Hello, my name is Mal Tabb.
Thanks for visiting our web pages. Marion & I operate a small outdoor activity organisation called Canoes, Mountains & Caves. We provide activities for: adults, young people, schools, charities, families & individuals. A key aspect of our work is the provision of a "Community Programme" which is offered free of charge to participants. If you think we might be able to help please don't hesitate to contact us, you can find out more about what we do on our main website www.canoesmountainscaves.com

Monday, 16 May 2016

Living Simply

To date 2016 has been the "thinnest" year in the blog's history, this is a statistic that saddens me. There is no loss of appetite for writing posts and no thoughts that other media might be more appropriate for reporting the kind of content that has been published through these pages. The fact is that in a good way life has become busier than at any time I can recall since the blog's inception. Despite this "busy-ness" life is also very good, with a simplicity to it that I have always yearned for. 

It was back on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when we wrote about a plan to "live simply" through the Lent period. We failed miserably in this Lent objective as all kinds of unexpected life issues pressed in on every side and Lent was anything but simple. However, sub-conciously it seems that the seeds of a new approach had been subliminally sown. It was possibly during an Easter canoe journey that the mist began to clear and the issues settle. The term "life without walls"  was coined as we sat around the camp fire one evening and in my mind, at least, the process of being drawn into that more simple lifestyle began to crystalise.

Since this year's expedition our third activity season gathering pace has been punctuated by a series of meaningful pauses. 

The Church weekend away at the beginning of May used Hebrews 12 1-2 as its theme and for me the notion that we must "run the race marked out for us with perseverance" struck a strong chord. Its not a random race that we are running or somebody else's race, rather its a race marked out individually for us and to succeed we must run it with perseverance. It was a weekend of great fellowship, often sat around the huge log burning stove which we kept alight for the full 72 hours we were there for. Marion & I "van camped" for the three nights, it was simple living among friends and marked another step on our journey out of Lent.

The weekend just passed saw us camping once more this time in the North East, with friends from COAC. There was a good measure of canoeing thrown in and much socialising around camp fires in the evenings. Again we camped in the van but spent every moment of each day that we were there living simply in the outdoors. 

On our return today a text led us to collect the remnants of a friends tree, felled over the weekend. It's in the process of being cut into logs and transferred into the wood shed for seasoning over the hopefully drier and warmer summer months. Fuel to keep the fire burning over the coming autumn and winter. 

Living outdoors; life without walls; conversation around campfires; friends; the knowledge that there is a "race marked out for us". A simple life based on an understanding of: who we are; where we belong and what our purpose is - living simply - a transformed life.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Guest Blog: Andy Hoe - Loch Awe by Canoe; Easter 2016

Reflections on the Loch Awe Canoe Expedition - Easter 2016

As many of you will have seen from Mal and Marion’s blog this Easter’s canoe expedition was to Loch Awe, a quiet 25-mile-long freshwater loch in the southwest Highlands.  The trip was for five days and entailed wild-camping on the shores of the loch for four nights as we attempted a circumnavigation of the water in our canoes.  There were six intrepid adventurers who signed up for the expedition - Andy Mac’, Andy Johnson, Ian Tulloch, me (Andy Hoe) and Mal & Marion making a select group of just three tandem canoes this year.
Day one saw everyone in good spirits as we drove the five-and–a-half hours to our embarkation point on the south-east side of the loch. During the journey there was the time-honoured stop at the Green Welly services for lunch and a last minute panic-buying opportunity for those who had forgotten essential items.  Everyone was keen to get going by the time we arrived at the loch so, despite the feisty wind, we got our kit strapped down quickly and started paddling.  The first couple of hours of paddling were perhaps the toughest of the whole trip as we battled into the headwind and white-topped waves to make our way towards the very south-west tip of the loch. 
Soon evening was approaching so we pulled in at a sheltered bay and made camp for the night.  Tents and tarps were the order of the day with some innovative tarp shelters on display.

Soon there was an extra tarp erected to give us some shelter in a communal area, an upturned canoe to act as our “sofa” for the night and a warm fire with good food cooking on it and a tipple in our drinking cups.  We enjoyed a clear view of the stars in the dark skies as we sat around the fire chatting and feeling ourselves starting to unwind and leave the worries of ordinary life behind us.

