Symposium This Weekend

Best wishes to Ann, Geoff and everyone headed to the Kari-Tek Midwest Sea Kayak Symposium at Tayvallich this weekend (30 April - 2nd May).

I shall be otherwise engaged. This is also the weekend of the big Maggie's Monster Bike and Hike event. 500 people cycling then walking up the Great Glen, Fort William to Inverness.

I'm shooting still pictures and video of the whole event, for my friends at Heirloom Media who are producing the final film.

Hope both events go well - we're going to have great weather!

Video Diaries - Making of DVD-2 Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown

We are currently shooting DVD-2 in the series Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown.

I'm showing some of the early material in a talk for Kilchoan Kayak Club tonight (7pm).

Werner Paddles has sponsored a series of six Video Diaries. Released on the 1st of each month, these will include behind the scenes footage, out-takes and some of the finished sequences.

We aim to release DVD-2 on 1st November, with a premier a few weeks earlier at Paddle'11, the SCA event in Perth.

The Video Diaries will run on this blog, on SeaKayakPodcasts.com and on the rebuilt DVD website on 1st May. Although if you took a peek over there now...

Daffodil the Calf - One Hour Old

Looking distinctly wobbly on her spindly legs, yet drawn instinctively to her Mother's milk, this is Daffodil.

Yesterday started with a phone call from our friends who run Bluebell Croft, with whom we'd had supper the previous night.

"It was over very qucickly", we were told. "She just popped out".

Unlike a previous calf two years ago, which you were good enough to help name, or Danny who appeared last year, this one was always going to be Daffodil if it was a spring girl - and it is.


Kayaking Islay and Jura

A couple of weeks ago, we grabbed a few days in the campervan on Islay, taking with us one of the new Valley Etain kayaks. We did a day-paddle in the south east corner of the island, among some fabulous rocks and islands. More details at SeaKayakRoutes.com.

However, the highlight was a two-day paddle, first to the northern top of Islay, and then across to Jura travelling deep into Loch Tarbert which almost cuts the island in half.

Making full use of the tide allowed us to complete this easily in two days. At one stage I was travelling down the Sound of Islay at 21kph! Again, details at SeaKayakRoutes.com.

Crash Proof. Guaranteed.

To turn all the bad car drivers into a good car drivers, fix sharp spikes to the centre of their steering wheels, pointing at the centre of their chests.

This is guaranteed to improve the overall standard of driving. One way or another.

I believe I have discovered the cyclists equivalent.

While riding, I spotted two excellent Red Deer antlers, ideal for a piece of sculpture. But I had nowhere to carry them other than zipping them partially inside my jacket, tines nudging my ribs and neck.

As crashing would have resulted in a severed carotid artery, and quite possibly a kebabed kidney, I rode home sedately. My hands never once left the bars. See, it works.

The hinds are calving now, and the stags will have shed these antlers at the end of winter. There may be more to find.

Oh and the sculpture? That's a work in progress.

Kayaking Around Canna and Rum

We cheated.

We didn't paddle out to the Small Isles, we took the ferry there and back. Why?

[If you find this useful, please click a few of the advert links - it really helps to keep the websites running.  Thank you. ]

We'd rather use the limited April weather window to explore the coastlines of two spectacular islands than flog ourselves across an open ocean. And anyway, we've done it before.

Last Wednesday we drove into Mallaig CalMac terminal at 09:15 for the 10:15 ferry, having telephoned to check there would be space.

"You must be the folk with the canoes", the young chap directing traffic announced. "Unload over there". (There are many more photos from this trip in the slideshow below)

The Small Isles ferry is not like the busy car ferries on which we've previously carried kayaks. On those we recommend using a trolley. This time we knew few vehicles would be crowding onto the car deck, and as we'd rather not have the trolley wheels on our back decks, we decided to leave them behind.


Instead, we loaded all our kit into two, red rucksacks, and one mesh bag, which we could carry on at the same time as the kayaks. Valuables went in the deck bag.

The rucksacks, incidentally, are GoLite Gusts, the same ones we carried the length of the USA from Mexico to Canada, along the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002.

They roll up to the size of a Ikea bag and easily stuff down past the skeg box into the tail.

By 13:30 we had loaded up and were paddling away from Canna slipway to explore an amazing island.

The contorted rock, like Staffa in miniature, left us awestruck at the forces which tortured and shaped this land. (See photos in slideshow below).

Cliffs soared high above our heads, particularly at the western end, which I imagine is rarely visited on foot.


Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Canna is definitely an island to see from the sea, preferably from a sea kayak, although care is needed.

Even in what had seemed like a flat calm, the swell hit that west end with considerable force, reflecting clapotis back and giving
us a bumpy few kilometres.

There were two options for campsites, one in Tarbet Bay, the other technically not on Canna but on Sanday, a small island
attached by a causeway.

