Itâ€™s always good to do new things. Neil Braidwood and son Alex tick canoeing off their list
We recently stayed at Eagle Brae log cabins, near Beauly, and as part of the package, owners Mike and Pawana had organised a canoeing trip for Alex and I under the watchful eye of Russell Zenthon, owner of Kushi Adventures â€“ a â€œsmall but perfectly formedâ€ outdoor adventure provider based in Inverness.
Russell is a big believer in getting on with things, so, after a brief introduction to the canoes on the bank, and a lesson in the difference between buoyancy aids and life jackets, we gingerly lowered ourselves into a double, and Russell pushed us out across the still water of the River Glass.
The river was as still as a millpond, glassy and calm. This is because it is dammed, and the Aigas dam and fish ladder, some 5km downstream, would be our ultimate destination. So, for us beginners, no currents to contend with â€“ which suited me fine.
Russell had positioned me at the back in the steering position, with Alex up front providing the power. He explained that because the person at the front is facing forwards, they have no idea whatâ€™s happening behind, so voice signals can be useful. This would be interesting â€“ father and son working as a team.
It wasnâ€™t long before Alex and I ran aground. Of course, this was my fault, as I hadnâ€™t been communicating what I was up to. The water was so clear, I could see the river bed, and the weeds swaying beneath us. A gentle nudge from Russell got us on our way again, and it was time for some steering exercises.
There were some overhanging trees near the bank, which provided the perfect setting to try out our steering skills. Because there is no rudder on a canoe, the person at the rear needs to use the paddle in a way that will push the boat one way or the other. A push forward will turn you one way, while a swish to the back of the canoe turns you the other.
Gradually, we were getting the hang of it, and the slight trepidation I had at the start of our journey turned to excitement as we successfully negotiated lichen-encrusted oak branches, trailing in the river. It’s important to note that trees like this can be dangerous when water is fast flowing, and should be avoided, but in this case we were perfectly safe.
Back on course, in the centre of the river, Russell pointed out a huge osprey nest, high above us, perched on a Scots pine â€“ but the birds had long since gone. I spotted a woodpecker darting among some dead trees at the side of the bank looking for a home. It was so peaceful on the river, far from any roads or houses, although at one point we did see some golfers, as there was a course on the bank.
Eventually we came to Aigas Gorge â€“ with monumental cliffs towering above us either side of the river, composed of what looked like a conglomerate of rock and stone. Trees clung to the sheer rock giving the gorge a distinctive look, but I have to say, it didnâ€™t feel like we were in Scotland. The character of the gorge was more like somewhere you might see in France. We got closer to the cliff face, and reached out to touch the rock. Russell explained that this was unsuitable for climbing, as the composition made for unstable hand and footholds. The river was still very calm, and it was easy to just drift for a while, while taking photographs (Russell had provided a great little dry bag in which to stow my camera).
We knew our journey was nearly at an end when we saw the dam coming into view. As the River Glass had turned into the River Beauly, we had wound our way through ancient woods, seen spectacular rock formations and hardly met a soul. And we had done it all through paddle power. Russell knew of a place to pull the boat into, so we traversed the canoe to the bank, and climbed out. It was strange to be back on dry land, but as we hauled the boats in, I felt a real sense of achievement.
Kushi Adventures can create bespoke adventures (including canoeing).
Visit www.kushiadventures.co.uk or call 07833 462707.