Stand up for MERLIN
United Kingdom Scotland
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It’s done. Hurray! I paddled across Scotland on a stand up paddleboard for MERLIN, the UK’s leading international health charity.
My journey was on the Union and Clyde & Forth Canals that stretch across the country, from Edinburgh Quay to Bowling Basin, to the west of Glasgow. I decided to go east to west due to fresh easterly winds blowing all weekend. The trip was about 66 miles (not 69 as I thought – would you like a refund?) and it took almost 26 hours split over two days rather than three as I'd originally suspected would be necessary.
I left Edinburgh Quay just after 5am on Friday morning, April 29th. One reason for leaving early was to be beyond urban areas before bored youths spotted a new target sport. A few weeks ago, the Edinburgh Evening News ran an article about my intended trip and in response to the online edition one reader wrote: “Good luck for going through Wester Hailes at 3mph – I’d be worried on a jet ski!”, which was very funny, but a couple of incidents while training on the sea made me a bit wary of the confines of the canal and the proximity of potential bottle throwers. In the end, I didn’t have any trouble at all and the hardest looking blokes, hanging out under electricity pylons in Mary Hill, Glasgow with cans of beer and bull terriers wearing big, studded collars just laughed and took photos with their mobiles. They asked where I was going. “Bowling”, the bloke repeated. “Bowling” he said again laughing. I wondered if it was my pronunciation or whether he thought I was just heading down to Ten Pin, but then he said: “Bowling’s flippin miles.” It was, he was right. It was another 11 miles away. Another 3-4 hours paddling. I didn’t say so though: by then I’d just started to feel the end was definitely reachable that day.
On the way I’d paddled over the M8, over the vast Avon Aquaduct, through a 620m tunnel wearing a headtorch, through villages and towns and some pretty countryside. Day one ended and day two started at The Falkirk Wheel, a 35m (115ft) boatlift that replaced a flight of 11 locks to join the lockless, contour Union Canal and the Clyde and Forth Canal; I passed under the massive Erskine Bridge and under bridges so low I had to lie down and I walked round one lock in Glasgow that took me over a pedestrian crossing at a busy junction. With board under one arm, paddle and dry bag in the other hand, I looked straight ahead and crossed the road.
The Clyde and Forth was much more like a river than the Union. It’s wider, prettier, without the constant hum of distant traffic and more rural for the most part. Along both canals the tow paths are hugely popular with cyclists, runners, fishermen, walkers, dawdlers and odd-bods. Apart from moored boats, there were very few other canal users: two barges, one yacht, one power boat, a couple of kayakers and a pair of older couples in two Canadian canoes who’d just set off from Glasgow, bound for Edinburgh. They’d have had fantastic, sunny weather for their 4-day planned trip but with a fairly fresh and constant headwind and one of the women had already stopped paddling. Hope they made it with humour and marriages intact.
Patrick, my fella, was brilliant in his supporting role. He’d drive ahead then kayak or cycle back to meet me or he’d find a sheltered spot and have hot baked-beans, soup, tea or other goodies ready for when I showed up. He made the trip much, much, more fun, handing me a bottle of fizz for the final few meters in Bowling Basin and finding a nice man there with children who threw flowers!
It was a fun trip, the weather was great and so far ca.£1200 has been donated to MERLIN.
Thanks very, very much to everyone who donated and to everyone who showed an interest in this little escapade.
All good wishes,