RaftRun the Wilderness: Full Coast to Coast Foot Traverse of Scotland, West to East.

Mallig to Inverness. 4 days. 115 miles. Two legs. One raft. An epic new bucket list adventure from Rat Race Adventure Sports.

Come gather in my lungs Scottish wind
Belt out your blackest poems
As the sea around you sings
When that drone takes to the air
A single note to raise my hair
Carry songs beyond my lungs
Cold Scottish wind
— Frightened Rabbit - Scottish Winds
I don’t have any words for this image. I took it on day three. It still hurts to look at it.

I don’t have any words for this image. I took it on day three. It still hurts to look at it.

Sometimes, sitting down to write these blogs, when you’re home warm, safe and dry, you find everything you remember about your experience rose tinted and misty eyed. You forget the bits where you had to dig deep, you forget the insane wind and freezing cold, the strops, the elevation and the times you honestly wished for a second that you were somewhere else. You actually cannot work out why you feel totally exhausted when you have just come back from something that you loved so, so much. It takes some time to piece together the realities of a trip. But the reality really is that this one was completely spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, it WAS hard work. It was epic. But it was the sort of adventure that truly shows you what living is about. Scotland may well be just up to road from me as far as bucket list adventures go, but make no mistake, this IS bucket list, This IS something that most people would never think possible. Scotland is one of the most beautiful and humbling places on earth. This IS life affirming. This is the adventure of a lifetime. 

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This was another test pilot event for Rat Race. This will hopefully go on to become one of their flagship bucket list experiences for a reason. Because it is incredible. The idea was that we would attempt to make our way from Mallig on the west coast of Scotland to Inverness on the east coast, looking to cover around 110-115 miles in 4 days. We would do this on foot (running/hiking) and on water (using packrafts, which we would carry and inflate/deflate as necessary). We would sleep at night in a mix of bothy’s (rudimentary mountain shelters), pubs, tents and hotels.  A marathon a day or thereabouts seemed very do-able to me. We would definitely have time to relax, eat, drink and sing a nice song around a campfire every night. This one was going to be a doddle, I thought. I can be such an idiot sometimes. 

 Side note: Please note that some of the locations and mileage are not 100% accurate here – that’s because this is a bespoke route, some of which won’t be in the final public event. There are also some things we need to keep under wraps, like a shit version of the SAS. Most of the info that I have pulled comes from my GPX files and will differ slightly from other people’s GPX files, as none of this was straightforward trails and rivers don’t run in straight lines etc. So pedants step down  - oh and get a cuppa, it’s a long one. 

The Prologue 

I arrived at Fort William the day before we started the recee and stayed in an amazing backpacker hostel - big up Fort William Backpackers. Amazing place. The weather was mental good, so trainers went straight on and I trotted out for a pre-match run. It was so warm I ended up taking my top off and running in a sports bra – something that has literally never happened to anyone running in Scotland ever. I took a route out towards Inverlochy, spending 8 miles trotting along the river, chatting to the occasional deer and some sheep and my favourite friends the river otters.  It was completely blissful. I was very aware of being lulled into a false sense of security weather-wise. This would not last. 

View from my little Saturday run was “ok”.

View from my little Saturday run was “ok”.

The next day I met up with our crew and got a lift up to Mallig where we would start the recee on the Monday morning.  Our crew consisted of team leader Gary Tompsett – architect of adventure and extremely experience trail and fell runner, Stuart and Graeme, our drivers, support crew and entertainment for the week and Andy Toop – packraft expert and all round wonderful human. We were later joined by the other test pilots, Andrew, Tucker, Anneli, Joanna and Dave and our two (spoiler: soon to be one) videographers Handsome Pete Rees ™ and Tubby Jogger James Appleton ™.  Jim “the bulldozer” Mee was the final person to join the squad. This was the full team for our epic coast to coast crossing. 

 On the way to Mallig we stopped to play packrafts. We would be using Alpacka rafts – top of the range, bomb proof, scratch proof and Bailey/idiot proof. You can even put a doggo in them! Andy pulled them out the back of the van and we had a go at inflating and deflating them, using what looked like a canvas pillow. This was going to be a faff. And I hate faff. I had no idea how many times we would have to do this. It was one raft each, plus paddle, plus lifejacket and we would have to carry all this stuff on our backs. As well as our packs. For the first day at least, this was going to make them heavy, and as we were sleeping in a bothy on the first night, we would need overnight gear (mat, sleeping bag, warm gear) as well as food, water and emergency kit. That’s a lot of stuff. 

