Nepal, 8 years in the making…

I originally wrote this article for Wired for Adventure volume 13, which was also published online here. Having gotten carried away as usual, these articles were much shorter than the full story below.

Words by: Mathew Wilkinson

Photos by: Sam Brown, Sagar Gurung, Mathew Wilkinson

About the author: Mathew has been hooked on whitewater kayaking for just over a decade and a half, but still finds he has to remind himself to paddle at the top of bigger rapids. He is the Head of Marketing at Pyranha, P&H, and Venture, and enjoys telling the world about the exciting and innovative canoes and kayaks produced about 100m from his desk in Cheshire, England.

If you only take one thing from this tale of adventure, I’d like it to be that no matter what obstacles your mind or the world throw in front of you, keep on pushing through them until you reach where you want to be.

The prologue to the movie based on my whitewater adventure in Nepal would be compiled of hazy footage of various gatherings of friends and I from as early as 2011, circling around the details without getting to grips with anything other than our beverages… that is until 2019, when one of those friends had had enough, booked himself on a trip, and sent us the details to decide whether we were joining him or not.

Looking at the extremely reasonable cost of guiding and flights (there was a reason they were so cheap; you’ll see!), and with the looming feeling that this might be THE chance, it was hard to say no… so I paid my money and finally began leafing through the Nepal Whitewater Guidebook I’d purchased in 2013.

They say if you buy cheap, you buy twice, and that was certainly the case with our flights; Jet Airways went bust in April of 2019, but after a short panic, we (Alfie!) managed to get a refund and rebook with Etihad.

Thankfully, the rest of the lead-up to the trip was quite relaxed. George, Alfie, and I had a ‘warm-up’ trip to the ice cold whitewater of the French Alps, spending our evenings in the highest ski resort in Puy-Saint-Vincent watching thunderstorms – as it was the off-season for skiing, the accommodation was quite cheap, but driving up and down the mountain every day to get to the rivers was rather inconvenient. Are you sensing a theme?

George had gone out to Nepal early, and Sam and Tony (a friend of Sam’s from a previous kayaking holiday to Uganda) were travelling separately, so myself, Alfie, Will, and Ben (all of whom, along with George and Sam, I’d met in Manchester University Canoe Club) gathered at my house to throw all our kit in a pile, decide what of it we actually needed, and then attempt to split that evenly between our hold baggage so each bag was under the weight limit.

My ‘bag’ was a kayak; a Pyranha 9R II Large, to be precise.

I’d poured over Bren Orton’s YouTube video about flying with a kayak before heading to the airport, and knowing my kayak was definitely over the maximum length, and thanks to all the kit I’d packed inside it, almost certainly over the weight limit too, I followed his advice to a T; park it far away from the desk so it looks smaller, bag it so you can claim it’s a surf board, and then ‘accidentally’ lift some of the weight while it’s on the scales.

The young lad on the check-in desk looked almost as nervous as I felt, but seemed confident in what he was doing and unfazed by my unusual baggage… that was, until he reached a snag in the system and called his manager over… uh oh.

My luck held out, though… even through being sent from the oversized baggage desk to an even larger scanner, ironically placed in what must have been the smallest room in the whole airport; if someone had videoed Alfie and I wrestling a kayak full of gear into this room while trying to maintain the illusion that it was small and lightweight, it would have gone perfectly to the Benny Hill music.

Eventually, I was waving goodbye to my ‘surf board’ as it disappeared into the mysteries of the world behind the rubber curtain; is this the same world as behind the pins at a bowling alley? We’ll never know. All I could do was cross my fingers that we saw it again on the other side, and be thankful that I didn’t have to unpack all my things from it and be the first person ever to buy a suitcase from the airport.

The adrenaline crash must have been massive, as I don’t really remember much of what happened next beyond snapshots of playing Monopoly Deal in various areas of Manchester and then Abu Dhabi airports, and never quite being sure what meal I was eating whenever we got food.

The second plane from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu was quite a bit smaller, but through its window I was relieved to see my kayak had also made the transfer.

We’d pre-booked transport from Kathmandu airport to our accommodation, and sure enough, as we emerged with VISAs in hand, a tiny Bedford Rascal arrived with a roof basket. The driver jumped out, climbed onto the van’s roof, and gestured for us to pass the kayak to him, securing it with some fragile looking twine. I was too tired and/or polite to protest, so we went with it.

The ride that followed was reminiscent of the opening credits of Naked Gun, as the van twisted and turned through the narrow, pedestrian-filled streets of Nepal at speed; the only difference was that no one was jumping out of the way… or really even looking concerned in the slightest.

After a brief pit stop at our hotel, we headed out again to find George; he’d done some important ‘research’ in the few days he’d spent in Nepal before our arrival, so we followed him to the bars. The first one involved climbing up several flights of the steepest, narrowest stairs I think I’ve ever experienced, passing through several small rooms filled with people sat on padded floors, until we reached an empty one at the top. It felt like the entire building could tip forward at any moment, but the whisky helped ease those nerves.

In the second bar, we got our first taste of the Nepalese rock scene, as well as momos, which Wikipedia describes as ‘bite-size dumplings made with a spoonful of stuffing wrapped in dough’… picture Chinese dim sum, and you won’t be a million miles off. In fact, China and Nepal share a border, so you won’t be any miles off.

Another bar had a mezzanine floor with a balcony above that, and a large, fibreglass tree stretching up from the ground floor and through both. On the mezzanine floor, there was a room built into the tree that we promptly locked a quite-inebriated George in. We’d later find out he’d lost his bag in this bar, and feeling guilty, head back in vain to find it.

We picked up Sam and Ben somewhere along the way, and ended the night in a gay bar. I always find these to be reliably welcoming, but this one did have a slight air of tension – Nepal is quite progressive in terms of laws relating to LGBT+, but societal pressures to live a ‘traditional’ lifestyle still remain. 

I’m not known for being a party animal, but now and again I find a night out is just what I need after a stressful experience; this particular one, plus sufficiently lowered expectations of the hotel, meant that I slept beautifully… well, perhaps not, but it was certainly restful!

I promise I’ll tell you about the kayaking soon… but there really wasn’t a moment of this trip where I wasn’t fascinated, both on and off the water!

I couldn’t tell you what we ate for breakfast the next morning, but what I do recall is that I had a cup of ‘Nepali tea’ and immediately realised I was amongst my people… it was milky, sugary, and lukewarm. Hate me if you must.

Walking through the streets of Kathmandu towards the Swayambhunath Temple, also known as the ‘Monkey Temple’, we passed dogs, chickens, cows, and more, all calmly walking the streets with the humans… that was, sadly, with the exception of one monkey. He was (presumably) joyfully swinging between powerlines when one short-circuited and exploded, sending him to the ground with a thud.

The crowd of people in the vicinity had just recovered from the shock (I wish I could say the same for the monkey), with one of them heading to his aid with a bottle of water, when the broken powerline lying on the ground began to snake around, sparking ferociously, and then exploded again. We quickly got the fudge out of there and hurried along the street until we were no longer under the spaghetti tangles of powerlines and phone lines that are commonplace in Nepal’s cities.

After climbing the many steps to the top of the temple, admiring the myriad of prayer flags and monkeys, we headed back down, being overtaken by monkeys sliding down the handrails.

That evening, we visited the small unit where the guiding company we’d booked with were based, and quickly went from thinking we were on a trip of 7 friends, to realising the group was at least double that. The kayaking world is a small one, though; I already knew a few of the others, and we became fast friends with the rest, who hailed from Japan, the USA, Sweden, Belgium, and the UK. We all went for dinner that evening to get to know each other.

