Day two started with Luke Palmer and Claire Palmer making their way from Manchester to the campsite, leaving at 6am and getting there at 12:45. Nothing much to note on their journey as things started to go to plan. We had a different route planned as we had made it up to Galashiels, so we left 8.30 with a spring in our step, and left to go see the kelpies. Before we arrived at the Kelpies, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was my biggest fear, oh how wrong I was. The kelpies are a terrifying mythic creature, who drags you to your death if you enter or get close to the water. These Scottish Lochs just got a lot more challenging!
When we arrived at the kelpies we thought we’d go spend ten minutes having a quick look before getting on our merry way. They are absolutely fantastic structures, and quite awe inspiring. It doesn’t surprise me that these horses’ heads, towering over the canal has rejuvenated the area. They really are incredible.
After a longer than expected trip to the Kelpies, we headed to the campsite. As we dove we were greeted at every turn with a view even more magnificent than the last. Keeping our eyes on the roads was going to be a challenge, but luckily they solved that problem by making all the roads single track and really windy, leaving you on edge about what you’re going to meet at every turn.
Around one o’clock we were all together again, nearly 24 hours since we last saw each other. We were now on a tight timescale to get in our planned itinerary . We had to try and get our tents up ASAP and pack our stuff for the water and head straight out, to start this adventure. After all the planning and preparation we were making our way to the start line at Fort William. Unfortunately, the river running from Fort William to Loch Lochy was simply too shallow to swim in, and the Canals do not allow swimmers, so today I was hoping to not get wet.
We started at the very start of the Caledonian Canal in Fort William, walking about two km to the top of Neptune’s Staircase. During this short walk, the midges were everywhere, and I think we all ended up getting a bite or two, note to self, wear more repellent (and skin so soft, because who doesn’t want soft skin?).
Neptune’s Staircase was incredibly impressive, raising the canal up the side of a hill, a fantastic piece of engineering and more than anything, a really nice walk once we got to the top of the staircase. We met up with Caitriona Hurley, and started pumping up the SUPs. As if I couldn’t be in the water, I was darn well going to be on it, at the every least.
We were delighted to be given two fantastic touring SUPs for the trip that seem more stable than being on the ground (ok, maybe not that stable, but still outrageous for something that you pump up at the side of the road). We know that if anyone is feeling wobbly on these bad boys, then we are facing seriously tough conditions.
Our schedule had slipped a bit, and we were getting on the water at about half four. We were booked in to ‘The Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse’ for dinner at quarter past six, not a cat in hells chance we were not going to make this. We called to re-arrange and re-booked in for 7.30pm, this would be tight, but we couldn’t afford to be much later than this.
As simple math will tell you, three people and two SUP’s is a recipe for disaster (even with these fantastic SUP’s). So just as Claire was about to jump on her board, a massive ship appeared, rocking the floating platform we were using to land from. It was far bigger than anything we’ve ever seen on the canals and that’s when we realised, this isn’t a standard canal, and more importantly, the Lochs are likely to be much worse. Once the waves had died down a bit, Claire jumped on her board with no hassle as all, and looked at me and Luke as if to say ‘come on then’. Luke went on, and sheepishly looked at me, as I had to jump on the back. With an unsteady foot and quickly to my knees, me and Luke were on the same (admittedly rocking) board, and ready to try and get going.
We knew approximately how far we had to go today (12km) and after the first 2.5km walk, this left us with 9.5km to do in two hours (we needed to be out the water and packed away by 7pm to make our 7.30 booking). Everything we do today is to a tight schedule, we had better hit the floor running in order to get done in two hours.
To start with we didn’t have the co-ordination, and so that combined with taking video footage and generally having a good time, we didn’t make quick progress. Claire was casually paddling, and we just couldn’t keep up. But I didn’t mind, I was loving the SUP’s. Luke and I finally found our rhythm, people must have looked over and been surprised that we didn’t have Team GB jerseys on. We were flying. The only problem was, the scenery was breath-taking and I just couldn’t help myself from trying to capture every last moment on camera. This unfortunately left Luke doing paddling, and we slowed quite noticeably when filming. I didn’t care, I loved the feeling of being on the SUPs. That feeling quickly faded, and I was aching to get in the water, ‘guys, I would love to be swimming instead of being on your SUP’ to which Luke quipped, ‘So would I’. I was weighing down his board, and generally making it more unstable.
We were about 3km from the end, and realised we had about 15 minutes to complete the day, this was not going to happen. We had to pack away as quickly as possible to make sure that we could get close to our table booking. We got out the water at about 7pm (the time we wanted to be heading to dinner), packed away as quickly as possible and were set to go. ‘Guys, do you have the postcode for where we’re going?’ Nobody did, and nobody had signal. This was a disaster. After a bit of driving round in circles, we got a tiny bit of data, everyone was rushing to get an address so that we could punch it into the sat-nav. 7.20pm and we were on our way, estimated arrival of 7.45pm. That’s not too bad for a 7.30pm booking, so we rode like the wind to the Ben Nevis Inn.
The place was located right at the base of the mountain, the setting was probably one of the nicest in the whole country, idyllic was the best way to describe it. We had no time to waste looking around, we had to get in, eat and get out. As we approached, there were a few tables sat outside enjoying the pleasant weather looking up at the mountain with a pint for a reward for what we can only assume was a hard days walking.We went into the restaurant, and it was a buzz with noise. This place was rammed! They had a great set up, with a bit of communal seating as well as a couple of individual tables. The menu looked grand. We quickly chose what we wanted and got our laptops out. We had work to do.
So after a short wait, the food arrived and it looked amazing. We were ready for this. The first proper meal since we left Cardiff. Oh, how good it was, after the day’s work and the stress of the two days prior, we had a chance to sit and enjoy something. After we finished, laptops out and the bill to pay, no let up with getting stuff sorted. But for all our effort, 3 people might read of blog, so it’ll all be worth it.
After the meal, we sat in the car, laptops out again, finishing off our blog. Once we got back to the campsite, into our tents, we drifted straight to sleep. I don’t normally sleep this well in my own bed, these last couple of days have taken it’s toll on us. But for all the troubles and stress, we have got the first day out the way, we had officially started our adventure. And things were looking up. Tomorrow will be taking on Loch Lochy (McLochface). About 15km of Loch and a 3km of canal that we will have to SUP.
A great start to the trip, but tomorrow I will be jumping into the icy cold lochs of the Caledonian Canal.
I have to thank the following people/companies for helping us out on this adventure:
Puravida Boardriders, Oshea Surf, Zone3, Back2Front Physiotherapy Ltd,Meridian Foods, The Grazing Shed, SwimSecure, Bunroy Park, Hydrock and Ben Nevis Inn.
Daily distance travelled – 12.94km
Total distance travelled – 12.94km
Daily time on water – 4hr 01min
Total time on water – 4hr 01min