Story & illustration by Bertie.
Read by Richard.
Voice of Jessica & singing by Jana.
Guitar music by Bertie.
Proofed & audio edited by Jana Elizabeth.
When the kids were small, they loved going to the beach. Building sandcastles, splashing in the waves, pestering Dad into digging a giant hole in the sand while the sun beat down. These were all joyful pastimes.
But as they got older, the mention of the word ‘beach’ made them go BORING!
They wanted action holidays that involved things like pony trekking, diving, or at least camping. Jeremy even wanted to go rock climbing.
But Dad….he’s not an action man, and as for Mum, well, she likes her comforts.
As you know, Dad has a brother. His name is Jeff, and he has a rather different personality. And his girlfriend, Jessica, loves to do outdoorsy kind of things.
This last holiday, Uncle Jeff and Jessica took the kids to Scotland. It can be pretty chilly up in bonny Scotland, but Uncle Jeff assured everyone that spring was about to arrive.
On, on they drove, up into the highlands. The windscreen wipers were swishing at full tilt, struggling to sweep away the heavy rain. The kids peered between the drops on the windows, and could see grey mountains topped by dark angry clouds. Jessica claimed that even the heather was shivering in the damp and cold and the kids pointed out the most miserable looking sheep you ever saw. This was shaping up to be a true Scottish holiday.
“It’s a good thing we packed the board games,” said Jessica, “because this is going to be an in-door holiday.”
But when they arrived at their rented cottage, near Loch Ailort on the West Coast of Scotland, the sun appeared as if by magic. A curtain of haze and drizzle parted to reveal a landscape of glistening mountains, sparkling water, and pale skies.
“See, I told you the weather would be lovely,” said Jeff as they clambered out of the car.
Jessica’s little dog, Smoochies, scampered down to the water’s edge, which was not far away, and yapped at some gulls.
The kids were delighted to stretch their legs, and to chase Smoochies to the edge of the loch, where they stopped to skim flint stones across the surface of the pristine water. A kestrel cruised overhead spying the ground for his supper, a frog croaked somewhere, and even the rocks looked like they were waking up to enjoy the gentle warmth.
The cottage was cosy enough inside. Uncle Jeff threw some frankfurters and baked beans into the frying pan for supper. They sat on the patio to eat as they watched the orange sun drop behind the mountains. “You don’t get views like that in Surbiton, eh?” said Jeff.
They all agreed. And then Jessica said, “Yes, but they don’t have monsters in the River Thames.”
“What?” said Jemima. “There aren’t monsters in the loch, are there?”
“Well, you’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster, presumably?” whispered Jessica, narrowing her eyes.
“Don’t worry, she’s only kidding,” said Jeff who could see that Jemima was alarmed. “Besides, this is Loch Ailort, not Loch Ness.” But her brother, Jeremy, did not calm her fears. He said, “Monsters, maybe not, but there might well be sharks.”
“Get away,” laughed Jeff. “I’ve seen a shark fin cutting through the sea in New Zealand, but this is Scotland.”
“But there are Scottish sharks,” insisted Jeremy. “I saw them on YouTube.”
“Well alright,” backtracked Jeff. “There might be basking sharks, but they are harmless. You don’t have to worry about them unless you happen to be a teeny weeny plancton. In fact, basking sharks are gentle sea beasts, and I would love to swim along with one.”
But Jeremy and Jemima agreed that whatever their uncle did, they were not going to swim with any sort of shark.
There were four kayaks in the garage, and Jeff’s plan was to lead them on a canoeing expedition. But first they had to learn how to paddle. The next morning, Jeff gave them a lesson. He instructed them to put on their life jackets, sunglasses and hats, take their paddles, and stand in the garden.
“You grip your paddle lightly, just so,” he demonstrated, “and you make this sort of turning motion, don’t use your arms, because they will soon start to feel tired, but swivel with your whole body from the waist.”
