I've been to some extraordinary places by kayak. Every once in a while though, an opportunity comes up to paddle, with the right conditions and company, in a place that is head and shoulders above the rest: a Holy Grail trip.
Last week, four of us ventured to the North Coast of Scotland, and with the weather looking good enough, and the Firing range silent for the day, we decided to take on one of Britain's most remote and committing sea kayaking trips, Cape Wrath.
This headland, whose name is Norse for 'Turning Point' but conjures up so much more, has been on my bucket list for almost ten years. I've cancelled attempts on it twice due to bad weather. So to finally get round was a huge achievement: there were smiling faces and whoops of delight as we rounded the Cape and glimpsed Am Buachaille in the distance.
Almost 40km of paddling, 6 hours in a boat with no possible landings, a couple of tide races, some large clapotis and four seasons in one day later, and we landed at Droman pier, with the sort of feeling of satisfaction only felt with an opportunity grasped with both hands.
This is my favourite cairn...
It sits at the top of the Fiacaill a Choire Chais in the Cairngorms, and is the point affectionately known as '1141'. Not exactly a romantic name...
But for me, it's a bit special. It's been the start and end of adventures, the beginning of a navigation leg on Summer Mountain Leader training, a spot where I've bumped into friends, a tiny haven of relative calm on a windy winter day, a place where I've had to shout to be heard over the wind and spindrift, considered crawling as I couldn't stand in the wind; and a place to linger in the sunshine. I've even done a university project studying the plants on the ridge leading to it. And when I moved to Aviemore, one of the first things I did was walk up to it.
It's just a pile of rocks. But the memories it evokes are worth so, so much more...
I've just returned from 5 fantastic weeks in Iceland and Greenland. The former the home of some of the world's newest rocks, a young landscape and and a very cool and efficient culture. The latter, home to some of the oldest rocks on Earth, and with a people who have had to develop from ancient to modern ways of life in a very few years.
The New: Iceland
We bathed in hot pools...
... trekked through other-worldly landscapes...
... forded rivers...
... and touched some of the newest rocks on the planet.
Greenland provides a different perspective on life. Seen from a sea kayak, the way inuit hunters have traditionally travelled, you feel a strong bond with the land and its inhabitants.
Ice is ever-present throughout the year.
Greenlandic people truly live life on the edge.
A stunning landscape, travelled through in traditional style, and in great company...
...with some very happy memories that will last a lifetime.
I've just come back from a wonderful 5 days kayaking around Barra, and visiting Mingulay, Pabbay, Berneray. Eriskay and the other sandy-beached, cliff-girt islands that make up the Outer Hebridean chain south of the Uists. It's a wonderland of remote beauty, only seen these days by climbers and kayakers, and day trippers to the islands when the weather is fine.
Mingulay is the jewel in the crown of this area for me, full of mystery and wonder which easily rivals its more famous lookalike, St Kilda. Inhabited into the twentieth century, the island is full of the ghosts of those who once lived here.
The picture above was taken a few days ago, and that below ten years ago. It's fascinating to see how the islands are very slowly changing over the years.
The island is now cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, and a warden is resident through the summer months. Visitor numbers are growing, and we shared the island with over thirty climbers, with another thirty or so on Pabbay in the same week. The good weather gave us all the opportunity to see such a special place without the dangers or hardships that must have been endured by those living here over a hundred years ago. Time moves on, people and places evolve, but we must take care of our history...