First inflation done!

First inflation done!

 I had opted for the UD45 as my pack – it says 45 but takes 50 litres. It’s like a tardis. And it’s waterproof. Looking at everyone else’s packs got me slightly worried – they were all a lot bigger than mine. I have a strange confidence in my packing ability but wondered if I had made a massive mistake. I wouldn’t know until I packed it all at the hotel. 

Andy taught us how to inflate and deflate the rafts, how to roll them and unroll them, temper them on the river and how to attach our packs safely to the front when we were in them. He’s ace, is Andy. He made me feel like this was something I might actually be able to do.  We paddled around on the River Morar for a bit. Seemed fun. I wondered how fun it would be after 4 hours. By the end of the session I felt pretty confident I would fall out of the boat at least three times. I wondered how waterproof the UD packs actually were. Turns out the answer to this is VERY.  Little before and after below.

That night we stayed in the weirdest hotel in the world in Mallig. I swear to god it was like a slightly updated Fawlty Towers. The staff were borderline insane and hilarity ensued, but it was a bed and a pretty cosy one at that. At dinner we were briefed, told to pack our bags and also told that we would set off at the very comfy time of 8am the following day. A veritable lie in! It was really brilliant getting to spend some time with the other victims, sorry PARTICIPANTS, on the trip too. Everyone seemed brilliant if not a little nervous. 

Day One – Mallig to Invergarry 

 We got up at 6am to rain. What a surprise! I had packed my kit the night before and, after a massive fried breakfast where we all stole handfuls of tiny nutellas for the journey, we set off for Invergarry – approximately (allegedly) 24 miles away – where we would spend the night in a bothy. It had been agreed beforehand that the pace of the group would basically be “fast hike”. There wasn’t to be a lot of running today regardless. My pack weighted 15kg and was the lightest in the group. I had NAILED the packing light mostly thanks to previous experience of carrying a shit load of stuff I just didn’t need. The first part of the day saw us trekking about 5 miles uphill in the rain, along small roads to the first deployment point for the boats. 

 There was a bit of boat-faff blowing them up – this was the first time we had done it on our own, but after 40 mins or so we were all on the water. Boat-faff was defo going to add hours onto the day. It was something I planned to get down to a fine art. 

Boat Faff. A necessary evil.

Boat Faff. A necessary evil.

The first water section saw us paddling over Loch Morar which is the deepest freshwater body of water in the British Isles, with a maximum depth of 310 m (1,017 ft). Baby Nessie lives there apparently. No idea how she affords the mortgage. This was a long paddle, but totally stunning. I was using muscles that I don’t actually have, and my technique was awful, but the rhythmic paddling was actually pretty relaxing and time went by very fast. Every now and again we would stop and have something to eat, and then keep going.  After about 9 miles we parked up and defalted the rafts in the awesomely named Swordland. A land of Vikings and small farmhouses and not much else.  It was at this point that we got the news that Handsome Pete ™ had taken a tumble on a wet rock and fractured his finger. It was defo pointing the wrong way.  Classic Pete. Pete was out of the game, and had to walk back however many miles to the support crew and get himself to hospital. It was now down to James alone to make us all look better at doing this shit than we actually were. Tough ask. Pete’s diagnosis was a spiral fracture in his hand  -  not great for a videographer with a new baby. Get well soon, Pete!

After deflating the rafts and strapping them in a pretty haphazard way to our packs, we trotted off up the ‘hill’ towards Tarbet, where we would once again blow them up and set off down Loch Nevis. Now, there is an option to NOT deflate them here and try and carry them fully inflated on your back. I would not recommend this technique on cliffs. Not sure Tucker would either. 

