Getting a break is key, especially when you have been mainlining Scotch for three days. I knew when I booked our trip to Scotland that Oban would be a perfect spot to do something different that did not involve holding a glass and putting said glass to my lips.Scotland has a huge number of outdoor activities and I wanted to take advantage of our time in Oban to explore the coast. My initial idea of diving with basking sharks was met with a quick and swift “no thank you” by my brother and an disapproving glance from Julie, which meant that idea was out (it seriously looks amazing. Ten meter long sharks that only eat plankton and have no teeth. Why not go for a dip with them?).
I eventually settled on kayaking, something that I know Brad has enjoyed while visiting our parents in Amelia Island, so I began my research.There are numerous opportunities, with literally dozens of kayaking companies to choose from. I decided to focus on sea kayaking instead of on the lochs (or lakes in non-Scottish) for something a little more challenging.
I found a company with lots of great reviews on TripAdvisor called Rockhopper Sea Kayaking, based in a small town about a thirty minute drive from Oban, and booked a half day trip for both of us. After visiting the Oban Distillery, we were off to a beach to begin our four hour kayaking trip (I would recommend most people do these two activities in the reverse order, for obvious reasons).
I have been kayaking only once on a small lake and Brad has been a few times in Florida in relatively calm marshland. Sea kayaking is totally different. The fact that we were in the sea, meant the weather, and therefore the waves, were clearly a concern. Also this being Scotland, it rains basically everyday. Julie was unsettled about our ability to successfully navigate this environment. “Try not to die” was the comment when we spoke the morning of the trip. That was reassuring. Of course, the reality was that I had no idea how difficult it would be. Rockhopper officially claims that its trips are suitable for beginners, but you never know until you are strapped in and pushed out onto the water.
We arrived at a small hotel on the water and met our guide Stuart. It was to be just the three of us for the afternoon. He gave us our waterproof jackets and the strange covering for the opening of the kayak that you wear around your waist so you legs do not get wet. For me the disconcerting part was that it meant you were really strapped into the kayak.The idea of flipping the kayak now become a rather frightening idea. “If you flip, just pull the strap and the covering will come off and you will fall out of the kayak” Stuart informed us. Sounds easy, unless you are upside down, strapped into a kayak, under freezing cold water in unfamiliar surroundings. “Try not to die” I told myself. We got settled into the kayaks, Stuart gave us a push, and off we went.Luckily, the weather gods were kind to us, with low winds and the sea was dead flat.
After a few minutes getting comfortable with the paddling and the movement of the kayak, we were off to explore the islands around the area. We were able to kayak to a 12th century castle on an island and walk around the property. The scenery was simply stunning, with dozens of small and large islands, blanketed in bright green grass and dark, severe rock out croppings.
The water was beautiful as well, with complete clarity to about ten to fifteen feet, and a rocky bottom, full of seaweed and large stalks of kelp. At one point, we were surrounded by harbor seals on all four sides, as they followed us for about thirty minutes. One even got a little too close to Brad’s kayak, running into the front of his boat.
As we neared the end of the trip, we did take a journey across the bay where things did get significantly choppier, but the sea kayaks were pretty stable and easy to steer. We had lunch on an island with wild goats and old stone livestock structures from the 14th century, again without a person or boat in sight.We finished our adventure back at the hotel, and spent the last thirty minutes or so in a complete downpour, a little parting gift from the weather gods. The kayaking was amazing, not to mention a solid workout, something I was sorely needing after eating and drinking like Henry VIII for the previous few weeks. Stuart was a great guide, very informative about the surroundings.
It is always nice to talk to a local about the area, picking up funny stories and slang terms as much as possible through the thick Scottish accent. We even discussed the vote this September for Scotland to secede from the UK and become its own country, a hot topic across the British Isles.While I certainly do not consider myself an outdoorsy person, experiences like kayaking are a welcome change from the normal routine of most holidays. We got a new perspective of Scotland from the water, while talking and joking with a local, all while enjoying a little bit of a workout in truly pristine surroundings. Not so bad.