A brief discussion with the guides about boats over breakfast the next morning presented an opportunity for me to play a prank on Sam; he’ll tell me at every opportunity how inferior Pyranha kayaks are to his favourite brand (who I won’t give him the satisfaction of naming here), so naturally, I let the guides know that he’d told me in no uncertain terms that he absolutely must have a Pyranha Burn for the trip. I had to rapidly backtrack when I realised that’d be the only boat loaded on to the coach roof rack for him to use over the first half of the trip, though!

Crisis averted, we all piled on to the coach and left Kathmandu for the first river of the trip, with the guides stood on the coach roof to lift the powerlines over the boats – I don’t know what they’re paid, but it isn’t enough!

River 1 – The Trishuli

A few hours later, we reached the banks of the Trishuli, unloaded a mess of kayaks and people from the coach, and began what should be a simple process of getting into our kit and on the river, but always seems to take exponentially longer the more kayakers are involved.

When we’d finally gotten on the river, one by one we checked our roll, and then split into 3 groups which set off in turn towards the first rapid… and then promptly merged into one, mega-group that would remain for almost every other river on the trip.

The river itself was, at times, approaching some of the biggest volume water I’ve paddled, with large horizon lines you’d slowly see more of the river behind as you approached, and then only at the last minute spot where the person in front of you had wound up, or catch a fleeting glimpse of a clear path through the chaotic water. With only the briefest of descriptions shouted over the roar of the water to a bustling group of kayakers before each rapid, you really had to believe in your own judgement, and learn from the mistakes of those in front of you!

After the river, we were loaded back into the coach amongst the bags and under a roof full of kayaks to be transported across hours of ‘main’ roads that would have been described as impassable in the UK. As some were still in the process of being built, it often felt like the workers had just forgotten to put out the cones and we were driving through their construction site.

Our destination was Pokhara, where we’d spend the next few days of the trip within driving distance of the Upper Seti and Modi rivers. Along the way, we’d set up a WhatsApp group titled ‘Guys & Team’, as this was how the head guide frequently addressed us before issuing a confusingly conflicting series of statements under the guise of a briefing of the day’s itinerary.

A long, uncomfortable coach ride after a day of kayaking meant we were looking forward to bed when we reached the hotel, so it was a crushing disappointment when we realised not enough had been booked for us to have one each, and each group of 3 had to play Rock Paper Scissors to see who got the single bed and who shared the double. If we hadn’t gotten to know each other well enough already, the unlucky ones amongst us soon would!

River 2 – The Upper Seti

The Upper Seti was more technical than the Trishuli, which is generally the kind of paddling I prefer. There was even occasion to get out of the kayak, climb up to a ruin atop a cliff, and scout a steeper rapid leading into a gorge before we headed back down to run it in smaller groups. I was relatively pleased with my line, right up to the point I mounted a rock at full speed, did a 180, and had to finish the rapid backwards.

In contrast, the section through the gorge was quite calm… until someone mentioned they’d seen a snake on the gorge wall, and the head guide started yelling at us all to get out of the gorge right away.

As we approached the get-out, we paddled towards a footbridge draped in prayer flags, and received confused stares from people who had just gone to wash their clothes in the river and weren’t expecting 15 people in brightly coloured kayaks to float by.

River 3 – The Modi

Like the Upper Seti, the Modi is a boulder-garden style river, with a select few lines winding through the boulders; the sustained, mega-train approach to guiding did not pair well with this style of river, as we were all trying to stay close enough to the person in front to see the line they were taking, but not so close as to lose any space to pick up speed and clear a feature if we needed to.

In a boat as fast as the 9R II, playing such a close-quarters game of follow-the-leader often just simply was not an option, and I found myself on more than one occasion forced into an alternative line, or even having to boof* over the person in front after they’d gotten stuck in a hole**. I was frustrated as this rarely meant I was able to run the rapids with any style, I was just rolling the dice and taking what I was given.

*a move where you ‘jump’ the kayak horizontally over a drop to clear the hydraulic feature at the bottom.

**a type of hydraulic feature often found at the bottom of a drop, which recirculates and can hold a kayak if you don’t have enough speed going through it.

Singing loud to rock music is generally how I vent any frustrations, and thankfully Nepal has a strong rock scene, so we headed out to some of the clubs in Pokhara that evening to embrace it.

There are certain tropes that go along with the rockstar image, and Nepalese rockers have fully embraced those… some lead singers would take advantage of any break in the lyrics to yell, “MOTHERF*CKERRRRR!”, or tell the audience to put their middle fingers in the air, and most bars featured a band delivering their interpretation of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’, or ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries. We jumped around and screamed along into the early hours regardless, knowing there was no paddling the next day.

Looking back now, it feels strange to have had a rest day after just 3 days of kayaking, but when I remember how much of a feat of endurance the coach rides either side of the kayaking were (and yet Nicki had managed to crochet almost the entire body of a lion pattern during these without so much as a scratch!), I realise why it was necessary.

We used our rest day wisely by doing the most relaxing thing imaginable; taking to the chaotic, cavernous-pothole-littered roads of Nepal on mopeds, some of us having never so much as sat on one before. Riding one from the rental shop to the hotel in nothing but sandals and shorts was the first stupid idea, deciding to drive them up a winding, mountain track (thankfully in trousers and shoes now) was the second, and driving them back in the dark was the third; but damn, was it liberating!

Only Alfie, George, Will, and I were stupid enough to take on this adventure, and as lovers of puns, we promptly named ourselves the ‘Momopeds’, with each of us being named after a different flavour of momo we’d found and devoured on the trip so far; ‘Chicken’, ‘Mixed’, ‘Veg’, and ‘Buff’, respectively.

Some much-needed decompression and a small reminder of home came in the form of a rooftop bar showing Rick & Morty episodes on a big screen later that evening. As Morty says, “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. We’re all going to die. Come watch TV.”

River 4 – Upper Marsyangdi

Unbelievably, the Upper Marsyangdi featured only the second cause to get out of the kayak and go take a look at something; there was a chunky, S-bend rapid avoiding a large hole and an even larger boulder. I managed to stick the first move, but on the second bend I went right through the guts of a ‘pit’ of water which threw me and my 9R II over backwards and left me rolling in the confused water afterwards.

The rest of the river was a bit of a cage fight, between technical rapids and big volume, mixy water, but it was all the more fun for it.

That evening we moved to what was without a doubt the worst hotel of the trip; I wasn’t expecting great things from any of the hotels, but this was the only time I had to cocoon myself in my sleeping bag liner to avoid touching any of the sheets or pillows at all. It was a good job I was tired from the river and sleep wasn’t a choice.

River 5 – Lower Marsyangdi

The Lower Marsyangdi offered no warm-up time at all, and it was straight into the meat of the rapids; overall it felt quite similar to the Upper, just a little more continuous and slightly fewer boulders.

Although it was right next a road with trucks thundering past in the middle of the night and occasionally sounding their excessively tuneful horns (as is the fashion for trucks in Nepal, it seems), I think the next accommodation we graced was my favourite. It consisted of some metal framed, canvas tents with proper beds built into them, next to a beautiful pool and a covered dining area where we were served dal bhat for absolutely every meal.

This new accommodation also marked a turning point in the trip, when the head guide left one of the younger members of his crew in charge, and suddenly we were having much nicer, more helpful chats about what we’d be doing the next day.

River 6 – Lower Bhote Kosi

The Lower Bhote Kosi was a step down in intensity, and a chance to unwind a little… so naturally, it’s where I had my first out-of-boat experience of the trip (i.e. I capsized and swam). No cool story, no good excuse, I just let my guard down and gave up a little too easily on my roll. Something I need to work on!

