Here is a short video of the trip that I have just finished editing. Turn your speakers up as the audio is quite quiet!
Setting off into the mist from Tarbat point was the longest crossing I have ever undertaken. After 4 hours of peeing in a bottle and looking at my compass, dry land creeped out of the mist and, surprisingly, I found I was quite close to my target. The northerly wind that had helped me across the Moray Firth now presented a problem in landing on Spey Bay, so I made for the river in search of deep water and ended in an amazing wildlife area, watching Ospreys catch salmon for dinner.
With 300km left of the trip and a warm shower waiting for me in St Andrews I slowly upped the mileage from 50km to 80km in a day. This meant long hours at sea against a constant headwind. This was extremely difficult both mentally and physically but I was urged on by the wonderful sights all the way down the coast.
After my third long, gruelling day I camped in a tiny village called Gourdon, 80km from St Andrews. After a great fish and chips supper I was on my way to the tent for an early night when a head popped out from the pub and with a welcoming smile said "Pop in for a pint on the house". I was in two minds but with the offer of free beer, how could I refuse? I was greeted by 5 friendly chaps propping up the bar; drinking, lauging and joking. The barman, Bunty, was ever so friendly and made me feel at home. While I told the crowd about my adventure, they repaid me with "just one more dram". I left at 12pm, slightly worse for wear, with a lovely packet of smoked salmon and a can of Scotland's finest Iron Bru to get me home.
After 6 hours sleep I was back on the water feeling slightly under the weather but excited by the prospect of finishing my journey. The highlight of this final leg was being followed by a pod of 20 bottle-nosed dolphins, jumping in the air and spurring me on. Meeting Chris Dickinson at lunch was just what I needed to get me home. Four hours later, met by lots of friends on the beach, I was spraying champagne in St Andrews with a huge if tired grin on my face.
Thanks to everyone that has helped me achieve my dream of circumnavigating Scotland!
I had no more partners lined up for the rest of the trip, so I began paddling on my own. At first it seemed quiet and lonely but things seemed to happen faster: I was quicker to get on the water and had shorter stops but it was less fun!
The first day was very atmospheric, with slowly rising mist off the turbulent water and awesome cliffs looming in the background.
After a day settling into paddling on my own, it was time to tackle the Pentland Firth. A raging tidal current linking the North Sea to the Atlantic, where tides can reach up to12 knots. Timing and weather on the day are key, so after phoning Chris Dickinson and Robert Kinkaid for advice, I planned my day to the hour and set off. The tail wind and a neap tide helped me negotiate the rolling swell, eddies and fast channel jets, with a final bit of excitement past John O'Groats where the water's energy builds for the last time, as the water careers into the slow North Sea.
I was happy to make the final right-hand turn heading down the East coast and by now counting down the days till I got to St Andrew's. Being on my own allowed me to paddle much further each day and I averaged about 50km. The birds on the east coast were incredible. Thousands of puffins, razor bills and gannets decorating the cliffs with a smelly white paint with seals and the occasional porpoise adding some excitement.
Reaching Tarbet Ness next to the incredibly picturesque lighthouse was great. However overnight the wind got up to a good force 7, meaning it would be silly to paddle the 30km across the Moray Firth to Lossiemouth. Instead, I knocked on a cottage by the lighthouse to get some water and was greeted by a very kind lady who invited me in for a cup of tea. After chatting for a bit and feeling sorry for me, she invited me to the Dingwell cattle market and spent the rest of the day, introducing me as her toy- boy, feeding me cake and more tea followed by her "special" plum brandy. Needless to say I slept soundly in her spare bed before demolishing a lovely breakfast that she had set out.
The lady in Tarbet was typical of the people I found in Scotland, always happy to help out in any way they can, in return for a few exciting stories!
My circumnavigation was split up by a great week graduating from the University of St Andrews and two weeks out in the Alps. On return, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Chris Dickinson for the next leg which neither of us had paddled and had wanted to for ages.
We picked up my boat from Will Copestake who had kindly been looking after it. Back on the water, I had to work hard to keep up with Chris, battling with a force 4/5 headwind for the whole day. We reached Achmelvich beach at 5pm and were greeted by the Todd family with beer, curry and incredible freshly caught makerel pate. I spent the night in the Todd's caravan before being thrust back into the strong headwind the next day.
We then paddled past an incredible coastline, waving at climbers on the Old Man of Stoer and scouting some possible new climbs for Chris' return visit!
The amazing coastline didn't cease. Another impressive stack at the start of the pristine, sweeping Sandwood Bay, more incredible formations and then the mighty Cape Wrath. A towering cliff line drops into the churning sea where winds from the Arctic battle with an opposing tide forming a unpredictable, intimidating 5m+ swell. As we rounded it, occasionally appearing from the depths of the troughs, pointed East for the first time and battled the clapotises all the way along to Durness.
On dry land, we both agreed it was one of the best days on the sea we had ever had.
Thanks to the Todd family, Chris Dickinson and Jan for making this section extremely enjoyable!