 Once we got to a suitable launch point, we once again inflated the raft and after stuffing my face with cold Peppa Pig pasta shapes, started to paddle again. This was a really heavy paddling day and progress was slow. It was not helped by the fact that there was a weird wind which was less behind us, more all over us. Paddling into it was pretty punchy and I was already getting tired from carrying the pack and all the paddling I’m just not used to. I was also hungry. We hadn’t stopped for and official lunch and whilst snacks are great, I was definitely in calorie deficit. My bad, I should have insisted we stop for real food. By the time we had got another 6 miles down the sea loch I was totally knackered and starting to lose my sense of humour. The rain had been on and off all day too. I was a bit cold, very wet and worst of all, hangry. We did see a seal, though. He was fun. 

The pictures above give you an idea of conditions once of the rafts. Panama anyone?? It was at this point I started asking about distance. Gary told us is was “about 15km” to the bothy. Bear in mind all these distances are done on as-the-crow-flies guess work. I tend to take distance to heart, and so set myself up mentally for 9 miles. I could do that. I could. It was getting quite late – by this point it was around 4 pm. We had no real idea what the terrain in front of us would be like. 

Packs back on, we started walking towards some pretty large hills. I say hills, I am pretty sure they were munros. Gary will tell me off for that, I’m sure. Everyone was knackered, but getting on with the job in hand. I started to get a bit worried about Dave. He seemed a bit spaced out and sketchy. Then I remembered Rob in Panama. I asked Dave how much water he had drunk. Turns out he hadn’t. He didn’t want to drink water in the boat in case he needed to wee. I felt like punching him (in a nice way - sorry Dave!). I refilled my water bottle from a stream and made him take in a litre. I knew it would be a while before he felt anything like OK again, so kept an eye on him. Andy was also on it. We formed a little support crew around him, with all of us checking he was OK every mile or so, making him eat and drink.

About 3 miles into the trek it began to get dark. The terrain was getting more and more wild and remote, and it was hard going underfoot with most of the trails being rivers or bogs or sometimes both.  Our packs were very heavy. We were very tired. We’d been on our feet for about 13 hours at this point, and it was time to put our headtorches on. We could hear deer waking up for a pleasant evening of rutting. There were bats and owls. There was also a massive fuck off hill to get over. 

Gary seemed to be playing a fun game I will call “Gary’s Numberwang”.  When we asked how much further we had to go, a seemingly random number would pop out of his mouth. Because I was hungry and irrational, this started to get on my nerves. All of this is my own fault. I was too hungry. I should have made everyone stop and taken 20 mins to eat a proper pack of food. But I wanted today to be over as much as anyone else. Gary was doing his best to navigate and get the numbers right – I was just being a snappy little rat. 

The “hill” we came down on Monday night. Photo taken the morning after.

The “hill” we came down on Monday night. Photo taken the morning after.

It was pitch black as we ascended the rather large hill. Looking back, maybe it was good that it was dark, because I couldn’t see how high it was. There were definite echoes of Panama here. I felt exhausted and frustrated. I just wanted to lie down and eat. We stopped every now and again waiting for people to catch up. We all had our eyes on Dave to make sure he was doing ok. We continued up, well over 9 miles. And we were still going up. It was raining and cold. And we were still on day one. 

I gave up asking about how far. The words “1.8km” had been muttered about 29 times by this point. Eventually we descended a horrendous rutted track (probably quite good fun without a pack and 14 hours in our legs) until finally we reached a flat piece of road that led to the bothy. Now it was negotiation time. If there were people sleeping in the bothy, we would have to negotiate getting us all in. We left that to Gary. He went in first and came out telling us that yes there was room but sadly I would have to go in with a dog. YES! THE DAY WAS SAVED!

 It was now 11.30pm. We got the stoves on and heated up food outside. I went into the living area and started trying to sort my kit, but I was exhausted and couldn’t concentrate. I was very slow but very diligent, making sure I put on warm clothes, separated my wet clothes and sorted my feet. If my feet went wrong, it was game over. They were constantly wet so they needed to be looked after. I was now so hungry that I wasn’t really hungry at all, but managed to get a Wayfarer pack down my neck. James gave me a bit of his chocolate orange. James is the best. At about 1am, we fell onto the wooden shelves of the bothy and slept. We had about 4 broken hours until it was time to get up again. 

Our bothy for the night. It had a toilet which is very fancy. Photo taken the next morning obviously…..

Our bothy for the night. It had a toilet which is very fancy. Photo taken the next morning obviously…..

