A new purpose-built white water course offers the opportunity for thrills â€“ and spills â€“ in the heart of Glasgow.
I have kayaked many times before and I know that Glasgowâ€™s Pinkston kayaking course is the safest white water Iâ€™ll ever come across but I amÂ still scared as hell as I sit in a long, narrow and wobbly boat at the top of the new purpose-built course.
On a dark city evening and with floodlights highlighting the swirling, noisy water â€“ which I am toldÂ rages forward at a speed of seven tons per second â€“ I can feel my heart racing out of control and my stomach churning to the point of nausea.
Do I really want to chance my luck on this Grade 2 100m white water course, or should I save face and come back another time when nobody is watching?
In the end, I do not have much of a choice. I have joined the West Coast Paddlers on one of their monthly Pinkston sessions and they have offered to put a â€œswimmerâ€ in the water to guide me down the frothing water course.
Without giving me another second to think about it, my boat is given a push off and Iâ€™m told to â€œjust keep paddling, without stoppingâ€. It is utterly hair-raising.
The course drops gently but careers sharply around several corners to create a 180-degree half loop from top to bottom. Man-made plastic â€œrocksâ€ create obstacles that must be negotiated and the turns are very tight.
It seems they are tighter than I can easily cope with and only half way down the course my long, narrow kayak flips sideways and pulls me under the water.
Now I can hear only the noise of frothing water and see very little. I pull hard on the front release of my spray deck but it doesnâ€™t seem to come off quickly enough and I think Iâ€™m going to drown. Of course, when I surface I have only actually been underwater for about 10 seconds. I wasn’t in danger, it just felt very frightening.
I turn on my back, lift my legs to my chest, as I was told to do if I capsized, and allow the fast-flowing water to propel me down the rest of the swirling, wiggling course and into the calmer pool below.
My swimming partner grabs my kayak and paddle and guides me into the still water where I can compose myself, try to eliminate all the water that has gone up my nose, and decide whether I want to have another go.
While my mind says: â€œDefinitely, no!â€ my heart flutters at the prospect. I also feel my pride is dented. So, inevitably, I have another go.
Second time down
This time I am far more determined. I paddle hard, focus on staying upright and keeping my nose away from the biggest rocks. I manage two-thirds of the course without any major problems and then I find that the kayakâ€™s nose has become stuck against a wall of plastic blocks.
As hard as I try I canâ€™t release the boat and I fear Iâ€™ll need to capsize again. Thankfully my swimmer catches up and helps to guide my boat back into the main flow of the water. I exit the white water into the flat pool upright and feeling high on adrenalin.
Next time I will nail it, I think. There was no doubt this time that I would paddle the white water course again.
Third time lucky
I can only imagine how fiercely determined my face looked as I set off for a third time. I quickly left my swimming partner behind and managed to deftly paddle and steer the kayak through the water and without hitting any rocks.
I cleared the final, tricky bend and saw the exit up ahead. Suddenly I was being spat out into the calm water and I raised a fist in the air. The course takes only a couple of minutes to paddle and it is as scary as I thought it would be but the high of being able to paddle it non-stop and without capsizing isÂ amazing.
What is Pinkston Watersports?
The Pinkston Watersports centre is an impressive facility located in the canal basin at 75 North Canal Bank Street, Glasgow. It opened this summer and has already proved popular with open water swimmers and paddlers.Â A cable wakeboarding centre is due to open later this year.
The white water course is one of only a few purpose-built white water courses in the UK. It is Scotlandâ€™s first.
Keen paddler Richard Cree, who invited me to join the West Coast Paddlers club for their monthly Pinkston session, says: â€œIt is such an amazing facility for so many reasons.Â Pinkston provides the perfect place for people to learn to kayak, in the large open water pool, and then to gain confidence in faster-flowing water before giving the white water course itself a go.
â€œPeople do need to be competent Level 2 paddlers before paddling the course but it doesnâ€™t take long, with practice, to get to that point.Â The advantage of this man-made course is that people can paddle it time after time and in relative safety compared to the white water rivers around Scotland. It is also so easy to access for many people.
â€œWe do still love the environment and freedom of the Scottish rivers but in terms of convenience and practising, PinkstonÂ is hard toÂ beat.â€
As I watch Richard and the other more experienced paddlers take on the white water course it is clear I have a lot still to learn. While I looked scared and panicky, they navigate and paddle with calm and accuracy.
They also make good use of nose clips and paddle a variety of boats, including wide and stubby play boats that look less stable but far more fun.
Many paddlers can also look forward to competition events at Pinkston. Richard says: â€œThe course can be altered to suit different competitions and it is sure to attract some big events.â€
How to kayak at Pinkston
Andy Watt is the chairman of the charity set up to build and run Pinkston Watersports. He says: â€œBecause Pinkston is run as a charity we operate a â€˜minimal staff policyâ€™ and a model of cheaper community access rates.
â€œWhat this means in practice is that the centre can be hired by organisations, rather like a council sports hall being hired out to a local club group.â€
So, if you are a local youngster you can access Pinkston through a youth club. From early next year, Glasgow school pupils can visit Pinkston through their school.
Established canoeists can also access the site through open sessions (cost Â£7.50 for white water). See Park & Play.
The community rate for bookings is Â£30 per club for a flat water session and Â£75 per club for an hour of the white water course.
If you want to turn up and paddle, or join a faster track experience, the private partner, Tayler Made Adventures, offers intensive sessions that progress participants through canoeing skills.
Andy adds: â€œThere are also other organisations that committed the required Â£1,000 to Â£2,000 rent for a year’s storage container within four months of the centre opening.â€
They include: Scottish Fire and Rescue; Clyde (including Glasgow) Scouts; Pinkston Panthers (Slalom development for the British team, including a third of paddlers being Scottish); schools and colleges.
In addition, Pinkston trained 16 youth workers as Level 1 kayaking coaches. Andy says: â€œThese coaches then formed their own partnership club called Pinkston Paddlers and they are now bringing their kids down to the water.â€
To find out more see Pinkston Watersports.
Photography: Peter Benson of Glasgow Kayak Club, Pinkston Watersports and Scottish Canals.