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Day 5 – Paddle across Scotland Winter 2020

 

Day 5 – The final day, we was woken by an eager Ben preparing the morning coffee and getting ready to hit the water. We could all feel how close the finish line was and were happy to pack away, get on the canal and start paddling. 

It was an extremely cold but clear morning and once out of the tent we were greeted by frozen gloves and icy boards. The last section of canal was a breeze and as we entered Inverness we knew we didn’t have far to push. As we neared the end of a long bend suddenly it came into sight, the kessock bridge. Only two things now stood in our way, a 750m portage into the canal harbour and then the transfer back into the sea from the canal. The latter of the two proved to be a nightmare, scrambling across train tracks, along headlands and down rocky sidings with all of our gear into the moray firth and straight into a shallow bay filled with thick tidal mud that began to pull you down as soon as you stepped into it. 

We battled through, cleared the shallow section and got ourselves back out into the deeper waters in the centre of the firth and as we neared the bridge, the seals popped up to check us out, curious about our boards.
We paddled under the finish line at around midday and landed at the lifeboat station to enjoy the views and allow what we had just done to sink in. A successful coast to coast crossing of Scotland on SUP boards complete and doing so we had raised funds to help young people across the UK at a difficult time of year. A job well done, it was time to pack up and head home for Christmas.

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Day 4 – Paddle across Scotland Winter 2020

 

Day 4 – Loch Ness and a day in which I honestly struggled to take photos. Taking the time to pull the camera out of a million dry bags to get frames on this day just wasn’t an option, we had to much distance to cover and sadly but understandably that took priority over photography.

Another early start saw us launch out into the void of loch Ness in the pitch black, with only the sound of Sams phone playing UB40 to break the eerie silence. It was calm, the skies were clear and it was absolutely beautiful. The initial section of Ness was a dream, paddling in calm conditions with only head torches illuminating the surface of the black water. Cruising along, it was hard not to think about all the tales this vast stretch of water creates and wonder what was lurking in the depths right beneath our boards.
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As we approached the half way mark, the swell began to increase and the wind rocketed to gusts of 30mph.
Taking time to rest was key here and every so often we would raft up, get the kite in the air and let that do the work whilst we had a brew and warmed up again. The temperatures were numbing and it was easy to start going man down if we neglected our rest routine.

As the end of the Loch came into sight we were riding monster waves and we went form paddle boarding to surfing for the last few km’s, it was exhilarating. We cruised through the final section of Loch Dochfour and into our camp just as the light faded, all of us in high spirits and stoked that we had just completed loch Ness in one day, a huge achievement for us as we had allocated a day and a half the night before.

A few whiskeys later we were tucked up in our sleeping bags, watching our wet gear slowly freeze on the fence as the temperatures plummeted. Tomorrow morning was going to be emotional. Here’s a shot of Ben’s beautiful face, this pretty much sums up our reaction when we hit the beasty swell half way down nessie

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Day 3 – Paddle across Scotland Winter 2020

 

Day 3 – Portage, It seems fitting to try and explain the difficulties and admin we had to go through off the water as well as on throughout the journey and a good chunk of this expedition was spent moving our boards and equipment around Lock gates on the canals. Called a ‘portage’ it just so happens that this day was the most demanding for the difficulties we faced off the water. 

Imagine it. It’s raining, freezing cold and for the last 2 hours you’ve been using your arms and putting pressure through your legs to allow yourself to paddle efficiently down a choppy Loch, your fingers are cold, you can barley feel your feet and your body is aching everywhere but all of a sudden, your faced with a 700m long series of Lock gates. What do you do? Jump off and walk around right? Well on a touring SUP board loaded down with gear, that’s not quite as easy as it sounds. 

Individually we were each carrying around 60lbs of gear that included everything we needed to live from our boards. Combined, that’s over 180lbs of gear that we had to unload from the boards, haul up a slippery bank, carry 700m, return for the boards, carry another 700m, reload the boards and then lower carefully back into the water down another slippery bank. I cannot explain how absolutely exhausting that is to do and on this particular day, we had to do it 5 times along with 15 miles of strenuous paddling. 

Portaging became an absolute nightmare for us, it would use up valuable time, daylight that we couldn’t really afford to lose and it was breaking us as well as taking its toll on our boards. Sam had badly cracked his toe and toenail and pulling the boards out through reeds, thorns and onto old pontoons was a puncture waiting to happen, not to mention the massive strain we put on the fins every time the heavily loaded rear accidentally touched the ground. Luckily Hatha have made a super strong board here and it stood up to the abuse we had to put them through on a frequent basis.