There's a lovely cafe / restaurant on Canna offering good good albeit at city prices. We tucked into what we'd brought and studied the map, ready for tomorrow's crossing.

The south going tidal stream in the Sound of Canna began running at 10:15, and we caught it just as it began.

(I've put details of the tides and a map of our route on SeaKayakRoutes.com)

It gave us a smooth, gentle ride across to Rum, and we travelled at 7kph most of the way. Closer in to the island, swell once again bounced back off the rugged shore. Explosions of white marked the interface between sea and land, so for comfort we initially stayed further offshore.


However, there was one place I wanted to visit for the first time in almost twenty years.

Harris, a bay on the west of the island, is where Sir George Bullough wanted to build Kinloch Castle.

With no safe anchorage, he was thwarted, so instead he built his family mausoleum.

The first attempt was a marble and tile clad structure, and visiting reporter from The Times thought it "looked like a public lavatory".

It was demolished with dynamite. If you look carefully at the hillside nearby you'll find part is still visible. (Photo in slideshow below).

This mock Greek temple which serves as the last resting place for these members of the Bullough family was the replacement.


It can be seen from the sea, and that's the easiest way as landing here is tricky. It is a boulder beach, and not all of those boulders are smooth.

Launching an hour later was worse. The green slime covered rocks were treacherous and we couldn't carry our loaded kayaks across them.

We had to unload, ferry all our kit to the water's edge in stages, re-pack, then launch.

Indeed, lack of landing places is a feature of these two islands.

Dibidil bothy (about which there is a book) is a lovely spot to spend the night when you've hiked the Rum Cuillin. But once again, the shore is guarded by boulders. With no swell, a step-ashore landing would be possible. Otherwise I'd want a plastic boat, or one with a keel strip.

We found a sandy beach that's not marked as such on the OS maps, right beside a standing stone. This was the site of a ruined settlement, and made a lovely second camp.

Friday morning started slowly. We initially headed north, but decided to head to Kinloch Castle and take the tour.


We stayed at the castle exactly ten years ago for Liz's birthday, so it was nice to return and see how little has changed.

Crowds of people were arriving for the Easter holiday.

If we'd had more food, we could easily have crossed to Eigg, where we've previously camped, then to Arisaig and back to Mallaig, all trips we've done in the past.

But we only had supplies for the intended days away, no chance to re-supply on a holiday weekend. Also rain was forecast and work was calling.

It was good to get away at the end, carry the kayaks on the CalMac and head home after a superb three days among the Small Isles.  [If you found this useful, please click a few of the advert links - it really helps to keep the websites running.  Thank you. ]

4 in 5 Langoustines Contaminated By Plastic

The worst thing about sea kayaking and camping on the glorious west coast of Scotland is the quantity of plastic garbage from the fishing industry washed up on beaches.

That plastic is reportedly contaminating four out of five langoustines in the Clyde area.

The plastic goes in their guts, a bit humans don't eat. Yet this is a 'potential threat' to human health and also to the £100m industry - from which most of the plastic comes. It's not very nice for the wee creatures either, but then, neither is being eaten.

Rob Edwards' excellent blog reports a study from University of London and Aberdeen University, to be published in a respected, peer reviewed journal.

The full story is well worth reading. The video below I shot near Mallaig in 2007.

New DVD (not ours) Looks Great

I got into a spot of bother, due to a misunderstanding, the last time I mentioned the Sea Kayak Essentials DVD. So I'll say no more other than I think it looks really, really good. It comes out soon.

Jasmine and Jasper

They are regular's at Tesco in Oban. At first we saw only Jasmine, her name supplied by the woman working the cafe till.

"So the duck is called Jasmine?", I asked the security guard, seeking confirmation from a second source. "Jasper", he pronounced. Oh?

"A boy? Have you checked?". He stared at me, in the way a only a security guard can stare. "It's a duck. It's pretty obvious when it's male".

I returned to the car park and saw the pair together, almost using the zebra crossing. That's probably one animal too many in this tale.

Clearly skilled at avoiding paparazzi, I managed few shots of them together. This is the best my old zoom-less iPhone could manage.

We've stocked up with food and are taking the van to Islay for a few days paddling. The ferry is very busy in the approach to Easter and while the booking office said there was no space on the first sailing, the port office reckons they can squeeze us on. We're in the queue.

I've swapped my Nordkapp for a new Valley Etain, a little too big for me, but which I'm looking forward to trying.

Do I Look Like A Fish?

Is it possible that a gannet can be short sighted?

Or perhaps enjoy scaring the guano out of sea kayakers?

Paddling between Portsoy and Portknockie, on the Aberdeenshire coast, I felt as much as heard the 'whumph".

When diving, a Northern Gannet hits the water at around travelling at 60mph. This individual chose to do so less than a metre from my kayak.

