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It always amazes me when Scots jet off to the likes of Austria and Switzerland, and even as far as New Zealand, in search of adventure sports. For me, Scotland’s epic mountains, soaring glens and gushing rivers are the perfect venue for a smorgasbord of adrenaline filled fun. I’m happy to report that over the last couple of decades there has been a real growth in this type of tourism with operators springing up all over Scotland to help you get the most out of the great outdoors.

Join me now as I reveal five great ways to get active in Scotland. I’m not just Googling these and padding out ideas for you. I have pulled on a wet suit, bashed on my boots and squeezed into a kayak to actually experience all of these as you will appreciate when you read on. If I inspire you to even think about trying one of them in Scotland rather than jetting off elsewhere in search of adventure then my efforts will have been worth it!

Glen Finglas

Glen Finglas (c) Robin McKelvie

Watersports Ahoy on Cumbrae

First up it’s off to the Sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae for some serious watersports fun. They offer myriad day, weekend and midweek courses, such as windsurfing, kayaking and even powerboating, with many of them leading to proper qualifications. I went on a beginners’ dinghy sailing day course here and it was brilliant fun.

After a classroom theory session it was time to hit the water. One of the drills involved capsizing our dinghy so it was time to get wet. I was relieved that the man overboard drills then involved just chucking a buoy overboard rather than this warmth loving man. In a frothy wash of smiles, jokes and serious instruction our dinghy crew bonded as a team. Soon we were all taking turns at the helm like seasoned pros – well, slightly more seasoned beginners anyway – in a day that really gave me a taste for sailing, which I later followed up by doing my competent crew course.

Dinghy Sailing at Sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae

Dinghy Sailing at Sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae (c) Robin McKelvie

Learn to Surf in Aberdeen

Yes, seriously! Having passed up the chance to learn in exotic places from Bali to Bondi it was a touch ironic that I found myself standing in a wet suit on Aberdeen’s city beach clutching a surfboard for my first surfing experience. Scotland’s northeast corner offers some of the world’s best breaks so it sort of made sense. Initiating me into the surfing fraternity was a bright and breezy instructor from Granite Reef, the Aberdeen based surf shop and surf school. They are used to dealing with beginners and she promised me I’d soon be catching a wave.

We practiced on land much to the amusement of the local dogs and their owners. I’d like to say I took to surfing, but I was less Beach Boys and more Bay City Rollovers. My attempts to even get on the surfboard were comical, never mind trying to stand up on the sinewy board. My instructor enthused about the quality of waves that were slapping me in the face and hurling me around like a washing machine. Then it happened. One of those moments in Scotland when you go from wondering why on earth you’re bothering to suddenly having a brilliant time. I turned to try to get on to the biggest wave yet. As I paddled furiously I think maybe the wave took pity on me. Somehow I stumbled to my feet and I was riding along. I’ve still no idea how, but it felt wonderful rolling into Aberdeen on top of the sea.

Learning to surf at Aberdeen Beach

Learning to surf at Aberdeen Beach (c) Robin McKelvie

Head out on a Horse

First things first. Horses and I don’t get on. My first equestrian experience saw me collapse down a volcano on the equivalent of an Indonesian Shetland Pony. So it was with some trepidation that I pitched up at the Pathhead Equestrian Centre in Kirriemuir. I needn’t have worried though as they are used to beginners like me. Within minutes of arriving I’d met Sam. To me he looked like the world’s largest horse, but in reality he was not that big. I think Sam sensed my unease, but I was reassured that he was renowned for being a laidback chap.

Off we clipped and clopped through the streets of picturesque Kirriemuir. Riding high above cars and pedestrians was quite a buzz. The sensations engendered by my first trot were less than comfortable, but going faster was an undeniable thrill. Soon we were into fields and the brooding peaks of the Angus Glens loomed into view. We climbed to a viewpoint right by the graveyard that holds the last resting place of J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, who hailed from Kirriemuir. Easing back down the hill trusty Sam strode on taking me back to the equestrian centre. No drama. Just a great horseride in a scenic part of Scotland.

Robin Horse Riding in Angus

Robin Horse Riding in Angus (c) Robin McKelvie

Sea Kayaking in the Northern Isles

Battling through the frothing and churning surf of Thieves Holm tidal flood my main concern – after keeping my kayak upright – was not ending up being dragged across the North Sea to Norway. I gouged my paddle into the current, but for every stroke forward I seemed to slip back another. After what felt like an eternity (but was probably closer to quarter of an hour) I escaped the worst ravages of the tidal race and reached the relief of an eddy.

My burning arms were eased by the beaming smile of my guide John from the local Kirkwall Kayak Club. We had pushed out past the fancy yachts of the ever more popular marina before battling the currents and increasing swell. The club will take out most paddlers with even just a bit of experience. They handily lay on the kayak and all the gear you need too.

Sea Kayaking in Orkney

Sea Kayaking in Orkney (c) Robin McKelvie

Trekking in the Trossachs

You don’t need to head into the Highlands to uncover an epic wildscape of rugged hills, sweeping glens and silvery lochs to enjoy a great walk in Scotland. You can also go trekking in the Trossachs. This deeply scenic oasis in Central Scotland has a beauty all of its own, as I discovered when I followed artistic luminaries like Sir Walter Scott and John Ruskin deep into its thick forests and history soaked glens – a wild land once frequented by Rob Roy McGregor.

Glen Finglas was my target. This natural amphitheatre showcases some of what is great about the Trossachs. I chose the 15-mile Mell Circuit. I swept up the eastern flank of Glenfinglas Reservoir, with only Canada Geese in the waters and ravens and buzzards patrolling the sky for company. The modern world soon seemed very far away as my mobile signal vanished, replaced by that all too rare thing these days: silence. Peering down over Glen Finglas it was impossible not to fall more than a little bit in love with a corner of Scotland that has long captured the hearts of man. All this and I was only a short drive north of Glasgow with the rest of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park around me offering myriad more walking experiences.

Walking in Glen Finglas

Walking in Glen Finglas (c) Robin McKelvie


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