“How do you feel about me going away on my kayak for a whole year?”
As discussions between married couples go, it’s certainly an unusual question to ask. But that’s exactly the idea that Nick Ray floated with his wife Karen last summer, when he first came up with the idea of setting himself a year-long challenge to explore Scotland by sea.

Nick’s plan was to set off on his small kayak (packed with a tent, food and other essential equipment), leaving from his home on Mull on his 59th birthday and not returning until he was 60. He aimed to circumnavigate Scotland’s coastline, being led by the wind and the tides, wild camping and meeting wildlife along the way.
Karen was “very understanding”, he explains, “as she knows that I live for these adventures”.

Nick is open about his struggles with depression; a candour around mental health not always shared by men of his generation. He viewed this trip as a way to “celebrate life” and start conversations around mental health, talking about how he lives with depression in a bid to reduce the stigma associated with it. However, spending so much time alone would be a daunting prospect for most, let alone someone who has struggled with dark moods. How did he cope?

“I have a favourite saying: ‘Loneliness is the word that describes the pain of being alone, solitude is the word that describes the joy of being alone’. And a lot of my experience on this journey has been one of joyful solitude – I’ve really enjoyed my own company when I’ve been kayaking or camping. I do have negative thoughts, they never go away, but being in this kind of environment I’ve enjoyed my solitude and the experiences I’ve been having.”

Having departed Mull last August, Nick is currently making his way down the east coast of Scotland. He has covered almost every inch of the mainland coastline, as well as exploring Skye and Raasay, and now plans to cross back across the country via the Forth and Clyde Canal. He needs to make it back to Tobermory for August 28, his 60th birthday, where a celebratory ceilidh is planned with the local community.
“I think the home comfort I’m looking forward to most is sitting on my spot on the sofa, with my wife next to me and the dog sleeping beside me. That’s the one thing I am thinking about,” he laughs. 

As a former outdoors instructor, Nick is comfortably self-sufficient when pitching his tent around the country. However, he admits that the toll on his body, particularly in the depths of winter, was tough.
“There were days when it was really cold, with ice and snow, but I managed to keep myself warm with hot drinks. I realise I’m not as young as I used to be, my body aches, my back is stiff, it takes me a while to get going in the morning. 
“But I love a challenge, I love the possibilities that the day holds and not really knowing what will happen. That essence of adventure, I love it.”

The National:

With being so isolated, and at the mercy of Scotland’s unpredictable weather, did he ever fear for his safety? “There was one day on the north coast where there was a three-metre swell, the biggest sea I’ve ever been in. I felt nervous but I didn’t feel frightened, that was the only one day that I wondered if I ought to be out at sea in the conditions. But then I came through it, and realised I was within my competencies and skills to keep myself safe. Because I’m not under pressure to get from A to B, I can stay ashore if the conditions are too dangerous.”

It isn’t the first challenge that Zimbabwe-born Nick has set himself since moving to Scotland 15 years ago. In 2015 he paddled around Scotland as part of a challenge to visit every lifeboat station in the country, and is already planning his next expedition once he returns home next month. “I’ve explored the mainland so I’d like to do the same with paddling around the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. So there’s three more adventures in me at least! “There’s so much more of the coastline to see and places I would like to come back to. The Scottish coastline is just absolutely incredible. Every day I have seen something that has delighted me.”

As well as the wildlife and scenery he has encountered along the way, Nick has been particularly struck by the acts of human kindness he has been shown across Scotland. With more than 100,000 people following his journey on Twitter, Nick has become well-known, leading strangers to come and introduce themselves, invite him in for dinner, or leave him food by his tent. 

“Last night a lady came along and left me a whole cake and a bottle of whisky, because she shares troubles with mental health and she felt inspired by my journey. 
“I have had some really interesting chats with people along the way, people who have put me up. We have had long talks into the night about mental health and the importance of taking care of yourself. I genuinely appreciate all the support and interest in my journey – it’s been lovely, heartwarming, and everything that’s good about being human.”

Follow Nick on Twitter @LifeAfloat

The National:

How to encounter the best of wild Scotland

I’ve seen a lot of otters and seals and I had a lovely encounter with two magnificent sea eagles sitting on a rock. I just drifted up and sat silently next to them in my kayak. It was absolutely amazing to get that close. 

Skye was superb and going into Loch Hourn was stunning. Because it was winter, there wasn’t another soul there. Going around Cape Wrath really was mind-blowing . . . incredible.

Sannick Beach near Duncansby Head was lovely. It has a really nice campsite.

Arisaig is good because the seas are calm and there’s lots of shelter, so it’s a popular place for beginners.