Kayaking the Great Glen, Scotland

The Highlands of Scotland are one of the most beautiful, rugged and inspiring places in the world. Dramatic mountains, deserted glens and Scotland’s famous lochs make for an awesome adventure playground. Chris and his friends Nick and Luiz recently took a kayak trip across Scotland, here is their account.

Who are you?

My name is Chris Monk, I have recently completed an MSc in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh, am 23 years of age and hail from Aberdeen, Scotland. My kayaking companions were my brother, Nick and my friend Luiz Silveira, both currently living in Edinburgh.

What was the challenge, and why did it appeal?

The challenge was to kayak across Scotland, 62 miles (100km) along the Caledonian Canal, from Corpach, near Fort William to Clachnaharry near Inverness in 3 days. On the advice of the local guides from whom we rented the kayaks, we started from Banavie, cutting just 2 km of our journey, but avoiding 13 lock gates which involves more uphill carrying than actual kayaking. The unique opportunity to cross the country from sea to sea via kayak drew us in, and I would highly recommend it as a memorable adventure.

What training methods and kit would you recommend?

Stamina was inevitably the key in training, so long runs and cycle rides made up the bulk of the training, though I imagine swimming may have been slightly more appropriate in terms of working out our upper body. We also frequented the rowing machine in the gym in the weeks leading up to the trip, which was good preparation for the forearms in particular, despite the general motion differing from kayaking. We also kayaked 20km on Loch Leven in a realistic dry run, to practice using the skeg to adapt to different wind conditions and also rescuing each in the event of capsizing. We chose to rent kayaks for 25 each per day, this price included camping equipment (tents, camping mats, pot, mugs, camper gas, water (camel) bag) and essential clothing for on the water (a waterproof jacket, a spray deck and a life jacket). In addition, midge repellent and a midge net for your face and neck were must haves, whilst a rashproof vest was priceless for comfort under your perpetually rotating arms. Most important of all were drybags to keep your clothes, sleeping bag and valuables dry!

Note that we also paid a 50 fixed fee for the pickup of the kayaks from our finish point.

What were the highs and lows of your expedition?

The overall highlight must be the amazing views and serenity on the lochs; despite the length of Loch Ness, I did not once lose my sense of awe at the view. Our campsite on the east of loch Ness was idyllic, and sleeping on soft bouncy heather was a luxury. Being able to duck down low and simply paddle under the Tomnahurich Swing Bridge was a privileged shortcut and pretty good fun. The low point was probably the rain putting out our fire whilst camping at Loch Ness, and in the absence of smoke from the fire, the obscene amount of midges that swarmed around us. Portaging (carrying kayaks around canal locks) was time consuming in general as there was only one trolley per lock, and there were three of us. Portage at Muirtown locks in particular was quite tough: a 350m carry featuring a road bridge as the portage trolley had been misplaced. This is less than 2km from the end of the journey, so for groups who may struggle to carry the laden kayaks, I would recommend ending here!

Is it in aid of a cause? If so, why? How are you raising sponsorship?

We advertised our challenge among friends and family in order to raise sponsorship forBarnardos, this is a charity which gives disadvantaged children the help they need for a fair start in life and is a cause that inspires me. We collected donations through our Just Giving page, which is still active:http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-Nick-Luiz-Kayak-Caledonian

Chris, Nick and Luiz organised their own trip, gaining valuable information from the Scottish Canals organisation. Of course, there are lots of companies which can organise a trip for you, so click here to see kayaking holidays in Scotland!