It was Ian’s first expedition with us and I think he appeared just a little bit startled for a second or two to see a bottle of red wine and, later on, scotch whiskey emerge from one of the storage barrels to be passed around!  (Well, one of the main benefits of canoe-camping over backpacking is surely the extra “comforts” that can be carried!).
There was a laid back approach to setting-off time in the mornings which was just as well since one of us ( - no names need to be mentioned  but let’s  just call him “the startled one”) could still be heard snoring softly at 10:00am next morning!  
Once up, things were soon packed away and a full day of paddling was underway.  The amount of actual paddling on this trip was a little more than previous ones that I have been on and in total we estimated covering between forty and fifty miles over the course of the trip.  However, there was still a relaxed approach to when we stopped and for how long, and decisions were open to debate and changed according to the wishes of the group which made for an inclusive atmosphere which was very pleasant.
What followed were three more days of paddling by day and sitting under the stars and cooking on a campfire by evening.
Much of the ground around the loch was soaked from a winter of persistent rain.  Sometimes this made choosing a spot to put up a tent or tarp a matter of picking the best of a bad selection.  It also made fire more difficult to achieve and this proved to be true on night two in particular.  We had paddled all day and arrived happy but tired at a beach near a flat area that looked as good as we were likely to get for camping on.  The trees were covered from root to branch in mosses and the ground was sodden, but we all found somewhere adequate to put up our night-time shelters.   All the wood that was within walking distance also appeared to be thoroughly soaked, even that deadwood which was supported off the ground in the other trees.  We foraged for the best firewood that we could find but the fire that night was small, smoky and cold, and wasn’t conducive to a good social atmosphere and staying up late so we turned in a bit early.
Learning from out mistake, the next day Ian and I kept a look out along the shore for good firewood during our journey and paddled in to collect it when we saw it.  We bundled it up on top of our luggage and took it with us.  This left our canoe looking a little disordered (like a skip according to some!) and earned us a ribbing with the names “skip-rats” and “scavengers” used liberally (and a little unkindly if you ask me!). 
Anyway, it was all worth it because the next night we had a fire that was a triumph (even though I say so myself).  We made an oblong fireplace with stones and used a parallel arrangement of the dry wood on top of it to make a long fire which allowed several people to cook on it at once and which could warm a whole row of people sat on an upturned canoe.
Not that we simply collected deadwood that day, rather we looked for the sort that had been dead and air-dried, off the wet ground, for about a year; the sort where the bark had fallen off naturally and the wood was light as a feather to pick up because all the heavy water content had long gone; the sort of wood that felt warm to the touch and broke with a nice crisp “snap”.  The results of using this quality of firewood were stark.  The fire was hot, so hot that you had to sit back from it, unlike the previous night where we had crowded closely to it and still felt cold.  (Latent heat, that required to evaporate water from wet wood, can be a massive loss of heat to a fire).  There was also almost no annoying smoke.  All in all, I think the blazing fire helped the evening morale to be buoyant and we stayed up late talking and laughing around the fire again.  We reflected on how we were talking to each other in a way that we don’t often do at home and speculated what role fire had played in the past in making early humans the cooperative, team-players that enabled them to become the dominant species they became.  We also speculated what great plans from history had first been conceived by a group of like-minded people sitting around a camp fire like ours.

Next day, back to the realities (and blisters!) of a long paddle, we made further steady progress down the loch’s north-west side.  Approaching, but not quite reaching the top end of the loch, we decided it was prudent to cross and start heading back down the other side in case the weather closed-in on our final full day of paddling and left us with too much to do into a strong headwind.  We still found time to meander and to stop off at points of interest, a notable one of these being a visit to a small settlement called Dalavich.

At Dalavich we met a young woman running boat-trips for tourists who said that she was a MacPherson and that many people in the village were also MacPhersons, which gave us a great opportunity to repay some of the “skip-rat” comments by teasing our own MacPherson (Andy Mac’) about his ancestry and how several of the small children in the village did look remarkably like little versions of him!  Dalavich also provided us our one piece of comfort and civility on the trip when we found a little café and in the warmth of a log-burning stove we enjoyed a café latte (and a large scone that didn’t go unnoticed Mal + Marion!).
Another interesting reverie from our paddling was taken on an island on which the remains of an old Scottish castle stood (Castle Findhorn).  We explored it on foot and were able to climb up onto the battlements for some great views.

I was most intrigued by the dungeon - a hole in the ground which would have literally dropped its unlucky occupants into an underground cell.  There was a rope at the top and I would have liked to have gone down to see it from the inside, but, truth-be-told, I was put off by the notice that said “Dungeon - not toilet” which damped my enthusiasm because of what I imagined I might find down there!
We had our lunch in the lee of the castle on a small beach and tried our hands at making fire using a bow-drill.  None of us succeeded on this occasion, but then we only spent a couple of minutes each trying to do this.  However, it did serve to remind us that fire-by-friction is both hard work and not to be taken for granted!

Several people wanted to camp overnight in the castle ruins but it didn’t really fit in with our plan to make good headway down the loch, so after a long-lunch stop, we set off again down the loch in our boats.
Our endeavour was rewarded because that day we made it right back to our starting point on the south-east side of the loch and we made our final camp next to “the mother-ship” (Mal and Marion’s van).  We enjoyed a final night of sitting in front of another blazing fire, eating, talking and, for some, finishing off the odd alcoholic beverage!  (No point using valuable petrol to take it home!)
Next day we woke to heavy rain and a stiff, cold wind.  It would have been miserable paddling into this so we were all thankful that we had turned for home when we did.  After breaking camp it was time for a quick drive to the renowned Green Welly for a full Scottish breakfast which felt fully deserved (and seemed to taste even better after our few days outside).
My over-riding memories of this trip:  adventure, good canoeing, warm fires, beautiful scenery and, most of all, good company.  Thanks guys.  See you again next year?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Canoe Journey

Its Easter again and time for another extended canoe journey, always a highlight in any year.

