We're heading back out on expedition

As for everyone else, adventure has been largely off the cards for us in the last year with most of our planned expeditions forced to be cancelled. But this month marks our return to the wild and it feels so good to be back.

We designed The River Tay expedition with one main criteria in mind: authentic adventure close to home. So we took all the usual ingredients of our epic expeditions and applied them to a destination which wouldn’t rely on complex travel arrangements and that we could run in line with the latest covid-19 restrictions. Make no mistake though, this is no easy ride.

So what can the this year’s Scotland team expect?

We ran the inaugural River Tay expedition in 2020 and since then we’ve refined the route and the plan slightly to maximise reward. From the summit of Ben Lui – considered by many to be the finest munro in the Southern Highlands, its five craggy ridges meeting at the 1130m summit – the team will locate the source of Scotland’s longest river.

From the source, they’ll follow the first trickles of this mighty river on foot, until it’s volume is enough to be paddled. From here, they’ll be packrafting through some of the country’s most rugged and breath taking scenery to its tidal limit at Perth.

Paddling through huge locks and in the shadows of the surrounding munros there’ll be plenty of time to enjoy the grandeur of the epic scenery. But the journey will be punctuated by a range of rapids – some of which will be portaged like the infamous Falls of Dochart or Grandtully rapids.

Versatile and robust, these expedition-strength inflatable boats allow explorers to navigate the landscape in a dynamic way on and off the river. The perfect vehicle for river descents, and fully packable, they’re perfect for hiking over mountains with too. If the rapids become too serious, the water to shallow or the wind too strong, the team will simply deflate the rafts, strap them and the paddles onto their backs and continue on foot before conditions are suitable again.

Mountains climbed and rapids conquered, the team will paddle directly into Perth, the tidal limit of the River Tay, on the afternoon of Day 7. Here it’s time for a well earned hot meal, a shower and a comfortable bed and to reflect on the shared adventure the team will have just experienced.

Meet the Leader

Who’s leading this year’s River Tay expedition from Secret Compass, we hear you ask? Tom Mclay is well accomplished expedition kayaker and river guide having taken on some of the world’s most challenging waterways from the Humla Karnali in Western Nepal, the Yangtze river of China to the Grand Canyon of the Stikine in British Columbia. For Secret Compass he’s led expeditions to Madagascar, Burma, Gabon and Sudan.

So before we do head back out, we thought we’d check in with Tom to hear how he’s been preparing to get back out on exped and what he’s most looking forward to from this journey along the length of the Tay.

Hey Tom, what’s the last year been like for you during the Pandemic?

Life during the pandemic has been bit of a rollercoaster for many of us. From the lows of treating scores of Covid patients and the anxiety about transmitting covid to other vulnerable patient groups; to the highs of riding my mountain bike daily on dusty, empty trails and seeing the wildlife around my house flourish. At times I felt like the king of Gwydir forest!

Have you still managed many paddling trips – local or otherwise?

Overseas paddling trips have been a bit of a challenge but I have been fortunate enough to be working on a TV series which includes a couple of river based expeditions so have been to Russia and Gabon and have run some great rivers. I made some great new friends and we saw stacks of incredible wildlife too.

How does it feel to be getting back to leading expeds?

I’m really excited to get the opportunity to meet new people and help them have a proper adventure. Everyone has been craving time outdoors, exercising & enjoying themselves so I’m really happy to facilitate that!

What are you most looking forward to about the Scotland expedition?

I really love the ‘journeying’ element of this exped; Packing just the essentials as we travel both on foot and by packraft East across Scotland, seeing the wilderness from river level and feel the river grow under our boats. Multiday river trips are by far my favourite way to travel, essentially it’s a camping trip combined with doing something fun everyday!

How should teammates be preparing to get back to adventure after lockdown?

Everyone is eager to get back to adventure but it’s important to remember it’s not a race, take it steady and set tangible goals. Keep your skills sharp; there are stack of online tutorials for everything from navigation to wilderness cuisine and streamline your kit for your next mission!

What do you foresee as the biggest challenges for the Scotland team and how can they overcome it?

Midgies; I urge everyone on the team to get a headnet.

This spring we have seen some really changeable weather with Scotland having had an incredible ski season with great touring well into the start of May. The weather can really make or break any trip so keep your expectations realistic dress appropriately and I’m sure it will deliver!

What’s lined up for the rest of the year?

I haven’t planned too far ahead as my wife Hannah is due to give birth to our first child in August which is very exciting! However, I have some work back in Snowdonia plus planning a kayaking trip with good friends somewhere exotic around going kayaking and mountain biking as much as possible.

We can’t wait to share with you how our first expedition of 2021 goes, so keep an eye out on our social media accounts and on the journal for the highlights as they land.

If you missed your spot on the 2021 River Tay expedition, stay tuned for news dropping soon!