The first stage of our Christmas migration is complete. Partly due to atrocious road conditions, it took us three days to drive from Ardnamurchan to just outside London, a drive we’d normally do in a day. But at least we’re here. Sadly, there’s more driving to come.

On Sunday it looked like we wouldn’t be able to drive down the road which leads from our cottage. Only one other vehicles tracks cut through the deep snow, and that had been a four wheel drive.

We had to descend a hill, on a bend, with a ditch on one side and on the other, a crash barrier fencing off a small ravine with a rive below. As this was the first time we’d taken the VW T5 Campervan (read our campervan story) on snow, we headed out with great caution. Once across the ferry, we rolled through Glencoe and across Rannoch Moor with few problems, albeit slower than normal.

We were heading for North Berwck, home of Jerba Campervans. Again! Our internal electrics had died. We were booked in first thing on Monday morning. After a dreadful meal at the Italian restaurant on North Berwick High Street we settled down for the evening, parked along the sea front near the golf course.

First thing Monday morning the Jerba electrician traced the fault to the electronic distribution unit. “Of the hundreds I’ve fitted it’s only the second unit I’ve had to replace”, he told me. By eleven o’clock we were rolling south down the A1.

It was a relatively easy drive. The low winter sun was off to one side, and although there was heavy traffic, I enjoy driving. Especially the T5 van. Which we rarely take about 65mph, unlike my days in VW Golf GTis when I rarely drove below 80 mph! That’s age for you.

The SatNav showed 20 minutes to go when all three lanes of M4 motorway came almost to a halt. It was snowing hard, and the gaps between vehicles covered while we waited, making pulling away difficult. Sensing the motorway would soon close (it did) we diverted onto the A40 and immediately became part of a long convoy. The road seemed not to be gritted, something the locals later said was the case. Liz was walking alongside the van, going ahead to try to see the end of the problem. Clearly, it was miles away.

An hour later, having travelled less than a mile and with conditions worsening, we saw a pub with a space in front. I pulled off the road and parked, having resolved to spend the night there, outside th Dashwood Arms in the village of Piddington. We had a couple of drinks, a hot meal - and then the pub suffered a power cut. I suspect we were the last people to be served.

As the evening wore on, and more and more vehicles were abandoned, more and more people sought refuge in the pub which turned itself into an emergency hostel.

We took a walk down the road for about a mile, but seeing no end to the line of stationary traffic, we came back to the van. We pushed a few cars, helped an ambulance weave its way past the line of traffic, then bedded down for our second night in the van.

At 4am I looked out of the window and realised the traffic had gone. I pulled on boots and was delighted when I started shoveling snow - it had not frozen overnight. In fact, it was starting to melt.

“Time to go”, I announced, and Liz, who frankly isn’t at her best first thing in the morning, complied with admirable fortitude. We had hit a perfect window; after the worst of the traffic had cleared, and before the morning rush-hour began, during a thaw.

As we drove the remaining distance to Liz’s Mum’s home, we passed countless abandoned cars, vans and lorries. They would probably be a significant hazard later in the day. We had the roads to almost to ourselves, and could drive whichever was the gritted side. The side-streets were still almost impassable, but the T5 was excellent. We pulled into the street at 5am, and not wanting to wake Liz’s Mum, went back to sleep in the van until a more reasonable hour.

There’s more driving ahead, including a trip to Dorset for New Year. We hope it will be a lot less eventful!

Sea Kayak Podcasts & Sea Kayak Routes

SeaKayakRoutes.com is no longer a Podcast website.

I've done some housekeeping and turned it into an online log of our trips in Scotland.

I hope it will be useful to others as it has launch coordinates, photos and GPS tracks of the routes we've done.

There's also an interactive map, so you can find the route by clicking an icon

There's a little more organising to do, but it's nearly finished.

SeaKayakPodcasts.com is now the home of the Podcasts.

They're being uploaded as m4a files, but for those who prefer the mp3 versions, they're stored in the Podcast library.

There's quite a large collection there now.

I haven't stopped adding podcast, but I do so at fairly random intervals - such is life.

