Thursday, July 29, 2010

37. Try sea kayaking (and visit the Isle of Skye)

If I needed any further evidence that the best thing to do is the one that intimidates you the most, our day sea kayaking off the coast of Scotland just provided it. It was chilly and it rained, and I was pretty iffy about the layers upon layers of "kit" I was wearing, but all of that turned out to be so inconsequential. For those who know all about sea kayaking (a group of which I'm decidedly not a member), the coast of Scotland is prime territory.

We went to the ultra-charming town of Plocktown after a day of hiking on the Isle of Skye in a town called Sligachan, which you get to by bus when you get to the end of the line by train at Kyle of Lochalsh (and I'm recounting all this in large part just because I think the names are so cool). Just as Plockton is all about the sea kayaking (and sailing), Sligachan is a hiker and rock climber's paradise, and apparently the Black Cuillens in the area have some of the best technical hikes and climbs in the world. I am obviously not technically proficient in either of these areas, but would point out that it's not often that you can take a day hike that includes views of the ocean, lakes (aka as lochs here, of course), and mountain peaks all within a few hour's trekking.

So, after our fabulous day of hiking we hopped on a bus the next morning and headed to Plockton for our sea kayaking adventure. We had been tipped off by our friend and colleague, David, about his friend, Alison's, sea kayaking business, Sea Kayak Plockton (, and so we arranged a day out with her.

I'd been out on Lake Champlain with the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program (taught by my friend and former student Kate) once a few summers before, but this seemed more intimidating. Besides the fact that we were in the ocean, the weather was cool and rainy, and bit more gear-intensive. As you can see from the pictures, we definitely had the layering thing down, with long sleeve (non-cotton) shirts, wet suits, fleeces, sea kayaking cagoules (basically, jackets), spraydecks (those apron-looking things that you hook onto your kayak), life vests, wet suit boots, hats and probably other stuff I'm forgetting.

But once we were out on the water, all the gear made sense, because even when it began to rain, we stayed warm, and pretty soon I didn't even care about the weather anyway, because being out on the water, was so sensational. We passed the Duncraig Castle, a whole bunch of seals who poked their heads up at various times and swam near us, lots of islands, and gorgeous, craggy hills and mountains. The mist that obscured the Isle of Skye also gave everything an otherworldly feeling that was incredibly cool.

We were also lucky in having a phenomenal instructor in Alison, who talked me through a whole day's paddle out among the islands of the bay, and who, at the end of the day, let me practice capsizing for the experience of getting better at releasing me from the kayak (unfortunately no pictures, but I assure you, all those layers can hold a LOT of sea water -- the clothes I was wearing are still wet). And then she felt so bad that we were going to miss yet another awesome Plockton-area attraction, the Eilean Donan Castle (where they filmed the movie Highlander), that she drove us out to check it out that evening. Talk about going the extra mile -- it was a wonderful bonus to an already-phenomenal day.

Here are some pictures our time in Plockton, on and off the water, as well as a shot from our hike on Skye. In the Skye one I'm standing at the high point of a ridge that was our ultimate destination in order to look out over the ocean and connecting loch. There are also photos of Jerry taking a breather while loading the kayaks at the end of the day, and one he took of Alison and me (blue hat) out on the water. Jerry also took the one of Alison and me after I had dried off from my capsize exercise, and she had taken us up to the Eilean Donan Castle. And finally, there is one of the village of Plockton, as seen from inside the window of the bed and breakfast where we stayed.

My conclusions are these: first, sea kayaking is a fabulous activity that everyone should try and second, if you're looking for a wonderful place to take a trip where you can do world-class hiking, climbing, kayaking and/or sailing with castles, lochs, mountains and oceans as back-drop, the Northwest Highlands and the Hebrides Islands of Scotland are where you want to go. Finally, if you're looking for the most charming village in the world, it just might be Plockton. Come visit, but you might not want to leave.

52 Ways to Say I Love You Scottish Gaelic. Interestingly, all the signs in Scotland are in both English and Scottish Gaelic, and our clerk, Claire, at the Sligachan Inn who very kindly provided these phrases for me, told me that now students have the choice to take their classes in English or, as she did, in Scottish Gaelic.

Hello Feasgar Math (pronounced Facegar Ma)

Good by Chi sibh (Chee shibh)

Can I have two beers, please? Am faod mi da deoch lachir mar sea do thoie(Am food me da deeoch ladir mar se do holle

I love you Tha goal agam art (Ha ghoul agam ort)

Coming Attractions

Still planning to put out a revised list in the next few days...

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