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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 25/06/2021

Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters celebrates every aspect of our beautiful shores and waterways with a programme of activity designed to inspire both visitors and locals to explore and experience everything that makes them special.

This month we spoke to Piotr Gudan, founder of Perthshire’s Outdoor Explore, to find out more about his life on the water.

What made you want to pursue a career in paddle sports and how have you achieved it?

The opportunity for adventures, and the chance to share them with others: the big ones, and the small ones, far away and just on our doorstep. I have been paddling for over 20 years now: coaching, guiding, exploring, and still loving it as much I did when I started, all those years ago.

My career started at university in Poland, in Gdansk. The student club, SKK Morzkulc, is full of inspiring members and amazing traditions. It is well connected with other similar clubs around the country, which allowed me to meet like-minded people to go on expeditions with and the opportunity to try sea kayaking, touring kayaking, canoeing and white-water kayaking.

Especially when you are starting a new sport, hobby, or career, as this turned out unexpectedly to be, you want to be greeted by welcoming people, in a friendly environment, with many opportunities. Joining a club, which has qualified coaches, access to try a lot of different craft and the offer of interesting locations, is worth it, if the activity is something you might want to try for yourself.

I never really intended to do paddle sport as a full-time job, I was studying civil engineering and geography at the time. Who wouldn’t like to have a job which you love doing though? When opportunities started to appear for experienced and qualified paddle sport coaches it was time to make the decision. I never regretted it or looked back once.

Ten years ago, I settled in Scotland. Before that I’d had been travelling, living, and exploring in many countries, gaining more experiences and qualifications.

This wonderful country has so much to offer and so many beautiful places to visit. This led me to start my own company, Outdoor Explore, based in Blairgowrie, Perthshire but offering its services across the whole of Tay County, and far beyond.

Piotr Gudan

Piotr Gudan (Credit: Outdoor Explore)

Can you tell us about the philosophy behind Outdoor Explore?

Outdoor Explore offers guided kayak tours in Scotland. Set up in Blairgowrie, Perthshire but offering instructor led trips and coaching sessions across Tayside and further afield. We offer touring kayaking trips, open canoeing, sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding but we also use, and teach paddling in coracles!

Our main services are aimed at novice paddlers, of all ages, who wish to try this activity. Families, small groups, and individuals often choose our services as most of our trips are bespoke. You can also easily join us by booking one of our pre-planned events listed on our website, www.outdoorexplore.co.uk

We specialise in slow-paced adventuring in small groups and offer guided trips in over 60 destinations!

If you are looking for some inspiration for where to go, how to make it safe and fun, or wish to try out various crafts, get in touch. We have plenty of different boats and all the gear you need to suit everyone’s needs. We pride ourselves in never saying ‘no’ – and will adapt our trips so everyone can get involved. We’ll even take your dogs out paddling with us!

Outdoor Explore is not only about paddling though. On top of that, we share plenty of stories and facts about the places we visit, the nature found there, sites of interest and even where the best local places are to stay and eat. Furthermore, it’s about responsible use of the countryside. We work with small groups to impact the places the least. We care, plan our trips at various times of the year to avoid nesting seasons at crucial places, carefully manage the social posts we share and our guides complete a litter pick of the area before every trip. We have created our Green Charter listing all these elements, to promote the best practices.

As part of this, Outdoor Explore occasionally offers our superb guided tours for free! Join us at one of our Litter Free Paddle trips. From the moment we launched in 2014, I knew it was important to leave the places we visited better than we found them. If you’re willing to help us to litter pick during the guided tour, you can paddle with us for free on these unique events! Over the years, with support of over 250 volunteers, we have cleared over 4 tonnes of rubbish from the Tayside waterways. We have more of these trips coming up soon. Keep an eye on our social media and get in touch if you wish to know more.

Can you tell us about some of the sites (rural and urban) that people can experience by kayak with Outdoor Explore?

Shall we start with amazing kayaking just across from Dundee with the hope of spotting dolphins near our kayaks? These trips launch from Broughty Ferry or Tayport, using single or double sea kayaks which are safe and comfortable allowing even those who are completely new to paddle sports to join us. We also often have the privilege of seeing grey seals, cormorants and, occasionally, spotted sea eagles!

