Scott ‘Skip’ Innes, owner of the Surrey Hills Adventure Company (SHAC for short), describes his experience of wild SUP (as he puts it) adventuring in the Scottish Highlands.
My family and I recently returned from our wild SUP tour of the Highlands and the East Coast of Scotland. This was our first trip to that part of Scotland and I had been told on numerous occasions that the East Coast is not the prettiest when compared to the more popular west. But my goodness those that gave me that advice couldn't have been more wrong! It occurred to me that either they visited with their eyes wide shut or they didn't have an inflatable SUP tucked away in the boot of their car…
We travelled to Inverness from London Gatwick with a short up and down and a quick transfer. We found ourselves in the pretty little coastal village of Garmouth where Scotland’s fastest flowing river - The River Spey - meets the ocean. I soon discovered I was in SUP heaven for the wild paddle boarder. My first paddle out was at ‘Spey Bay’ where dolphins congregate at the river mouth at high tide to feast on the busy salmon making their way to the ocean. Spey Bay was a simply stunning location where spectacular beauty and wildlife meet and become one; where the osprey and eagles fly and mountain meets coast, river meets ocean and salmon meet dolphin.
Both sides of the river mouth are equally spectacular for the wild paddle boarder offering interesting and challenging river riding and SUP surfing with a long clean wave. The sunsets here are stunners and a must see. I'll be back for sure.
That afternoon following my idyllic intro into wild SUP on the East Coast I did a little research online to find some white water locations and came across Aquaplay Scotland located in nearby Rothes. Following a brief conversation with Jim the proprietor he invited me to join him and some friends for some white water SUP on the Findhorn River, I couldn't believe my luck and I rolled up my board and set off to meet him.
Jim and his wife couldn't have been more hospitable and they took me to a spot they know well where the river runs free and the rapids are big and exciting. Tamdhu is a favourite spot for white water rafters and canoeists alike and Jim has spent years mastering this area on his paddle board. I had a crack at riding The Findhorn’s wild waters. Words cannot explain the levels of excitement and enjoyment I experienced at Tamdhu and I cannot wait to get back there again for more fun on the fast moving water amongst the rocks of the stunning River Findhorn.
We then moved north along the coast to the beautiful coastal town of Lossiemouth and as the name suggests is where the River Lossie meets the sea. As the river winds its way to where it meets the ocean it is shielded on one side by sand dunes that shelter the river from the ocean winds offering some simply stunning wildlife which is easily matched by the wild paddling available as the river mouth changes conditions with the tide and the ever changing weather of the Scottish East Coast. The rip current as the river rounds the final bend and meets the sea is strong and powerful and you need to know what you are about as you are propelled at some pace out into the delights of the North Sea. East Beach at Lossiemouth stretches for as far as the eye can see and is framed to the west by the other side of the sand dunes that shelter the river and when the conditions are right the SUP Surfing is excellent. Another must paddle location for the avid wild SUP lover.
Our next destination was Loch Insh high up in the Cairngorms National Park This is a land full of enchanting lochs, dramatic mountain landscapes, meandering rivers and fast flowing icy rapids, it just gets better and better. I didn't quite know what to expect but was completely blown away by the diversity of the paddling and surrounding landscapes and the unexplainable beauty of the routes I was lucky enough to experience. The Findhorn, The Spey and The Lossie all hail from the Cairngorms offering so many interesting opportunities to paddle, this combined with a network of Lochs to choose from and you really are spoilt for choice. You’ll be itching to pump up your board more times than your arms will allow.
My favourite location in the Cairngorms is very difficult to choose but if pushed I would say Loch an Eilein. We came across this little gem completely by chance nestled between Loch Insh and the ski pistes at Aviemore. What a location! A relatively small Loch surrounded by mountains and forests with an island in the middle of the Loch which turned out to have the ruins of a castle upon it. The castle cannot be seen from the shore so was a wonderful surprise for a wilderness lover and wild paddle boarder and I will one day return to wild camp within the ruins of the castle and enjoy the mountain vista as it changes from day to night and night to day.
The most amazing thing about this part of Scotland for the wild SUP adventurer is that there is so much to offer and such a variety of paddling in a relatively small area. My advice is to follow your nose and seek out the paddles that are so frequently presented to you whilst being respectful of the wildness of these ancient and beautiful lands and just as respectful of its dangers with conditions changing in minutes from idyllic to hairy to say the least. Stick to the basic safety rules of wild SUP and exploring wild places and you won't go far wrong.