Adventure on the Tay

All sit-on-top kayak trip pictures by Mark French

Adventure-seeking journalists brave the waves on their sit-on-top kayaks. Picture: Mark French

A kayak trip for Don Currie turns into a festival fact-finding mission

The Perthshire Adventure Festival, in mid-June, promises to be something really special – and my visit to Perth to hear all about it proves to be a memorable experience.

Festival organiser Dave Girling has an extraordinary line-up of visiting speakers and exciting activities, mainly taking place in and around Perth itself in order to get as many people as possible joining in.

But instead of just firing out a press release, he invites interested journalists to join him on their own mini-adventure, followed by a visit to one of the city’s most inspiring buildings.

I’m particularly keen, because we’re starting with a paddle through the city on the River Tay, using sit-on-top kayaks. I’ve done a fair amount of paddling in conventional kayaks and Canadian canoes, but never this type.

Tim Baillie, left, with his Olympic gold medal winning partner Etienne Stott. Picture: Pete Astles

Tim Baillie, pictured left with his Olympic gold medal winning partner Etienne Stott, is one of the festival’s star speakers and will also lead paddling trips. Picture: Pete Astles

We meet at Bell’s Sports Centre, don wetsuits and carry/haul our kayaks across several hundred yards of North Inch sports pitches to the water, which is running fast and high as the snow melts in the hills to the north and west.

I get in – or is it on? – and take a dozen or so strokes towards the east bank, 50 yards or so away. It feels great – responsive and fast moving. But my main impression is one of comfort. Previous kayak trips have left me with aching stomach muscles and a sore back from where the rim of the cockpit digs in as I lean back to give said muscles a rest. This time, though, there’s a nylon seatback and a stepped series of moulded footrests against which paddlers of any leg length can brace themselves for stability. There’s more of a hollow than I was expecting, too. For me, the sit-on-top proves a revelation, and within seconds I resolve to make this style my kayak of choice.

We battle the current for a while, facing upstream but staying pretty stationary as we get used to the kayaks, then we turn our bows downstream and go with the flow. We form into a line and aim for the third arch from the right under the elegant Perth Bridge, being swept at speed into the choppy waters as the Tay hits tidal waters. The next stage is straightforward and we glide under the South Street bridge, pulling in to the left where we clamber out and carry our kayaks up to Rodney fitness centre, where we change. It’s been a brief but bracing paddle and a great introduction to this variant of the sport.

Dave then leads us on a walk through the city, pointing out where some of the action will happen in June. Among the most impressive plans are for a climbing tower and zip wire right in the centre. These are attractions usually found in country parks and woodland, so to enjoy them among shops, offices, pubs and cafes will be very different.

All manner of cycling events are planned, such as bikeagility sessions, pedal-powered smoothie making, a mountainbike ‘board walk’ and guided rides round the city. There will be bungee jumping, archery, storytelling, bushcraft, a first aid course, photography workshops, and adventure triathlon and even a dragon boat race.

Dave says: “It’s really satisfying how it has all come together, and I’m very excited about it. Some adventure festivals are really for people who are already enthusiasts, but this one is for everyone, including people trying the activities for the very first time.”

He then takes us into Perth’s oldest secular building, the 14th-century Fair Maid’s House, home to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Here we settle into comfy chairs in the library, surrounded by maps, books and curios, and the society’s communications officer, Fraser Shand, shows me treasures including the Burn-Murdoch globe, signed by renowned explorers such as Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the man who beat him to the South Pole, Roald Amundsen. There’s also a souvenir magazine published by the Times in 1953 to mark Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest, and signed by Hillary.

Steve Bate

Partially sighted climber Steve Bate, of Moray, on El Capitan

Dave tells us about some of the illustrious adventurers he has persuaded to come and speak at the festival. They include:

  • Tim Baillie, from Westhill, Aberdeenshire, winner of the Olympic gold medal for C2 canoe slalom in 2012
  • Steve Bate, who climbed the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California, despite being partially sighted
  • Calum McNicol, the Arran-based oarsman who took part in the fast row across the Atlantic last year
  • Sean Conway, who spent more than four months swimming from Land’s End to John o’Groats
  • Stephen Venables, who instead of talking about his own mountaineering experiences will discuss Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic expedition 100 years ago
  • The Meek family, who hit the news by setting out to complete 100 adventures in a year
  • Lucasz Warzecha, the renowned adventure photographer

We file out into the sunshine making mental notes of the Perthshire Adventure Festival’s dates – 13-15 June.

Find out more on, see the Perthshires Adventure Festival page on Facebook or follow the festival on Twitter @advfest.
To find out more about the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, see

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