If you would rather take a trip further inland, how about the old Scottish capital, Perth. The River Tay in the heart of the city offers visitors a look into so much of nature. We created the list of the ‘Big Five of Perth’ which we might encounter on our guided tours: beavers, otters, kingfishers, ospreys and even seals! And we can’t forget about the history, from the Roman era to modern times. Perth has it all, and we are the longest established operator offering trips in the city centre and also further along the banks of the River Tay.

If urban locations are not your thing, not a problem. How about the remote feeling of Loch Rannoch, ancient sites on Loch Tay or winter stargazing trips at Clunie Loch? Or maybe some cliffs, caves and Viking stories along the East Coast of Scotland in Fife, Angus or South Aberdeenshire?

With over 60 destinations we can find something for everyone, from a relaxing, slow-paced trips to white water adventures. You can even opt in for a unique kayak picnic on board your kayak. Locally sourced food, snacks, coffee and cake on your bespoke tour. Why not make it a sunset paddle, or join us earlier to enjoy a beautiful sunrise? What’s not to like.

It’s not all about the paddling on Outdoor Explore’s guided tours, it’s about the experience, the journey, the places we visit and, most importantly, it’s about you. All aspects of our trips can be tailored to suit your wants, needs, aims, dates and locations. We are also here to offer advice on the local area as well.

Tay Bridge

Kayaking by the Tay Bridge (Credit: Outdoor Explore)

Water wellness is a growing trend – do you see a positive impact of being on the water in terms of people’s health and wellbeing?

This probably won’t be a surprise but indeed, many of our participants return to us for exactly these reasons. Visiting quiet places, far from the daily routines and issues is hugely beneficial to the participants.

Often our kayak trips are very short and very little is said along the way because we are simply listening to nature; the waterfalls nearby in the mountains, birds singing, the wind on the hills and in the forests. For some, this escape is simply enough.

We travel slow to allow everyone to look around, take in the moments in their full, to truly enjoy the experience. This is so simple but really ‘recharges our batteries’. And you don’t have to wait until the weekend. The long Scottish summer days allow you to start your adventure super early, or maybe later on, all through the week, so you use the times wisely.

For some of us, after a challenging couple of years, it’s great to join a small group of similar-minded people. Have a chat, take some coffee and snacks with you and meet new friends in safe environments, in beautiful places.

How easy is it for beginners to get involved in watersports? Do you enjoy helping to build people’s confidence on the water?

Outdoor Explore’s guided kayak tours and coaching sessions are, as default, novice friendly. We have a lot of kit and many years of experience introducing people to this sport and we still love inspiring others to join our adventures.

The journey with us goes further than the actual trip itself. We often help and advise where to paddle next; who to paddle with to keep it safe and fun; and where to buy your own kit and how to learn to use it safely.

We run our Kayak Clinic events where you can pick up plenty of useful top tips, try plenty of types of kit before you go shopping for your own.

I love coaching, inspiring and motivating other to explore kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. Besides many years of experience delivering courses and tours myself it’s important to me to stay up to date with teaching best practices, being accredited by recognisable scheme systems and partnering with other truly professional organisations. Check out our credentials and user reviews to be reassured that choosing Outdoor Explore’s services is worth it.

If you are an experienced paddler and looking to improve your skills, or maybe to learn how to go about planning and adventuring on multi-day trips, we can help as well. Paddle sport activities are what all our team do because it’s a great way to explore Scotland and because it’s what we love! Let us help you to see magnificent places, often on your doorstep which you might never have seen before. Your previous experiences shouldn’t feel like a barrier. We will help you to find your way.

Kayaking trip

Kayaking trip (Credit: Outdoor Explore)

Are there any particularly innovative experiences you have designed for people to take part it?

Our Kayak Picnic trips are becoming a ‘must try experience’, when visiting the rural Perthshire, the Highlands and further afield. When you have a special occasion, or maybe wish to make a good paddle tour even better, let us treat you to some amazing, locally sourced food onboard your kayak. The lunch boards are locally built in Perthshire and even the wood used to make them is sourced from Scottish forests.

For many years we have also been offering Night Kayak Tours between October and March. Starting with plenty of time to allow everyone to get ready safely before going on the water using our unique double kayaks, visiting Scotland After Dark. We will hear so much more wildlife than you can imagine. If we're lucky, we will teach you a thing or two about stargazing as well. We can arrange a small fire with hot chocolate and marshmallows as well, during or after the trip. Watch our short clip for a taster of the experience. 

