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Mandy Haggith

The following poem (and pieces of poem-ish writing) was written using the words and phrases of project participants in meetings and interviews, some online, some in person, in response to questions about their experiences of swimming, paddling and sailing around the coast of the northwest Highland Geopark area (i.e. the north coast and west coast…


If you can imagine a classic, really sunny day, 

blue skies, sea like a mill pond. 

You’re leaving from a beach that’s very sandy

so you’ve got that turquoise, tropical-looking colour in the water. 

You’re with someone who hasn’t done any sea kayaking before. 

They’re amazed because they’re coming from 

an Inner City place. 

We’re just doing a short trip, a couple of hours,

but as soon as they’re out there are porpoises. 

They’ve never seen porpoises before. 


We’re padding along, starting to explore the coastline.

They’ve never seen anything like the caves, the stacks

and the next thing – dolphins! 

That’s great. Tick! Tick!

How can this day get much better?


Just after lunch we start seeing gannets feeding, 

diving around our kayaks. 

There’s lots of fish around here. 

What else?

A minke whale – it swam below us. 

These are the memories that make a day. 

You can’t get much better!


But there are challenges: 

the physical challenge of getting tired,

emotional challenges, 

the psychological challenge of going into conditions

you might not have been in before.

Iif you go around a headland

you don’t know what’s around 

the corner. What to expect? 

People elsewhere in Britain don’t realise

that there’s nothing, basically, 

between us and the Arctic

and how significant that is

in terms of sea and environment. 

In a kayak you’re intensely aware

of that combination of tide and wave and swell.

The sea is way, way more powerful than we are.


You hear of people going into a supermarket,

buying an inflatable kayak or paddle board,

then off they go onto the sea.

No buoyancy aid or safety equipment.

Limited knowledge of tides and weather

People think that if they get into trouble, 

the emergency services will be there straight away,

They don’t realise the only lifeboat 

on the North Coast

is in Thurso.

Where’s the next one?


There’s nothing in between. 

When the alarm is raised

it can take some time for help to arrive.

You need to be prepared.

You’re all alone out there.

(with thanks to Sheilah Cunningham)