Rubbishing the idea that it’s getting too cold for watersports, Gayle heads to Perthshire for a spot of autumnal tubing.
It’s mid October and there’s a distinct chill in the air as I arrive at Nae Limits, a fantastic outdoor activity centre near Pitlochry.
I’ve come here for a session of white water tubing, billed on their website as “an awesome adrenalin-packed activity” and “not for the faint-hearted”.
I’m pretty brave when it comes to water, although I’m not too keen on being dunked under it, especially if it’s freezing cold.
Joining me on the morning trip is a group of guys in their mid-20s celebrating a birthday.
They’re all pretty chilled out and one lad admits he’s not the best swimmer in the world, which is a shame because the activity requires a degree of water confidence.
Luckily, our guide, Guy Lewis-Williams, reassures us that the tubes in which we’re about to sit in and float down the River Tummel are mega buoyant, as are our life-jackets.
“You won’t sink, even if you try to,” he jokes, dishing out our kit and checking we’re all good to go.
My main concern, that I’ll be frozen to the core, diminishes as I pull on a helmet, rash vest, sleeveless wetsuit, zip-up top and lifejacket. Indeed, it’s music to my ears when Guy claims the Tummel is “one of the warmest” rivers in the area at this time of year.
Before we plunge into the swirling waters, he gives us a rundown on how best to control our tubes, and what to do should we fall out of them.
“The tubes are like the inner tubes of tractor tyres on steroids – purpose-built to withstand bangs and bumps from rapids and rocks,” he explains.
The fun starts when we plop into our giant rubber rings and, with a push from Guy, head down the river – backwards.
I seem to have absolutely no control whatsoever, and end up spinning round in circles before plummeting down a section of rapids called “The Narrows” facing forwards. It’s fine, though, because I don’t fall out, unlike some of the lads.
Guy hollers commands, and attempts to help us to propel our tubes in the right direction, but it’s hard work.
“There is a technique, but it can take a while,” offers Guy, as I whirl towards the riverbank.
The big thrills come when we approach what Guy refers to as “The Zigzags” – the most technical section of our trip.
The river is high thanks to recent heavy rainfall, so the waterfalls and drops here are fantastically good fun to navigate.
One thing to watch is that your bum doesn’t get bumped on a rock, and Guy’s advice is to raise your posterior as you sense any such hazards approaching.
Next up is “Surf’s Up”, a recirculating wave which one by one, we all drop into and get stuck.
The science behind it is a bit complex, but basically, the water here flows over a rock, creating a gap that’s refilled by the river which folds back on itself and flows back upstream, creating a continual recirculating flow of water.
It’s not until a fellow tuber comes down and bumps into you that you pop out of the wave, and it’s rather reminiscent of being on a dodgem at a funfair!
Meandering down the river, we negotiate tiny drops and rapids before reaching a long, bumpy section called “The Rollercoaster”.
It seems, however, that Guy has left the most exhilarating stuff to the end, and we gasp in a combination of fear and excitement as we approach the waterfalls at the Linn of Tummel.
“Nobody has to do this,” warns Guy, as we gaze at the rush of foamy water.
“I’ll try to keep you away from the ‘back-breaker’ rock, which is called that for a very good reason!
“Also watch out for the ‘rooster’s tail’, a spray of water which fires up and out of the main flow.”
I hang back and watch a few of the guys take the plunge and pop out in the pool below smiling.
Then it’s my turn. On my first shot, I float down head-first no problem, but when I go again, the strangest thing happens – I fall out of my tube, go under the water backwards and find myself being sucked back towards the waterfall. It’s rather unnerving!
As I emerge, coughing and spluttering, Guy informs me that what just happened was very rare.
“I see maybe one in 300 people do that!” he chuckles. “You landed at the bottom and thought you were okay but then you got sucked back in and under – a bit like a recirculating wave. You didn’t expect that, did you?!”
The grand finale, and which nobody had been expecting, is the opportunity to do some cliff jumping.
This involves clambering up a rocky outcrop and leaping into the swirling waters below. The first jump, at around 10ft, is scary enough but we all conquer it.
There’s also the chance to do an even more terrifying jump – at around 18ft.
“Only do this if you feel confident,” advises Guy, and I’m glad when a couple of guys choose not to.
However, there’s a devil within me that absolutely wants to do this and so, with rather shaky legs, climb up to the top.
I’m concerned about a couple of giant, bone-shattering rocks which appear to be directly below me. Won’t I land on them?
“Just make sure you step out quite far and beyond them,” says Guy.
I go for it, albeit with my eyes closed and holding my nose, and am so glad I did. I bob out of the water buzzing from head to toe and feeling extremely proud.
If you’re considering tubing but reckon autumn is too cold for it, think again. I guarantee you’ll have a whale of a time.
Ballinluig-based Nae Limits is a professional outfit with qualified, experienced guides who take health and safety seriously.
White water tubing on River Tummel is aimed at adrenalin junkies but the company also offers adventure tubing on River Garry, which is aimed at families and those wanting a more chilled experience. naelimits.co.uk