For almost 40 years I have been involved in outdoor adventure in some form. For over 33 of these, I have been teaching canoeing and kayaking to a wide range of people.
I have been very fortunate to canoe, kayak, walk, climb and cycle in numerous countries and achieve a wide range of leadership and coaching awards in most of these disciplines. I have also worked in a wide range of outdoor centres across the country, led advanced trips into Europe and further afield with all ages of people and for many different purposes.
And if anyone asks me what qualifications I have, I will give an answer similar to this: I believe that without a ‘real world’ experience, the paper qualifications are meaningless.
Qualifications or Experience?
What you want as a paying guest is the knowledge that your guide has significant experience gained over many years and has developed the skills and personal attributes to be able to relate to people, predict situations in the outdoors, a hyper-dynamic environment, and bring everyone home safely and having had a great experience at a level tailored to them.
Having qualifications does not necessarily mean that you can do all of this… and more. However, they should be seen as an indication that the person was (at least at one point) assessed as competent by someone even more competent.
I learned to kayak and canoe while a Scout in 1984 on a canal in Hertfordshire and, within three years had become a scout leader, white water kayak leader and rapidly went on to become a coach, initially in kayaking and later open canoeing.
During these 30+ years I have worked hard to achieve the following paddling awards:
- BCU Level 4 White Water Kayak Coach
- BCU Level 3 Open Canoe Coach
- BC Sea Kayak Leader
However, I am always looking to develop my leadership and coaching remit and personal skills, so the next stage for me would be to extend my sea kayak leadership into advance water and also to further develop my leadership in advance open water in a canoe.
I also look for opportunities away from the obvious to ‘upskill’ myself recently attending a ‘Leave No Trace’ course and a ‘Guiding the Extra Mile’ course as ways of confirming that what I was already doing was actually current best practice or to pick up new ideas to enhance my delivery.
I have also worked for Canoe England delivering their foundation and intermediate training modules to other paddlesport coaches and leaders.
For eight years I was a lecturer in Outdoor Adventure at a college and later a University delivering a wide range of practical and theory sessions across levels 3 to 6. I was principally the paddlesports modules leader for their coaching and leadership modules on a L3 Outdoor Adventure award and a BSc Degree.
To back up these paddling qualifications, and to show that I am a rounded practitioner, I also hold the following:
- Summer Mountain Leader Award (hill walking and scrambling)
- Single Pitch Climbing Award
- BSCA MTB/Off-road Leader Award (cycling)
- RYA Powerboat / Rescue boat Awards
- a few personal sailing and skiing awards
I am also a qualified teacher holding a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Degree in Outdoor Education with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and have recently obtained a Distinction in Post Graduate Certificate in Sports Coaching. Initially, I started this as a Master Degree (MSc), but a move to Scotland and the awarding university being in central England, did not make it viable to continue with this.
To say that I was disappointed was an understatement as I was finally achieving great results on the way towards something that I had been wanting to undertake for many years. Perhaps I will look to transfer to a closer University, possibly Stirling, at some point in the near future…
I won’t add the diversity of professional development courses and additional training courses over these past 33+ years that I have been on that add to my general experience and competence. Why do I do them? Simply because I believe in the power of learning and I actually enjoy learning. It also keeps me up to date with new ideas and concepts and allows me to work with and till to new people. These are things I will never give up and will actively promote during my courses as they all enhance the experience for the people I work with.
Apologies for the lack of historic photos, but with being the guide and the photographer (I was a self-taught wedding photographer for six-years and had been taking portraits since secondary school days) is that you get very few of yourself! As most of my development took place pre-digital photography and social media, the vast majority of my pictures are on film or printed on paper. A couple are further down this page, but I’ll happily share some of them with you if you wish when you visit…
Developing Otter Adventures
My move to Scotland and Strontian back in 2016 followed two redundancies in fairly close succession and a decision to relocate our family to an area where they had the freedom to explore without having parents following them around all the time.
It was also a move to begin developing an outdoor/slow adventure business based in the area surrounding Loch Sunart and across the West Highland Peninsulas. Time to draw upon these 33+ years experience in the outdoor industry working in both private and LEA centres as well as freelance guiding and university lecturing and time to do it the way I felt it should be.
So, Otter Adventures was developed through 2016 and launched early in 2017 with the help of numerous local people, but a hernia operation, unfortunately, delayed the start until May. In September 2017 it became a Limited Company (SC575565) and 2019 has shown significant growth over the previous year.
My aim for the business is to guide visitors, whether individual or family, in exploring the amazing landscapes of the West Highland Peninsulas using human-powered journeys. I believe that slowly moving through the landscapes and immersing yourself in the natural environments offers significant benefits to the traveller and to the wildlife.
If you go away having had a good trip, I will be happy. But I would rather you went away having had a great one because you learned something about the wildlife or the mode of transport while you were with me.
Hopefully, that gives a much fuller answer to the question and also a small insight into my background and beliefs. If you want to know more, then we can chat while we walk (or canoe, or cycle, etc.)…
The past 33+ years have been amazing and I doubt would have happened were it not for my amazing Scout leaders Frank and ‘Skip’ (John). They started one amazing journey for which I truly thank them.
I have also met so many amazing people along the way from all walks of life – many of which have become great friends dotted across the country that I still manage to see from time to time.
So, asking what qualifications your leader has may be the wrong one; perhaps asking what time the high tide is, or what the wind is going to do during the day, may be better questions and a subject for another blog post later…