My initial foray to the Isle of Harris in February 2018 had been promising. After cycling almost every road on the island to scout for launching points, there seemed to be innumerable possibilities for sea kayak trips. I had spoken to a number of the locals and was surprised at their enthusiasm towards my plans. Convinced of my scheme to set up an outdoor activity business, I flew back to Glasgow and set about buying a car.
A couple of weeks later, having weathered ‘The Beast from the East’, I was back on the island. I had bought a Nissan X-Trail Expedition Sport (on the name alone) off some friends, and they had kindly allowed me the use of their only sea kayak as well. My plan to acquire boats on the island had fallen through at the last minute, and I was exceptionally grateful that they were able to come to my aid! Things seemed to be falling into place nicely.
But the pressure was on – I had booked my Sea Kayak Leader training course on the Isle of Cumbrae for 3 weeks time. Having done a bit of canoeing and sailing back in Torquay while growing up, I was confident in and around the water, but I’d never paddled a sea kayak in my life. I set up base camp at No5 Hostel in Drinishader, a fantastic spot tucked away in the Bays of Harris, and set about getting up to speed.
Such was my keenness to get some miles under the belt that after four straight days on the water, I started to suffer from bad tendinitis in my left wrist. As tempted as I was to soldier on, I knew it could lead to missing the course. With great reluctance, I went about other tasks and tried to not to let the beautiful conditions on East Loch Tarbert erode my self-restraint!
The 3 day course at Cumbrae with Sport Scotland was fantastic, with plenty of time on the water practising navigation, group management and sea kayak handling. I even attempted a few ‘T rescues’ (using the boat of another paddler to flip yourself back upright) in the freezing waters, and inadvertently managed to capsize one of my compatriots in the process! In spite of the painful onset of ice-cream-brain, he was pleased to have the opportunity to practise his roll.
On my return to the island, I moved into a lovely flat in the centre of Tarbert and set about gaining the experience I needed to sit my Sea Kayak Leader assessment. I was also training for the Scottish Island Peaks Race and LAMM (Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon), and all this physical activity put me in the best shape of my life.
Come June, all the sea kayaks, wetsuits and related paraphernalia were assembled. All that was left to do get my qualification and I’d be away! There were no assessments anywhere in Scotland at this time, and thus a 1000 mile round trip to Cumbria was required, where the tidal streams of Barrow-in-Furness and St. Bees awaited! I’d never felt pressure like it (even my second driving test aged 17 proved less stressful), but after two days of intense paddling and an interminable wait for the result in the pub in Thredkeld in the Lake District, I was finally granted my certificate! An enormous burden was lifted, and my excitement and relief carried me immediately to the summit of nearby Blencathra, from which I screamed at the top of my voice “COME ONNNNN!”
A few days later and the first Roam Outer Hebrides tour paddled quietly out of the Isle of Harris marina in Tarbert!