Kayaking on rivers

I have done a great deal of Kayaking in rapids in white water rivers Warfe Nidd, Swale and Upper Tees. These rivers may be placid enough in low water but, when at spate, they are highly challenging and even dangerous.  This is especially so for the Tees, where you are at real risk of being swept over Low Force waterfall (it is only low compared with High Force!) for example.

Even in the Swale – a gentle section of the swale with no rapids – I found it impossible to walk towards the bank despite it only being one foot deep. With the water travelling at 10 mph, as soon as I lifted my foot of the bottom, I was swept off my feet. The great danger is being swept under a tree with branches poking out of the water. That was one of my most frightening experiences – nearly drowning in only a foot of water.

I also for kayaked for charity over Richmond waterfall to get a ‘certificate of insanity’!  Although scary, it was actually quite safe because I was protected by naval frogmen at the foot of the waterfall.

Kayaking on the sea

I was chosen to go on a British Canoe Union expedition to paddle to the Garvellachs from Ardfern and to bivi-camp there overnight. The next day, after skirting the grey dog, we went through the gulf of Corryvrechan with the famous whirlpool. Naturally one has to time it accurately for slack water, but it also depends on the wind. There is about a 15-minute window to get through.

Not content with this I went back through the Corryvrechan five times on my own and sometimes then down the west coast of Jura. While also risky because for long stretches there is nowhere to land if a storm gets up.

Once on the West of Jura, I ran into a dense fog but I could see higher up to the summits of Paps of Jura. I was navigating with a map and compass. I came across a small fishing boat where the occupants said they were from Oban but hopelessly lost in the fog.  I told them where they were and they said “Look here man we’ve fished here all our lives you’re only a visitor that position can’t be right” – but I met them again a few days later and they said “Hey min next time we are in the toon o’ Oban we’re going to buy a map and a compass”.

My longest exploit was to Iona, setting out from Oban in a Kayak carrying camping gear. I skirted round the south coast of Mull and camped in some wonderful bays which were as beautiful as the Mediterranean. After circumnavigating Iona, which takes a long time (it is bigger than it looks), I took the opportunity to take a piece of Iona marble from the quarry which was on the coast. I climbed into the quarry but had great difficulty in climbing out because I had no pockets in my swim shorts. I had to climb out with a piece of marble in one hand. I was too tired to start paddling back to Oban. Camping is not allowed on Iona but I found a “secret spot”. Next day I decided to try for the islands of “Dutchman’s Cap” or Staffa which has Fingal’s Cave backed by big waves. Think of the exposed situation – not much chance of rescue. I spent another night on Iona and tried again next day for islands – but with the same result.   went back to Oban, camping in different bays on the way. Keen to see Fingal’s Cave, I tried to book onto the tourist boat, but it was over-booked and, unknown to me. The boat had been unable to go all week because the sea was to rough.

It felt weird going back to Rowntree’s after that adventure.

I did various other day trips on the Inner Hebrides. One of these was a day and a night trip, but it took longer than expected due to poor planning. Adverse tide on a kayak means you only progress at 1 knot instead of 6, and if the tide is running at 3! It is exhausting work! And I ended up coming back in pitch darkness but easily guided by light up houses south of Oban.

I also did several trips on the East Coast of Scotland – much less fun because of the lack of islands, but when hugging the coast, you have to watch it passing the estuaries oaf the rivers Don and the Ythan because of vicious currents.