and even some otters just chilling on a rock. The bunkhouse we were staying in was warm, dry and comfortable and we were very spoiled in terms of food. I think we all expected to come back from an activity holiday a little svelter but I’m not sure that was the case!
The whole trip was unforgettable but there were a few standout moments for me. The first involved a funny experience with the group in Applecross. We hadn’t been able to get out on the water during that day because of gale force winds. Erin and I brought £1.75 kites (which, in retrospect, should have told us everything we needed to know about them) and decided to fly them after dinner. Erin’s exploded pretty much as soon as it got in to the air sending pieces of kite flying in all different directions. She even had to take her shoes and socks of to wade in the sea to retrieve bits of it. Mine followed suit soon after spinning uncontrollably about 2 feet off the ground for a few minutes. I had to sit down I was laughing so hard. One of the best parts of these trips is getting to enjoy the company of like-minded people and make new friends. Another shining moment was at the end of a long day. We had been kayaking in to the wind on choppy waters all day, it was great fun but we couldn’t really stop and rest because we would just get blown backwards. Finally it was time to head back to the van – down wind! Having the wind behind us was a completely different experience. We flew back down the coast, large swells meant we could surf the waves. The feeling when your kayak catches a wave just right and accelerates you through the water is one I’ll never forget. From the whoops and cheers it was clear the rest of the group found it completely exhilarating too!
Possibly the most inspiring part of the trip for me though came on the last day. We were all pretty tried from battling the elements through out the trip so the plan was to have a relaxed paddle. Amazingly as soon as we got out on the water the wind dropped and the sea became still, like a sheet of glass. I remember sitting in my kayak during a very heavy downpour, the water looked thick and silky like mercury and the heavy drops bounced of the sea creating hundreds of tiny silver bubbles all around me. We spent the morning slowly hugging the coast, peering from our kayaks straight down to the sea floor. Sometimes we’d come together to chat but mostly the group seemed to be absorbing everything in quiet reverence. Looking along Loch Torridon, seeing the peaks capped with snow and watching squalls sweep across the water was a completely emotional experience for me, one that makes my heart clutch just thinking about it. Some people might have been put off by the weather we had but I can honestly say that ‘bad’ weather only added to the over all experience. We were forced to learn quickly in challenging conditions but at the end of it we were all feeling confidant in our newfound ability and excited to move on to a new kayaking adventure. Luckily, I’m getting that chance tomorrow when I join The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Central – The Jacobite Coast. I’m really excited and as long as I get to be out exploring the Scottish coast I don’t really care what the weather is like; besides moody Scottish days can sometimes be the most beautiful. Now if only I was able to get that spraydeck on by myself…