Friday, 13 April 2012

Day 5 - Trans Scotland canoe challenge

Yesterday, after a frightening encounter with the monster which is Loch Ness - I was left exhausted and down hearted. We'd failed for the first time to reach out target destination, aiming for 26.5Km but finally giving up defeated at around 20Km.

Unless you've ever visited Loch Ness, you can't appreciate just how big it is - holding more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. It's a complete rules changer - at 23miles it's the same length as the channel, and that's how you have to treat it - like the sea. Unusually this week the wind has been from the North East instead of the South West, which just made paddling too dangerous and near impossible.

However, MancGirls don't give up easily, so today, we tried to take advantage of the wind and drove to start at what should have been today's finishing point, to try and paddle it in the opposite direction.

It was a cunning plan - unfortunately we must have damaged the canoe yesterday as one side deflated just as we were coming into the north end of the loch. It was the second time that morning we'd had problems with that side, and something in my head finally clicked. The only thing that made me attempt yesterdays 'high seas' was having confidence in the canoe. That was now shot to jiggery, and having had to make a swift exit up onto a rotting jetty from a boat which was so squashy on one side, it was near impossible to steer - I got into a bit of a panic.

That was that - there was no way I was venturing out onto a body of water so big and dangerous that it has it's own lifeboat, in canoe I'd lost faith in!

With another storm headed down the valley and with our boat broken, reluctantly we phoned my in-laws in the support vehicle and to come and collected us.

However, there is more than one way to skin a cat - and I like to think of myself as fairly resourceful. Loch Ness wasn't going to beat us entirely - so we spent the afternoon crossing the waters in a slightly bigger boat. We may not have got across Scotland all the way under our own steam, but we will have completed the journey by water.

That is, if our repairs hold tomorrow. We are going to give it one last go and try and paddle the calmer waters from the top end of Loch Ness through the final stretch of the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. Wish us luck!

Here are just a few pics from today (including a couple of rare sightings!) .....

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Day 4 - Trans Scotland canoe challenge

Just a short update today as I am so tired I can barely keep awake.

55Km completed, 45Km to go.

After making brilliant progress yesterday - today was hard work. Our target was 26Km - from Loch Oich to a point around 15Km along Loch Ness. The morning paddle went really well - the sun was shining and the loch was calm. We arrived in Fort Augustus at the head of Loch Ness bang on time for lunch.

But by this time the weather had changed - the wind had got up and it was raining. It's amazing how quickly everything can change. We carried the canoe down the series of locks to the shore - I took one look at how rough it was to make me throw up! To say I was nervous and daunted is an understatement.

We gave it a go, but paddling into a strong head wind made it near impossible. I'm not one to give up lightly and had it been a physical thing I'd have battled on and found a way to get there. But it was getting dangerous. The waves were around 2ft which when you are in an inflatable canoe is pretty big. Loch Ness is huge, and no matter how hard we tried to stay close to the shore, there are often corners that you need to cut off, so you can find yourself further than you feel comfortable with away from the banks.

All the way along, my in-laws kept an eye on us, but at around 7Km along Loch Ness we called it a day. There were points where we were struggling to even stay still - even the very act of paddling created too much wind resistance.

I'm really disappointed - with the time we've got it's unlikely that we will make the whole distance now. We gave it one hell of a go, but sometimes the elements thwart you. We were hoping that the South Westerly prevailing wind would help us out, unfortunately we got a North Easterly!

No Nessie sightings either, but we did have our photo taken a lot by tourists on Nessie hunting boats!

I didn't take my camera onto Loch Ness because it was just too rough - but here are a couple of snaps from today (top of Loch Oich and deciding whether to go out on Loch Ness - the picture doesn't really do the size of the waves justice). Tomorrow - we might try and tackle Loch Ness from the opposite direction to take advantage of the wind and see how close we can finish to where we got out today .... but we'll do whatever is sensible.

Thanks for all your messages and support xx

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Day 3 - Trans Scotland Canoe Challenge

Well, if launching an inflatable canoe and paddling it across Scotland doesn't count as a good launch for 4Manchester Women (daily magazine-style blog for busy Manchester Women - launching Monday 16th April), then inflate me with offal and call me a haggis!

Today was epic (22Km)! That doesn't actually do it justice - it was EPIC!!!

35.5Km completed, 65Km-ish to go.

On this fine Scottish day of sunshine, showers, hail, persistent rain and thunder, we made it right across Loch Lochy (no that isn't a made up name) to the southern end of Loch Oich. It's been such a long day that I'm struggling to remember where we started.

Loch Lochy was our first loch and as we paddled onto it, I tried hard not to think about the fact it's 1500m deep. It was beautiful, like canoeing across a mirror. At one point there was a rainbow which both started and finished in the loch - I've never seen anything like it.

We made amazing progress, meeting up with my in-laws at specific points along the way. It was all going very well, until a storm rolled in over the mountain and along the water. You could see it coming and almost immediately we went from mill pond to seriously bouncy.

"To the shore" I yelled as the hail stones bounced off us. It was a bit disconcerting - but lunch helped.

It was clear that the rain had set in for the foreseeable future, so we just had to go for it. The HMS Helen Skelton did us proud and Monty, our mascot Moose on the front guided us through the rain. We were soaking - but I just kept focusing on points on the horizon and heading for them.

"It's not impossible, it's just difficult - and if it wasn't difficult then it wouldn't be a challenge" I kept reminding myself.

Tris' parents were brilliant - like the shop keeper from Mr Ben, they kept appearing on the horizon, cheering us on and reassuring us that we weren't alone. It's the first time I've actually been in 'the team' - usually it's me acting as support. I know now what an important job that is.

Onwards through Laggan Locks, a floating pub and a eerie stretch of the Caledonian Canal lined by spooky trees, hairy with stringy ice green lichens - finally arriving at the southern end of Loch Oich at around 6.30pm. Like a well oiled machine Tris and I paddled together really well, and although I was shivering with cold it was - in the words of Ron Weasley - "Bloody Brilliant!"

Tomorrow is an even longer day (26Km in total) - all the way along Loch Oich, a stretch of the canal and then 15Km along the biggy - Loch Ness (makes a worried face). Fingers crossed for fine weather and no wind!

Here are a few pics from today: