Paddling The Great Glen route is fairly common, so we've decided (well Steve did - it's his trip, I'm tagging along) to add 25 miles of sea paddling in Loch Linnhe to the start:
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My first vague nod in the direction of preparing for this challenge (baring in mind that we leave in a fortnight) was a trip to the Lakes for a couple of days paddling on Ullswater.
Despite the fact that Hurricane Katia was heading our way, we travelled up on Friday night, arriving at the Sun Inn in Pooley Bridge at 2 minutes past 11. The barman laughed aloud as he saw the look of relief on our faces when he said that four pints of Cumberland Ale wouldn't be a problem.
Overnight, Katia began to make her presence felt. Steve tells me (I'd never hear anything less than a category 4) that the rain and wind battered the van, I'm sorry LODGE, for most of the night.
But the day started brightly enough with some fantastic 97% sausages from Debbie and Andrew. If you are a sausage fan (and who isn't?) you have to try these...
After quick look at the map to establish that even by travelling the length of Ullswater and back again wouldn't be equal to what we'd need to do every day for 5 days in Scotland, we were off...
We paddled against the fast flowing River Eamont, under the Pooley Bridge and out onto Ullswater. The going was ok. A little choppy with a strong wind, but nothing that we couldn't handle.
We passed the campsites on the east bank of the lake and gave cheery waves to the people from the Song Of The Paddle who had gathered there for the weekend. The wind and water conditions meant that their open canoes were going to be very difficult to paddle and so it seemed that they had chosen to sit and drink beer instead.
Crossing Howtown bay, the southerly wind was able to get a bit of a run up before whipping the top couple of feet of water into a pattern of waves that seemed to hit us from several directions. After 15 minutes of battling the wind and waves, we made it to the bank, climbed out and greeted each other as heroes!
From here we continued south-west towards the (Silver) point in the lake where it turns left and heads due south. As we approached, we could see that the tops of the waves were beginning to break and white horses were charging down the lake to meet us.
At about the same time, Katia decided that we weren't wet enough and began driving rain into our faces. The wind, waves and rain piled into us as we passed through the Ikea print view from the Inn On The Lake.
The rain stung my face and hands. The wind blew the tears from my eyes making it difficult to see the next wave that was about to crash over the front of my boat and into my chest. It was like paddling in slow motion. Through treacle.
If I'm struggling on a bike, I'll freewheel or just stop. If I feel the exposure on the side of a mountain. I'll take a breather and rest. Close my eyes. 'Take a moment'. When you're kayaking, 200m from the shore and with 60m of water below you, that isn't an option.
It was miserable, uncomfortable and dangerous but I WAS LAUGHING OUT LOUD!
It wasn't work. It wasn't my overdue gas bill. It wasn't watching shite TV.
It was feeling the power of the elements. It was the uncertainty of being in real danger. It was 'licking the lid of life...'
Eventually, we reached the end of the lake and quickly turned back to surf the waves to somewhere suitable for lunch. We found a sheltered beach and pulled in, brewed a coffee and exchanged excited experiences of the trip which was rapidly becoming (what the kids call) EPIC!
As we did so, the waves that were being blown by our small bay were growing all the time. They began to look like waves on a sea rather than an inland lake.
But of course, we'd now got the wind behind us. Things were going to get easier, right?
As soon as we left the bay, we were into the waves that were now three feet high and travelling pretty quickly. At one point, my boat was rushed towards a rock face that stood square on to the waves crashing against it. As they hit, the waves were 'reflected' back out, causing the water to thrash and churn in front of it.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I was now a passenger, having only slight influence on my kayak's direction and its avoidance of the scene.
The rain started again and we took the decision (probably half an hour later than was sensible) that we were probably a little out of our depth and that we really ought to stop and sit out the worst of the storm.
We sheltered under a tree that was being torn from the earth by Katia. I'm not sure what she was pissed off about, but it felt like it was something that Steve and I were responsible for.
Eventually, there appeared to be a lull. We paddled furiously to try to find some calmer waters, straining elbows and shoulders as we did so.
After another mile, we were in the lee of Place Fell and things got a little easier. I was tired. The stress and exertion meant that the simple task of paddling in straight line back to the mouth of the Eamont was far more difficult than it should have been.
Katia continued to calm into the evening. We walked to the pub to consume thousands of guilt free calories beneath her glorious sunset.
But she was back today. Through the night and into daylight, the wind and rain pummelled the Lake District. Rather than the paddling we intended to do, we watched rugby (Wales and South Africa in the World Cup) and drank coffee.
What more preparation could be required for the Scotland trip? Yesterday seemed about as bad a things could get. Forgetting the fact that we'd be paddling further, day after day and camping, not sleeping or eating properly, we'd survived. We were kings. It'd be a breeze...
Or even a hurricane.