 Day Two – Invergarry – Glenshiel Bridge

 After 4 hours fractured sleep, Jim woke me up at 5am. I’d got changed into my fresh kit the night before to ensure minimal faff in the morning. I went outside for hot water and porridge. The sun was rising over the mountains we had descended the night before. It was breath-taking. It was a clarifying moment. All was not lost. For that moment, I stood in silence, the only person in the most beautiful place on earth. 

 We repacked our bags and rafts and regrouped. Today was going to be much of the same, but the lack of rain that morning, and the fact that this evenings accommodation was a hotel buoyed us, and we set off, trekking at a decent pace. It was only about 2 miles to the deployment point for the rafts. We would be rafting down Loch Hourn towards Kinlochourn where we would battle with a big old trek that took us up a Munro known as The Saddle. But there was light relief in that before we started on the up, we would be meeting the support drew who would take the rafts from our packs and put them in the van. WE WOULD HAVE NO RAFTS! I knew the lack of weight from that point would make today so much easier. 

Classic trek photo, day two.  Photo Andy Toop.

Classic trek photo, day two. Photo Andy Toop.

The surroundings were other wordly in their beauty. Sunlight lit up the heathers and grasses on either side of us. They were red and yellow and looked like fox fur bowing in the wind. Silence was everywhere.  We were now in one of the most remote places on the British Isles. We saw nobody. The loch looked like it was made of glass, which made for an easy paddle. I ate properly, snacking whenever I could. The weather was ideal. Sunny and bright with a wind behind us. I enjoyed every second of calm and peace. I felt genuinely happy. I’d found my stride. 

That glassy Loch.  Photo Andy Toop.

That glassy Loch. Photo Andy Toop.

We paddled for a good 2 or 3 hours, and then like a beautiful beacon of wonder and joy there were the support crew (note – Stuart Smith has NEVER been descried like that before). They had laid out hot water and coffee, crisps and biscuits. We were reunited with our vehicle bags so we could change from our cold wet clothes into something warm and clean. I ate about 57 bags of crisps and 19 jaffa cakes and got changed. Dumping some the weight from the bag was amazing. I felt like I could take on the world. We started the walk towards the Munro full of promise. A stag stared at us from across a field. This was the life I wanted to be living. 

The lads.  Photo Andy Toop.

The lads. Photo Andy Toop.

I felt brilliant. I felt strong and confident. I knew that I could run this if I wanted to. We stayed together. I tried to keep a 4mph walking pace going but every now and again would stop and wait for the rest of the crew, taking in the overarching beauty of the place we were in. Some people never get to experience total immersion in nature. We were so lucky. 

 The ascent up began – we could see where we were headed. We were all making sure to drink enough water and snack, and we just kept on, heads down, up the mountain. We could see some weather. It was coming for us. We needed to get up and over before it swept in. Here are some views of some weather. And that ascent. The Loch in the pictures is the one we paddled in on.

We made a group decision to skirt the bottom of The Saddle. We were getting slower as a group and the lack of sleep was starting to show. As we reached the top, (well our top) the heads of the five sisters emerged before us. It was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Beautiful, strange and humbling. And then the rain came. And with it, the wind. 

The Five Sisters loom large. One of the best views in the world.

The Five Sisters loom large. One of the best views in the world.

We started to make our way down towards Glenshiel Bridge as a mini Scottish storm hit, complete with sideways winds and proper spiky rain. I made the mistake of thinking it would blow over, so waited at least 30 minutes too long before putting my waterproof trousers on. There were no paths, just steep bogs to negotiate, as rain continued to hit us from all directions.  The wind made our wet kit cold, and I was desperate to run to warm up. I hit on a 4.5 mile and hour march and kept my head down until we got to the valley below. It afforded very little in the way of shelter, and it was just a case of keeping on. As the clock hit 6pm, we all realised that once again we would be walking into almost darkness. We crossed bogs and rivers with the Munros towering above us. Everyone wanted to get to the dry and warm of the hotel as quickly as possible. It was too wet to take photos. After 3 hours of descent, we got to a road and on that road was the Kintail Hotel. The euphoria we felt upon reaching the front door was pretty obvious to not only us, but the staff and customers in the bar. Everyone looked at us like we were mental.  The hotel was amazing – with a dry room for wet kit and big rooms with loads of radiators and heating. Perfect for getting kit dry. 

