Great Glen Paddleboarding – Guest blog Helen Reed

Great Glen Paddleboarding – Guest blog Helen Reed

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Hi folks! Here is the second in my guest blog series from Helen Read.

Helen was always really active as a youngster, getting involved in anything and everything she could, but lost the outdoors in her 20s. When going through a period of anxiety and depression, her friends persuaded her to train for and attempt to hike the Welsh 3000 that reinvigorated her love for the mountains and fresh air.

Ever since she has been on a quest to live the adventurous life that she is truly passionate about and helps her regulate the stresses of daily life. Whenever she has the opportunity she will be up a hill (or possibly under one) or on the water generally avoiding cities. One downside of liking so many different adventure sports is that it takes a very long time to improve ability, so she is currently planning a year away from work living the van life round Europe in order to focus more time on each one.

Go Helen!



I woke up in my camper-van to a misty morning at the foot of Ben Nevis. It was the second week of my adventures in Scotland and I was feeling the difference between my normal office days and daily mountainous excursions that I’d had for the last 10 days.

By the time I persuaded myself to get up it was 10 and after stocking up on food for the coming trip I eventually found myself at the top of Neptune’s Staircase by lunchtime and the start of my adventure.

It was a strange feeling paddling away from my van and into the unknown, About 20 minutes in and Scotland did what Scotland does best as it started raining, luckily I was already togged up in my wetsuit (overkill) and waterproofs (entirely necessary) and it was a canal stretch so the water was calm, making negotiating the scout group not too troublesome.

Happy despite the rain

My first lock didn’t go entirely to plan. The first pair was inexplicably open so I paddled through, hoping there would be a landing stage in the middle that could hop out at so I’d only have to portage the last bit, but unfortunately not, so I had to paddle back out and walk around.

This was my first attempt at portaging and was not my most graceful. As it was such a long way I wanted to do it in one, so I put all my baggage in the paddle board bag (which luckily has wheels) with the paddle sticking out of the top, and the paddleboard in the other hand waddling up the tow-path, having to stop every 15m or so because my hand hurt. 20kg of board is quite a lot on one tiny handle! For future locks it wasn’t quite so far so I tended to do 2 trips, except for when the lovely lock-keeper at Loch Lochy insisted on giving me a hand.

It wasn’t long into my paddle that I realised I had forgotten to bring the little map that I had been given when I picked up a key for the lock facilities. So at that lock, I thought I’d carry on, still feeling pretty fresh at 4.30 because I started so late. That was a mistake.

Leaving Gairlochy

As I rounded the bend, heading east from Gairlochy lock, I discovered I had just set out on a loch. It wasn’t long before the exposure had let the wind pick up the water into little waves that made balancing extremely tricky and led me to resort to kneeling. I intended to follow the navigation buoys effectively through the middle of the loch, but not far into my voyage the topography to the west meant the wind began funnelling and it wasn’t long before I had been blown across to the east shore.

The waves seemed to be bigger the further down the lock I got and to keep direction I was paddling 3:1 on the right. Not wanting to fall in on day one I did my best not to end up side on into the waves.

Kneeling meant that all my balance and suspension was being done by my lower back, by the evening I was beginning to get back spasms and was in a lot of pain. I did find a couple of beaches that seemed to belong to hotels and in one instance wandered up to ask if there were any rooms because all I could dream about was a cosy bed, but I was out of luck.

Pretty sky, pain face

Meanwhile, there was a stunning sunset going on and I was torn between wanting the pain to stop and being so happy and grateful for being there at that moment to see it. I know it’s a view I could have gotten from a layby on the adjacent road, but feeling so isolated as the only person on an unpowered vessel in that whole loch just made it feel magic.

That solitude also let me give myself permission to cry, yelp and moo (don’t know why) every time my back seized up and there were points where I tried to stretch it out but got a wave to the face, so had to reserve that mostly for beaches.

The moment I first caught sight of the next lock was joyous though as it signalled the return to canals and I got an amazing night’s sleep even in my horrible little coffin tent.

Laggan Locks

The next day was completely different. The canal passed through woodland and had a Scandinavian feel about it. By lunchtime the cloud had burnt off and it was a lovely sunny day. At this point I wished I hadn’t got a wetsuit on as I was getting pretty toasty, but I hadn’t really bought any alternative clothes that I was willing to get wet- preferring to save my PJ’s for night time. On the plus side I didn’t get sunburn either!

Read about the rest of Helen’s trip on Trek and Trade Winds.

Top tips for getting started paddleboading:

1. Give it a go, most kayak places near still water now also hire out paddleboards so you can get a taster or whether it is for you.
2. Build up your confidence, there are sessions and lessons you can go to to improve your technique and make other paddling friends
3. Board selection: my board is inflatable so I can get it in my flat and big enough to hold 2 people so I wasn’t worried about bag weight; but there are some boards designed for surfing and other ways of riding. Decide how you want to ride (maybe do a taster of each type) and ask advice from the other people on the set up which will work for you.
4. Get out there! Stay safe and consider how the weather will effect you. Wind is hard to paddle against because your body acts like a sail and it picks up waves.