To ensure you don't miss a new podcast is to check this blog regularly, or better still, subscribe to the Podcast feed by clicking the 'subscribe' button on its front page.

Boatie - The Sea Kayaker's iPhone App

If you have an iPhone, live in the UK, and go sea kayaking, give yourself a little Christmas present in the form of this app.

Boatie is particularly handy when away from home for a few days.

It's most useful for weather forecasts, with access to Met Office Inshore Waters and synoptic charts. For both you need a mobile phone signal.

It will also provide tidal data, but again a signal is needed.

The World Tides App had all the tidal information inside the app, so no signal was needed. However, it no longer seems to be available. I hope a 2010 version will be released.

My next most useful weather app is WeatherPro. A combination of these three works well for me.


As you read this I'm either heading to Glasgow, from Glasgow or I'm sitting in a hospital in Glasgow waiting for an MRI scan and then to see a consultant.

I'm trying to locate the reason from a recurring lower back / hip problem which, in its last manifestation, seems to have caused some nerve damage.

My left foot drops. Not enough to trip me up, but enough to cause other muscles to compensate and make it painful to walk any distance.

I've had a slightly dodgy back since age 19 and I'm now approaching 51, so I don't enticipate a miracle cure.

Neither am I a big fan of allegedly 'funny' e-mails. But I am starting to feel my age. It's as if I'm nearing the 'best before' date. Perhaps it's stamped on the back of my neck?

Anyway, this email struck a chord.

Just in case you weren't feeling too old today.

The people who are starting college this fall were born in 1991.

They are too young to remember the space shuttle blowing up.

Their lifetime has always included AIDS.

The CD was introduced two years before they were born.

They have always had an answering machine.

They have always had cable..

Jay Leno has always been on the Tonight Show.

Popcorn has always been microwaved.

They never took a swim and thought about Jaws.

They don't know who Mork was or where he was from.

They never heard: 'Where's the Beef?', 'I'd walk a mile for a Camel ', or 'deplane Boss, de plane'.

McDonald's never came in Styrofoam containers.

They don't have a clue how to use a typewriter.

Pass this on to the other old fogies on your list.

Notice the larger type?

That's for those of us who have trouble reading.

A Ride of Two Halfs

We've looked at the 80 mile loop around Moidart and Sunart and thought, 'what a great ride that would make'.

But too long for us to do in a day, especially with the short daylight hours of winter.

So Liz hit on the idea of dropping the car almost half way, tackling the hilliest section on day one as we rode home, then riding back to the car on day two.

We rode the first part yesterday and now we're back in the saddle finishing off the rest.

Which we duely did. Although the GPS track is a little odd.

On the way out, the Garmin Edge 305 stopped working for a while, so it looks like we switched to jet bike.

Then for the return drive, I forgot to switch the unit off again, so it looks like we had a heck of a long ride.

Now we just need to ride the whole 80 miles in one day.

New Podcast - Arrow Kayaks

This is Nicolai Ilcus - or at least I hope it is, as we have only spoken on the telephone.

With Jesper Kromann-Andersen, Nicolai has designed and is producing a new make of Danish sea kayak, Arrow Kayaks.

Nicolai actually rang me to check the whereabouts of his copy of the DVD, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown which seems to be delayed in the Christmas post.

We started chatting about his new business, Arrow Kayaks. "Perhaps we could record a podcast some time?" he suggested. "Why not right now" I replied.

I've done some housekeeping on the website but you'll find it at SeaKayakPodcasts.com with an MP3 version in the Podcast Library.

Freya Hoffmeister Completes Australia Ciurcumnavigation

A far cry from when this photo was taken! Freya stood for hours in the Sound of Iona in October 2006, teaching people to roll.

Yet both are typical of her single minded determination. Hearty congratulations.

Freya - 332 days, of which 245 were paddling.
Paul Caffyn 361 days, of which 257 were paddling.
No-one else.

From The Australian - "I'm hungry and I need to get out of my swimsuit".


North Skye

These shots are taken from three trips we tackled over a long weekend on Skye. They're all now in SeaKayakRoutes.com along with launch co-ordinates and GPS tracks.

