Simon Willis follows the trail of two journalists' classic kayak expedition along Scotland’s west coast in a three-part radio series.
There are few photographs of the design of boat paddled by the original Canoe Boys. These pictures, which belong to the Scottish Hostellers’ Canoe Club, are of the more successful Queensferry design. Both were designed and built by John Marshall in the town on Queensferry on the River Forth. The boats he built for the Canoe Boys became known as the Lochaber design and were canvas and rubber fabric stretched over a tough teak frame. The pointed ends were sealed to form detachable buoyancy tanks so the boat could be taken apart in three sections.
Few people had cars. These early folding boats were short enough to be carried in the guards van of the West Highland Railway service. A heavy wire bound the 3 sections from the cockpit to the bow, under the keel and back up over the stern to cockpit. They were 13ft 6in long, 32in in beam, and 12in high and each had a small sail.
The original canoe boys survived by eating - almost exclusively - a dish they called “oatmeal brose”. In case you fancy whipping up a plate of the fuel that powered them as they paddled up Scotland’s west coast, here’s the recipe:
Place oatmeal, with salt to taste, in a bowl and pour just enough boiling water over it to cover the oatmeal.
Immediately place a plate over the bowl as a lid, and wait while the brose cooks in its own steam, slipping a nut of butter under the plate as it does.
After four or five minutes, remove lid stir the mass violently together, splash in some milk and eat.
Quest by Canoe
The book of this voyage has been published four times under different titles:
In the 1950s it was called Quest By Canoe.
In the 1960s it became Too Late in the Year.
In the 1990s The Canoe Boys first appeared.
In May 2007 the story was updated with new photographs and information from Alastair Dunnett’s family collection and is published by Neil Wilson Publishing under the title, The Canoe Boys : the first epic Scottish Sea Journey by Kayak.
Archive photos and illustrations are from 'The Canoe Boys,' published by NWP and courtesy of Ninian Dunnett.
Page first published on Tuesday 6th November 2007
Page last updated on Tuesday 17th June 2008