When everyone had practiced paddling while standing up, the next thing was to learn how to climb in and out of the kayak. Jeff dragged one of the boats down to the shore and placed it in the water alongside the bank. He showed them how to steady the boat with the paddle, holding it behind your back, and then how to shift your bottom onto the boat and slip it into the hollow. It took the kids a few goes to learn this trick, but soon they were ready to launch out into the water.
“We’re floating! This is amazing! I love it!” called out Jessica. A minute later - Splash! Her boat turned over and she was upside down in the water. Jeff had told the kids to lean forward to escape from the boat, and fortunately she remembered to do this. She swallowed some of the lake but was otherwise fine. Then she had to try and get back into her kayak.
“Imagine that you are a seal,” said Uncle Jeff. Pull your belly across the end of the kayak.”
She tried, but, whoops! She slithered back into the water and pulled the boat back over with her. Jeremy was laughing so much that he capsized too.
Over the next couple of days, they mastered the art of paddling straight as well as turning, and most important of all, underwater escaping, when the boat capsized.
After three days of morning and afternoon practices, they were ready to set off further down the loch.
The night before the expedition, Jeff and Jessica lined up all the things they needed for the trip. A cooker, plates, tins of food, tarpaulin, torches, towels, dry clothes, sleeping bags, sunscreen, and a first aid kit. “Will all that fit into our boats?” asked Jemima.
“Should do,” said Jeff.
“Don’t forget the chocolate,” said Jeremy.
“And the tent,” added Jessica.
“Can’t take a tent,” replied Jeff. “We’ll be bivouacking.”
“What if it rains?”
“We’ll get wet.”
They all hoped that the weather forecast was right for once, because it was supposed to be warm and dry, unusually so by Scottish standards.
Uncle Jeff woke everyone up at 6am. After a breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and honey, they ferried their kit down to the edge of the loch. Somehow they managed to make it all disappear into the hatches of their kayaks, and they were ready to set off.
Smoochies thought they were going to leave him behind. He was barking his head off to remind them not to forget him.
“Of course you’re coming too my darling,” said Jessica, as she fitted his baby life jacket around him.
The water was a little choppy. But the kids had learned their paddling lessons well. They were bobbing up and down, as happy as seagulls, at one with nature, propelled by the oldest technology known to humankind - muscle power. By mid morning, they were really, really hungry, and ready to eat deep into the store of chocolate, but Uncle Jeff kept them on strict rations because he knew that the further you kayak, the more you need to refuel with chocolate. So they had to do with three squares each.
On they paddled. By lunchtime their arms were aching. Uncle Jeff pointed to an island. Everyone was pleased to head for more or less dry land.
Tomato and cheese sandwiches and a few squares of chocolate taste like the finest feast ever when you eat them while breathing in the purest of pure Scottish air and sit amidst the ancient stillness of the Highlands and listen to the pristine waters of the Loch gently lapping against the shore.
“Those are the mountains that Bonnie Prince Charlie wandered over,” said Uncle Jeff.
“Why, was he lost?” asked Jeremy.
“Well maybe,” said Jeff. “He came here from France in 1745 and led a rebellion against the English. When the Scots were beaten at the battle of Culloden, he escaped across the moors and the mountains, hiding out for many months. Eventually a woman called Flora MacDonald took pity on him. She dressed him up as her maid, gave him the name of Betty, and they slipped across the water to the Isle of Sky, and eventually he got away, back to France.”
“That’s such a romantic story,” said Jemima.
“You know, there’s song about it,” said Jessica.
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
“Time to get paddling,” said Jeff, and they picked up their paddles.
They journeyed on until late afternoon. That evening, they sat around a campfire and watched the sun set, before spending the night under the sky, jam packed with stars.
On the second day, Smoochies spotted a seal sunbathing on a rock. Perhaps he thought the seal was another dog, or maybe even an enormous cat, because he started to bark and became ever so excited that he fell into the water. Fortunately he managed to keep doggy paddling until Jessica hauled him out.
Soon they saw an entire colony of seals, on and around the rocks, and one of them popped its head out of the water just by Jemima’s boat. He seemed to be smiling, and Jemima smiled and waved back at him.
