Sea Kayak Trail Broadcast on Radio Scotland

The interview Gordon Brown and I gave to Helen Needham was broadcast on BBC Scotland's Out Of Doors programme this morning.

My book, The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail was a loose 'peg' for the story.

Helen made a two part 'package'. The first was broadcast near the start of the show and the second was the last item.

It was quite a relief to discover I only gabble in two places. Gordon stepped in when I began talking nonsense about otters (in pt 2).

Helen says we sea kayakers are really into taking photos, and there's now a gallery of our photos from the recording on the BBC's website. Do you want to listen? If so, there are are three ways.

1. BBC Podcast - Only has the first of the two packages and starts at 7 mins in.

2. iPlayer - I think it becomes available here after the repeat tomorrow.

3. My recording - I recorded the programme for my own records. You might just stumble accross it here.

Sea Kayak Trail on Radio Scotland

It is weird being interviewed.

I've been pointing microphones at people for more than thirty years. But when one is pointed at me I have a tendancy to jabber.

Helen Needham from Radio Scotland's 'Out Of Doors' programme, was very understanding.

She wanted to do a piece about sea kayaking, loosely based around my book The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail.

I was heartily relieved when Gordon Brown came along too. When I started jabbering, she pointed the mic at him and calm resumed.

How did it go? No idea. I'll discover early Saturday morning. The programme is also available as a podcast or on the iPlayer, all of which are linked from the programme website.

One Great Ride - Two Ferries

There's something exciting about a ferry journey.

Leaving one shore behind and crossing to a new piece of land sprinkles a little extra spice onto any adventure.

So a one-day circular bike ride which uses two ferries, and passes through some of the best scenery on Scotland's west coast, is going to be a classic.

I first did this ride a couple of years ago and wrote a short article about it, but didn't know the total distance due to a bike computer error. (Cont)

Video - Bike & Hike Along The Great Glen

A couple of months ago I worked on a film covering covering the Maggie's Monster Bike & Hike 2010. It was a great event for a great cancer care charity, and I posted some photos.

Now the finished film is live on the Maggie's website. It produced by my former colleague Jacqui Smith of Heirloom Media.

No Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium 2011

There will be no 'Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium' on Skye in 2011.

This has been a fabulously well-attended bi-annual event, with demand far outstripping places available. The last was in 2009, so it could have been expected to take place at the end of May 2011.

Gordon and Morag tell me the excellent venue, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, is not available in 2011. Plus there are a few other reasons too.

The Scottish symposium alternated with the Jersey symposium, and I believe Jersey might also take a break to keep in sync with the Scottish event, but that's not confirmed. For now the organisers website announces

"The next symposium is in 2012. No dates confirmed. Venue, to be confirmed."

Beachgoers At Risk From Dumped Flares

I passed the story to Rob Edwards, the Environment Editor of the Sunday Herald. It is now running on the newspaper's website and Rob's own website.

In summary - the rules regarding disposal of flares have changed. It's much harder now, and virtually impossible for those who live on islands.

So people are dumping them.

Skye Cycling

At 30 miles, this was a short, spectacular ride around the northern tip of the Isle of Skye.

The first two photos show the climb through the amazing scenery of the Quiraing. Our campervan had wheezed a little when we first drove this road, yet it was surprisingly easy on bikes. There was even a mobile snack-bar at the top.

A long, swooping descent to a cafe in Uig, before a climb and tour around the top of the island.

Apart from a moment when a bus tried overtaking me on a blind bend, on a single-track road then, realising a vehicle was coming the other way, simply pulled in to the left, sqashing me into the side of the road. Nice... Thanks Rapsons. I have a photo of your crap driver.

At least it wasn't as bad as Fiona's stories of Cycling Hell.

Liz climbing the Quriaing road

Steeper section of Quiraing road.

Duntulum Bay (where we landed after kayaking Rubha Hunish)

New Podcast - Hayley Shephard, South Georgia Expedition

The second Podcast this month is now live at

Hayley Shephard talks to us from her home on a small island off Vancouver Island.

She tells agripping tale of her expedition to circumnavigate South Georgia solo and the epic journey it became. Listen to the streaming recording or download to your computer.

Next month the authors of the new sea kayak guide to The Outer Hebrides will reveal the best places to kayak in this exceptional area.

Don't miss a thing - subscribe free via the website or with iTunes.

Review - Sea Kayak Guidebook to Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides

Please buy the book from us by clicking the image above - thanks.

The Outer Hebrides - Sea Kayaking around the Isles and St Kilda, by Mike Sullivan, Robert Emmott and Tim Pickering. Published by Pesda Press.

Podcast with authors coming 1st August at


This book contains monsters. They lurk at the back; scary, menacing and dangerous.

So we’ll leave them there for now and start at the front. Because the moment you pick up this book and flick through it, you sense the quality.

The photos, the layout and the snippets of text which stick to your eyes - they promise great things. (The photos in this review are not from the book - they're mine.)

Although it’s a thick book, there are just 44 routes rather than the 50 we’ve come to expect in similar Pesda Press publications, which is a surprise.