Once through all of the portages and the stretches of Loch Ceann and Loch Oich we finally made it to Fort Augustus, where the canal opened up into the daunting expanse of Loch Ness. Tomorrow’s challenge.

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Day 2 – Paddle across Scotland Winter 2020

 

Day 2 – We woke at 3am to the sounds of howling wind and rain rattling our hotel room window and Once ready, jumped in the van and headed down to Corran ferry. We struggled against the wind to get our gear down onto the beach and as we loaded our dry bags on the boards and strapped them down, the unpredictable Scottish weather worsened and brutal hail started driving into us as we stood on the exposed shoreline. It almost felt like a sign, a final ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ 

Seemingly undeterred, we climbed on our boards and headed out into the blackness of Loch Linnhe. We immediately realised just how big the swells were but almost ironically the waves that were causing us problems were also pushing us along from the rear, helping us down the vast expanse of water in front of us. The entire journey was tiring and disorientating, with zero visibility we dropped down sizeable swells and struggled to stay together as the wind pushed us in different directions, a dim glow stick and head torches that disappeared now and then our only way of tracking each other in the pitch black.

The lights of Fort William were a welcome sight and as we paddled along, a fishing boat stopped to ask us if we were okay. The crew looked slightly confused when we explained we were fine and continued paddling and looking back now, I can see why. We pulled up on the shoreline at Caol soaked through and once we had reached the safety of the canal, finally began to enjoy our surroundings in the dim morning light. 

We pushed past Ben Nevis and once on Loch Lochy, were greeted by the ever changing weather once again. A strong paddle down the Loch in the driving rain saw us arrive at our campsite in considerably calmer conditions were we made an open wooden hut our home for the night and after shovelling down some food, enjoyed the warmth of our sleeping bags and got ourselves ready for the next day.

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Day 1 – Paddle across Scotland Winter 2020

 

Day 1 – We arrived in fort William with a day to spare for a reason, prep time. We were well aware that we needed a chance to go over our gear one last time and also prepare the boards as well as our heads for the journey that lay in front of us, rushing this just wasn’t an option. Having some spare time to check out our first landings was also a huge advantage as we knew these would be in the pitch black bays of Loch Linnhe and navigating the shoreline at Caol would be more then difficult with zero visibility.


As the day drew onward the nerves began to creep in and we were all feeling apprehensive about what lay ahead. Every spare moment was spent looking out to the lochs and checking the weather forecasts and tide times. During the afternoon it became apparent that the conditions were worsening and we could see the evidence of this from the hotel window, the clouds began to form out at sea and roll toward land and the wind slowly crept upward until the water was filled with white caps and the hail started lashing down. We always knew that this was a real possibility. During the winter, conditions were never going to be on our side but I think in our heads we were all praying for calm waters on launch morning, however no such luck.


We spent the evening preparing the boards and then headed out to Corran ferry for one last check of the launch point. When we arrived the rain was relentless and looking out into the darkness of loch Linnhe was slightly intimidating. We were all well aware that in a few hours we would be launching from that spot into the abyss like blackness of the night to catch the incoming tide and the weather was showing no signs of letting up. Accepting the inevitable, we headed back to the hotel and tried to grab a few hours sleep before the chaos began and the journey finally got underway.

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Scotland Fundraiser Winter Paddle – December 2020

On the 21st December 2020 they challenged themselves to addle Board the entire width of the Scottish mainland, unsupported, via the Caledonian canal. This is from Corran in the West to Inverness in the East. They will follow the glen for 70 miles passing through Loch Eil, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and then finally the last 23 miles across Loch Ness to the finish at Kessock Bridge.   This is where they will once again meet the sea at the mouth of the Moray Firth 4 days later on the 24th December, Christmas eve. They will be completely self sufficient throughout the journey receiving no assistance and carrying everything we need for the duration on the boards with them.

They are doing this to raise money for disadvantaged children in the UK at Christmas time. The festive period can be an extremely difficult time for a large number of young people throughout the country who may be living in poverty, without family or find themselves the victims of violence. For these children, Christmas can be lonely, upsetting and not very magical at all.

They want to help raise funds that will go toward making the festive season a happier time in these children’s lives and any donation you can spare would be greatly appreciate, but more importantly by the young people around the UK who desperately need it.

On behalf of the team, Esland care and Action for children they would like to thank you for your support and donations.

You are helping to change lives.

Although this challenge has now been completed you can still give to their charity by following the link –

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/eslandadventurenorth

 

Their diaries will follow…….