For nature and wildlife lovers we have created Wildlife Safari Kayak Tours on the River Tay and other nearby locations. We will start very early, or run trips very late, allowing more chances to see some amazing creatures along the shoreline. We have often experienced close encounters with beavers, otters, kingfishers, ospreys and even seals. On rarer occasions we have felt truly privileged to have shared the tour with eagles, dolphins and puffins on our guided kayak tours from various locations along the East Coast of Scotland.

Finally, for those seeking a heritage linked experience we can teach you how to use a coracle on our Heritage Tours!

These crafts are handmade locally, some even by Outdoor Explore with a local teaching expert based in Perthshire. We collaborate with them offering an introduction to coracle events, and river and loch trips in these crafts made of willow and canvas. We explore not only how to manoeuvre them, but also share how they were used for centuries, presenting replicas of other associated tools and skills for fishing, hunting, and travelling.

Night Kayak Tour

Night Kayak Tour (Credit: Outdoor Explore)

What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had in terms of your work?

In every industry, every person has had to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic realities. We at Outdoor Explore are no exception. Many of our routines, such as cleaning all the equipment and our hands after the trips, working with small groups only and keeping 2 metres distance were in our operational standards already, due to nature of our work.

We have had no overseas visitors since the pandemic, but it’s great to see many local residents and people travelling from other parts of the UK to join our guided tours. We all are truly rediscovering Scotland’s gems, often hidden just on our doorstep.

As with everyone, we are trying to stay positive and look at last year’s challenges as opportunities to try new things, products and services. We have added stand-up paddle boarding to our activities. We have launched our sister company Outdoor Explore Wales and refreshed the more local Perth City Tours.

We have joined forces with other great operators in our area, to support each other and promote best practices. Look up the Perthshire Adventure project we co-lead, or East Scotland Activities which we helped to create.

Knowing that many people cannot visit from outside of the UK, we are working on an interactive online guidebook and itineraries for you to enjoy and get inspired from the comfort of your home, wherever you are. Scotland, Outdoor Explore and our team of expert guides are ready and waiting for your next visit.

Is seeing Scotland’s wildlife an important part of the experiences you lead?

Absolutely. That’s why we choose to work with small groups or individuals, to impact the wildlife as little as possible. We plan our trips based on nesting and breeding seasons. We follow local advice and seek updated information from NatureScot, local wildlife rangers and experts in the field.

Our guides within Outdoor Explore’s operations, are constantly learning, evolving, and improving our knowledge. We attend lectures, research a lot before visiting places and regularly get quality assured by the various organisations to provide best practice when offering guided trips.

Wildlife, history and wellness are pretty much the key elements of Outdoor Explore’s guided tours.

In 2021 we have taken part and successfully completed a pilot course by Wildlife Safe Operator Scheme (wise.org) called Adventure, aimed at tour operators, guides, and providers offering trips on the coast. We are currently the only WiSe Adventure accredited centre on the East Coast of Scotland reassuring our participants that our trips will be reach of wildlife but impacting it as little as possible.

What do you think makes Scotland’s coasts and waters so special and do you have a favourite place to visit?

There is so much that Scotland’s coast and waters have to offer.

Firstly, there is so much of it. Based in Blairgowrie, Outdoor Explore has an opportunity to visit over 60 destinations for kayaking within 90 minutes drive from our base. From the lochs to the sea, well populated places, and some truly quiet places.

Scottish water is also very clean. This not only looks great but hugely helps nature too. Over the years we have noticed the expansion of the habitats for unique wildlife species sites, which is great. We cherish this, carefully allowing it to grow in numbers in peace,  it’s simply amazing to see how much is around us.

Is there a favourite place nearby? There are a few I love returning to, Loch Laggan in the Highlands for its magical views; Angus Coast for the amazing cliffs and caves and, the top of the list, the River Ericht in Perthshire to find everything you might be looking for. Wildlife, dramatic gorge, castle, legends, serious white water and calm meanders. This is the place which brought me to Scotland in the first place and I am unlikely to move. We recently worked on a great project about River Ericht the summary of which can be seen on this short clip.

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