From North Skye

It has been an amazingly good Decenber day at the north end of Skye.
We did a superb route from Staffin to Balmaqueen as recommended by G.
Brown Esquire. Caves, tunnels and golden, low winter light. But not a
lot if it. Tomorrow, all being well, we might try to go around the
northern tip ov the island.

In The Dark

The non-driving electrics in our campervan failed just before we came
to Skye for a long weekend. We were late on the water as we mucked
about with fuses, then resorted to buying this mini lantern. We're at
Staffin slipway hoping for an early start. In the dark...

Testing Kayak Video Camera

I borrowed a VIO POV 1.0 camera and hard-drive recorder to test at the weekend.

Like all mini-cams it's difficult to get the horizon right. The built in screen and simple controls make it much easier to use than the mini-cam system we built for the DVD, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown.

However, there was quite a lot of digital drop out, in the form of pixelated sections. I was warned about this by the camera owners who have found a problem in the past when trying to edit shots into TV programmes. I deliberately left some of the digital disturbance in the edit (below) to see if it would fail to upload, but it worked fine.

The VIO POV 1.5 is their newest model. It's widescreen but not HD. That means they're falling behind the competition, particularly the Contour HD. They'll have a waterproof case out soon.

What's the betting POV 2.0 will be VIO's HD version? When will it be out?

Michelle at VIO Customer Care told me: "as I'm sure you know, we are constantly in a state of development exploring cutting edge, state of the art technologies to build into our suite of products. Although features such as HD and stuff will be a great addition to our family of POV products the time-frame for release of such a product has yet to be determined."

Cheap (slightly used) Kayak Kit For Sale

We treated ourselves to some new kayak kit so I'm having a clear out.

Drop-seat salopettes in Medium and in Large

The sale ends Saturday morning.

Incidentally, it took me a while to realise how e-bay works (perhaps I'm slow on the uptake!) As a result, I missed a few items I really wanted. This is my understanding of the system - please don't berate me if I've got it wrong!

Don't wait until the last minute to get into a fastest-finger-first bidding war. Decide how much an item is worth to you and place a bid for that amount. That sum does not immediately show up in e-bay. E-bay shows you as the highest bidder, but the amount only rises by a few pounds.
For example, that Palm PDF above new costs £65. Perhaps you think it's worth £40, so that's what you bid.

If another bidder moves in at the last minute and bids £35, their bid shows up briefly. But then, without you doing anything, e-bay automatically tops their bid with yours. I'm not sure by how much exactly, but I guess it would be about £37.

All this can happen in the last few seconds. So by bidding £40, you might still get it for 0.99p if no-one else bids. If someone else bid £41, they'd get it.

That's how I bought the camcorder we used as part of our mini-cam system when recording the DVD. I missed three similar cameras until someone (Gordon I think) explained how e-bay worked.

If I've missed some subtle point, or if you'd like to correct me, please comment.

Reunion Ride

One of the dangers of working from home is the risk of never switching off.

The iPhone makes that even more of a challenge. So I treated myself to a hard (for me!) work out.

Liz and I were in the swimming pool in Fort William for 8am. I did my usual 1km swim then, while Liz went to yoga, I had breakfast at my favourite cafe in the High Street.

Then I pulled the road bike out of the car and rode home around the lochs, 50 miles in total, 3hrs 35 minutes.

There was little wind, and as I made my way around Loch Eil, the cloud on Ben Nevis started to lift. It was turning into a really nice day. Cool enough to be refreshing without being too cold to numb to toes and fingers.

The map above shows I made a stop (point 1).

Passing the end of their road, I dropped in for a cup of tea at Watercolour Music's new recording studios, owned by our friends Mary Ann Kennedy and her husband Nick Turner. (this is Mary Ann's latest album).

I hadn't seen the studio since it was a shell - what a superb setting in which to make music.

And who should be there making music (well, producing it) but the excellent Brian McNeill, one of the founder members of the Battlefield Band.

I used to work with Brian's wife and our paths keep crossing. We met in a Northumberland pub (Grey Bull, Wark) ages ago. Then when I filmed Brian for Newsnight I discovered we both had decided to quit our jobs in the same week. And now we're both doing exactly what we want and having more fun than ever before!