 That night we showered, ate huge meals and had a couple of beers. We also got briefed for the next day. And we did a bad thing. We looked at the weather. It looked AWFUL. Heavy rain was forecast all night and it looked like we had about 34 miles to do the following day in much of the same. I felt myself slipping into a negative thought cycle. I love a negative thought cycle. How would we march out those miles when it had taken us 15 hours to do about 27 miles the day before?  If we were running it, I could see a way, but we weren’t running. Our accommodation for the following night was a campsite. How would we get warm and dry if we had been out in hammering rain and wind all day? Would we be able to stick at it as a team? Classic doubts and worry. Bailey catastrophising at its best. As we went to sleep that night, we could hear the wind whipping around the walls that sheltered us, and the rain relentlessly hammering at the windows. 

Day 3 – Glenshiel Bridge – Cannich

Another 5am wake up call. YAY. We were to be on the road for 6am. The room was like a sauna where we had desperately tried to dry our clothes. The hotel had very kindly made us a breakfast of cheese sandwiches, crisps, an alpen bar and a banana. A lunch breakfast. It was YUM. I filled up on coffee and put on all my waterproof kit. Overnight a miracle had happened. It wasn’t raining. It was windy, but it WASN’T RAINING!

6.15am, Glenshiel Bridge.

6.15am, Glenshiel Bridge.

We set of at 6.02am. We were all in good spirits – a shower and a decent bed meant that we had rested and we were warm. We started out at a good pace, marching along the Kintail trail, back out into the wilderness of Scotland. This was my favourite day. It was equal parts brutal and beautiful. Four seasons in a day, over and over again. The rain swept across the hills – you could see it coming and going. The sun burst open onto spaces miles ahead only to be chased away by the 40 mph winds. Highland cows grazed and ignored us. Rain washed sheep stared at us in mock horror. It was heaven on earth.

The wilds of Scotland opened up before us and it was more beautiful that I could have ever imagined. We trekked through huge waterfalls, the wind blowing the water up, on top and over us. We stopped in on an amazing little bothy about 8 miles in and ate snacks, all of us making plans to return and stay there one day. We hiked tracks that had turned to fast flowing rivers. We passed the most remote Youth Hostel in the UK, all of us willing it to be open to serve tea and coffee. It wasn’t. As the day progressed, the weather cleared. Rainbows lit up the sides of the Munros and we trekked along at a good pace, chatting and sharing stories, all of us overawed at the landscape, brutality and scale of Scotland at her best.

In my favourite place . Photo Andy Toop

In my favourite place. Photo Andy Toop

And then it happened. My phone buzzed. We had come back into the land of signal. This actually made me very, very sad. 

 It was sunny now as we climbed towards the support vehicles. As the path rose, the water below us was lit up in multiple colours to reveal my favourite view of the trip. Loch Affric stretched out below us, and on the shore a tiny cabin with a grass roof, the roof blowing in the wind. I just stared at it. I just wanted to take it all in and never forget it. This is my views. The one I will take everywhere with me.  

Here. Just here.

Here. Just here.

We kept trekking for another few miles and reached the support crew who had laid us out the BEST LUNCH EVER. All the stuff. ALL OF IT. Meat, cheese, crackers, wraps, coffee, tea, NAILED IT. No pickles though guys. I mean COME ON. Everyone loves a gherkin. Lunch with a view. Poo in a proper toilet. Wonderful. A debate had started about whether or not we could actually raft today. It was windy and we had a good stretch ahead of us. Secretly (or not so secretly) I would have been pretty happy to pack in the rafting (LOL). I was having the best time trotting along and, having no upper body strength at all, my arms were knackered. I had a couple of little blisters on my hands too (poor little princess) and was so over inflating and deflating Darkness. (I named my raft Darkness – just so I could sing “Hello darkness my old friiiiiend” whenever I got it out.) Me and Darkness had quite a volatile relationship. As much as we needed each other, we hated each other.

My nice afternoon walk was not to be. Apparently, the water “looked good” and we were game on. We (reluctantly) grabbed our rafts, snacks and started the trek down to Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin. Trips of the tongue, that one, doesn’t it. We had a good few hours on here and it was a choppy one. The weather held out, the wind pushed us along and after a few miles we could see the dam that marked the end of the loch, signalling the start of a 6 mile hike to the campsite, where the crew had already set up our tents. As we came in at the end of a loch a rainbow appeared. We glided underneath it. It was magical. 

