“Tonight sees me back on the water (well, Lake Windermere) in my beloved boat…having recently rekindled my passion for sea kayaking. 2014 is my year for volunteering, so I jumped at a recent opportunity to join a school trip to Arisaig, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland.
Every year, the local sixth form takes its students to the water, for a week of outdoor adventure, led by the Deputy Head. For me, this was a first, as I have not worked with students with special needs up until now. I was intrigued and excited about the prospect. How far would the students paddle each day? How would they react to being on the sea for the first time? What if the swell picks up and the waves are rough? And more importantly, how much like hard work will it be?!
On the first morning, my concerns were raised, as the weather changed suddenly, drenching us completely. The wind rose and the conditions were definitely ‘choppy’. I was wondering where the safe limits were, for such a group – just what were the parameters? Luckily, the students paddled brilliantly and we stopped at an island for lunch. Although I don’t sea kayak often, I am used to rough water and am able to relax in it, knowing that I have sufficient technique to handle varying conditions. The students experienced a baptism of fire, and were exhausted that evening. We had taken them out of their ‘comfort zone’, but had done so in a relatively controlled environment – the staff had the skills and experience to manage multiple rescues (though none were needed all week.)
The weather for the rest of the trip was less changeable, with calmer water and stunning blue sky at times. Our team paddled 17km on day 2, passing ruined castles and spotting seals, gannets, terns plus ridiculously large shoals of moon jellyfish! Every day we paddled a different route, relishing the changing scenery and serenity that comes with paddling in such stunning locations – Skye in the distance; Rum and Eigg in the foreground. This was adventurous education at its best.
Sunday arrived all too quickly and it was time to head home. For me, it was time to swap paddling kit for that of mountain biking….doing another stint of volunteering for a different school group on subsequent days.
Apart from my fibreglass sea kayak, my Source hydration pack had to be the most useful piece of kit that week. My buoyancy aid doesn’t have a pocket to hold a hydration system, so I had it secured under the ties on the deck of my boat – brilliant for keeping me hydrated each day. I only had to give it a quick rinse to wash off the salt water, before placing it in my rucksack for the biking.
Time to hit the water…then next week I’m off to Tanzania, leading a trip up Kilimanjaro. I won’t say that I’m there yet, but the work-life balance is panning out reasonably well, half way through the year.” We’ll be publishing Cress’s journal on Kilimanjaro in a couple of weeks.