Friday, 23 October 2009

Saturday, around midday and Ray and I leisurely packing our kayaks on the banks of Loch Lomond at Balmaha. Our friends Sebastien and Lawrence have already set off to prepare the course, John and Evelyne arrive and Tom rings from on the island. We take a slow paddle over to Inchcailloch and start unpacking our kayaks and putting up tents, drinking tea, wandering around the island, telling tall stories and picking sloe berries. Gradually over the next few hours more and more kayakers arrive. As the light fades the excitement mounts. We sort ourselves out into teams of three, Jonathon joins Ray and I. At last we are handed a sheet of paper with the grid references on and the clock starts. There are ten check points, a string with a weight at one end and a light stick and a float at the other. Written on the light stick is the name of a rock band, we have to collect the names and get back within two and a half hours.

We wear a light stick on our BA’s and I have another on my compass, we each have a headtorch but keep it switch off most of the time. The first two check points are quickly found one on Torrinch and one on Creinch followed by an open crossing on a compass bearing, 2km to Inchmoan. On the south side of inchmoan is a large bay, the check point is on the western headland enclosing the bay. We’d deliberately headed for the other side of the bay, so that if we’d strayed off bearing a few degrees either way the check point would still be on our left. Paddling along the shore line was an eerie experience as a misty layer was hiding the beach and making judging distance difficult. Eventually we hit – quite literarily – the other side of the bay. We can’t see the check point; it’s amazingly hard to see a light stick floating in water until your right on top of it. We search both side of the headland, no sign of it, we backtrack, it’s hidden behind a rock. Now we have a fix of out position. The next checkpoint is by the castle on Inchgalbraith, little more than an overgrown crannog less than 50m wide. We take our bearing and head off in line abreast. The headlights of cars on the A82 give away its position; we quickly find the light stick - the Rolling Stones.

Head north until we hit Inchavannach then follow its east side up into the narrows. Here we have a choice; there are check points on the west, east and north sides of Inchconnachan and another on the north side of Inchmoan. The points on Inchmoan and the east of Inchconnachan only have a low score so we decided to skip them. Entering the narrows is like a scene from “Apocalypse now” there are four huge fires; at first I thought it was a forest fire. Each fire is big enough to burn a whole coven of witches. There are many very K-lyed people around, one with a very powerful spotlight. We sprint through and away, back into the darkness.

Different coloured dots of light coming towards us as three groups collide at the check point on the north end of Inchconnachan.
“Who’s that?”
“Is that you Owen?”
“Have you found it yet?”
“It’s over here”.
“What’s it say?”
“The fix-ises”
“Who? Spell it”
“Bugger off Ian”.
“Wasn’t he in Deep Purple?”
“Now that would be different”.
“It’s the Pixies”.
“Oh, who are they then?”

Bucinch, our next check point, over a kilometre away is clearly silhouetted. We paddle across, flat out. How can three people starting off from the same point and heading for the same place end so far apart in such a short time? Eventually we re-group and collect that point and the final one on Inchcruin. All we had to do now was get back to Inchcailloch. Inchfad with its off-layer island Ellanderroch was clear on the horizon. As we paddled past I said “don’t go through the inside channel it’s very shallow” so we went around and promptly all ran aground. We made it back to the campsite with only a small time penalty and came third; the best I ever done.

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