Brian wrote one of my favourite, angry Scottish songs, No Gods and Previous Few Heroes. (album). Take a look at the lyrics and you'll see what I mean by 'angry'. The title, incidentally, is taken from Hamish Henderson's Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica.

Fortified by surprise reunions and Earl Grey tea, I rode the final 20 miles.

There's a sting in the tail of this route as the elevation profile reveals. A wet sting. Because climbing into Glen Tarbet the rain began. Boy, does it know how to rain here.

100m from home, Liz passed me in the car.

Of course there was lots of work stuff waiting for me. But nothing that couldn't wait. I'll have to treat myself more often...

If You Ask For One Book This Christmas

Then I highly recommend this one: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins.

I'm not one of Dawkins' unquestioning fans. He seems to have become the first evangelical athiest! That doesn't appeal.

But as an utterly absorbing analysis of the processes which shaped our world and life on it, this is a cracking good book.

It's not an easy read. Sometimes it feels like a textbook, or even a lecture. But then, all of a sudden, he'll tell me something utterly fascinating, one of those, "Wow I must remember that", sort of facts.

But if you get a copy for Christmas it's probably best if you don't take it with you to church.


The Heliconia Press, the US distributors of our DVD Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, now have the DVD for sale on their own website.

We'd obviously prefer if you bought directly from our website. It still ships from a US address.

But honestly, we don't mind too much either way. We just hope you enjoy it.

New Palm Stikine Dry Suit - Review

The old orange, black and grey Palm Stikine drysuit became a favourite for many coaches. I’ve heard it called ‘the sea kayak uniform of Wales’, so popular was the design.

If you find this useful, please click a few of the advert links, it really does help keep the site running.  Thank you!

The new Stikine looks different, feels different and, I hope, will last a lot longer than the old one.

Because from my experience, and from the experiences of others I’ve read online, Palm appears to have had problems with de-lamination of its drysuit fabrics. We’ll come to that later. You might also want to compare the Stikine with the Palm Aleutian reviewed by Solent Sea Kayaking.

First let's run through the stand-out features.

The new Stikine is a nice, deep plum colour, coming close to the colour of the women's Element dry suit. The recommended retail price suggested by Palm is £550.

There are much tougher abrasion resistant patches on key contact points. Indeed, the elbow sections feature kevlar for impact protection. The sleeve is cut to articulate and there are no underarm seams. There's Cordura 550D Ripstop abrasion resistance on the seat and knees.

The neck and wrists have natural latex gaskets and are covered (protected?) by generous adjustable cuffs, below which there is reflective detailing. Pulled tight, the cuffs still fit into pogies.

The chest ‘handwarmer’ thru-pocket has a removable fleece insert. The zips are said to be waterproof although I have't tested this. Anyone want to be first to risk their electonic car key?

The rear / shoulder zip remains the highest quality YKK brass coil type. It's covered by a large protective flap as is the pee zip. The crotch, like the underarms, is seamless so less chance of leaks.

The old Stikine had a very tight waist section. Designed to cover the top of the spray deck, it was too tight for sea kayaking for all but the skinniest paddler, and I know some people cut theirs off. The new waist section is greatly improved. Still adjustable, still able to cover the top of the spraydeck, it is far slacker and consequently far more comfortable. But does htis mean the suit might slip down?

That's when you use the adjustable, internal over-shoulder elasticated braces. These are detachable, which is just as well as the rear clip digs into my back when I wear my PFD.

There's also a small 'waterproof' zip pocket on the left shoulder. The feet are made form Palm's XP250 fabric with Cordura 300D soles. The rest of the suit is made form Palm's XP250 Toray 4-layer fabric. Which brings us onto the key question - will it last?

In my experience, Palm has a superb reputation for customer service. They replaced Liz's Element dry suit when it delaminated - the layers of fabric began separateing allowing water to enter.

They also replaced my first Stikine when it delaminated. And my second when it did the same. That's how I come to have this new one - it was not a journalist's 'freebie'. As I've only worn it four times, it's far too early to tell whether this fabric will last longer than the others. But no company can continue to replace dry-suits at that rate!

