Country Sport has been something close to my heart from a very early age. I grew up in a rural environment where I was surrounded by opportunities for fishing and country sport. After a long break I am now beginning to rekindle my love for the outdoors and am making the connections again to enable me to partake. This has been as a direct result of my work with Photographer, Writer and Business Coach Linda Mellor. I am delighted to be working alongside Linda and exploring disabled participation in Country Sport.
I am grateful to have been asked to write for a relatively new magazine called Shooting Scotland. This magazine has grown out of a publication called Farming Scotland where the shooting section was produced as a supplement. Now as a separate magazine Shooting Scotland is on its 3rd issue. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute and look forward to sharing more of my ideas and stories with readers in the future.
Below in a screen shot of my first article that was published in this months issue. Hope you can zoom in to read it. If not, click in the Shooting Scotland link here, and go to page 32. Enjoy.
Based in East Lothian, ‘Venturing Out’ are a not for profit social enterprise whose aim is to encourage young people and adults into the outdoors. Offering a broad range of activities to key target groups, they provide the facilities and expertise required to deliver the service. This enables people to experience outdoor activities which otherwise might not be available to them. I joined a group of young disabled people recently for a canoeing session at Musselburgh Lagoons.
Disabled young people and adults for that matter, are often overlooked when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Opportunities for disabled people to take part in Sport is gradually improving. This is in large part due to the success of the British Paralympic Team and London 2012. When it comes to Outdoors Sports however, there is still work to be done. I work to raise awareness and create opportunities for better access to the Outdoors for disabled people. This came about after realising how passionate I was about sport, but how difficult it has been in the past for me to find suitable opportunities. Realising the social and emotional benefits of taking part in outdoor pursuits, I wanted to help create the possibilities for other disabled people to do the same.
Canoeing in the Past
When I was a teenager I left school and went to special education in the Midlands. During this time I participated in a canoeing club. The college had an indoor swimming pool where we would practice in the winter months. We would go onto the river at Leamington Spa during the summer. With the help of some wonderful instructors, Geoff and Puffin, I leaned to paddle a kayak and a Canadian canoe. I even progressed to paddling K1 race canoes which were very good fun, but very unstable. All I had to do was to sneeze the wrong way and I would fall out. So when I got the change to join ‘Venturing Out’ to go canoeing, I was really delighted. I hadn’t paddled for 25 years so I didn’t know if I’d still have the balance!
Sailing the Lagoons
The Musselburgh Lagoons provides an idea and sheltered place for a group to learn to canoe. It was lovely to join a group of disabled young people and their parents on a Friday afternoon to have fun in the water. And what fun we had ! There was a selection of different boats provided for use. Kayaks, Canadian Canoes as well as open topped boats were available for people to try. If you were super brave there were even paddle boards for those who didn’t mind ending up in the water. I went straight for a kayak because I thought it would all come back to me. At first, I felt very unstable, no doubt due to the length of time it had been since I last paddled. I soon found my balance and I enjoyed being in a canoe again. I also had a shot of going solo in a canadian canoe. This is the type of canoeing I enjoy the most.
Float into the Future
It was lovely to watch many disabled young people and their families having so much fun.
Some were canoeing, some were on paddle boards while others just wanted to swim. Whatever they were doing, it was a joy to watch as they were having so much fun. This really highlights the importance of ‘Venturing Out’ and the service they are providing. Activities like this, as well as enjoying themselves, help young people build confidence, self esteem and support inclusion within their local communities. Therefore it is essential that young disabled people obtain access to this sort of activity.
I hope that by taking part and writing about Outdoor Sports, I can help in some way no matter how small. By highlighting the benefits to disabled people it might help develop opportunities. ‘Venturing Out ‘ show the need for a service and it is hoped that more disabled people will be able to take part. The Health and Well-Being benefits to my life have been extraordinary and I hope other people, both disabled and able-bodied have the opportunities to experience the joys and benefits of Outdoor Life and Sports
Knoydart is a very special place. A peninsula on the west coast of Scotland accessed only by boat, it has all the feelings of a remote Scottish island. Staying in the village of Inverie, I went there recently to explore Scotland’s last true wilderness.