River 7 – Balephi

The get-on for the Balephi was right in the centre of a small town, and a few of the locals, curious about what we were up to, came over as we were kitting up… this made it a little awkward, as after a long coach ride, a few of us were looking for secluded spots to have a wee!

The river itself may have been my favourite, possibly because it was a little low and felt familiar to how in the UK we’re generally forced to experience most runs, with just a little less water than you’d like, or perhaps it was just because it lent most towards the boulder garden style of paddling I prefer, with plenty of flares off smooth boulders up for grabs.

How’s this for a sign of the difference in leadership style; our new head guide had spotted the different comfort levels and preferences in the group and sat us down that evening to talk us through the intended choice of river for the next day, but also to offer an alternative option.

Knowing it was the last river of the trip, feeling more comfortable under the leadership of our new head guide, and reassured by the fact we’d finally be split into smaller groups, I’d decided to go for it and test myself on the harder option, the Upper Bhote Kosi.

River 8 – Upper Bhote Kosi

On the coach ride to the river, I felt the absence of Ben and Sam, both undeniably better boaters than I. Glimpses of the river did nothing to ease the nerves, and neither did the imposing dam being built just above the get-on by a Chinese construction company.

As promised, we were split into three smaller groups, and George, Alfie, and I were in the third group in line… more nerves were gathered waiting in the eddy*. I’d gotten myself to the point where, when our guide left the eddy, I had to follow right after him, get stuck into the river, and just get it done.

*a calm bit of water at the side of the river.

The next 500m or so were chaos; I saw our guide disappear over the first horizon line, then as I planted a stroke at the edge of the same drop, saw the bow of his kayak flying towards my face as he was backlooped by it. It took a few powerful strokes to get me out of the towback, and then I caught a small eddy to see our guide swim out of his kayak. Alfie and George descended the drop and joined the fray as the three of us scrambled to get the guide, his kayak, and his paddles to the riverbank.

Rescue complete, we set off once more… only for the guide to get stuck in another hole and swim again. This time he decided he’d had enough, and the three groups became two. Not the most comforting start to what was an already intimidating river.

The rest of the river was pushy, but enjoyable; I remember distinctly one 90-degree bend at the foot of a towering cliff, which cast a shadow over the whole river. Trying to pick out a route as you hurtled towards the horizon line and transitioned from bright sunshine to gloomy dark was quite a challenge, but eventually I spotted the curling wave we’d be headed through the tunnel of, as well as Nicki being capsized by it… I put in a couple of good strokes and braced myself for a similar experience, but the 9R II’s speed saw me through.

As the river eased off towards its end, we were unwinding and reflecting on its events when I caught an edge and spun towards a concrete wall at the side of the river; I thought nothing of it, until I saw the rusty sections of rebar sticking out into the river. I began scrambling to get away from the wall, when the back of my kayak hit something hard and stopped dead; I had just enough time to look around and realise the bottom of one of the stanchions had crumbled and the stern of my kayak was now wedged in the cage of rebar it had left. I had to get out of there, and quick.

Once I’d exited the boat and resurfaced, I realised I was now in the water and travelling at speed without my kayak to protect me from being impaled. I was thankful that George and Tony were there to help get me to the riverbank though, and eventually I was safely on dry land, unscathed apart from the loss of a shoe. Definitely one of the scariest swims of my life.

With that, the kayaking segment of our trip was over, so we said our goodbyes to the guides and the rest of the group (after one more rock club and a final Rage Against the Machine singalong!), and then made plans for the last couple of days before our flight home.

Nagarkot had come up as having one of the best views of the Himalayas, so a few of us went for one more coach ride to check it out. Our mission on arrival was to find a hotel high up the hill with the best view possible, so we walked up to a group of three right at the peak, decided the first two were too expensive (even though in reality, they were still less than the price of a night in a Travelodge at home!), and booked in at the third. Success(?)!

Will, or rather, his stomach, wasn’t feeling up for the 5am start to catch the sunrise over the Himalayas, so Alfie, George, and I left him behind; in the end, he probably got the best deal as we’d half-jogged a fair distance, snuck into another hotel’s grounds, scrambled through some bushes, and stood on a wall for an hour or so in what we thought was a prime spot, only for a mist to roll in at roughly the same rate as the sun rose, and a swarm of giant hornets to explode from a bush just a few metres in front of us!

Adventuring done, we headed home. Just a few short months later, all the handwashing practice would come in useful when the COVID-19 pandemic hit; I was so glad we squeezed this one in when we did!

Operation: Menorca – Part 2, The Problem With Tarps

It was as I watched the girls putting the finishing touches to their tarps in the fading light that I realised I’d fucked up…

My new Alpkit Rig 7 tarp looked great, but the fact that it required the addition of poles, guy-lines, and tent pegs in order to be of any use had completely escaped me; luckily, Cress helped me to make inventive use of the P&H Kayak Sail Mast (with the attached stays acting as guy-lines), and it wasn’t long before I was fighting with the mosquito net, which also needed tent pegs to keep it in its optimal position, i.e. actually covering any part of my body.

The girls found my ordeal rather amusing, but eventually we all managed to settle down for the night, despite the awful smell coming from what must have been a nearby sewage runoff; it was just as we were drifting off to sleep (or perhaps being overcome by the fumes) that I heard the shuffling of feet on the beach, and then the thud of several clumps of sand hitting our tarps followed by the mischievous laughter of the local teens who had thrown them; it appears that wherever you go in the world, you can always rely on the presence of chavs.

I was suddenly aware that we were camped on a beach that was more or less in the centre of a small town, and that camping on the beaches was reportedly forbidden; the evening was also chillier than I’d anticipated, so sleep didn’t come easy, but I must have managed to drift off eventually as the next thing I knew, I was waking up to the sounds of the girls packing their boats.

The evening before our departure from the UK I’d essentially thrown everything I owned that was even vaguely related to kayaking and/or the outdoors into the car, so most of the morning was spent deciding what I actually needed and loading it into the kayak, being careful to avoid the same situation as last time I’d paddled with Sonja and Erin (I’d packed, rather generously, for what I though was a 5 day expedition, but was actually only a 3 day trip).

Eventually we were paddling out across the bay, and everything was exactly as I’d anticipated; the weather was warm, the water was topaz-esque in both colour and clarity, and perfectly still… until we left the shelter of the headland that is!

Patagonia (1 of 1)-7

Cress, on the Cress-t of a Wave

I found myself paddling side-on to waves larger than anything I’d envisioned at any point after the words ‘no tides’ had been used during planning; my bearings fluctuated between turning to run with the waves, then turning perpendicular to them again to avoid being carried towards the jagged rocks and cliff face to my right.

I was paddling so frantically that I’d raced away from the others, despite my erratically zig-zagged course, so it was a great relief when a short while later (although it didn’t feel that short) we regrouped in a small, sheltered spot. The nerves still had me feeling unstable, but being one of the more experienced paddlers in the group, I knew we’d certainly be figuring out a way to cut this day short and it wouldn’t be long before I’d be on dry land again.

That wasn’t the case; everyone else seemed to be having a great time!

Pride got the better of me, and I kept my nerves under wraps as we peeled out and carried on, I raced ahead once again, eager to get to within site of somewhere to land; it’s amazing how isolated you can feel just a few metres off the coast when all you can see is cliffs, and waves which you occasionally catch glimpses of your expedition buddies over.

Eventually we reached a relatively sheltered bay, and jumped out of the kayaks to allow one group member who was suffering from sea sickness to recoup. They were resolute to continue but I, however, had decided that enough was enough…


Operation: Menorca – Part 1, The Mysterious Banging Noise

This was not the trip I was expecting…

First of all, there was absolutely no drama in strapping 5 P&H Sea Kayaks (four Scorpio MKIIs and a Delphin) to the roof of my car, they just seemed to magically fit; this may be a misconception due to the fact that Tim kindly did the actual loading of the kayaks for us though!

