Rejected competition entries 1: Canoeing to Plockton

I’ll be back with more actual news soon, I swear, but since this hiatus is getting ridiculously long, I’m going to do a SUPER EXCITING INTERIM POST! Thanks to some of my delightful readers being very encouraging and lovely, I’ve developed a dangerous amount of confidence, and started entering the odd writing competition. Sadly no big prizes have materialised yet, but I thought I’d share some of the rejected entries so that, ten years down the line, those editors will see just what they could have had and be thrown into paroxysms of regret. Or at least so that I can look back and laugh sheepishly at my early attempts. This one is from when I briefly decided I should be a travel writer, and entered the Telegraph’s Just Back competition with a piece about What I Did In The Holidays. 

Lochcarron, Western Scotland: the Lyster family holiday. Our travels are usually accompanied by a dinghy but, due to a wheel-falling-off-trailer-related disaster, this year we were limited to a canoe. This wasn’t going to stop us travelling to nearby Plockton as the seagull flies; that is, straight across the water. My father, an outdoors instructor, is fully qualified to oversee such escapades, and has never actually had a disaster, but we still don’t entirely trust his assessment of a reasonable level of adventure. Thus it was with a certain trepidation that the four of us gracelessly clambered aboard our three-man vessel.

The voyage to the far side of the loch went smoothly in every sense. It was a crisp day, with a few unfeasibly fluffy clouds lazily adorning an expanse of pale blue sky. The glassy water was disturbed only by the splishing of drips off paddles, and even the highland mountains looked tame as they hunkered down to frame the loch. Passing a clump of rocks in the middle, we caused great consternation among a colony of seals, who lumped themselves into the water in an ungainly fashion not dissimilar to my own passage into the boat. Once they’d established that we posed no threat, they circled us, staring with bright black eyes that made them uncannily reminiscent of earless dogs.

In about an hour, we reached Plockton. It offered all we’d expected and more; an ‘OUTDOORS SALE TODAY ONLY’ was advertised fluorescently outside the village hall, but since my lack of interest in outdoors equipment is absolute, I steered my family in a more promising direction. We sussed out the various eateries (two pubs, a closed Tourist Information centre and a chippy), and selected the latter, preceded by a schoolful of greasy-faced teenagers who had clearly managed to avoid the edicts of Jamie Oliver.

Having jointly consumed a small army’s worth of chips, two deep-fried mars bars, four ice creams and three pints of beer, we lumbered back to the shore. Distressingly, the still water had been replaced by distinctly choppier seas – the wind forecast had clearly been a touch optimistic. Although the waves were nothing to scare a dinghy, the risk of being swamped was not a remote one in a canoe that cleared the water by mere inches. Nonetheless, we had little choice but to embark upon the return expedition, clinging to the shore and our life jackets.

We made grateful use of the shelter afforded by the seals’ now-abandoned rocks. It was my turn to act as ballast, and at wobbly moments I clutched the bottom of the boat as if my life depended on it (I maintain that it probably did). Dad’s whistling grew increasingly cheerful – always a sign of impending doom – and the conversation trailed off, as we gritted our collective teeth for the next half hour. Eventually, though, we made it to the other side, shivering and mightily relieved. It was agreed by all that perhaps we should drive to Plockton next time.


Yggdrasil, our boat – a norwegian faering made by Dad (read more here). The canoe (Herbert) is not the one in the story.


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