Standing on the pier at Mallaig, I couldn’t believe how many bags we had. The pier was strewn with luggage, not just ours of course, but several families worth of bags. Everyone taking enough to survive the week. There are no grocery stores as such on Knoydart so it is essential to take provisions with you. There are, however, a couple of places you can pick up basic supplies. The post office sells a few household goods and provisions. The Knoydart Foundation has its own shop in the village and it has a freezer full of excellent venison and a small Off Licence for important stocks of booze.
You really get the feeling you are going somewhere off the beaten track particularly when you scan your eyes round the harbour. The boat to Knoydart doesn’t leave from the larger ferry terminal for the Caledonian McBrayne services sailing to the Hebrides. Surrounded by fishing boats a small vessel with a cabin big enough for a dozen or so people appears round the corner and docks discretely alongside the harbour steps. Men throw ropes to tie up, while others help passengers step over the side of the vessel and up the steps onto the shore on their return to Mallaig from Inverie.
We get the signal to board and before long a human chain had formed the length of the harbour steps. Bags of all shapes and sizes were passed from one pair of hands to another. There was something really lovely about how naturally a human chain formed between strangers and everybody helped out to put all the luggage on board. Bags, canoes and even a didgeridoo passed through peoples’ hands as the boat slowly loaded up. Once on the boat, the goods were covered with a thick tarpaulin to prevent them becoming wet from any spray that might come over the bow during the short forty minute crossing. The boat sailed to the right from the harbour and conversations began between people from several nationalities speaking in different languages.
The sail up Loch Nevis and into Inverie felt just magical. Surrounded by the most beautiful of Scottish Highland scenery, the whitewashed cottages that line the front of the village came closer into view. How lucky I felt, that this picturesque location was going to be my home for the next week. I couldn’t wait to explore the forests and rugged coastline that stretched into the distance. Bags were unloaded into the back of Landrovers that arrived onto the pier to meet the boat. After being a hive of activity, the pier was soon empty and deserted again as visitors were taken to their accommodation.
We were staying in a traditional style cottage called Tigh Na Feidh, in the village of Inverie. This had once been a crofter’s cottage and boasted magnificent views over Loch Nevis and to the hills beyond. It was very comfortably furnished inside in a very charming traditional manner. It wasn’t long before we settled in and looked forward to evening drinks in the sitting room around the wood burning fire.
Knoydart is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. Whether its canoeing, mountain biking, walking or fishing, this is wonderful environment to be in. Many people go to Knoydart for its wilderness experience and enjoy the isolation in some spectacular scenery. We spent the first morning walking to explore the village and its immediate surroundings. Some beautiful woodlands line the road that takes you along towards the Kilchoan Estate.
I had forgetten how much I enjoyed sea fishing and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to fish again. When I was child I loved fishing with my father from his small boat. We would launch it off Dunbar on the East Lothian coast and often come back with lots of fish. Unfortunately, fishing is one of the few things I can’t do on my own due to the dexterity required to tie lines. So, I took advantage of having some help this week and spent a few evenings fishing off the pier. The mackerel I caught made a tasty supper one evening.
One of the things I most wanted to do was to climb Ladhar Bienne, the highest Munro on the peninsula. We planned to hire a Landrover to take us into the valley to the foot of the mountain so as to shorten the route. Unfortunately, I have been finding walking very difficult at the moment so climbing a Munro was not a option for me. People who follow my blog will have seen a recent post about the difficulties I am experiencing in walking. However, I discovered a new interest which I never knew could be so much fun, and that was driving the dirt tracks with a Landrover.
Of course, not having many roads suitable for a vehicle on Knoydart, there isn’t very far you can go. In an easterly direction from Inverie there are two roads, or should I say dirt tracks. One of them leads to a small cove called Airor. What a wonderful journey it was past the headland with some magnificent views over to the islands of Rhum and Skye. At the end of the road was the most remote of little cafes with a lovely selection of food and beautiful home baking. Situated in a lovely bay it had fantastic views over the beach and across to Skye.