Once the gear (including a beautiful selection of VE sea kayak paddles, and a box packed with shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses from the wonderful people at Dewerstone) had also been loaded up, Sonja, Anna, and I set off to Menorca, waved off by a small group of slightly-over-enthusiastic individuals holding hand-drawn signs (seriously, I work with a group of complete nutters; maybe that’s why I fit in so well?)

Our journey from Pyranha HQ consisted of a medium-sized drive to Dover, a quick ferry to Calais, and an epic mission through France and in to Spain, getting as far as a service station just outside Barcelona before we decided to investigate the ever-increasing volume of the persistent banging noise coming from the car roof; two minutes of fidgeting later, and I’d made absolutely, one hundred percent sure that the front edge of the driver’s side roof rail was no longer attached to the car… damn.

We formulated a plan (and I had a bit of a sulk) in a Spanish Burger King with free WiFi, and after some mildly-excessive use of the spare roof rack straps to secure the kayaks, we set off for a Volkswagen dealership in Barcelona, enlisting a Spanish-speaking friend en route to warn the garage in advance, avoiding us trying to explain the issue in loud, excessively deliberate English garnished with a generous sprinkling of hand gestures.

The lady at the VW dealership was lovely, and spoke immaculate English, but she couldn’t help us; she sent us on our way with the details of two other garages on Menorca, which we had every intention of taking the car to…

The next task at hand was successfully negotiating the maze that was Barcelona’s road network, after which my mood was instantly rectified by the discovery of a harbour-side sushi restaurant, and the following eight and a half hours of sleep on the ferry to Mahon were also incredibly welcome.

We arrived in Mahon ready for breakfast, where a small café with friendly staff offered us ‘tostada’ and were even kind enough to share their knowledge of the local garages, but as most were closed (it was a Sunday), and the issue had become much less pressing now we had made it to the island, the draw of fulfilling the role of stereotypical tourists won out.

Setting about exploring Menorca on foot, it wasn’t long before we were met by Sonja’s equally wonderful mum, Maureen, who by sheer chance had booked her own little Menorcan adventure that coincided with ours!


Maureen and Sonja at the port of Mahon.

After racking up another 3 café visits (including a spot of Tapas… I could get used to this!), we parted ways with Maureen (for now at least), meeting team member number 4, Cressida, before heading for Es Grau to meet Erin, who completed the Operation: Menorca group.

Quite suddenly, I realised the expedition Sonja and I had first discussed during an alarmingly stressful spa visit months earlier (that’s a story for another day) was now becoming reality…

The five of us (Erin, Cress, Anna, Sonja, and myself) then paid a visit to Menorca en Kayak, whose staff were immensely generous with their extensive knowledge of what Menorca has to offer for sea kayakers, going as far as to give us a set of laminated maps marking various points of interest, potential campsites, and places to restock our supplies, as well as promising to keep an eye on the car whilst we were away.

With all the important stuff behind us (at least for today, excluding all that ‘actually-doing-the-expedition’ business that was to come), we settled in to a waterfront restaurant for (supposedly) our last taste of luxury before we began our expedition; Cressida, who I had only previously met via Skype during the aforementioned spa visit, quickly united us all in giggles by ordering a duo of seafood dishes which can only be described as relentless (and that’s coming from me, possibly the greatest seafood lover there is!)

Our final task of the day was to choose our spots on the beach, and set up camp for the night…

To Be Continued.

Going Solo: Alone with the River

For many years, I considered those who ventured out to rivers on their own to be reckless individuals with no regard for their own safety or well-being; however, I was recently offered a fresh perspective on solo boating during a 4* Training day with Dave Kohn-Hollins (I won’t try and reproduce his words here, as I’ll most likely misquote him and lose some of the sentiment; instead, I’ll simply recommend you book yourself onto a course with River Flair).

The message I took from my conversation with Dave and the thoughts it provoked in my mind, were that in any leading situation you tailor the venue to suit the group and the conditions on the day, and there’s absolutely no reason why that approach can’t also be applied to a group size of one.

Of course, in order to pick a river that is suitable for a solo run you’ll need enough modesty to take an objective and impartial view on your paddling abilities; for this reason, I’d encourage you to really get to know yourself and your limits not only in kayaking, but in life in general.

Having pondered over the pros and cons for a while, I decided to take the plunge and head to the Tryweryn on my own (I do paddle other rivers too, I swear!) I chose this particular river as I know it well and felt comfortable that my abilities were at a level to cope with its grade and sort myself out should I get into any difficulties. At the Tryweryn, I also knew there would be other people around if I desperately did need help at any point.

I stopped at a couple of my favourite haunts on the way over to Wales, namely Starbucks and Go Kayaking North West, both of which served up an awesome cup of coffee! I spent a short while chatting to the guys at GKNW, but by the time I’d reached the mighty T and got changed into my paddling gear I was glad of the late start, as the first 5 minutes on the water with no one around were absolutely terrifying!

Not being part of a group on the river felt completely unnatural, and although I knew I was more than capable of looking after myself, it took me a good while to properly settle in and start pushing myself to make more technical moves… Even the ones I make routinely on each trip over that way.

However, as much as I love leading groups and helping others progress, when the nerves did eventually subside I realised the time I’d usually spend managing a group could now be spent on developing my personal paddling; throughout the day I was able to run and rerun sections, aiming for cleaner moves and harder eddies each time.

The knowledge of having to be self-reliant was a big contributor towards the sense of thrill (and fear during the first couple of minutes, it’s a fine line) whilst on the river, but it was definitely a confidence building experience. By the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted, but I’d gotten a lot more practice than I usually would have on a group trip, become comfortable in a boat again and made a bunch of new eddies… and friends!

A key point to bear in mind when considering your own solo mission is that ultimately, the only person that will get hurt by any poor judgement (or any other mishap) will be yourself; something far more reckless that happens all too often in boating these days is arrogant paddlers throwing themselves down rivers they don’t have the skills or experience to cope with safely and obliging others to put themselves at risk to save them when something inevitably goes wrong.

If you do choose to give it a go, definitely make sure someone knows where you’re going and when to expect you back, and have your phone, a whistle and all other necessary gear on you. I’d also recommend making sure you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt first (maybe even one or two safety and rescue courses, like WWSR) and that you only go it alone on rivers you know well.

As for me, I’m now looking towards my next solo mission to another of my favourites, the Kent

Would you go it alone?

All Before We’d Even Set Off… (Scotland 2012)

I didn’t notice at the time, but it seems like all the trips so far this year had just been building up to this… and it didn’t disappoint!

In the few days before the trip, the climate in Manchester had slowly been making the shift from arctic tundra to a place where it was almost vaguely acceptable to go outside in a t-shirt. Although not great for river levels, the sunshine certainly added to the growing excitement for the annual MUCC foray across the border into Scotland.

The Group

Left to Right: George Babington, Mathew Wilkinson, Charles Swannie, Andrew Lamb, Emma Sture, James Stewart, Lewis Renshall, Nicholas Kasch

When the morning of the trip finally came around, I spent the majority of it going over the plans to make sure I hadn’t missed anything whilst I packed my usual mountain of kit, including roughly 6million sets of spare river shoes (I should probably donate some of those to Oxfam). I then set off to Manchester Van Hire (via McDonald’s, where I discovered the Creme Egg McFlurries had returned, in one short second altering the landscape of my food plan for the week completely) to meet Nick and Lewis.