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Biking in Scotland Part Two

Biking in Scotland Part Two

Travelling north the drive although gruelling and bum aching at times, was an interesting way to sample Scotland’s nature and wilderness, with rolling hills and snow-capped mountains which towered over vast lochs. There was no people or sign of civilisation for miles. Our destination was Glenuig Inn on Lochaliort, a secluded and magical place where family friend Steve Mac runs the Glenuig Inn. Arriving at the Inn after a journey of epic proportions we were greeted by the smiling face of Steve and wagging tail of Isla his dog. We were happy to not be spending the night under canvas and the temptation of a hot well cooked meal was an appealing thought.

We went explorinIslag the area surrounding the inn, Steve took us up to the highest point above the inn to see breath-taking views over the islands, looking out over Eigg, Muck and Rum places my Dad had described as being stunning and wild. I had seen pictures and thought it had looked idyllic but seeing the scene first hand was truly impressive. As the heavens opened we retreated back to the Inn and a hearty meal of well-cooked scrumptious food. With Steve busy preparing for filming the next day with Country File, we said our goodbyes that evening before getting a good nights rest ready to hit the trails the next day.

Arriving in a soggy Fort William, home of the UCI downhill biking world cup. We went straight to Ben Nevis. The plan was to bike the ‘Ten under Ben’ but the weather was not exactly ideal. We seized the opportunity to make a run for it when there was finally a break in the clouds. As we rode out into the clearing of trees the sun started to shine just in time for our decent. We twisted and turned through the forBikingest trail over boarded sections and tight switch backs reaching a technical section named ‘Nessie’, the crash mats and netting in the trees said it all, get this one wrong and its probably going to hurt! After this adrenalin busting section the trail returned to a more tame approach treating us to a glorious downhill ride all the way back to the car in time for a well earned hot chocolate.

The day was still young and we decided to go up a little further and try out the Wolftrax. From the car park the trail gave nothing away, however, once making our way to the highest point our journey descended into boulder fields, and rocky bridges. Each corner we were met with a new challenge and yet more rock crossings. The trail was fast and adrenalin pumping and most certainly worth the journey to find it.

We spent our last night in the wilderness of Scotland cooking a mountain of sausages and pasta on our little stove before withdrawing into our tent to stop the rampage of midges which had arrived since the rain and wind had calmed.

martyn biking

The next day we started the long journey back south around Loch Lomond to Glentress, the last stop on our biking adventure. I was really looking forward to this ride it sounded challenging and fun and the sun was again shining on us as we set off. Along the way up the track wound its way upwards throwing obstacles such as tree crossings and rock jumps to practise on. This trail has many surprises including rocky drop offs, berms, table tops and jumps. It’s a fantastic for downhill and cross country bikers alike with loads of features to suit both rider styles.

After a week of leg busting, lung burning climbs, sweet decents and plenty of bruises and laughs along the way our adventure had sadly ended. Packing the car for the last time we headed back to Southampton with some fantastic memories and promised one another that we would return another day to the wilds of Scotland.

I would recommend biking in Scotland to anyone who has a passion for single track and loves a challenge.

Loch Lomond

Biking in Scotland Part One

Biking in Scotland Part One

In six days we covered 1,212 car miles, 60 bike miles, went through eight inner tubes, broke gears, lost iPhones and met the BBC Country File cast. Not bad for a relaxing week away.The Slab

Our journey started at Dalbeattie one of the best (according to a friend) of the ‘7stanes’. These are seven mountain biking centres spanning the south of Scotland, from the heart of the Scottish Borders to Dumfries and Galloway. ‘Stane’ is the Scots word for stone, and at each of the 7stanes locations, you’ll find a stone sculpture reflecting a local myth or legend.

The red ‘Hardrock’ trail at Dalbeattie is a pleasant 25 km with not too many steep climbs and some fantastic views along the way. The ‘slab’ which is by far the most talked about part of the trail is a 15 meter granite ‘slab’ which from the top looks more like something you should climb up than ride down!


On day 2, we went to Mabie another of the 7 Stanes. The Pheonix trail is a 19km mix of cross country and twisty single track. Mabie encompasses the most fantastic switchbacks ive ever encountered which feel like your entering a washing machine spin cycle as you get sucked into the never ending spiral. Rocky drop offs and routed sections make this an interesting and technical ride at times. The scenery was stunning with hills covered in Scots pine and purple patches of heather making every climb worth it!

The South of Scotland brought many surprises and had been a good warm up for what was yet to come.