But the seal didn’t seem to like this. He immediately dived down back into the water.
“Ha! You scared him with your evil smile,” said Jeremy.
And it seemed he wasn’t the only one, because now all the seals that were in the water were heading back for the rocks.
“It’s not Jemima who’s spooked him. It’s that,” said Uncle Jeff pointing with his paddle. A few hundred yards away, a black fin was cutting through the water.
“What’s that, Uncle Jeff?” asked Jemima.
“It’s a shark, of course,” said Jeremy. “I told you. Scottish sharks do exist!”
“I’m going to take a closer look,” said Uncle Jeff. “You can hang back here.”
“Are you sure that’s wise, Jeff?” warned Jessica. “Don’t take any risks.”
“Sure, it’s probably a basking shark,” said Jeff. “I’ll check him out.”
And he started to paddle towards the fin.
“No, Uncle Jeff, please don’t,” pleaded the kids.
“I’ll be fine,” called back Jeff. He was now speeding through the water, and what’s more, the fin was speeding towards him. And it wasn't just the one fin.
“Oh my gosh!” said Jessica. “There’s another one.”
Because now they could see there were two sharks on a collision course with Jeff’s little canoe!
Undeterred, Jeff kept on paddling.
“You don’t suppose he really means to swim with them, do you?” asked Jemima, remembering what he had said before they set out.
Perhaps he hadn’t meant to swim with them. But soon he had little choice because..
Both the sea creatures, whatever they were, decided to leap out of the water. They made a spectacular scene. These sleek smooth creatures, with arched backs and pointing fins doing acrobatics above the water - but one of them dived back in and went right under Jeff’s boat, causing his canoe to capsize!
Jeff was upside down in the water. There was nothing for it. He had to free himself or drown. He ripped the waterproof skirt off the opening of his boat, leaned forward, and rolled out, just as he was supposed to. And then, he was swimming with the sharks.
The kids and Jessica were screaming their heads off! Smoochies was barking like he had seen the Loch Ness monster, and Uncle Jeff was trying to turn his boat back up the right way. While he was doing this, the sharks continued their circus tricks and one of them leapt right over him. Despite this setback and relieved that he wasn’t eaten, (not yet anyway) Uncle Jeff turned over his boat, clambered aboard, and unfixed his emergency paddle, because the other one was floating in the water. He started to head towards the rocks where the colony of seals were sheltering. All the way, the sharks followed alongside, sometimes circling around him. Eventually he scrambled onto the rocks. The kids, along with Jessica, arrived soon after.
“Uncle Jeff, you shouldn’t have done that, you could have been killed,” cried Jemima.
“For goodness sake, Jeff,” screamed Jessica, hugging her bedraggled boyfriend. “That was spectacularly silly. It’s a miracle you’re alive!”
“No no,” said Jeff. “They were just harmless old basking sharks.”
“Do you really think so, Uncle Jeff?” asked Jeremy. “Because aren’t basking sharks meant to be shy? And why do you think the seals were afraid of them if they are so harmless?”
“That’s true Jeremy,” said Jessica. “Harmless, Jeff? They certainly didn’t seem harmless from where we were.”
“They were circling around your boat, like proper sharks,” said Jemima.
Jeff scratched his head. “Well I’m no expert on wildlife,” he said.
“But you’re right, they didn’t behave quite like I expected them to.”
“We’re lucky you're still with us,” said Jessica.
“Because,” said Jeremy, “You came that close to being eaten by a Scottish Shark!”
And that was ‘Wicked Uncle and the Scottish Shark’, read by me, Richard for Storynory.com.
And I'm delighted to dedicate this story to Aurelio aged 4, and his younger sister, Serafina. They live in Seattle with their mum, Jen, and their dad Antonio. And their family has become monthly supporters of Storynory on Patreon.
Aurelio particularly loves one our more spooky stories about Baba Yaga, the witch and has listened to it dozens of times. I do hope that the whole family enjoy this story about Wicked Uncle!
Thank you again for supporting us.