Somewhere under the rainbow.

Somewhere under the rainbow.

With spirits once again high, we set a really good pace for the last 6 miles of the day. We had been promised pizza and the campsite had showers and a dry room for our wet gear. It also had a TV room for us to hang out and eat in - a massive bonus. We were greeted by our amazing crew and a bottle of whiskey. Being cold and tired was soon forgotten, and we spent the evening eating pizza, drinking beers and getting ready for the last day. The day that would take us to the end of our epic trip and into Inverness. 

Day 4 - Cannich – Inverness

 Another day, another 5am wake up call. I’d slept really well in the tent and again, the trick of getting my kit on the night before meant  little to no faff in the morning. Feet lubed, new socks and new dry trainers, porridge and tea (WE HAD RUN OUT OF COFFEE NOOOOO!!!) and we were on the road at 6am, somehow setting a pace of 4.5 mph as we headed towards Drumnadrochit for our final paddle up Loch Ness. We were back in the land of phone signal, cars and people. It made me sad. I had loved being in the middle of nowhere for so long. I need to do that more often. Now the signposted paths, people walking their dogs and cars were an unwelcome sight. (OK not the dogs. Just the people and cars). I just wanted to be back in the squalling rain on the hills. Maybe I was over romanticising it. I dunno. We followed the paths up to the viewpoint above Drumnadrochit and it started to become obvious that our journey was coming to an end. I really didn’t want it to. The team that we had here were so great. Everyone had supported and taken care of each other. Having a group of people that don’t know each other from Adam get on so well and look after each other so well, a rare and brilliant thing in an otherwise divisive world. I didn’t want this to be the final leg. 

There she is - Loch Ness looms.

There she is - Loch Ness looms.

After another epic tea break from the support crew, we packed up our rafts one more time and walked the 2 miles down to the Loch. I decided to forgive Darkness. I had decided I quite liked him.  He still wasn’t a fan of my technique and constantly thought my lack of care inflating him meant he was going to sink. I think he was just insecure.

 Loch Ness is a funny one. First off, it’s massive. It’s 23 miles long and about a mile and a half across in some places. It’s so big that it could fit all the freshwater in England and Wales into it. All the water. Even the toilet water. It’s so big that it has its own tides and its own weather system. It even has its own lifeboat service. Sometimes it rains in the middle of the Loch and nowhere else. And you can see it happening. And it is awesome. Plus, apparently there are some big eels or something in there. 

Ready for the final paddle.

Ready for the final paddle.

We got in, and after a quick fly by of Urquhart Castle, we started paddling east towards Inverness. We stayed close to the shore to allow the bigger boats and loch traffic space and minimise the wind. The wind was behind us, and even close to the shore that meant that we flew along. Some of the waves were pretty big – it was like being in the sea. I really wished I was technically good enough to be able to ride them properly. I just made do with my not-falling-out-strategy, one that I had been employing with great success for the last few days. Huge fish jumped out ahead of us and people gawped from the banks. It felt pretty epic, being allowed to raft down Loch Ness. It felt pretty special. 

Choppy Loch Ness.

Choppy Loch Ness.

After a couple of stops (one of which saw our ultra-experience navigation master Gary fall out of his raft) we could see the end of Loch Ness. We pulled up on a little beach for a ‘quick chat’. It would appear that I had been tricked into doing a bit of white-water rafting. Not a grown-up bit, a baby bit, but still a bit. The idea of this scared the shit out of me. 

 The river was fast flowing, and we made our way to the crew point, just before it got really choppy. We floated past a weir. I felt sick. We got out and refuelled. By this point we were REALLY cold and wet. I opted not to get changed. I was definitely going to get even wetter. 

 This was it – the final paddle into Inverness and the completion of our journey. Andy was amazing. He’s got 20 years’ experience doing this stuff, but his brief filled me with dread. I tried to imagine it was the safety brief you get on a plane – they tell you to prepare for the worst and it never happens right? You’ll never hear the word brace like you’ll never get the bag of rope thrown at you. He talked about what happens if you come out of the raft and showed us how to ferry cross the water against the tide. It was agony for me and my little spaghetti arms, but I managed it. Knackering. Once on the water I concentrated SO HARD. I didn’t want to mess it up and I definitely didn’t want to go into the water. 