I arrived a little late at Man Van to find Lewis stood outside, but no sign of Nick (who was bringing the purchase orders so we could actually pick up the vehicles). The guys at Man Van showed us around the Ford Galaxy and the Van (which was a fair bit smaller than expected) and then we sat down inside to wait for Nick. After a little while, the kind people at Man Van told us we could just take the van and then Nick could give them the purchase orders and take the car when he finally turned up.

Trees Are Not Our Friends

Lewis loves wood, but not like this!

So Lewis and I set off for Brookbank to pick up our newly repaired splits (and take another broken pair to be fixed, we don’t have much luck with them…). On the way, Lewis managed to get in touch with Nick, and we found out he’d somehow gotten lost and/or got caught in a time warp (his explanation was so vague that we still don’t know which) somewhere between his lab and Man Van. A few minutes later, we heard from Nick again, this time telling us he’d lost the purchase orders as well as his sense of direction on the same journey. We instructed him to try and find them and if that failed, to go and ask Janet in the AU Office to print out some more and then head to stores once he had managed to finally pick up the car.

Silence of the Lamb

The mysterious villain prepares his next victim.

In the midst of all this disorganisation, Lewis and I had arrived at Brookbank, so we made the splits exchange and headed straight back to Manchester and to stores. On the way we got a call from the rest of the group who were now there and waiting, but strangely hadn’t seen any sign of Nick yet. He still hadn’t turned up by the time we arrived at stores (even though we’d also been to mine to pick up the rest of my kit), so we just got on with packing the van. Even when we’d packed everything he still hadn’t arrived, so we decided we were going to walk to Scotland… luckily he rounded the corner in the car just as we reached the end of the road up to stores.

Canoe Club Triumphs, Despite The Smell

Everyone MUCCs in to reach 7th place at BUCS Slalom.


Thankfully the article wasn’t a scratch-and-sniff.

Determination is a word that best describes MUCC’s efforts in last weekend’s BUCS Slalom competition at HPP, Nottingham. At the very start of the weekend, the majority of the group were delayed by a minibus that was so full of affection for 1st gear, it decided half way along the A50 that it never wanted to leave it again. Two hour’s wait and some gentle clutch persuasion by the AA man soon fixed that however, and the weekend was back on track.

The team had suffered a number of injuries prior to this competition, preventing three of their best paddlers, Andrew Williams, Clare Hawkins and Ben Brisbourne (two injured knees and a broken back respectively) from competing. Everyone was determined to try their hardest to plug the gap however, and the three injured members had even come along for moral support (helped substantially by the aid of Andy’s bull horn and several comedy tunes). The exuberant Lewis Renshall even came along as an additional cheer leader!

Give 'em Helliwell

Sam Helliwell gives the evils to an upstream gate.

On the Saturday morning, pumped full of Coca-Cola to ward off the River AIDS (HPP’s water is notorious for making almost everyone who paddles it ill in one way or another, or sometimes both ways at the same time), the team travelled from the scout hut they were staying in to the site of the course for the beginning of the event. Canoe Slalom is where competitors paddle down a river, weaving across it and going through as many gates as possible, some upstream and some downstream, in the fastest time. The Men’s individual kayak heats were first and the course saw some sterling performances from Ben Saxby, Frazer Pimblett, Tom Fyall, Chris Williams, Alfie O’Neill, Sam Helliwell, Mathew Wilkinson, Mike Fenton & Nick Kasch, some of whom had never even done slalom before. There were some swims, but everybody was in good spirits, and the members who weren’t paddling did just as much exercise running up and down the bank yelling at the competitors in encouragement, so much so that there were a few sore throats at our celebrations in the local pub after.

Two is Company

Tom Fyall and Frazer Pimblett make C2 look easy.

Sunday morning came with bad news, the course had been shut down due to the increasing volumes of what was referred to as water, but at this point was probably more accurately described as sewage. The team was disappointed by this, and began lethargically packing up and readying to head home, when another call was received announcing the course was open again! Everyone bundled into the vehicles, and made it to the course for a quick safety brief (essentially saying; don’t swim, and if you do, close every orifice as tight as physically possible). The smell on the river was noticeable to say the least, but nevertheless everyone gave it their best and got some fantastic results in all the events held that day. Both the girls (Susan Warden and Louise Maddison) rocked the Women’s individual kayak heats and Frazer, Ben, Chris, Susan and Tom powered through the C1 event (kneeling up with only one paddle, difficult stuff!). Mathew and Jonathon Winter provided comic relief in their drawn out build up to, and then short but sweet C2 run, and then Frazer and Tom showed everyone how it’s done. Later in the day there were 4 valiant Team kayak runs, which rounded off the day nicely for some incredibly thorough showering and then the prize giving.


Alfie O’Neill and Chris Williams show off their teamwork.

Taking the injuries and small team size into account, everybody was incredibly proud of their 7th place out of the 24 universities present, and there were some noteworthy performances from Frazer, Tom and Chris, finishing 7th in the team event, Tom and Frazer finishing 5th in C2, Susan finishing 18th in the Women’s kayak heats, and Ben finishing 23rd in the Men’s kayak heats. Overall though, fun was had by all, and nobody got seriously ill or mutated by HPP’s questionable water content!

Duke of Edinburgh Silver – Expedition Report

We started off the journey on the way up to Loch Awe in Scotland from Patterdale Hall in high spirits. We were all anxious about the challenge that lay ahead of us, but knowing that we would have the night in a youth hostel to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically, we felt that we were ready for it. The youth hostel was a great opportunity to get some rest after the long journey we had taken from Bolton School, and we even managed to find the time and energy to practise our much needed (and lacking) football skills, an essential part of canoeing training.

Left to Right: Andy, Kev, and Chaz in the minibus.

After our much enjoyed last night of comfort in the youth hostel, we woke up early the next morning to try and work out exactly how many things we had left behind, and how many of them would be essential to our survival, luckily there was nothing completely necessary that we had forgotten, and the few things we had forgotten we were able to beg, borrow (and steal) off our comrades.

On the journey up to Loch Awe it began to become apparent that there was some friction in the relationships between the members of my year and the members of the year above. I began to wonder if this would make the expedition more difficult for us to complete, but took solace in the fact that I would be in a boat with only one of them, this one being the more placid member of the upper year, and I would also be accompanied by my best friend. Simon and I have completed several expeditions together including the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expedition and several of our own routes at many ridiculous hours of the day, knowing that we had already completed several of our own expeditions for longer times and distances than this one, I felt safe, and sure that we would finish this one with as much ease.

Once we arrived at our launch site on the edge of loch Awe at a place called Killnetair, we offloaded the boats from the trailer, and began to carry them down a rather muddy and precariously steep set of steps down to the loch shore itself. When this was eventually done, we all got changed into the clothes that would most likely remain on us for the entire expedition. Both I and Chaz, a member of the year above, had our rash vests on, being avid kayakers and lovers of all water based sports. I began to wonder whether the expedition would become a competition between us, as he was appearing to be quite competitive, and I was ready to give a fair shot at challenging him. I knew if we went at too fast a pace on the first day however, the other two days would seem to drag on and become increasingly difficult, and as I wasn’t the only person in the boat, I decided to leave the racing until the last day, if it was to take place at all.

The whole crew, ready to go. Left to Right: Kev, Chaz, Mohannad, Adam, Andy, Simon, and myself.

As we got into the boats I was embarrassed to start smearing the camouflage coloured sun-block I had brought with me on my face, however as soon as the flamboyant character known to us all as Kev (or Kiefan which he had persuaded Mohannad to believe was his name) spotted the sun-block, he immediately asked if he could borrow some, to which I, of course, said yes. As I had been the butt of a fair few practical jokes earlier in the trip up to Scotland, I then watched happily as both Chaz and Kev smeared the military sun-block all over their faces, knowing that they clearly didn’t realise the humongous amount of soap, water, and scrubbing it required to remove. After they had painted what they called flames in brown and both shades of green all over their faces, I wondered whether I should tell them this would be how they’d look for the next few days (or even weeks) or leave it until they finally got bored of the clammy feeling that the sun-block causes, and decided to try and wash it off. I decided the later would be the better option.

