A night-time kayak on the Clyde casts a new light on paddling, and on Glasgow
If you have tried kayaking you will have already experienced the tranquillity and get-away-from-it-all feel of this activity. Whether onÂ a gently flowing river, a still loch or sheltered coastal waters, paddlers can enjoy a delightful and intimate view of the landscape and wildlife.
Of course, there are also wilder locations for taking a kayak, including white-water rivers and the high seas. Thatâ€™s if you like things on the daring side.
But for a whole new perspective, Iâ€™d recommend a paddle at night.
I joined Glasgow Kayak Club on one of its organised winter night paddling adventures.Â Setting out from a jetty close to the Riverside Museum, we paddled for several hours to Glasgow Green and back again.
The paddling wasnâ€™t too challenging, thanks to a favourable tide and light winds. None the less, after several hours my arms, shoulders and back were aching.Â This discomfort was, however, more than rewarded by the surreal atmosphere of the Clyde at night.Â After dark, it is surprising how different the city looks.
For most city people, the river is one of its most familiar geographic features.Â So many times I have crossed this once mighty industrial waterway thinking only of the bridge that will take me by foot, bike or car to the other bank.
Yet from water level, in a kayak at night-time, the Clyde and the city landscape seem suddenly new and fascinating.Â As I paddled, with a group of seven others, I looked up in wonder at buildings and bridges.Â The Riverside Museum shone bright silver, like a giant toy box. The Tall Ship, which is anchored outside the museum, loomed far bigger than I recalled, and seemed other-worldly.
Heading east, we passed many ordinary city centre buildings that look extraordinary at night, with lights in every rainbow colour brightening hotels, offices and apartment blocks.Â The new Hydro building looked more striking even than it does by day and each of the dozen or so bridges that we paddled beneath seemed far more interesting from below than from above.
Most of the bridges were also lit in a stunning display of multi-colour hues. My favourite was the Squinty bridge (the Clyde Arc) that brightened the river like a beautiful lilac beacon. It was pink on the return paddle.Â We also explored places that I never knew existed, such a warren of watery tunnels created by the concrete stilts in the foundations of BBC Scotland.
Quiet paddle in a busy city
From the River Clyde, many of the cityâ€™s normal noises are muted. It felt like our quiet paddle was a secret mission, although anyone walking the banks that night would have easily spotted our bright kayaking colours and head torches.
As well as taking in the views, we chatted among ourselves as we paddled. I was new to the crowd and enjoyed finding out about each kayakerâ€™s previous experiences.Â Several were new to night-time kayaking and were also revelling in the unusual journey. ClubÂ president Robin Cole said: â€œWe aim to go out about once a month for a paddle at night-time in winter but it is very weather dependent.Â Itâ€™s a great thing to do and as long as people are fairly experienced and fit kayakers most will enjoy the trip.â€
At a weir close to Glasgow Green our river route was halted and we turned our crafts around to make the return journey.Â As we paddled west again I chatted to Stephen Maddocks, who described night-time kayaking as being similar to flying.Â He said: â€œIf you look ahead, not at the boat, and focus on the waterâ€™s surface and the reflection of the lights it feels like youâ€™re flying. Itâ€™s such a great feeling. I really like kayaking but I think kayaking at night is amazing.â€
I couldnâ€™t agree more. It was like flying through a familiar yet amazingly unfamiliar setting and left me with a craving to do more night-time kayaking.
* Find out more about Glasgow Kayak Club and its night-time trips at www.glasgowkayakclub.com New members are welcome and the club is keen to introduce people to kayaking on rivers and the sea.