A few days ago my wife took me to the beautiful wee beach at Kilmory on the Kintyre coast between Loch Sween and West Loch Tarbert. It feels like a secret idyll which involves a ten mile journey through some of the finest wooded and coastal landscape that Scotland has to offer. The lovely white sandy beach faces west with the panoply of the Islay and Jura skyline dominating the view across the breezily ruffled Sound of Jura. We had taken a picnic and we settled back to a wonderful few hours under the strengthening early summer sun. It was glorious.
Looking across the ten miles to the Isle of Jura I was reminded of the day last year when I kayaked forty seven miles from Proaig Bothy on Islay via the lifeboat station at Port Askaig, back down the Sound of Islay into the Sound of Jura, across to the mainland and then northwards to Crinan. The day before I had kayaked forty five miles from the Mull of Kintyre to the bothy on Islay. These were to be the longest mileage days of my trip.
I had set off from the bothy at six in the morning and paddled against a gusty wind and the makings of a strong opposing tide. I hopped through the eddys along the shore delighting in the sculpted cliffs mottled with intriguing caves. At my passing, seals sloshed off the rocks into the sea and inquisitively trailed in my wake. Slipping neatly through the swirling tidal waters into Port Askaig I arrived alongside the lifeboat. After a quick scramble ashore to visit the lifeboat station I was soon afloat again keen to make the most of the eastward tide down the Sound of Islay.
With a strengthening following wind and a favourable tide it took me only an hour to paddle the eight miles to the tip of the island of Jura where I turned northwards into the Sound of Jura. Now, as I kayaked along the eastern coastline of the island the wind was on my port beam and as I emerged from the shelter of the various skerries I was almost bowled over by the gusts. The forecast was for strong winds reaching twenty five knots. What had been plain sailing now became something of a struggle, maintaining steady headway while coping with the forceful gusts. Reaching the Small Isles which guard Craighouse Bay I drew deep breaths while I rested and smiled at the antics of the Common Terns and the eponymous Oystercatchers. My plan was to kayak along the Jura coastline to the narrowest point of the Sound and find a camp spot. The next day I would hop across to the mainland and make my way along the north Kintyre coast to Crinan where our yacht, my home, was moored on the canal - and where my wife was waiting.
By the time I reached the open mouth of Lowlandman's Bay the strength of the wind was beginning to really dog me. I began to lose the will to continue and I debated with myself about pulling ashore at the earliest opportunity and calling it a day. There would be no shame in doing this especially while the conditions were like they were. From time to time fierce rain squalls would sweep down on me from the Paps on my left and make life pretty miserable. I plodded on - slow paddle stroke after another. By the time I reached Lagg four miles later, I was about done in and ready to stop.
Then, seemingly from nowhere the decision to make the six mile crossing to the mainland occurred. It was rash and possibly unwise given the strength of the wind but I went for it anyway. I had a desire to spend my night on the mainland with only a few remaining miles to complete before reaching home the next day. What followed was an exhilarating (if frightening) hour and a bit blast across the Sound of Jura to the safe haven of Keill Chapel harbour. The sea heaped up around me and surfed me along. From time to time the odd wave collapsed onto my stern deck and at times my spraydeck causing me to reach out in an urgent brace. I couldn't relax for a second wary of rogue waves which threatened to slap me over. It doesn't do to look behind when kayaking in a large following sea - it is ominously frightening! I made it safely across and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I was finally sitting in the calm waters of the harbour. I set about scanning the shore for a suitable place to camp but could only see watery bog fringing all around. I was worn out but there lay within me the desire to keep going. Looking out I saw the sea smashing itself furiously against the natural rock harbour walls. It seemed fearsome and I really didn't want to head back out into it. I sat still and pondered my situation.
I could camp here. I had camped in worse places. I could paddle further and stop at the next most suitable spot but this was likely to be five miles away. I could keep going all the way to Crinan and then I would be home. I tussled with these choices while around me the wind and the sea roared their advice - egging me onward.
Then it happened - I dug deep into my resources, executed a purposeful sweep with my left paddle blade and headed back out into the wild seas.
Within me the desire to reach home had strongly outweighed my weariness and my respect for the conditions. It was going to be a demanding few hours but I knew I had it within me to cope. I set off for Crinan, counting each mile as I completed them and realising that I was relishing this particular challenge. I was paddling along a lee shore so the conditions were incredibly rough. Despite this I made excellent progress and three hours and ten miles later I was pulling into the relative calmness of Crinan Bay, eventually landing on the slipway at nine in the evening. I unloaded the kayak and was enjoying a welcome glass of beer with my wife in the hotel bar by last orders!
I recalled all of this while sitting on the beach under the warm sun with the light glinting off the calm waters. Before me now, lies another challenge of sorts. I begin my series of ECT (Electro-convulsive Therapy) treatment for my depression and an extended stay in hospital. However I feel I have reached the end of my tether with hospital life and I am definitely ready to return home. It feels to me that I can't take much more of this - the confined space, communal living, regemented routines and being indoors instead of out. Yet the goal of recovering from my depression is extremely attractive and seems after such a long time (years in fact) to be within my reach. It's there if I can stay the course - if I will stay the course.
I'm sure you can see the link - all I have to do to achieve this is to dig deep, head onward and take my chance while I have it. The reward is plain to see.