paddling the length of Scotland's longest river

Photography by Rupert Shanks

Anyone who’s spent time in Scotland understands the potential peril of the weather in the Highlands but, as if the gods themselves were welcoming us back out of lockdown, our team was blessed with a week of near flawless weather! Hiking to locate the river’s source in the Grampian mountains under perfect blue skies, the team then paddled in packrafts the full length of Scotland’s longest river to its mouth in Perth on the east coast.

We caught up with one of our teammates Anna to hear how it went.

So who are you – what does normal life look like for you currently and where are you based?

My name is Anna Fuschia Scott and I’m currently living in Glasgow. I was brought up in Orkney and spent a lot of my life outdoors. My ‘normal’ life consists of playing in a punk band, working in a bar and going to University where I study Anthropology and Linguistics. I have just finished a year of learning the Gàidhlig language too!

And what attracted you to this expedition initially?

Well, my fiancé was brought up in the Sates and we wanted to explore more of Scotland together, he was the one to actually find the trip. The very idea of seeing Scotland from the perspective of the longest river was enough for me to jump at the chance. I had travelled beside the river Tay and even swam in it, but one thing I had never done was travel down it. 

Had you ever done anything like this before?

I have done a few trips around the world, Mongolia, Russia and South Africa to names few of the big ones, and as a child my mum would take us all over Scotland. 

However, packrafting was a whole new experience for us. I hadn’t actually heard of them until I saw the itinerary! 

Did you have any paddling experience before this?

I have done sea-kayaking in Orkney and canoed with friends before but with a much more loosey goosey approach. This was very different from my previous experiences with more time on the water.

How did you find the paddling?

Demanding. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Part of the of fun of this trip was pushing ourselves and finding we’re able to go further than we thought, which is a pleasant surprise especially after a year in lockdown. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to take in your surroundings.

What was the most challenging part of the trip for you?

I did end up getting tendinitis in my wrist, so make sure you are nice and strong for Loch Tay. Tom, our amazing expedition leader, told us on the Loch that we would question our life decisions… and he wasn’t wrong. We faced a head wind which had us paddling in what felt like treacle for nine hours!

What were your highlights?

We had the best weather for the trip! As someone who grew up here I can wholeheartedly say it was a complete fluke. We managed to get the one week of summer, and, to put the icing on the cake? In the evenings the wind would pick up just enough to deter the vicious midges. 

Which leads me on to the camping part of our trip. What a wonderful way to get to know your team: when you have pruned feet and blisters on your hand there is nothing better than a laugh and a hot cup of tea. I absolutely loved our group. 

We saw salmon jumping, highland cows bathing and swallow sand nests. We saw spectacular sunsets and I went swimming in the evening. 

How did you find mixing the two elements of the expedition – hiking and paddling?

The hike up Beinn a’Chlèibh was a wonderful way to get to know the team. The sky was clear and so we got a wonderful 360 view of the surrounding area. Its also where the river starts, giving you great context. 

So tell us more about the camping, what was that like?

Tom was amazing at getting hot water quickly, by the end of it everyone had a routine and could set up swiftly. I would suggest bringing a set of spare shoelaces as this makes a great clothes line for drying your wet gear in the night. Double bag your sleeping kit and your evening clothes, you really want to be warm in the evening as the temperature dips. We’d be up early to set off in the morning each day.

How did it feel finishing the expedition after the week?

Like I wanted to get straight back out and do it all over again!

So, what’s next for you?

Next for me is upgrading my touring bike and doing a solo trip up to the top of Scotland. I’d like to thank all the wonderful team at Secret Compass for their great service and amazing trip. I would recommend them to anyone looking for a bit more than a holiday by the pool.