The Scottish Highlands

Having been to many fantastic places on our travels, the Scottish Highlands is still one of my favourites. The beauty of the mountains excites me every time I drive up the A82 and so it was with great delight that we made the most of the Wet West Paddle Fest to enjoy a four day weekend up there.

Driving up after work on Thursday, we stopped to sleep at Gretna and followed our noses to a bakery for breakfast the following morning. As we neared Glen Etive, a snap decision took us up the ski lift at Glen Coe and for a walk around the peaks. It was a great chance to try out the new digital SLR camera, take in the awesome views, breath fresh Scottish air and feel very good that I wasn’t sat at my desk in the office!

I was more tired than I’d expected and decided not to paddle, while David got on the Allt Fhaolin and did the quickest run of the Etive I’ve ever known! We saw some impressive red deer stags, and a mother doe with her babe before meeting with Simon and Cheryl. A catch up over good food at the King’s House and smooth pints at the Ice Factor took up the rest of the evening. I was a little disappointed about the lack of talks which I’d found so inspiring at the same event in 2006.

The next morning brought us to Fort William and a traditional breakfast in Morrisons before meeting with Gina, Conrad and John who had stayed at Glasgow the night before. It was turning into a beautiful sunny day, but for some reason I still wasn’t feeling like paddling. However not really going with my instincts I got on the Garry. This is a great little grade 3 river, higher volume than many we have in Britain and generally good fun. I should’ve trusted my gut feeling as I wasn’t really relaxed and didn’t enjoy the river as much as I’ve done in the past and that showed in my paddling ability.

The others decided to do the Spean Gorge which is one of my favourite rivers in this area, but I decided to give it a miss as experience tells me its not worth marring good memories of a river by getting on when you’re not in the mood. Even though knew it was the right decision, I was very disappointed with this especially as I knew the knock on effect of this would be that the chances of me getting on the Morriston were pretty non-existent. The lesson learnt was I need to paddle more even if its on the flat Thames as not feeing comfortable in a boat doesn’t help enjoy a river – something I’m taking note of before Ecuador!

I met up with the others at the Corran bunkhouse where they were staying, and after dinner David and I headed to the Ben Nevis Centre where the party was to be found. It was a very popular place, rumours were going round that the maximum capacity of the building was 200 and there had been 340 paddle fest tickets sold. I have to admit the crushed feeling didn’t do a lot for me and we headed to bed pretty early. This did mean an earlyish start in a beautiful area and meeting the others we went up to the Morriston. There were some delays in that the water wasn’t switched on till around 11:30 but Cheryl and I made the most of this to get a good viewing spot and Gina found a little lizard to pose for some photos. My group was somewhat slower than Cheryl’s and so she’d gone to watch while I waited around. If the Etive had been a quick run, then this was the contrast!

David and I then spent a lovely afternoon heading up to Inverness castle hunting. We found a few, and explored Culloden Battlefield where the last battle was fought on British soil. It was run by the National Trust so with our membership we had free entry and the exhibition was very well done. In Inverness we watched the sunset and spotted a seal which was a great end to the day.

After staying at the same bunkhouse as the others, we woke up to what would be our last day in Scotland for a while. As time was limited, we decided we should head up to Oban to the Sea Life Sanctuary, where again we had free entry because of our Merlin Annual Passes and got to see some very cute seals and an otter. Driving out of Oban, the Falls of Lora were looking better than I’ve ever seen them before and the scenery was fantastic.

Its a long drive to Scotland but its one of these places where I feel so happy to be, and I’m very glad we made the effort again this September – definitely planning to head back to this fantastic event next year. Its brilliant to see so many paddlers together enjoying such a fabulous destination. I really enjoyed the other elements of this weekend as often its too easy not to see the non paddling features of an area with whitewater, however I’m certainly planning another trip soonish to make the most of the rivers too.

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