On 10th November I e-mailed Palm to ask whether they acknowledg the delamination issues, or whether they regard the fabric of the new Stikine as an 'improved' fabric, but I've heard nothing yet.

I should come clean - Palm ‘sponsored’ me in 2008, to the extent that they gave Liz and I two light cags and 2 PFDs for our Scottish Sea Kayak Trail book. These have performed superbly. I’m only selling the PFDs (on e-bay if you’re interested) because I’ve replaced them with Palm Kiakoura Tour PFDs which are even better. They also leant me (yet another) dry suit as my Stikine was with them for assessment and subsequent repair for de-lamination.

My interim thoughts on the new Stikine paddling dry suit.
* much improved design
* too early to judge whether delamination issues are solved
* I would not now be tempted into buying a cut-price old 'orange' design.

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham

Honestly, it wasn't as dull as this awful photo suggests!

We spent a great evening at the Sunart Centre listening to Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. Excellent stories, interspersed with very good music.

They're described as 'Simply the best traditional musicians you're ever likely to hear' by Mike Russell, although I suspect that was before he returned to being an MSP and became Culture Secretary. (He's now Education Sec.)

Stories included that of the accordion player who, when he sat down, didn't realise the bottom strap of his instrument had hitched up him kilt, accidentally exposing his more delicate instrument.

However it did earn him the nickname of the 'human metronome'. Buy their music on Amazon

Feeding Time

On a cold, crisp morning we took carrots to the horses and a load of left-overs for the pigs.

Cockpit Covers

When transporting a kayak, a cockpit cover cuts wind drag and keeps the rain out of the boat.

They're particularly important if you're carrying the kayaks flat rather than on their side.

Trouble is, they tend to be rather expensive.

This design (scroll down), by Bruce & Mark at Lomo is just £15, which is more than half some of other models out there.

It even has a handy clip to stop the cover blowing off the roof if accidentally caught by the wind.

++ Confirmed, Lendal Paddles being bought by Sea Kayaking UK

I've spoken to Nigel Dennis and confirmed that his company, Sea Kayaking UK (formerly NDK) is in the process of buying Lendal Paddles from Johnson Outdoors.

The lawyers are going over the deal now. Unless someone objects, I hope to record a podcast interview early next week with Nigel about his plans for Lendal.

And from what he's told me, they are interesting plans, involving the people who originally owned Lendal.

I'll post info here as soon as the interview is ready to download.

Meanwhile, you might enjoy Nigel's podcast about his sea kayaking career. This link goes directly to the MP3 file. You''ll find it and others in the Podcast Library at SeaKayakPodcasts.com.

++ News 'Lendal Paddles sold to Sea Kayaking UK' Report

Not my story, but one posted by David H. Johnston on PaddlingInstructor.com as a done deal.

Marine Litter

Today, the Scottish parliament is debating the Scottish Marine Bill. It's needed.

94% of fulmars in the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, according to a 2004 study reported here by Rob Edwards.

It's reported that an amendment by the Green Party would force Ministers to develop a strategy to tackle Scottish marine litter. And if you don't think it's a problem, just watch the video from May 2007.

New Valley Skeg System - More Information

I spotted this at Paddle '09 and wrote a little about Valley's new skeg system. I now have more information.

Valley say they've totally redesigned their system from bow to stern with two aims.

Firstly, they hope to engineer out many of the potential 'kink' spots, where skeg wires can accidentally be bent.

Secondly, the new system is to be entirely self serviceable. Even on composite kayaks all parts can be removed and refitted without the need to glass-in any components. Every single part of the skeg system can be easily replaced.

This photo shows the slider unit on a roto-moulded kayak. Exactly the same type of system will go onto their composite kayaks, the only difference being the length of the cable and outer pipe used in different models.

For those who prefer rudders, they're now using the Smart Track foil bladed rudder system, which they say allows solid bracing on the foot pedals whle still being able to steer.

All this information should be on their new website when it eventually goes live. (It's taking ages...)

What the site might not reveal is that the engineering research continues. Valley reckon they've ironed out a lot of the kink potential, but they're working on another development at the skeg-end of the cable.

Precisely what, I don't know. Yet.