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There are no wimps allowed in Scotland’s high-octane Highlands. We bear our bruises with pride

I’m flipped into the fast-flowing river just as it starts to snow. There’s no fighting it. I cling to my rubber tube, too shocked to register the cold, as the current crashes me over rocks. Somehow, I manage a thought: I was told this was the mellow option.

Spotting a chance to bring myself to the bank, I manoeuvre into calmer waters and catch my breath. As the sleet rushes down around me, I can feel icy pools gathering in my waterproof socks. I’ve swallowed a generous measure of river water. And I can feel the bruise on my ass forming.Perhaps some people would, at this point, concede defeat and clamber out to towel off. But when my guide, ‘Full-On John’, asks if I’m enjoying myself, I splutter a “yes” in the direction of his zany grin, and set off on my tube into the current once again. 

There’s something about the wilderness here in northeast Scotland that instils a determination not to wimp out. One story about ‘Full-on John’, a keen kayaker from Canada, reveals that he once climbed a Cairngorms mountain in a snowstorm with kayak on back, in order to master a river on the other side that no one had ever dared paddle. With this in mind, opting out of river tubing just because it’s snowing and I’m half-drowned would seem unbearably girly.  It’s little wonder a man like John has been drawn to the Cairngorms National Park. Home to Britain’s highest mountain range, with five of Scotland’s six loftiest peaks, and 55 snowy summits above 900m, the 4528sqkm park (Britain’s biggest) also boasts acres of pine forest and an impressive collection of crystal-clear lochs and rivers.

The weather’s schizophrenia – I arrived this moring to blue skies and sunshine, unpacked to the patter of hail, spent the afternoon riding the river in snow, and am cadging a lift back to my lodgings with John while it rains – just might be a selling point. “What’s great about this place is there are so many outdoor pursuits, you can have an adventure whatever the weather,” John tells me. As if to prove his point, a man casually rollerskis past us.

The next morning, significantly bruised of bum, I decide to try a whole new sport – bikerafting. Originating in Alaska, this enjoyably bonkers enterprise involves cross-country biking with a packraft on your back – a lightweight inflatable boat with collapsible oars. It allows for an ultra-versatile way of navigating terrain, for as soon as you hit a body of water, you dismantle the bike, blow up the raft, tie the bike to the bow of your craft and paddle onwards. 


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Adventure Scotland: rivertubing and biking in Cairngorms National Park
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