Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Wacky Races

The 4th Ravenglass Seaquest

To some, this might be the stuff of nightmares: imagine you're running in wellie boots. Wellie boots full of water. You're also running through thick, estuarine mud the colour of chocolate. And as you run, the mud clings more and more, and the checkpoint seems to be getting farther away. Was this a bad dream? No. It was the Ravenglass Seaquest.

As races go, it couldn't be more wacky. Checkpoints dotted about in three different forked limbs of an estuary. Some of them might be floating, some on land. Some in mud, and some, it turns out, completely submerged under water...And the idea is to clip the most checkpoints in under three hours of kayaking as the tide shifts land to sea, and back again. In some ways, it couldn't be more intellectual. Which estuary first? Do you make use of the tidal jets as they force upstream, or do you plough right on?

Everything had gone beautifully to plan. We were ahead of a loose schedule and managed to clip most of the checkpoints with a few minutes to spare. We hadn't even had a flicker of a domestic, which can be an occupational hazard when racing in a team with your partner, and at the end, we'd had a great time.

Preferring the quiet patio of the pub round the back to the jostle of over a hundred kayakers on the sea front, we enjoyed a quiet pint in the sun after this fast- paced epic. On our way back to the car, we stopped for a moment at the prize giving on the front just as we were announced the winners of the mixed pairs event. We couldn't have been more surprised, and it did feel like a bit of a dream. But a good one.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Getting Away From It All

Loch Nah Achlaise, one of the most photographed Lochs in Scotland

I've got to admit, life has been racing away with itself a bit of late. What with one thing and another, we've both feeling a little drained. In the run- up to Easter, we had been watching the marine forecasts with half- amusement as they veered wildly from Force 2 to Force 8. Without much of a clue about which one to believe, we took the safe bet and opted for a few days of kayak- camping in Loch Shiel.

I found it hard to believe that any three or four day trip could extinguish the rush and haste we'd escalated into, but this is what happened. Pushing off the shore at Glenfinnan, that was the last we were to see of it...For a while, at least.

With half an immense trout packed carefully in the boat (the unfinished portion of a particularly fine b & b breakfast), we paddled off to camp in a large valley half- way down the loch. For the next few days, that was our peaceful home. The trout was lightly fried in butter and shallots, and with a few beers chilling in the stream, this was a silent heaven.

The western end of Loch Shiel

In some ways, this place was almost too quiet. Compared with the endless shifting dynamism of the sea, the estate-managed loch was quiet, museum-like. But perhaps this was what was needed. A minimalist place of contemplation. No boats, no people, only the view.

Pink Ears In The Graveyard

It was all change at the end of the loch, though. A tiny jewel of an island at the far western end had caught our eye. St. Finan's Isle, with a ruined chapel and graveyard.

Little Viking boat on the altar

Reaching the shores, we could see a Canadian canoe had already landed on the island. Fellow paddlers (about ten, in all) were slowly converging from the end of the loch, and we stopped for a chat. They were wearing pink, furry, rabbit ears.

Boat-prints on the shore

That's the wonderful thing about kayaking in Scotland. In amongst the stillness, there's always something funny, magical, startling.

The kayakers moved off to join us camping in the big valley, but in an instant in this big country, they were dots on the immense horizon. The chapel and graveyard were quiet again. It was hard to imagine how the magic had worked on us in such a short space of time, but once again, it had.