This year's venue was Loch Awe, I last paddled it in May 2000 a full 16 years ago in the company of John Pear & Paul Richardson when we travelled from the southern end of the loch via the river Awe and on to Loch Etive. The present trip was undertaken with Marion and four others (three Andy's and an Ian!). Our plan was to complete a circumnavigation of the loch, some fifty miles over three and a half days paddling.

Loch Awe has a Canadian feel to it, flanked by rolling hills covered in forestry with a majestic snow capped ridge line overlooking its northern shores. The weather at the end of March and running into early April was, overall, very kind to us. Caught somewhere between the last throes of winter and the beginning of Spring we experienced: rain, hail, wind and spells of bright warm sunshine. On three of our four nights stars lit up the sky.


From memory Loch Awe must have seen a little development over the last 16 years, there appears to have been some growth in holiday accommodation around the loch shore. However, with the exception of a brief stop off at Dalavich we only saw two other people around or on the loch over the entirety of our visit.

We began our journey on the eastern side of this huge body of fresh water leaving vehicle and trailer at a forestry commission car park and paddling south for just a short distance into a force 4/5 head wind in quite challenging conditions. We found a rough campsite in a bay sheltered from the wind and so the pattern of: journey - camp - journey - camp ... began.


Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday saw long spells of paddling, 6-7 hours each day. We turned to head north when about half a kilometre from the southern tip of the loch and continued our journey via paddling, sailing when possible and weaving from side to side of the loch as conditions and sight seeing demanded.



The camp sites were not the most pristine with several being contaminated with debris from previous users. However, with the exception of one night we enjoyed some excellent fires, courtesy of Andy Hoe, our "fire starter"!

We didn't make it to the most northerly end of the loch, instead opting to turn round about 4km short. Again our return journey saw us make several open crossings in order to take in the small settlement of Dalavich and make a visit to Findhorn Castle - a real highlight.


Our journey finally ended on Thursday evening after a long afternoon of paddling into a headwind which always threatened but never really materialised into something serious. After a paddle of approaching 50 miles the trip was over. One more night in the wilderness ahead of the long drive home.

Sat in front of the log burner two nights on Marion & I are still trying to adjust to life "with walls", the sounds of lapping water and calls of birds being replaced by the drone of Carlisle's traffic. Its not an easy process!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Everything Changes

The greatest day in history?

Its Easter Day 2016, over two thousand years since the empty tomb was discovered, the day everything changed forever. 

We began our lent journey back on Ash Wednesday, 10 February, it seems a long long time ago that we wrote:

"This year we don't intend to run a regular series of Lent posts on the blog and we are not planning to give up chocolate, alcohol, caffeine or anything else like that. We will, however, spend much time reflecting on those 40 days in the wilderness, what they did mean and what they could mean to us today. A theme of "Living Simply" is developing. Its our hope that some of our endeavours to "live simply" might make interesting or thought provoking reading, if so we'll post them here!"

Well its turned out to be far from simple and there have been no "follow up" posts on this subject. There's been no need to reflect on what 40 days in the wilderness might be like, its been a very real & gritty experience with much opportunity to live through: memories of dark times; deep hurt; deceit; lies and temptation - much like those 40 days described in Luke Chapter 4. There have been more lows than highs and many "after-shocks". 

There have been activities which have amplified the journey, mainly underground, with visits to Alum Pot, Nenthead Mines & a very physical days caving in the Peak District coming to mind.

However, the light at the end of the tunnel has been glowing brightly for some time now and although progress has felt painfully slow with many backward steps we are able to testify this Easter Day that:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it"

Its Easter Day 2016 - our here & now - Everything Changes.

Happy Easter,

Mal & Marion

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Pinned Canoe ... Interesting Day

We had an interesting day on the river recently!

Very early in a group trip on a local river we decided to line the canoes down a rapid as it was judged that one or two group members might succumb to a potential pinning hazard should they attempt to paddle it. The lining process started well.

However, toward the end of the lining exercise a Mad River Explorer 14 open canoe became pinned. It was stuck fast with the river right bow jammed under a rock ledge & an area around the centre of the boat being forced on to a large mid stream rock by the powerful current.

An initial attempt was made to free the boat by attaching a throw line to the "jammed" end (river right) & pulling from the opposite bank - this was simply the easiest & lowest risk option for rescue. It didn't work.

It was felt that attaching a line to the mid-stream end of the boat would likely have a greater effect. This, however, involved the increased risk of having to wade out into the current in order to attach an appropriate line.

The risk did, though, produce the hoped for reward and some brute strength on the newly attached line freed the trapped craft!

Its a testimony to modern materials & boat building that a canoe which had been so firmly pinned and subject to such huge forces emerged from its ordeal just about unmarked!

The day had a bit of everything really - interesting!