Setting out to the Highlands and very excited, the 9 hour drive was a breeze and although we didnt know it, the sun was out and out to stay.
We hit the Cairngorms National Park with its vivid colours from the moorland and pine forests meeting the rivers and blue skies. To our surprise the snow was still sitting on the peaks. It felt like the sun and the clouds knew we were on a mission for the good of our cetaceans.
The WDC are a remarkable charity achieving great things, diligently campaigning for the rights of our dolphins and whales to live a life free from hunting and captivity. Having witnessed the barbaric drive hunts and the cruel trade of captive whales and dolphins, TOMORROWBEAR wholeheartedly supports organizations making the change happen. Thankfully we see a brighter future, but only if action is supported now more than ever, sadly much of the world still doesn’t understand the damage human’s are causing to our ocean’s ecosystems.
Setting up camp that evening at Loch Pityoulish near Aviemore was exciting, we hadn’t planned our trip before and after meeting the other fundraisers, but that’s our favourite way to travel providing we have a tent and a sleeping bag. This was as delightful a place as any. We struck lucky given the long drive and it getting late, so we celebrated our arrival.
A misty covered loch the next morning was just the ticket and we headed off in the sunshine to meet the fundraising team and the experts of canoeing the River Spey, Boots N Paddles.
Due to the low water levels we started a little further down river than normal at Boat of Garten to be taught our new canoeing skills that were very much needed techniques later in the challenge. It was incredible sunshine and a calm stretch of the river. We practised our side slips (aka draw strokes), forward, back, sweeps and using the paddle as a rudder, but most of all learning to work as a team of two.
We stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot where I’d never seen so many dandelions in one place. It was a field of fluff. We all to often under-estimate their beauty.
Setting off again we were met with an abundance of waterfowl and bird life, mainly the oyster catchers squeaking along with us. The water was so clear you could always see the bottom of the river. With very little and almost no rubbish, we could actually play a game spotting the rare objects of the river bed. We were looking for tyre fish, can fish – of different varieties, CD fish but most rare of them all, were boot fish! We can gladly report, this game didn’t bring many points at all.
We met our first bridge, met it bang on and won’t forget it either. One of the canoes hit our canoe, then that canoe hit the bridge. Whilst said canoe was wrapped around the bridge, our canoe continued to retrieve some of the items that floated off, namely the food and water as our survival instincts set in. Then we got our lesson in how not to “hit a bridge” and not to go out of sight of our team leader.
That evening we camped at the river edge and attempted to dry the entire content of the canoe in the remaining sun. Thankfully a few clothes were lent for the evening and the team in said canoe, got some sleep.
Whilst I’m not that clever in the mornings without my coffee, I soon came to realise our team leader was previously a corporal in the Army. I started to behave a little like the “no no no” cat famous on youtube. He really wasn’t messing about. Now I love a challenge like the best of em’ but breaking camp as quickly as that, I hadn’t realised was a part of it. The poor team leader realised he had a bit of a challenge on his hands too.
We had grade 2 rapids ahead and knew our canoe skills were going to be put to task. However this was without a doubt my favourite day. It was a big day and we had to make up some serious kilometres. We managed an astonishing 45 km and many rapids, but sadly the other canoe hit a rock and went over again. Our team set out to catch the canoe and managed all in good time. Gladly caught it up stream of the canoe as it was rather topped up with water. We bailed it out whilst the team leader rescued the team overboard from the other side of the river bank.
Having never seen fly fishing to this degree before, it was a quite a spectacle seeing the fisherman here. Awesomely dapper and serious in their sport we had to paddle carefully, and it didn’t hurt seeing the labrador’s and springer spaniels on the river banks either. Above everything I enjoyed coming up to the many islands in the river, choosing whether to go left or right and following the main water flow. We came to an exciting rapid and we couldn’t wait to attempt it, whilst our other team decided to walk it on the river bank.
Reminded of why we were here and the fun still to be had, we continued but we were aching. Every muscle in our upper body was being pushed to make up the miles. We paddled for 11 and a half hours on this second day and continued whilst we passed many areas that were not suitable for camping. Either too steep, too many midges, too much forest but around a few more corners and white water, a perfect camping spot was found.
We had seen ospreys, herons in abundance, terns, wagtails and what I believed to be a Slavonian grebe
Thank goodness we won the vote the night before, we were running low on fuel and it was either custard that previous evening or coffee this morning. Our team leader wasn’t quite on the same page as our coffee over custard needs, but he survived.
Setting off to a whole different landscape, I thought I could sense we were getting closer to salty water. The river banks were changing to a more coastal terrain and the bird life was changing each day. Around a few more islands we saw Plovers and then high rise river banks of Sand Martins. Buzzing with life and hot weather to compliment.
The river was widening and sensing achievement, I wanted to go back up river and do it all again, but as we were approaching Spey Bay there he was, our meeting party, a lone seal in the middle of the river mouth. He followed us out to the bay and curiously nodded whilst greeting us as we were homeward bound.
For the sea life, birds and dolphins of the Moray Firth, we did it, paddled 80 kilometres in three days. A moving experience and I wish to give a huge thank you to the WDC and Phll (AKA Corporal Custard) from Boots N Paddles who taught us well. We made it! A rough ride, but we made it.
I urge anyone who loves our cetaceans and loves the Scottish Highlands to take on this challenge. It is a truly unique experience and one I cannot wait to do again.
Please keep an eye on our Charity Challenge page for up and coming inspired challenges, We are building a community of like minded people, looking to do good whilst staying fit.
Thank you WDC for the incredible work you do……
“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world” —Anne Frank