Another striking difference with previous Pesda guides is the use of aerial photography to illustrate some of the routes and is reminiscent of Imray guides.

This book shows the way, and such aerial photography could be put to even better use in future publications.

The guide is structured around the individual islands, initially heading north to south, from Lewis to Barra.

Each section starts with a description of that island, gives a flavour of its history and a line or two about kayaking there. In addition, ‘box-outs’ regularly appear providing interesting nuggets that don’t apply specific routes.

For example, did you know that if you see more than one eagle, the book says, ‘you can refer to what you saw as an aerie, a convocation, a jubilee, a soar or a spread of eagles’.

Of course you did.

So to the monsters.

Eight of these routes are so long they don’t fit on the maps. A white squiggly line indicates where sections of the map have been cut and pasted together, the only way to bring the start and finish onto the same page.

These are the big crossings and include; 66km to St Kilda, 67km to Sula Sgier and North Rona, 78km Ullapool to Stornoway and 70km Clashnessie Bay to Stornoway.

While you’re pondering those arm wilting distances, I should point out they refer to the crossing one way.

So unless you want to set up home on North Rona, or can arrange a shuttle from a passing boat, your true journey is 134 km.

These monsters are given the hardest grade C, when clearly they seem several steps beyond any other grade C in this or any other Pesda Press guidebook.

Some have only been completed a handful of times, while the last on that list has only been done once, as far as is known.

Patrick Winterton and Mick Berwick were casually nipping back to Stornoway to collect Patrick’s van after their epic kayak to the Faeroe Islands in 2009.

I was slightly involved. I’d been filming them, collected the pair from the cargo ship which brought them back to Stromness, and drove them and their kayaks across to top of Scotland.

My poor little VW Polo groaned under the weight of kayaks, kit and kayakers.

Let’s face it, if you’re good enough to take on one of these monsters, you don’t really need this guidebook.

But of course, that’s not the point of including such routes. These monsters are the stuff of dreams, not nightmares.

They lurk at the end of this book and at the limit of our aspirations.

They are goals to encourage us to develop our skill and experience, and thereby to improve our sea kayaking. For some of us, that might mean moving up from Grade A to B routes.

For all of us, it should mean making a kayak trip to the Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, Eilean Siar, the Islands at the Edge of the World.

Filming On Harris

If Scotland ever has a third National Park, then it would most likely be the Isle of Harris. For people who love the outdoors, and in particular, love capturing the images it presents, then there are few better places than this. Joe and me are shooting features to go in a whole day of live, new-route rock climbing to be broadcast on the BBC on 28th August (see earlier story).

We're sharing our wee B&B with one of the two star climbers of the programme, Dave MacLeod. He's spending his days dangling from abseil ropes (tricky on such a hugely overhanging cliff) trying to decide which new line to attempt. Each day he does a long walk in and out. The life of a professional rock climber is a strange one.

Joe and I can't moan about our 'tough day filming' when we think about what sits on Dave's shoulders.

Previous free climbing attempts failed;
utterly massive cliff - it's hard for the eye to register the scale;
fantastically hard rock climbing on pimples of rock most people could hardly see, let alone stand on or hang off;
potential for high wind and driving rain;
oh yes, and a cleared television schedule just for you - a whole day of expensive live high definition broadcasting - requiring you to find a line and to climb it.

No pressure then.... I'll stick to the features.

SCA Guidelines for Otter Encounters

The latest guidance notes for kayakers on wildlife issued by the Scottish Canoe Association are online.

It's fairly straightforward stuff, but makes nteresting reading all the same. And since they're legally protected we're obliged to leave them undisturbed.

Whereas a mink you can happily trap and roast on a stick. (Joke - honest!)

It means the SCA now has guidance notes on Otters, Freshwater Peal Mussels, Blackthroated Divers, and Fish Spawning.

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

I highly recommend all water users read this about drowning - a really informative piece.

The Great Climb - Live New Route Climbing on TV

On August Bank Holiday a truly ambitious live TV programme will be attempted for the BBC.

Climbers Dave MacLeod and Tim Emmett will attempt an unclimbed route on Sron Ulladale, a massive, imposing lump of rock, on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

That attempt will be broadcast live across the BBC - on TV and the web. I'm told it will be the first full high definition outside broadcast.

"Sounds like Springwatch, but with climbers instead of badgers", was my take on it. Stick it in your diary now - 28th August 2010.

Dave has been writing about it, and a previous attempt to stage a similar event in the Cairngorms two years ago which was washed out yet still remains among the BBC webpages. There's also an entertaining story by Paul Diffley, one of the cameramen on the washed out one and this latest attempt.

There are obvious echos of 1967 and the televised live, 3-day climb of the Old Man of Hoy, which I remember watching as a child, along with fifteen million other viewers. Even though radio mics and communications went down, it kept this eight year old glued to the TV.

With so many hours of programming, it's an excellent opportunity to showcase other aspects of life on the Isle of Harris.

I'll be on the island all next week to direct several feature stories, some of which we're still setting up.

