When a pumping swell is firing in some 800-miles north, what's a couple surf-hungry hounds to do over the Holiday period? Get in the car and drive. Photographer Ross Taylor and surfer pal Andrew Douglas drove through the Scottish Highlands for a mission amidst the snow. This is their story.
Words by Ross Taylor.
I used to be a firm believer that the foundation to any good trip was a solid plan. It’s funny though how rarely my plans seem to work out.
Last winter, my mate Andrew Douglas (Dougy) and I had set our hearts on a cold-water strike mission to the frigid tip of Scotland, but the total opposite happened and we found ourselves soaking up the sun in Madeira. After enjoying the waves and weather a little too much we thought — "heck, why not just head back again during the Holidays?"
Travel Guide: Scotland
However, as any surfer will know, plans must remain flexible, especially when relying on the will of the wave Gods. So for the second year in a row, December 24 became a day of frantic phone calls, last minute plan changes and numerous bag re-packs. This time we were in fact heading north and we definitely would need more than a 3/2mm wetsuit.
After a 14-hour dash a couple of days later, while negotiating swathes of Scotland under a weather warning, we made it to the sleeping town of Thurso. Thanks to the last-minute hook up from Scottish surf legend Mark Boyd, we at least had a cosy home to look forward to, instead of the delights of the back of a van and duvet.
After a few hours of restless sleep, I woke up and pulled back the curtain to a thick blanket of fresh snow, all the way down to the beach. Peering into the darkness I could just make out the silhouette of groomed lines filling the bay. The excitement levels immediately shot through the roof and we ate a hasty breakfast.
Dougy went on to score two epic surfs that day, word in the town was, it had been the best swell so far this winter. In fact, in his total dedication, he ended up spending seven hours in a wet wetsuit while we went up and down the coast checking various spots. For his efforts — not only did he bag some of the best waves that day, but also a nasty knee sprain that left him hobbling over the reef as the last of the daylight faded over a snowy horizon.
The next couple days greeted us with some less favourable winds. A perfect opportunity for Dougy to rest his knee and for us to jump on the tourist bandwagon and explore the beauty of the local area.
After a couple of days rest, a healthy dose of pain meds and a knee brace from Argos, Dougy was tentatively back in business. Perfectly timed for the next promising forecast, which greeted us with head high peaty peelers. There was a solid local crew out and it was a pleasure to suit up and jump in with the camera to get a closer view of this famous wave.
After a day of much stoke, but with Dougy’s knee still not quite right, we decided to call it a day and head for some New Year's Eve revelry. Many hours of breath-taking driving later, we had made our way across to the Isle of Skye. After parking up our mobile bedroom for the night, and downing a few tinnies, listening to 90s trance, we were buzzed and ready to enjoy the capital Portree.
Now, that was a raucous night, we capped off the trip with a special New Year’s Day ascent of the Old Man of Storr, the views from which will definitely live long in both our memories. That just left the long drive back south with the promise of a proper bed, decent meal and hot shower.
With plenty of hours behind the wheel to reflect on the week past, it got me thinking that maybe not everything needs to be so rigidly planned to be successful. This week in Scotland was characterised by our plans being in a state of constant flux. We were always trying to react to the crazy variations in weather, wave forecasts and the unplanned injury.
However, just going with the flow and putting ourselves in the mix in the first place allowed us to score both waves and experiences that we’ll both look back on fondly for many years to come. Dougy summed it up by saying, “My favourite moments are when I’ve had to deal with some hardship to gain it."