Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Sea Kayaking – Scotland (May08)

I’ve spent quite a lot of time mucking around in boats but surprisingly had never been sea kayaking – that is until the bank holiday weekend. Actually, I was on an outdoor philosophy course, which I discovered meant paddling in the clear waters near Mallaig, in Scotland, by day. And for the rest of the time having deep discussions with a group of fellow environmentalists about the world’s problems and what we thought could or should be done to address them.

The kayaking bit was rather hard work. Alarmingly, I think I was the least fit. Certainly, my arms ached so much I found it difficult to sleep – had to wait until I got home to rub them with muscle cream.

The first day was chiefly about learning to stop the kayak rolling over. Apparently, it’s very unlikely to do so but you have to be aware of what to do if it does – and try not to panic, which was the hard bit. It was raining but warm. After a couple of hours in the morning getting acclimatised, our small group – there were 9 of us – headed out around nearby islands.

By day 2, we all felt pretty confident about our kayaking skills. And the combination of sunny weather and a glass smooth sea meant we weren’t very challenged. It was spectacular. The swirling sea weed and kelp were visible a long way beneath the surface – a beautiful forest swaying in the tide. Being in a kayak means you’re very close to the water, which gives one a tremendous sense of closeness with the sea and what’s in it.

Looking across the water we could see the islands of Rhum, Eigg and Sky – their distinctive rock formations being explained by our ‘project manager’, who was also a geologist – as well as being a kayaking expert. He told us that Eigg was formed from a number of lava flows from now extinct volcanoes.

Two of us managed to swim. The water looked tropical – but it didn’t feel that way at all. Gaspingly cold but refreshing. Back in our kayaks we then spent a couple of hours watching the seals splashing about, bobbing out of the water or lounging on the rocks, before we went back to base.

Heading home on the beautiful train ride to Fort William and down to Glasgow and beyond, I was able to reflect on the trip. It helped me remember that there’s life beyond my computer, that I need to get out more. And the saying about local post offices – use it or lose it – also applies to one’s fitness!

But most of all seeing the beauty of Scotland and hearing what the others in my group had to say reinforces my desire to do what I can to preserve what we have – not destroy it.

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