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Former Drumbeg resident writes book about kayak journey from Gourock to Kinlochbervie

By Mike Merritt

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A FORMER north-west Sutherland resident has written a book about a 621-mile kayaking expedition he undertook along the west coast of Scotland.

Ed Ley-Wilson (58), who now lives in Inverness, set off from Gourock in June 2022 and finished his journey in Kinlochbervie two months later.

Ed reaches the end of his journey at Kinlochbervie, two months after setting off from a beach at Gourock.
Ed reaches the end of his journey at Kinlochbervie, two months after setting off from a beach at Gourock.

His new book Kayaking the Sea Roads: Exploring the Scottish Highlands details the experience and has been described by one reviewer as a “Zen-like story of enlightenment”.

Ed and his wife Leah moved to Drumbeg more than 25 years ago, buying a small croft a mile and a half from the road. He was “fresh from military training”.

Ed and Leah Ley-Wilson lived for four years at Drumbeg.
Ed and Leah Ley-Wilson lived for four years at Drumbeg.

He said: “Life in Kerracher, our tiny remote croft east of Drumbeg was dominated by the sea. I worked on the sea, salmon farming locally. On a high spring time, the sea sometimes lapped at the bottom step of the tiny front garden.”

The couple kept chickens and started a mussel farm. Ed wrote a book, The Himalayan Shuffle about a recent mountain-running expedition he took part in.

But their Drumbeg dream came to an end amid financial difficulties.

“After four years of struggling to make ends meet, my economic honesty with the bank came home to roost and we couldn’t keep up the mortgage,” said Ed.

“That, coupled with the fact that the local primary school in Drumbeg closed due to a drop in pupil numbers, meant it was all too much. We left in the mid-1990s, bowed but not beaten, vowing to find a way back.”

Ed and Leah did return to the Highlands three years later, but to Inverness, not Drumbeg.

He said: “Twenty-five years on, the Highlands have been good to us. I’ve built a career in the salmon industry and Leah has set up and run a Scottish recruitment business that was the making of us. We’ve experimented with buy-to-let and have been involved in community and charity in several ways.”

Ed, whose passion is sea kayaking, decided to take time off to go on an expedition after feeling “mortal” following the deaths of a number of friends and colleagues and the development of life-changing illnesses in others.

“In June 2022 I found myself standing on the rough beach at Gourock on the mouth of the Clyde, west of Glasgow, kayak packed to the gunnels and ready to go,” he said.

“Taking to the sea in a kayak is the journey of choice, no question. This time I wanted to journey both outwardly and inwardly and to release myself to Mother Nature. I wanted to take the time to observe, to notice the small things, to listen to absorb and to have space to think free from the distractions of everyday life.”

In Kayaking the Sea Roads, Ed reminds readers that mother nature, vast and resilient, is still out there beyond our mobile phones and urban lives. He describes first-hand wildlife encounters with dolphins, porpoises, otters, sea birds, sea eagles and more. He also discusses pertinent issues around environment, economy, land ownership and land management.

On the surface, Kayaking the Sea Roads is an adventure story, but at its heart, it is a story about belonging and a deep sense of place. And it is also a journey home, home to where the author’s love affair with the Highlands began.

Kayaking the Sea Road is available for purchase from Dunbeath-based Whittles Publishing, priced £16.99. Visit: whittlespublishing.com

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