Only Fools and White Horses for Strontian canoeist Colin

NO F11 Skeath book cover
NO F11 Skeath book cover

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We can all name that one teacher who inspired us at school. Whether it was encouraging us in finding a skill, introducing us to a new passion or loftily informing us we’d never amount to anything and thereby setting us on a course to prove them wrong.

For Strontian resident Colin Skeath MBE that teacher was Bill Taylor. It was through the outdoor pursuits club Mr Taylor ran that Colin discovered a love for climbing, a hobby which would take him to some of the world’s
most challenging climbs, including El Capitan and the Eiger.

Bill Taylor continued to ‘stick his oar in’ to Colin’s path in life though, by being part of the three-man team who first circumnavigated the UK and Ireland in a sea kayak back in 1986, a feat which would inspire Colin some 30-plus years later.

While climbing was an all-consuming hobby with all of Colin’s spare time spent either out climbing or training on the climbing wall set up in his garage, he was also scaling heights in his career in the police, serving in the West Yorkshire force.

He retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years and in 2018 was recognised with an MBE for his work. Colin and his wife Katrina settled in Strontian, chosen for close proximity to some of the UK’s best climbing, but with the unforgiving nature of Scottish weather an alternative outdoor pursuit for the days and weeks when climbing was not an option was quickly sought.

The answer came in the shape of a canoe and it was not long before the climbing gear was retired in favour of more water-based adventures, including Colin and Katrina setting up Source to Sea, a guided canoe adventure business.

Having successfully completed some challenging canoe adventures, including circumnavigations of Anglesey and Skye, it was perhaps inevitable that Colin began to follow in Bill Taylor’s oar strokes by taking the canoe around the coast of the UK.

In 2017, with Katrina as land based support, Colin and his nephew Davis did just that. The remarkable story of that adventure is told in Only Fools and White Horses, Colin’s first book, which has just been published.

Colin Skeath has now written a book about the adventure. NO F11 Colin Skeath - photo credit Davis Gould-Duff
Colin Skeath, pictured, has now written a book about the adventure.
Photograph: Davis Gould-Duff

I caught up with Colin to grab a copy, hot off the press, and hear more about the book, the journey which led to it and what lies beyond. My first question was about how much writing Colin had done previously, the answer ‘just a few speeding tickets!’ set the tone for the interview and is a really good taste of what you can expect from the book.

A searingly honest account, at times brutal but peppered with humour, it’s a really engaging read. Just like the trip it describes, it is at times fast paced, filled with heart-racing moments of peril when crossing expanses of vast open water or navigating through harsh conditions and being capsized.

Then it slows to a lazy pace with poetic observations of the landscapes, the
people and the wildlife along the way. Thee are some fantastic photographs to illustrate Colin’s words in there too.

Colin and Davis steer their canoe through the waves in the Pentland Firth. NO F11 Pentland Firth - photo credit Katrina Skeath
Colin and Davis steer their canoe through the waves in the Pentland Firth.
Photograph: Katrina Skeath

Also covered are some of the many lessons learned on an adventure like that. Colin explained: ‘We learned so much. In many ways we were ill prepared – Davis had spent just 12 days in a canoe before we started. But so many of the lessons could only be learned by doing the trip. We got slicker as we went along. Some of the errors we made in the early days we would never have made by the end.’

I asked what the biggest lesson he took from the challenge was. ‘Decision making’ was the very definite answer from Colin. Which makes sense
for a retired cop – you have to gather all the evidence before making your mind up and evidence gathering is clearly Colin’s biggest skill. Whether it’s researching a climb, keeping law and order, understanding tides and routes around the coastline or writing a book.

The investigation is not over yet. Having already made one foiled attempt at crossing the North Sea with Katrina, that remains an open case as does an unyet fully formed plan to do a big solo trip.

The story is far from over and I have a strong suspicion that there are more books in the pipeline, taking readers along for the adventure.

Colin Skeath’s book Only Fools and White Horses will be available in all major bookstores by the end of May but advance copies may be purchased direct from Colin at source-2-