Week 1: Glasgow and the River Clyde

May 2021 | Words and Photos by Klean Kanteen UK Ambassador, Cal Major

What a start to the trip! I set off on Saturday 16th May from Glasgow city centre, outside the SEC which in November will host the UN climate talks, COP26. Glasgow is built around the River Clyde where my journey began; an important access route for the city, and its link to the open ocean.

With sunshine and wind at my back, the first day’s paddling couldn't have been more blissful, and I was utterly thrilled to be back on the water. All the stresses of getting everything ready to go disappeared with my first paddle stroke; a smile settled onto my face and I got into a rhythm as my journey around one of my favourite places in the world began.

The majority of day one’s paddle was through the fairly industrial River Clyde, and our human influence on the water was apparent from the word go. Scrap heaps piled high right next to the river along one section, with rubbish tumbling down the banks and into the river. I also quickly became aware of lots of single use plastic floating in the water - takeaway containers, cups, bottles… all things which are avoidable. There is a huge need for industry and the government to take responsibility for our overproduction of single use plastic, but anyone who says an individual can’t have an impact has never paddled through unnecessary plastic polluting our waterways! Switching out single use plastic is such a simple, positive, affirming thing we can all do, and one which empowers further action and engagement.

Day Two - Setting Off

After a couple of hours of paddling, the river started to widen, the industrial landscape opening up to hills and greenery as I paddled under the Erskine Bridge. I caught my first glimpse of a Common Seal as she popped her head up behind my board; she was joined by cormorants and gulls, and a couple of noisy oyster catchers. As the sun began to set over the dramatic hills and calm water, I felt incredible gratitude for the first stint on the water, 30km in and feeling really good to be underway.

Day two brought with it an early start. Up at 4, I had time for a quick stretch of my tired shoulders, as big a breakfast as I could stomach, and I packed more into my bag along with a Kanteen of tea. I headed back onto the mirror flat river, the flow already taking me downstream. In the early morning light I saw my first dolphins, hearing their breath before seeing their enormous silhouettes against the sunrise. What an absolute privilege, and a beautiful reminder of how the rivers running through land connect us all to the wildlife out to sea, it struck me just how much of an Ocean Nation Scotland really is - lives intertwined with the sea in so many ways.

I was making good progress as I rounded the corner of the Clyde and was presented with the immense shape of the Arran mountains about 50km ahead of me. I wanted to enjoy every moment of this and stopped on one of the banks to enjoy my tea and a snack. The sun had just risen; it was already warm, ahead of me was this dramatic mountainscape, below my board was glorious kelp, on the water next to me a group of oyster catchers going about their business. And in my hand was a brew. Absolute heaven.

I made it to Wemyss Bay towards the end of the morning’s tidal window, another 15km underway, and spent the day on land eating everything I could find (I DID find a baked potato for those of us following on social media who were wondering!), stretching and sleeping.

Cal stretching before setting off
Scottish Castle

In the late afternoon, I got back onto the water to continue South down the Clyde. However, the tail winds were a dream of the past, and for the first 3 hours I was battling, paddling just on one side of the board as a side wind from the West tried its hardest to spin my board towards shore. It was pretty relentless. I paddled over to Great Cumbrae island and tucked in close to shore on its East coast to shelter from the wind. Sunshine and wildlife accompanied me once again. Next, the crossing back to West Kilbride awaited me, and in the evening light, with dark black storm clouds chasing then engulfing me, I popped out from the shelter of the island once again and battled the side winds for the last hour back to the mainland.

The Second day’s paddle could not have ended more appropriately - at a castle flying a Scottish flag at the base of the River Clyde, looking out to sea.

We are all connected to the ocean, and rivers play a massive part in our physical tie to our big blue. Just two days of paddling took me from the centre of Scotland’s biggest city to the open ocean. And yet our disconnect from the sea means we can’t be expected to understand just how inextricably our lives are linked to our ocean, the lungs of our planet.

We really want to change this, to give more people the opportunity to access and experience blue spaces, to be able to form their own relationship with them so that their wellbeing can benefit too, and to become a part of the conversations about protecting them. Because people will protect what they love, but they can only love what they know.

We plan on coming back to Glasgow after I’ve finished paddling with our charity, Seaful, and engaging with children who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to experience being on and around the water. On this trip I’m fundraising for Seaful to help enable these trips. To donate, please head to:

Justgiving - Seaful

Next up - a 17km open water crossing to the Isle of Arran, Scotland’s first No Take Zone, a mega storm and more wildlife than you can shake a stick at!