After leaving Giles at Mallaig, we quickly crossed to the stunningly isolated Knoydart peninsular, only accessible by boat or foot. The landscape, sunset and local dog made it the the best campsite of the trip so far.
After a well timed trip through the Kyle Rhea, an 8 knot tidal race between the mainland and Skye, we battled up under the Skye road bridge against an increasing headwind.
As the wind inceased to a force 5, we inched towards the Applecross penisular into a stunning sunset to the first bothy of the trip at Uags.
The next day day we met a remarkable Czech couple sea kayaking round the whole of the UK. After 2 months on the water, they had reached the half way point of their trip and we were lucky enough to spend a night with them sharing experiences and hearing about their incredible journey so far. Check out their website at http://homeseahome.com.
We paddled with the Czech couple to the second bothy of the trip in Torridon where we relaxed in front of a cosey fire which dryed all of our sodden kit.
After nearly 3 weeks on the water, our minds and bodies needed a rest so we surcomed to the lure of the wonderfull little golf course in Gairloch.
During the rest day, the winds slowly increased, making the next two days on the water incredibly testing of our judgement and endurance. North-easterly headwinds up to gale force 6 created a huge swell as we battled past committing headlands with crashing water between us and the rocky coastline. It was good to experience this intense sea state however a small mistake could have easyly resulted with serious consequences.
After two scary and exhausting days, we reached Ullapool, greeted by my (Jonny's) parents who took us out for a huge pub dinner and a well earned beer.
The first leg of the trip is now complete, so I am heading back to St Andrews to graduate and get my fill of alpine white-water before returning to Ullapool to continue my circumnavigation of Scotland.
At Oban we were lucky enough to be joined by Bruce from Dundee University. He came along to get a new facebook profile picture and prove that Dundee did more than just play polo!
We started up the super flat sound of Mull, past the imposing Duart Castle and up to our first campsite opposite Tobermory (of Ballamory fame).
Ardnamurchan Point was the second crux of the trip. It is an exposed point with limited landing potential and a huge fetch from the SW capable of producing a huge swell. Luckily conditions were perfect and we enjoyed a light swell lapping against the feet of the huge cliffs.
After passing the towering Ardnamuchan lighthouse we made camp at one of the many incredible beaches that we would find on the West Coast.
Over the next few days, pushed on by a refreshing tail wind, we passed incredible beach after incredible beach lit in the evening by magical sunsets reminding us why the west coast is famous across the world as a great sea kayak destination.
We reached the fishing port of Mallaig 4 days after leaving Oban signalling the end of Giles' sea kayak trip and the start of Jonny and Bruce's trip into the heart of the Highlands.
Soon after Amy got dropped in the evening we were afloat and steaming down the Firth of Clyde towards Kilcreggan with the first rain of the trip. After a few hours on the water we found a great camp spot however the wind and rain had stopped causing a barrage of Scotland's finest midges. We spent that evening exterminating them from inside our tent one by one.
The first proper West Coast day of the trip took us round Toward point, past the gloomy Isle of Arran and up past the Isle of Bute to our camp at Buttock point on the northern tip of Bute.
The next day, ahead of schedule, we traveled up towards Tarbet past a huge yacht race and with a pit stop in a rather luxurious marina we couldn't have looked and felt more out of place with out salty faces and muddy feet.
We used the Crinan Canal to cut across the Mull of Kintyre, portaging yet more locks and met Giles in Crinan where we were invited to sleep in a kind persons garden.
The Doris Mor was the first exciting tidal section of the trip was next which went surprisingly smoothly. The seals were playing as we passed some beautiful little Scottish islands; Shuna, Luing, Scarba and Seil. We shot through under the "Bridge over the Atlantic" and beasted up to Oban in time for pasta bake and a well earned shower!
Thanks Amy for an incredible few days and I look forward to the next section with Giles and Bruce.
Joel and I started from St Andrews on the 25th of May in perfect sunshine and with John Hunt waving us off. We made good progress for the first few days, sleeping on a beautifull beach near Elie and enjoying watching the seals and puffins.
The second night we decided to camp on the incredible Inchcomb island, with its magnificant Abbey; set under the towering Forth Bridges. We were invited to a picnic where we dined on salmon, cream cheese and red wine before sleeping well.
We paddled up the Firth of Forth and made it in good time to the start of the Forth and Clyde canal to camp. We spent the next two days cruising along the surprisingly green canal, past the Falkirk wheel, portaging 40 painful locks and even made it through Drumchapel without incident.
After 5 days, we made it past Glasgow to Cadross where Joel's trip ended and I met Amy for the next leg.
Thanks Joel for a great start to the trip and I look forward to continuing the journey northwards with Amy.
So with exams finished, preparations are now in full swing.
The P&H Cetus has now been out a few times and I am absolutely lovng it.
All the gear arrived from System X which is cool and loads of other stuff like the VHF radio, flares, maps, charts have all arrived.
This week is being spent on final route planning, sorting logistics and generally getting excited to leave.