Did he veer off at the last moment? Was he aiming to miss me all the time?

When my brain finally caught up, I saw his bubble trail under the water, before he popped back to the surface. Was that a grin? Or perhaps a twinkle in that gorgeous blue eye?

He certainly chose a spectacular part of Scotland to patrol.

Alongside is a shot of Bow Fiddle Rock, close to Portknockie. It's the highlight on a trip studded with geological excitement.

With a little swell running, we managed to get in behind the rock and close to the hole itself, but I bottled going through.

This route reminded me that one of the reasons I started SeaKayakPodcasts.com was to allow experienced sea kayakers to share their top local routes with visitors and newcomers to the sport.

What we paddled wasn't in a guidebook, but was recommended in Donald Thomson's excellent Podcast about Aberdeenshire. You'll find it on the Destinations page.

If you're looking for a different part of Scotland's coast to explore, somewhere dryer and relatively midge free compared to the west, I suggest you give this one a listen. Oh, and take notes.

Hint Of Heat

"The first glimpse of sun and it's like this", explained woman in the Cullen Ice Cream shop. The queue snaked out of the door and up the street, away from the viaduct.

One of her customers chimed in, "You should see the queue for icd cream in Port Soy - it goes around the whole shop and down the street".

The sun came out today. And here's the amazing bit. It felt warm. For the first time this year, we felt a hint of what summer might bring.

You grab your chances up here.

Shorts were dug out if drawers, teamed with beach shirts and flip flops, and suddenly the dudes of Aberdeenshire were chillin' in the rays. The beach babes bared even more flesh than usual. I expect Boots will sell considerable quantities of after-sun product come Monday.

We grabbed our chance too. Portsoy to Portknockie is not in Scotland's 50 best paddles book. However, it was recommended in Donald's podcast, and came with a five-star report from a local friend.

Boy were they right!

I'll tell the story of today's superb paddle when I can add the photos. Since it included a near-miss from a diving gannet, which plummeted into the sea less than a metre off my bow, it probably needs it's own entry.

For now we've tucked into dish suppers at Findhorn. If the weather stays as it is, we're planning to head into the Moray Firth tomorrow to see if we can spot the dolphins.

Skink in Cullen

Well I had to. Two windy days, almost too windy to cycle, and certainly too windy for us to paddle. But fantastic cycling around this part of Aberdeenshire with wide, empty lanes through a largely agricultural area.

Go East

It is a delicious dilemma, one which many people would like to have. So as I write, in the front seat of our van in Tesco's Inverness car park, I realise how lucky I am. But it's still a dilemma.

We love wild places. I'm sure you do too. We've managed to organise our lives so we live in one of the wildest parts of Scotland. Yet when three work-free weeks suddenly appear in the diary we want to head somewhere even wilder, to kayak and to bike.

Our juicy, sweet problem is that there's not much wilder than home.

Which is why we had planned to head out to Orkney and then Shetland, the wonderful Northern Isles. Note the past tense.

Todays update forecast from the MetOffice was dreadful. It ammounted to 'bad, becoming worse'.

We wouldn't see the Northern Isles at their best; we'd hardly get on the water; we'd be stuck in our wee van; and we'd pay £500 ferry fare for these dubious pleasures.

New plan required.

Embarrassingly we've never kayaked on the East coast, so that looks like being our playground for the next few days.

I dug out Doug's 'Best of Scotland' book and we'll try to tick off a few of the routes in there, supplemented by suggestions of Donald Thompson in his Aberdeenshire Podcast (I'd link to it, but as this is an email, I can't).

No it will not be as wild as home. But it will be different. And we're looking forward to it already.

Hill Running on The Adventure Show

The Carnethy Hill Race features in the next Adventure Show. 12th April 19:00 BBC-2 Scotland. It will be on the iPlayer for seven days, and on Sky 990 and Freesat 970.

Also in the programme is a feature on the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue, who're getting called out to more mountain bikers, and a feature on the acclaimed hill runner Angela Mudge. I edited all of the above and also shot the Angela Mudge feature, which was fun with her two dogs.

New Podcast - Connecticut

Kayaking the tidal races of Connecticut is Greg Paquin's speciality.

Greg runs Kayak Waveology. I first heard about him through Harry Whelan when we paddled on the Thames.

It's a revealing insight to a part of the world that I hadn't really thought about as a sea kayaking destination. Shows how wrong you can be.

Find it, as usual, at SeaKayakPodcasts.com

There's also some news on that site.

Starting 1st May, the Podcasts will become video diaries which we're making while shooting DVD-2, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown Vol 2 - Rescues, rough water & staying safe.

These will show behind the scenes, out-takes, and preview clips of the final production.

I'll try to keep the regular contributor podcasts going, releasing them mid-way through each month, provided I can find the time.