My spirits heightened further by this fortunate turn of events (for me at least) I put on my sunglasses, ensured they were safely attached to my head with my sunglasses strap which I had borrowed/stolen off my brother (it’s still in my bedroom now, I doubt he even realises it’s gone) and I gathered together my boat team and began to push the boat into the loch, this marking the real beginning of the expedition for me.

When we had finished going through the details one last time with Andy and Rick (and them making one last comment about the sun-block) we set off paddling. I was in the rear of the boat, providing the steering, Andy (our oldest crew member) was in the middle providing the map reading skills and some power (and also quite a lot of whining at the start), and Simon was at the front providing the majority of the power and also assisting with steering at some precarious points. It was looking as though the expedition would be surprisingly easy at this point, with all three of us paddling and the wind with us on the loch. Sadly a few hours into the first day this began to change, as Andy began to take it a little too easy, making me and Simon wish that Hardy (Andy’s previous boat mate) hadn’t opted to do the expedition next year, leaving us with a bigger three man boat. Luckily as we had taken the extra member, Chaz and Kev had taken most of Andy’s luggage, so we were able to cope with the minimal paddling provided by him.

Instructors, Rick (left) and Andy.

We were travelling at a good pace, and the sun was bright so we were all only wearing t-shirts by this point, or in Chaz and Kev’s case, just pants. There wasn’t that much conversation between our boat members, except Simon and me discussing ‘shooting’ all manner of people and things with the paddles and various ambush techniques we could use whilst in camp to gain extra supplies (mainly food). We also had the usual comparisons of events and places in the expedition in relation to the Lord of the Rings films, which has become a standard part of all of our expeditions (us acting out the whole of The Fellowship of the Ring on our Bronze expedition).

We decided that, since this expedition was on water, it would relate perfectly to the rather brief moment in the films where the fellowship are travelling in canoes along a river, and so much of our own elaboration had to be added to this to stretch it out over the whole expedition and keep us at least vaguely entertained. After a while of this though we sensed that we may have been annoying and/or worrying Andy and so stopped, luckily Chaz decided this would be a good time to put some music on, as he had brought a CD player with him, safely (…ish) wrapped up in a Morrison’s plastic bag. Equally luckily he had brought some CDs that suited all of our musical tastes, and we continued to paddle whilst listening to New Found Glory, which enabled me to take my mind off paddling and enjoy it much more.

Kev and Chaz in the ‘Boombox Boat’.

We soon came to one of our many planned breaks in the expedition, at a place called Rubha Cuiline (try and pronounce that after a few drinks for a good party game) all of which were timed exactly to Kev’s digestive system. We landed on a small pebbled beach with trees that went right up to the water’s edge, and some of them were even semi submerged in the loch, making the landing a rather interesting one and, I felt, exciting. As the older members of our group fired up the Trangias for what would be the first of many times, I decided now would be a good time to eat something as well, and so took one of my several snacks for that day out of my buoyancy aid, the majority of them being entirely unhealthy but a great incentive to get to the next stop as soon as possible. As I was eating, I decided to exercise my legs whilst I had time, and took a walk down the shore where we landed, looking at the spectacular scenery of the hills on the other side of the loch and the various boats around, wondering if any of them could hear the music that was still playing, and if one of them was about to go past us as we set off in the hope of capsizing us and drowning the ‘horrible’ sounds we were making.

After the others had finished their expertly prepared two course meal, we got back into the canoes ready to set off again. Enter Mohannad’s first act of stupidity (if you start counting from after we got on the water that is) he had managed to leave various items belonging to him on the shore we had just left, and feeling in a kind mood, we decided to let him go back for them (unfortunately not swimming). Unluckily for Adam (Mo’s crew mate) he had to go back with him, the only thing possibly worse than this for him being having to spend the whole expedition at most a meter away from Mo and his rap (which is often referred to with a ‘c’ added).

Adam looking annoyed (probably because of Mo).

After this minor delay we carried on with the expedition, canoeing along now to the sounds of Charlotte Church, however not singing hymns, but dance music with repetitive rhythms and tunes, making it hard to tell where one track ended and the other began. Nevertheless I managed to put it out of my mind and carry on steering the boat and, since most of the journey was a straight line, helping us to set a good pace for the others to keep up with, Mo’s paddling action in doing this providing a great amount of comedy for the rest of us, except the unfortunate Adam who was drenched with every paddle stroke Mo made.

Despite this however, he managed to carry on paddling and expertly steering his boat without complaining at all, which unfortunately couldn’t be said for Andy, partly because he wasn’t steering our boat, but also because he seemed to be taking every last opportunity to not paddle. This was getting increasingly annoying to me and Simon, but we decided it wasn’t worth causing the boat to be split over (either metaphorically or literally).

Soon we were at our first campsite for the expedition (not quite that soon but this report is going to be ridiculously long if I don’t edit it somewhere) this campsite was on an uninhabited island (which went by the equally unpronounceable name of  Innis Chonnel), close by to the shore of the loch, and even had its own castle, which I was extremely excited about as I had always loved castles and knights as a child and had images of battles taking place in this very castle in medieval times, so as soon as we had landed and taken our things from the boats up to a suitable campsite next to a fallen tree, I went to the castle to go and run around it and explore every last part I could (obviously showing the extreme mental disturbance I had undergone having to listen to Mohannad, A.K.A Psycho Mo’s raps for the whole first day).

Simon and I not quite ready to leave the boat yet, while Mo strikes a pose.

I ran up to the top level of the castle and indulged in walking along the walls observing the far reaches of my ‘kingdom’….for now (ok so it wasn’t that dramatic and no one’s going to take it off me but it sounded good at the time). Mo then came and joined me with his camera, after he stopped me from committing suicide by jumping off the wall into the lake far below, which he thought I was going to do when he saw me sitting on the edge of the wall (obviously if I was planning on killing myself I’d sit on the wall holding onto it). After this ‘crisis’ was narrowly averted, I proceeded to strike a dramatic ‘looking into the distance’ pose with one foot on the wall, and Mohannad took a picture. We then went back to the campsite area of the island to finish putting up the tents, mine and Simon’s placed in a rather good position next to the cooking area and the fallen tree which made a good bench/climbing frame. Simon carried on this theme by climbing the majority of the trees on the island and even inventing his own grading system for them, after he fell from what he called a grade 5A tree, near the top of the scale for difficulty. After he had perfected the grading system (an essential task) we went to go and turn over the canoes and drag them further up the shore to ensure we’d still have them the next day (none of us fancied a two day swim in the fairly cold loch, otherwise we might have left them).

We then continued our previous theme of maturity for that night by returning to the castle and having a war around it between ourselves, Simon being on my side and Adam and Mo on the other side. Of course, with Mohannad being the highly popular individual that he is, Adam soon joined our side and turned the game into a sort of rapper hunt. We were again using the paddles to shoot each other as we are mature, well educated individuals, and these are the activities we participate in during our spare time.

When our hunt was finally over and we had realised that there was no actual way to tell who had been shot or not, and Mo had a strange ability of being able to avoid every single shot we fired at him (I wouldn’t have been surprised if he yelled ‘force-field’ and claimed invincibility), and we had also grasped the incredibly complex theory that pine cones are not grenades, we went to retrieve the football we had brought with us, and commence a real game.

