It is very hard to describe this - superlatives aplenty, but really only one word sums it up - FANTASTIC! Set in the glorious surroundings of the Gaelic College overlooking the Sound of Sleat, with views towards Lochs Hourn and Nevis, and Mallaig forming a glittering background at night, some 300 people took part in this event! (Some 160 ish paddlers, partners, exhibitors and Symposium staff).
The sight of so many sea-kayaks gathered in one place was astounding, with people having traveled vast distances to be there. Hosted by Gordon Brown of Skyak and his team, they pulled off the difficult task of organising so many possible activities that it was impossible to attend them all. For the first time in my life I found myself with so many choices that I wanted to be in at least three places at any one time.
Opting for the Forward Paddling session on Saturday morning, I spent a happy session on the water in the company of Sean, Pete and others while we all experimented and practiced a variety of techniques - the style was relaxed and friendly and the coaching style heavily biased towards self-discovery and peer observation and feedback. Excellent.
That afternoon I went on the "half-day" paddle across a misty, bumpy sea from Ord to visit the Spar cave on the Strathaird peninsular - having forgotten both my camera and my torch, sadly I have no pictures but the memory of the wonderful majestic cliffs leading into the Spar cave more than made up for not being able to explore the cave! This isn't a cave that you paddle into - it's a big cave that rewards the troglodyte. Well worth a visit.
Saturday evening found lots of us enjoying a traditional Scottish ceileidh, complete with Dashing White Sergeants, Strip the Willow and other favourites. There were many kilts in evidence on a very crowded and energetic dance floor.
Sunday wasn't a day of rest - opting to spend the day on the Tidal Paddling session, a period of theory and planning was put into practical use on the moving water of Kyle Rhea - again, a very practical coaching style led by Nigel and Doug produced lots of self-learning and the odd wet paddler. Another convivial evening followed with new friendships made over a pint or three, and many old friendships re-kindled.
Monday morning dawned with the best of the weather, and Incident Management proved a good way of learning new skills and developing old ones in the company of Nigel - spare spray decks were magic'd from "no-where", lost hatches replaced, holed boats repaired and those of us unlucky enough to "suffer" a coronary were looked after and "rescued" in fine style.
Those folk who had to leave the Symposium for their (in some cases long) journeys home had to miss what was, for me, the highlight of the weekend. After lunch, the gathering crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of the Coast Guard helicopter - touching down in the College car-park, it was a wonderful sight to see and a very impressive machine. Later that afternoon, it proved just how impressive it was as it's pilot and crew treated us to the experience of a raft of some 25 or so kayaks being blown across the water by its downdraft before we were allowed to play in the downdraft as it hovered at 40 ft! Awesome.
Staffed by some of the best known coaches and sea paddlers in the UK, this event has got to be one of the premier sea-kayaking gatherings and if you've not been, you need to go to the next one!
The Symposium offered a busy progamme - sea trips, lectures, presentations, and a massive range of coaching / learning opportunities, all facilitated by some excellent people. Fantastic scenery, friendly paddling people and a wide range of exhibitors and retailers all combined to make it a huge success. Good food for those choosing to eat in the College restaurant and a convivial meeting place of an evening were all on offer. The College provided accommodation for many while others camped in the grounds, used local hotels, B&B, rented cottages or stayed at the nearby Youth Hostel.
Despite less than fantastic weather for the early part of the weekend, everyone had a wonderful time and I personally left having had one of the best kayaking weekends ever - and wishing I could have stayed to join the many who extended their break over the remainder of the week, or longer.
It was good to meet so many of the people who contribute to and use UKSKGB - too many to mention individually - also lovely to meet and paddle with the guys and girls of the Haarlem Kayak Club from the Netherlands, Simon Willis, Douglas Wilcox and Kevin Mansell. Which meant that the webmasters/editors of all the major UK sea kayaking websites were all in the same place at the same time!
Finally, the active involvement of the Coast Guard, and especially the expertise and professionalism of the crew of the Rescue Helicopter have to be applauded.
Simon Willis very kindly sent me some of his pictures of Stac Pollaidh "in action" - click each thumbnail below for the original.
Mike Buckley - June, 2005
Click here to link to Multimap for the area.