Sadly, there's no kayaking or climbing on my filming schedule, but I hope to meet up with the guys behind the new kayak guidebook to the Outer Hebrides.

Which ahs just arrived and about which I'll write more when I've read it.

Fitting a Deck Mounted Silva 70p Compass

Famous last words: "Fitting that deck mounted compass was surprisingly easy", says Simon.

As Liz sinks beneath the waves, water flooding her front hatch.

Yet it was surprisingly easy. Of course, I had good advice.

Solent Sea Kayaking has precise step by step instructions. I read, learnt a lot, but ultimately decided not to follow them (sorry Dunks!). The bolts and sealant were a step too far for a
person with as many thumbs as I have.  Continued

Kayak Fishing in the UK

How big is kayak fishing in the UK? More to the point - how big will it become? Because in the US it is big.

Pesda Press (who also publish my book) clearly think there is potential to grow.

Hence this new publication in their Practical Manual series. It's the first on the subject this side of the Atlantic, with our different fish species and fishing techniques.

It's aimed less at the kayaker, more at the angler who fancies trying kayak fishing. Andy Benham has written for angling magazines for 25 years, is addicted to kayak fishing he says, and is keen to share what he know, including:

* Choosing fishing and kayak equipment.
* Modifying the kayak and installing a fish finder
* Fishing skills - tips on anchoring and 'downtiding'
* What to fish for
* Freshwater fish and wreck fishing
* Staying safe at sea
* Seamanship
* How to use handheld GPS and VHF radio

In the USA kayak fishing is big. Our DVD distributor there, Heliconia Press, has produced DVDs, book and even has a Kayak Fishing TV channel on YouTube. Here's the sort of thing they show.

Change at TGO Magazine

Sea kayaking is not the only activity most of us enjoy.

A lot of us are hill-walkers, so once in a while, we'll have read a copy of TGO Magazine.

The new August issue is the first in a couple of decades (at least) that hasn't been edited by Cameron McNeish.

The new Editor is Emily Rodway. Cameron becomes Editor-at-Large.

I hope to see Cameron soon, so I may find out more then.

Of course, the magazine used to be just called 'The Great Outdoors' and it was the first publication to regularly take contributions from me.

The Heli-hiking article below was my first and it ran in 1993. In a later edition of the magazine, an article about llama trekking in Utah with Red Rock 'n' Llamas won me a Travelex Travel Writers' Award.

Both of those articles were written on computers whose formats are long gone.

It was in conjunction with TGO magazine that I
tested the new breed of American ultra-light equipment in the UK ahead of our 2,658 mile Pacfic Crest Trail hike. It was made by GoLite, a company which has gone on to make some superb kit.

While we walked, I wrote and sent back articles and rolls of film which TGO processed. And that was just 2002!

Cameron was supportive throughout. I hope we might be working together again soon.

Meanwhile, TGOs Gear Editor and long distance hiker Chris Townsend is attempting another long distance trail in the USA.

I've known Chris since the 1980s when we both lived just outside Newcastle. To American backpackers he is something of a living legend, his Backpacker's Handbook selling in huge quantities over there.

Chris is going to hike The Pacific Northwest Trail which winds its way from the Rocky Mountains to the West coast. It's about 1200 miles in total.

It was invented by a chap called Ron Strickland, with whom Liz and I had the pleasure of walking for a week or so through the deserts of Southern California. We met quite by accident on the PCT and chatted as we walked and camped together.

Ron told us a lot about the trail, and also his real BIG trail - the 7,700 mile, trans-continental Sea to Sea route. So that's yet another challenge waiting for Chris when he ticks off this one.

Here's an interview with Chris, conducted by TGOs new editor Emily.

Silva 70p Compass

There are many women who, on being presented with this as their birthday present, would hurl the item in their husband's faces.

As it is quite heavy, I'm crossing my fingers that Liz is not one of them. I'm driving to Sea Kayak Oban this morning to buy one.

Sadly, Liz and I won't be together for her birthday. She has had to go south to look after her Mum who is having an operation tomorrow.

She's having a 'Watchman' fitted. Apparently, it's not a comic book hero.

When we were kayaking off Mingulay, Liz mentioned she would like a compass on her kayak, so I tucked the idea away. I'm not the greatest handy-man, but hopefully I'll get it fitted before she returns. Although the idea of driving screws into the gel coat flls me with dread.

What's that? Not very romantic? Surely you didn't think that was all I was getting her? Oh no.
She's also getting some silver Hunter wellies. I think they look like cyberman boots but hey, what do I know?

New Podcast - Rolling with Helen Wilson

Could your roll improve? This Podcast might help.

She's known for her Greenland rolling, but Helen Wilson reckons the skills are transferable to euro-blade style rolling too.

In her first year as a professional kayaker, Helen speaks to us from Arcata, California about how all of us can improve our rolls.

The trailer for her DVD is below.

Listen to the streaming podcast, download the mp3 version or subscribe via iTunes by visiting

Later this month, Hayley Shephard talks to us from a small island off Vancouver Island about her attempt to circumnavigate South Georgia.

Subscribe now to ensure you don't miss it and future Podcasts.