A year at sea with just a kayak and a tent around the coast of Scotland may not appeal to many, but for one adventurer it is an opportunity to find a special type of solace.
On the day of his 59th birthday, Nick Ray left his home in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull with only a plan to return on the day he turns 60 - August 28, 2023.
The remainder of his 12-month itinerary will be determined by “where the wind and the tides” will take him.
The 59-year-old author is only “governed by the daylight hours and the weather” and a wish to be able to explore every “nook and cranny of the coastline”.
Since a four-month journey to every RNLI lifeboat station from Kippford to Eyemouth in 2015, Mr Ray has had a “desire to travel slowly around the coastline of Scotland”.
“The idea of spending a year paddling on my 59th-year sort of took root and took hold,” he said.
“Melding that with my mental health recovery and using it as a way of celebrating life, that is how it all came together.”
The journey is also a celebration of his own life and the fact that he is alive after a suicide attempt three years ago.
Speaking on the healing effect nature has on his mental health, he said: “For me, the outdoors is very much a natural realm for me. I lived and worked in the outdoors all my life really.
“But I do gain a lot of solace from the outdoors, I feel very at home, in that environment and at peace.
“My pace of life slows down and I become far more aware of the present moment rather than worrying about the future or worrying about the past.”
A slow pace and minimal worries of getting from one point to another is at the heart of his journey, having paddled through many enchanting parts of Scotland in the past.
When he took on a RNLI charity trip seven years ago, which is also the subject of his first book, he had a planned route to follow.
This trip is different, he said: “It's very organic and very easy, I suppose it's itinerant in a way.
“Not paddling hard and just travelling at the pace of nature and just enjoying exploring every little nook and cranny of the coastline. That’s pretty much the flavour of the trip really.”
Currently paddling around Islay, he may head towards the Clyde next month before making his way "slowly up the west coast".
"Who knows whether I head up towards Orkney and Shetland or go round and down the East coast or towards the Hebrides," he said. "The only definite thing is to end up back in Tobermory on August 28."
I’ve finally managed to download the tonnes of footage I’ve filmed so far. Here’s a wee clip from when I was exploring the incredible coastline of the Ardmeanach Peninsula on the Isle of Mull, all those weeks ago. Sound on for the immersive experience. 😊 pic.twitter.com/pABl6Op2YA
— Nick Ray (@LifeAfloat) September 22, 2022
He has put his small jewellery-making business on hold for the next year but has continued journaling with plans to write a book about the experience.
The first weeks of his trip have been a “completely immersive experience” for him.
Mr Ray said he has been enjoying the isolation of the journey and said: “When I paddled along Jura, I think for three days I didn’t see another human. That sense of wildness is memorable.
“For a country geographically as small as Scotland, it is wonderful to be able to have that ability to just to feel so isolated, so connected to the landscape.”
The 59-year-old has been sea kayaking since the mid-1990s and the outdoors is where he feels most at home.
The author, who is originally from Zimbabwe, has been taken with every part of Scotland since moving here 15 years ago and then settling on the Isle of Mull with his wife Karen.
“Scotland’s my home now,” he said. “A lot of people ask me whether I want to go kayaking, or travelling abroad.
“I just feel like there's so much of Scotland to explore, not just the coastline, but the mountains and the glens and just the history of Scotland. I am just so at home here really.
“There’s so much to Scotland it is not just the landscape and the wildlife, it’s the communities and the people.”
So far he has also been warmly welcomed by the island communities he visited.
Mr Ray added: “When I arrived at Port Ellen I camped essentially on a piece of grass in front of the town, and nobody complained or made a fuss.
The view from my tent this evening. 😊 pic.twitter.com/lrmv00SmE1
— Nick Ray (@LifeAfloat) September 16, 2022
“People were interested and came to chat. It’s that sense of openness and acceptance that I love about Scotland.”
The year-long journey will also be the longest stretch of time he has spent kayaking, with the winter yet to hit he admitted the coldest months were going to be a “challenge”.
“I’ve done quite a bit of kayaking through the winter but the difference there is that I have been able to choose the days when I go out. Whereas on this trip I'm going to be out there in all weather.
“But we’ll just see how it goes,” he concluded.
Tens of thousands of people have followed his social media looking for daily updates on the year-long journey.
He said: “I’ve been blown away by the interest that’s been shown in it, I never expected in a million years that so many people would be interested in what I was doing.”