My husband said that one day we would canoe across Scotland together. “It won’t be a race, it will be a holiday”.
We’ll take our time, soaking up the sun while the villages on the shorelines of the lochs drift past. We’ll camp at night on the beaches at the edges of the lochs, warmed by the fire, watching the stars in the darkening sky…
We haven’t done it yet, but I hold onto that picture of bliss because it sounds so perfect and I believe that one day we will eventually get around to doing it.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? So why don’t more people canoe?
- I don’t like getting cold and wet
- I can’t swim well enough
- I’m scared of capsizing
- I wouldn’t know where to start
- Isn’t it expensive?
Well, so far the closest I’ve got to that idyllic trip across Scotland is three days on Loch Tay. I had great fun. I didn’t get wet, I didn’t need to swim, and we didn’t even come close to capsizing. I’d love for more people to experience the feeling of really getting away from it all, being on the water and doing something new, so I felt it was time to break those barriers.
“I don’t like getting cold and wet”
The truth is, it’s not a full gone conclusion that you will. As a beginner you’re likely to be on flat water (not moving water). The teenagers we were canoeing with just wore their waterproof jackets and trousers that they would wear on a rainy day in the hills so the occasional splash doesn’t make much of a difference. And they wore leggings and fleeces underneath to keep them warm (it was early Spring). When you head into shore it’s likely that you’ll need to put one foot into the water so that you can jump out and pull the boat in, but if you’re quick enough it doesn’t really have the time to get into your trainer.
“I can’t swim well enough”
You’ll be given a buoyancy aid to wear, which will support you if you do end up in the water. So as long as you can swim 50 metres (that’s two lengths of the average swimming pool), you’ll be fine. We stayed close to the shore the whole time for that very reason – less distance to swim if the worst should happen.
“I’m scared of capsizing”
Modern open Canadian canoes are built to be stable and easy to paddle. As I have already said, you’re likely to be on flat water, so it will take a lot to tip the boat. You’ll be surprised how secure it all feels once you’re in it!
A lot of people are put off by experiences from their youth – by being made to capsize after a half day in a boat on a school activity day. You were probably ill prepared and taken by surprise – no wonder you have bad memories of it! It’s actually a good thing to experience a capsize under controlled conditions so that you know what to expect, but a good instructor will talk you through it first so it doesn’t come as a shock, they’ll make sure you have dry clothes for afterwards and they’ll do it at the end of a training day so you’re not sat with sodden hair for an afternoon. You’re an adult now – talk to them about it, and about your worries if you have any. They’ll work with you and won’t push you to do anything you don’t want to do.
“I wouldn’t know where to start”
British Canoeing hold a comprehensive list of clubs and centres all over the UK. Most clubs meet once or twice a week and you’ll pay an annual membership fee plus a small fee each time you attend. Contact them before you go along and most will allow you to attend once or twice before making any commitment so you can see if you’re going to like it first.
There are also instructors who are not attached to centres or clubs. Make sure they hold a British Canoeing coaching award and have appropriate insurance before booking with them. If you’re unsure take their details and email email@example.com to check them out first.
“Isn’t it expensive?”
It can be. Like any activity or hobby, if you choose to buy the top of the range kit it can cost thousands of pounds and you’ll need a garage or other space to store a boat if you choose to buy one. But if you’re a member of a club you’ll be able to use the club kit and boats at weekly sessions and on club trips. So you can keep it cheap if you want to. I started in tracksuit bottoms, a fleece, my waterproofs and an old pair of trainers. I borrowed a buoyancy aid, paddle and boat. Then once I decided I liked it I bought my own buoyancy aid, and I wear my husbands old and slightly leaky drysuit – it works for me, for now.
Loch Tay was my three day expedition. Later this month I’ll be heading to the River Spey for a four day river trip and I can’t wait. I’ve not given up on the ‘across Scotland’ dream either – the question is, have I convinced you enough to see you on one of the lochs while I’m there?
Our website has details of our Introduction to Canoeing Day. If you want to chat through any concerns you may still have, or plan a canoe experience with our owner Michael Goude email us at firstname.lastname@example.org If we don’t get back to you immediately it’s because we’re on a river or loch, or up a mountain. We always try to respond within 24 hours.