The other road from Inverie leads six miles to a farm at a place called Inverguserin. A really beautiful journey through the wilderness takes you into the valley where walkers might begin the ascent of Ladhar Bienne. This was truly beautiful and felt very wild indeed. To add to the atmosphere we came across a stalker who was saddling up two ponies to go up and take the deer off the hill. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go stalking, I find it a nice thing to do. I’m hoping to get the opportunity to do this someday. Although climbing the Munro wasn’t possible for me this time, the experience of being there was really wonderful.
I’ve visited many parts of Scotland over recent years and had some amazing experiences. I have to say however that Knoydart is a very special place and already I am longing to go back there. The isolation, the peace, and the feeling of true wilderness make it just magical There are no ferries arriving each day bringing hundreds of tourists. The majority of people there are those who live there. Although this is part of the Scottish mainland, it really feels like island life. Just things like the old cars, and the lack of road signs make it feel very isolated. There is a lovely farm shop on the Kilchoan Estate selling some nice things that has an honesty box for people to leave their money. Doors are seldom locked and keys are left in cars giving a beautiful feel of community and trust.
There are those who would like ferry companies such as Caledonian Macbrayne to begin running a scheduled service to the peninsula. This would indeed bring many people and money into the community. There would however be a price to pay for this. More infrastructure would be required to support a greater number of visitors and this would change the feel of the place. Before long Knoydart would require more amenities, shops and cafes. One can’t help feeling that something special would then be lost forever. I hope Knoydart remains a true wilderness and the already fragile community there survives for many generations to come.
Since I began writing my Disability Travel and Sports Blog over a year ago, my motivation to go out and have fun has gone through the roof. One of the things that has really come back for me, is my motivation to go hillwalking in the Scottish Mountains. Having cerebral palsy has of course made it more challenging. Although recently I discovered that my love for the mountains is as strong as ever. Unfortunately, I have run into a few barriers in this area. I find it very physically demanding and as a result experience excruciating pain in my joints. Whether the joy of the experience outweighs the discomfort is something I have yet to answer.
In the Past
I’ve always loved the outdoors and being in the hills. I was taken regularly into the countryside by my parents when I was young and I continued my fun in the outdoors with the local Scout Troop. When I got to university I joined the hillwalking society and started climbing Munros. I quickly made friends with others in the club who were a bit more patient and happy to proceed at my pace. We would regularly leave in the early hours of the morning to go and climb a particular mountain.
I became a post graduate student in Manchester where my hill walking career seemed to grind to a halt. I walked a little in the Peak District but my studies and career soon took over. When I retured to Edinburgh in the late 1990’s I joined a local club. However, I didn’t persevere for a number of reasons and I assumed that this was the end of my walking career.
20 years on
Recently I have taken the opportunity to go hill walking again and I have regained my passion for the wonderful mountains. Among other activities I have,
Although I enjoying being in the hills very much, there always seems to be a cost to pay. Each time I go walking I usually end up in excruciating pain. Much as I love being in the mountains I have to ask myself if it’s worth it. I find it very frustrating indeed for the following reasons:
Things came to a head recently when I took on more than I could handle. Experiencing so much pain and being at least another 2 hours from the car, I called for help. The Breamar Mountain Rescue sent out a Landrover and picked me up in Glen Callater. This is not a scenario I ever want to repeat. The physical and mental affects have a long impact and, I can’t disregard them.
Onward and Up the Mountains
I would like to work with a therapist to get to the source of my joint pain. Regular physiotherapy might really help. I am aware that I could go through my GP and get referred to the NHS but there are two problems with that. First, I’d wait a very long time to be seen and secondly it wouldn’t be a long term thing. After a couple of visits I’d be discharged and back to square one.
If anyone knows of a physiotherapist in or around Edinburgh who may be prepared to help me then please get in touch. Thank You.