We then somehow managed to make this game completely ridiculous and invented the entirely new sport of Castle Football, a game where you kick the ball as hard as possible at a wall in the enclosed space of the castle, including the tiny slave’s quarters, and then attempt to avoid getting hit and severely concussed. This game was developed by the discovery of ‘The Room of Death’ which was an small room from which it was physically impossible to kick the ball out of and so as soon as you kicked it, it would simply ricochet off all the walls and the ceiling and ensure certain death, hence the name. The rules of castle football were… nonexistent; anything went, including enlisting the help of an American sniper team to take out the ball if it came towards you, but of course this wasn’t used by any of the players due to the lack of skill of American snipers which would probably make them more likely to shoot you rather than the ball.

Many blows to the head later… we didn’t remember much.

We went back to the camp after to recover and cook our first tea of the expedition, consisting for me, of pasta in a bolognaise sauce with pita bread, chocolate custard and biscuits. It sounds almost like a posh continental meal… it wasn’t, but as far as expedition meals go, this was the best one I had ever cooked, and I was ready for it after the intense evening activities we had participated in previously. Kev’s meal consisted of several thousand courses, give or take, and one of these was going to be beans, which he decided to cook on the fire, in the can, with the lid unopened. This process was met with mutterings from me and Simon of ‘Kev? Errrrr…Don’t you think that’s going to like… errrr… expl…’ The final word was punctuated and ended abruptly by the sound of the beans can spreading its contents across all of our bodies and me ducking to avoid the suddenly deadly, high speed can lid. After this incident I decided if another such life threatening event occurred I may actually die, and so I went to the tent to get ready for bed, leaving Simon to watch the fire die down with the others.

It was whilst I was getting changed that I heard a sudden clamour outside, and so I threw my pants on quickly and ran outside to see what was going on. As I came out of the tent I saw Kev staggering towards the campsite carrying Chaz (who had gone down to the loch earlier to wash some plates). I could see Chaz had several slashes across his body and blood all over his face and t-shirt but it was hard to tell how badly he was hurt in the dim light that was left of that day. Kev brought him up to us stammering and telling us that he had found Chaz in the bushes near the castle. I immediately didn’t take this in at all (always the best course of action) and told them to put him in the recovery position as I got my torch, I was thinking that he had slipped on the rocks at the shore of the loch and somehow managed to land on all the sharpest ones at once. When I got my torch I shone it on him and began to suspect something as Kev was waving his torch around rather dramatically at this point, not helping us to see Chaz at all. He then said he was going to go and try and find the instructors who were camping inside the castle grounds and get help. When he had gone I had a closer look at Chaz and began slowly to realise that although there was lots of blood on him, there was actually no wounds at all, but I still believe he could have been injured somewhere else. Chaz then started to groan slightly and twitch, and I repeated to the others to put him in the recovery position (as last time I said this Kev had said not to move him as he could be badly hurt), but they all seemed stunned and somehow unable to move themselves. We then heard a rustling in the nearby bushes, and out popped a monster from the bushes with huge fangs and hair all over its face, wearing a t-shirt and trousers. This monster was Kev with a mask on. Realising how stupid we had been we all started laughing and realised that the whole thing was another of Chaz & Kev’s practical jokes and that my suspicions about Chaz not being wounded were in-fact true.

That night, after all the excitement and subsequent exhaustion, I had a relatively good sleep as there was little wind and the site we had pitched the tent on was quite soft and clear of roots, mole hills, stones and land mines.

I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to embark on the second day, however I felt sad that we had to leave our castle behind, although carrying it with us would have been a considerable feat.

The previous day I and Simon had seen another, larger group of canoeists set up camp on the shore across from our island, and had joked about how we could canoe silently across, stealthily sneak around them and steal their canoes, and then take the canoes to our island, forcing the completely innocent group to have to swim across the lake to our island when they had eventually realised where their canoes were, which we had decided would be in plain view… on the very top of the castle, just to be awkward (we come up with many of these plans, but fortunately for a lot of people, mostly being completely innocent, never carry them out). As we canoed past this group, still in their tents, we laughed about this and there was a definite good feeling about the second day.

As we paddled along we saw a group of fishing boats close to the shore in the distance, in an effort not to be garrotted by the fishing lines, the majority of us started to paddle out to the middle of the loch to go around them, here began Mo’s second (major) act of stupidity, he proceeded, now steering his canoe, to ignore all of our calls and paddle directly towards the fishing boats, and as they began to yell and point frantically at the fishing lines, he carried on, turning only slightly to avoid a head on collision with the completely stationary fishing boat, he managed to avoid the lines purely because he was so close to the fishing boat that they went over his head, lucky for poor Adam who would have been the one beheaded.

The rest of us watched in embarrassment as this happened as we had attempted to cause as little disturbance as possible, even turning off the music until the boats were out of sight. When Mohannad was finally completely clear of the lines, we waved an apology to the fishers who looked like, if they had a gun, they would without a doubt have used it to not shoot Mohannad directly, but make sure his boat sank and he couldn’t swim, so great was their apparent annoyance.

We continued on paddling in a hope to get as far away as possible before we were all subjected to severe fishing rod attack, thanks to Mo’s amazing ability to make every situation difficult. After a relatively long but relaxed stretch of the journey, we got to another one of our scheduled stops, at Ani Inbhir (yes, we can pick all the good places to stop where you have to take 5 hours to work out the name) and Chaz and Kev once again brought out the Trangias and began to cook another of their meals from their seemingly bottomless bag of food, although the sheer humongous bulk of this bag could be seen from miles around (which was all the more amazing as it was an actually separate bag dedicated purely to food). At this particular stop Simon and I decided to indulge in a spot of fencing… with sticks (it would seem more logical to build a fence with sticks… but no, I am talking about the sword fighting kind of fencing as we didn’t particularly need to lock Mohannad up just yet… that’s a lie) We battled around the beach for a while and then up a hill where we finally got bored and sat down on a rather comfortable tree stump, here we took out our diner for that day which was, for me, the now standard expedition diner consisting of tortillas with tuna filling, which, for some odd reason, only tastes nice on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition.

The next section of the expedition all seemed to be a conglomerate mass of random events and sights, so pretty much the same as the rest of the expedition. We paddled along with only a few stops at some select beaches along the way, including some more unpronounceable names such as Sori Ho (a rather risky name) and Eilean An T-Sagai (obviously referring to two people, one being Eilean, and the other simply being rather old and wrinkly), to ensure Kev didn’t pass out from hunger. As we paddled along I developed my eating skills, managing to devour 3 penguin biscuits without using my hands, a skill which I am still quite proud of, showing my incredible dearth in actual useful skills. After the second stop of this stretch I allowed Simon to take over the steering of the boat as I felt that he must have been rather tired after paddling strongly throughout the whole of the expedition so far. At first his steering was slightly precarious, and we nearly crashed into the shore on a number of occasions, but every time he was able to prevent this from happening.

During this time we developed a rather unambiguous method of indicating the direction in which we needed to turn by shouting every single phrase in a kind of improvised German cobbled together by adding ‘Ge’ and ‘en’ to the front and end of every direction. This quite possibly resulted in the majority of the incorrect turnings we made from this point on, and as we were heading towards the shore on these numerous occasions we began a frantic clamour of ‘GETURNEN! GEPANICEN! GENOTTHERIGHTDIRECTION… EN!’

This madness continued until two more stops on when Simon and I switched back positions again, and I don’t think we even stopped completely even then, possibly much to the despair of Andy. If he was affected by this though he didn’t voice his concerns, and so we continued, but toned it down slightly so we didn’t both tire ourselves out and also risk certain death by paddle.