 The first splashy bit was manageable – I didn’t fall in and managed to get across to the calm eddy on the side of the river. The second one was, in my head, huge like a tsunami – but make no mistake – this is a baby river – only grade 1 (of 6) max. The feeling when I’d got through the hard bits was amazing. I’d done something I didn’t think I could do. At one point we actually had to get out of the rafts in the middle of a weir. That’s pretty scary stuff. There had been reports of metal poking through the stones, so we had to get out and walk across the shallows while the river flowed around us. Gah! Why do I do this?? I didn’t fall over, or fall in, and after getting back into the raft we paddled the last mile to the small beach that marked the end of our packraft adventure. At this point we were FREEZING. It was about 7pm – all we had left to do was walk the last mile to the castle and then get to the pub. 

The people of Inverness saw a LOT more in that car park than they bargained for, as we got changed into warm kit for the last time. We were all pretty quick. I think the promise of food and alcohol was the carrot there. We walked the last mile as a pack up to Inverness Castle where we finished our journey. 4 days, 115ish miles, a country crossed. Smashed it.

That’s that, then.

That’s that, then.

We celebrated in the only way the British know how – high fives and dinner in Wetherspoons (AKA the only place still serving) and spent that night in the youth hostel in Inverness. When I woke up the next day, everyone had gone their own way. It was over. It was time to go home. 

So what have I taken from this? Everything. Every time I do one of these trips, I marvel at the ability humans have to work as a team. Without political and societal rules that we impose upon ourselves in the “real” world, we are all capable of so much more than we think possible. Scotland will, if you don’t take care, take you down with her weather, water, terrain and wilderness. By sticking together and respecting the environment and all it threw at us; by supporting each other, we achieved something incredible. Every person that took part in this trip was a normal human being. We had no elite athletes, no super-fit trail runners (bar the Tubby Jogger Photographer ™). We just had people with passion and belief in adventure, a love for the outdoors and their fellow man and the right attitude to complete a crossing of Scotland by foot and raft.

 Would I recommend this? 1000%. This is bucket list stuff. This is once in a lifetime. This trip will stick with you forever. You will feel cold, wet and exhausted. You will feel happy, sad, euphoric and at times, defeated. But you will manage it. You will be supported by your fellow adventurers and your amazing support crew. You will, for a week, live the way you were built to. You will forever remember this. You will take from it how lucky we are to live in a world that is beautiful and hostile. And you will take some time to be with your thoughts and your thoughts alone, out in the wilds of Scotland, with no distraction. Nowadays, that is a very precious and rare thing.

I’d just like to add thanks at this point to Jim Mee for coming up with the idea, Stuart and Graeme for their amazing crewing, support and shit jokes, and Andy for being the best packraft teacher ever. We couldn’t have done this without you. Huge thanks to Gary for his navigation and survival skills. (I’m going to buy you a calculator compass for Christmas, dude). Without Gary, we would have been nothing. He truly is an architect of adventure. Just don’t ask him how far it is to go. And massive thank to James for making me laugh, giving me chocolate orange slices and taking some pretty ace photos and video – all of which you will see on the Rat Race site soon. 

Finally thank you to the test pilot crew – Andrew, Tucker, Dave, Anneli and Joanna – all legends. Each and every person contributed to the group in such an amazing way (me mainly by snoring) You should all be very proud of yourselves and your achievements. Excellent humans, all of you. 

 So, what’s next for me? A couple of races in the UK  (Jurassic Ultra YAY!) to use as training for my next Test Pilot Trip – the all-female 185 mile 5 day expedition across the Outer Hebrides in October. You can read all about that here. It’s gonna be punchy. 

If this blog has inspired you to take on one of the amazing Bucket List adventures in the UK or beyond, or to become a test pilot, then drop me a line here and we can have a chat. 

If you fancy the idea of having a go at this packrafting nonsense then Andy is your man – you can find him here.

And lastly, if you want help or advice on getting involved in all things ultra and adventure then pop over to the Ultra Awesome page on the website, or on Facebook or Patreon. If I can help just a few people to get off their arses and out the door then all this will be worth it. Adventure changes your life. Get out and do it.

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