Did an Inuit go to Scotland?


AN ADVENTURER will attempt to prove Inuit could have paddled from Greenland to Scotland by undertaking a daring 1,200 mile sea voyage.

Olly Hicks will set out on June 14 to kayak across the Arctic and North seas to Cape Wrath at the tip of the Scottish mainland.

The 34-year-old was inspired by the story of an Inuit man who landed on the coast near Aberdeen in 1728, only to die of exhaustion three days later.

He will set off from Greenland to complete a journey he has dubbed Arctic Kon-Tiki expedition - a reference to Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian adventurer who in 1947 crossed 4,300 miles of the Pacific on a raft to prove similar journeys could have been made by ancient Polynesians.

Hicks believes his own voyage will shed new light on how ancient people settled across the islands of the north Atlantic and Arctic seas.

He will complete the journey in stages, kayaking first from Greenland to Iceland, then from Iceland to the Faroes, before making the final 50-mile crossing to the Scottish mainland.

“I first heard the story of the Inuit making it to Aberdeen from a friend and fellow paddler, Patrick Winterton,” he said.

“We had discussed making a voyage from Iceland to Scotland and he suggested I read Voyage of the Finmen, by Norman Rogers.”

The book tells the story of the Belhelvie kayak - the name given to a small boat which made landfall near Aberdeen in the early 18th century.

Its occupant - presumed to be an Inuit - died shortly after. The kayak itself was preserved and is now on display at the Marischal Museum in the city.

‘Finmen’ was the generic name Scots gave to the Inuit people they occasionally encountered while sailing the far north seas.

Numerous sightings of such kayaks were recorded around the Shetland and Orkneys in the late 17th century.

One theory is they had been held captive by other forces before making their escape.

Debate has raged as to how the kayak ended up in Aberdeen, but Hicks is convinced it could have been paddled from the man’s homeland.

“There is a lot of cynicism as to whether they did paddle all the way,” he said.

“Our project can’t definitely prove it as we won’t be using original gear, but it does highlight the story which is quite little known.

“It would have been horrendously difficult for them. Their original kayaks were made of skins, stretched over a bone or driftwood frame. They kept it waterproof by using animals fats and oils, which supposedly wore off after three days - but there are ways they could have got round that, whether by carrying extra oil or by forming part of a flotilla.”

Hicks, a friend of Prince William, became the youngest person to row across the Atlantic in 2005. He has also kayaked from Scotland to Norway.

He will be joined by 27-year-old George Bullard for the Greenland-Scotland attempt next month.

They will paddle a kayak made of carbon fibre and hope to cover the 1,200-mile crossing in six weeks, including rest days in Iceland and the Faroes.

Hicks is also preparing another attempt to row around the world solo, after a previous expedition was called off in 2008.