We carried on, beginning to slow slightly at this point due to tiredness, but making a few stops along the way. Soon enough we could see the group of islands ahead of us, known as the Black Islands, that would be where our final campsite of the expedition would be established, and a welcome sight these islands were as the weather had begun to get slightly darker and colder just before we had crossed the lake from the shore we had been following to the other side. We managed to make it to our second campsite on one of the islands in the middle of this cluster, and we could feel the wind dying down as it was blocked by the others in this sheltered spot, which was a relief as it had been making it rather cold and tiresome.

We landed on one of the innermost islands and got out of our canoes and began to walk around the island to find a good place to set up camp. We walked around this island for a while and I enjoyed this very much as it was completely deserted but there was a graveyard in the middle of it on a hill with a rather ornate gravestone on the top of it surrounded by fencing. This gave my imagination fuel to run wild and I imagined all sorts of reasons for this graveyard to be there, like a solitary tribe that used to live on the island and eventually died out leaving nothing but this, or the island was possibly a burial ground for wealthy and important people in the area. This kept me amused for quite a while as we continued to explore, coming across deer as well as other animals which made it all the more pleasant to walk around and relax.

Unfortunately it was looking unlikely that we would be staying here as there was nowhere to put the tents up that wasn’t either on a hill or covered in numerous solid objects that would make sleep impossible. After walking around one last time we decided to abandon it and go for another island. We paddled to one of the other surrounding islands that was slightly less sheltered but still fairly unaffected by the wind, here we discovered a decent flat patch of springy grass on the far side of the island and decided this is where we would set up camp. As we had already landed our boats further round the coast, and there was a good jetty to tie them up to right next to the campsite, we decided to go and paddle them around to this to save carrying the bags all the way to the camp.

Once the canoes were safely secured we began unpacking for what would be the last night of camping, Kev and Chaz got a fire going and we were joined on the island by the instructors who came and had a chat with us for a bit whilst we were getting set up. Once the fire was going we burnt what rubbish we could on it to save having to carry it with us any further.

Simon and I then began to set up our tent and put out things inside it to hopefully at least slightly guard them from the practical jokes of Chaz and Kev. Unfortunately as I took out my shoes and some other things that weren’t inside another plastic bag in the dry bag, I began to realise that they were damp, and thought that the dry bag must have leaked and praised myself for double bagging my sleeping bag and spare clothes. I then noticed there was a rather strong smell of meths in the air, and I sniffed at my shoe to realise this is where it was coming from, I then searched frantically through my bag and found the Trangia fuel bottle in the bottom, slightly open. As there was still some sunlight I decided the best option would be to spread everything that was covered in meths out on the grass and allow it to dry as much as possible (holding it over the fire in this case, as Mo suggested, definitely wouldn’t have been the best option in my opinion, but who knows, maybe I’m just completely retarded).

After I had laid everything out neatly and placed some heavy objects on top of the light things to stop them blowing away (and Simon had worried me by sniffing my meths soaked shoes quite excessively), Simon and I went off to gather some more fire wood as requested by Chaz (although we suspected this may have been a plot to get us away from our tent). Surely enough when we got back my dry kag was missing and our tent had been opened. I decided now would be a good time to retaliate, and so with Simon creating a distraction, I crept up to Chaz’s pile of belongings and managed to get away with his sunglasses. Luckily for him, as I was returning to my tent with them, I was confronted by Andy, who up until this point hadn’t given me a reason to like him after the lack of paddling, he then told me that he was sorry for how the others were acting and that my kag was in the porch of his tent.

With this new knowledge, I approached the tent whilst Chaz wasn’t looking and crouched down behind the porch section, then (in a very James Bondesque style) pulled out the dry kag and threw it across the campsite so that it was out of view behind my tent. I then calmly stood up and walked off to the fire to go and warm up and have something to eat, safe in the belief that whilst Chaz still believed he had my dry kag, he wouldn’t try to take anything else belonging to me. After we had all had our tea and finished tidying up the mess we had left, we all went to bed and mine and Simon’s tent was, luckily, free from meths fumes by this point, meaning that we could sleep easily without the fear of choking to death, such was the strength of the smell before (I believe the smell did actually help us to drift off though, and also the insects seemed to take a wide route around our tent, keeping it free of midges at least, which was definitely a plus).

The next morning we all woke up (despite the fumes) and were decidedly ready to finish our expedition. We packed up all the tents and equipment as usual after we had cooked our breakfast, and then got into the canoes for the last time and set off.

The first part of the last day was relatively simple, and involved us canoeing across to the east shore once again and following this until the loch began to widen further. From this point we could then see the distant shore of the loch where a very small red minibus was parked.

We decided it would be safe enough at this point for us to cut the corner and paddle straight for the mini bus, which was parked at our finish point at Coille Leitire, heading slightly above it as the current was quite strong, aided by the strongest winds we had experienced on the expedition so far. It was on this stretch that finally Simon and I began to develop some friction between ourselves, possibly due to the tiredness, the fact that we were both annoyed at Andy still, the stress from being wound up by the relentless attacks on us and our property by Chaz and Kev, and also the constant annoyance of Mo in the background of all this. This came to a breaking point when I began to blame him for not being able to steer the boat properly, which wasn’t his fault at all and was, in-fact, simply because I was trying to turn it into a rather hefty oncoming barrage of waves and wind, which were continually hitting me in the face and almost coming over the side of the boat. He then retaliated by shouting at me for not going the right way, to which I replied with verbally attacking him for splashing me. All of this was absolutely ridiculous as none of it was any of our faults, and I was actually splashing myself more than he was splashing me.

Andy then butted in and managed to defuse this situation by calling us both a bunch of 5 year olds and pointing out that we were all tired, for this I developed a greater sense of respect for him, and coupled with the help he had given me with getting my dry kag back, began to think that maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. We then carried on paddling in silence for a while until we were almost at the shore where the ever increasing in size mini bus was situated; I then asked Simon if he could help me turn the canoe into the beach we were supposed to be landing at, as we had been pushed off course slightly and were currently about to try and land on a vertical wall, which isn’t always the best of places to try and land a canoe.

Simon managed to help me correct this minor problem greatly and then we all paddled with all the energy we had left to counteract the current and beach the canoe in a positively horizontal position, rather than hit a wall, break off the nose, and sink, which would have been a bit of a bummer after 25 miles of near flawless paddling. Simon then jumped out of the boat and dragged it further onto the beach allowing Andy and myself to get out without the canoe drifting off.

After we had our feet safely back on dry land we sat down on the boats for a second to recover, and I took this opportunity to share the twirl bar, which I had been saving throughout the expedition, between me and Simon. This had acted as a great incentive for me to carry on and I hoped it would act as a kind of apology to Simon for shouting at him before in my temper.

When we had all recovered we began to carry the boats through the few, but dense trees in-between this beach and the road and then up the steep embankment. We then left them at the side of the road until they were all up from the beach, and carried them across the road to where the mini bus was parked with the trailer. This was fairly difficult as we were all tired but we all managed it effectively, and eager to finish the expedition properly we hoisted the boats onto the trailer and helped to secure them in place.

Finally happy that we had completed the expedition successfully, we got into the mini bus and waited for our return home to begin, some of us falling asleep almost as soon as we got in, and the rest of us eating what we had left over, and me and Simon deciding it would be a good idea at this point to drink the hot chocolate powder we had not used (when I say drink I don’t mean we made hot chocolate, we just drank the powder, which is a very odd sensation and we discovered you definitely shouldn’t breathe in whilst doing this, as you begin to choke on the powder, and therefore cough, and so spray powder out from not only your mouth, but also rather oddly your nostrils).

When we finally stopped suffocating on the powder we settled down for the long journey home, which would seem short and far less interesting compared to our expedition. 

Thanks for reading.

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