Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Skerries in the Mist

Following the great rains of Saturday, I joined members of Liverpool Canoe Club on a trip out to The Skerries off the North West coast of Anglesey. We launched at Cemlyn Bay where there was a gentle breeze and the sun was shining brightly.

As we left the bay we noticed the The Skerries were missing! We paddled into mist and dense fog patches. These weather conditions kept us guessing and focused on our navigation skills. However, past training and practice paid off as the islands loomed out of the gloom with around a kilometre to go.

Life on The Skerries is as hectic as ever. Most of the young Arctic Terns have now fledged but parent birds are still being kept busy feeding some of the younger ones.

A handful of chicks have yet to get their flight feathers. These late comers to the party will have to grow up fast if they are to be strong enough to make the long Autumn migration to the South Atlantic in the next 4-6 weeks.

In the meantime, life in the waters and around the rocks is busy for the seals. There was hardly a dull moment as we were escorted off the premises by several of these playful, inquisitive sea creatures.

The mist and fog patches remained for our return crossing. As we arrived back at the Anglesey shoreline, we took the opportunity to explore the gullies and channels that lead the way from Hen Borth to Cemlyn Bay. Many thanks again to my friends at Liverpool Canoe Club for their company over the weekend.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A return to Bardsey

Trevor an I set off from a misty scene on Aberdaron beach. Initially we headed fro the East side of the bay where we found some entertaining paddling in the caves and amongst the rock gardens.

The poor visibility gave us some concern about the 7km crossing to Bardsey from Ynys Gwylan Bach. In addition, we would be dealing with strong currents generated by strong spring tides.

During the crossing we were entertained by local puffins and spectacular aerial displays of Manx shearwaters as they glided across the sea around us, skimming the tops of the waves. I'm sure they were playing a game of 'dodge the kayak' flying to within feet of our bows.

The crossing took more time and effort than we expected. We were reminded that the crossing to Bardsey is one of the more challenging sort crossings in the UK.

Down on the western pastures the sheep shearers have been and the hay has been cut too. However, one of the fields has been left as a spectacular summer meadow.

Walking along the summit ridge of Mynydd Enlli, we were treated to yet more wild wonders. Mountain thyme is now in flower among the rocks, peregrines are busy feeding their young on the young of other unwary parents and the local gang of adolescent choughs are up to no good as usual.

Our return to Aberdaron was far more straight forward in good visibility and glorious sunshine.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Under Sail

Last week I joined Dr Charles Clarke and his partner Marcella for a 3-day coastal voyage aboard his 35ft yacht 'Whisky Galore'.

Within an hour of leaving Pwllheli Harbour there were Manx shearwaters gliding along the wave crests. Soon afterwards we spotted a bottlenose dolphin, or perhaps it spotted us. Within minutes there were several of them playing in our bow wave.

Shore leave took us to venture round the pretty villages of Barmouth and Aberdovey. Each evening we were treated to lovely views across shallow estuarine waters to rolling hills and mountains beyond.

Many thanks to Charlie and Marcella for the adventure, great company and wonderful hospitality.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sea Kayak Expedition Gathering - Northumberland 2014

The Sea Kayak Expedition Gathering is a weekend of discussing and developing skills and techniques in preparation for expedition paddling.

This years gathering was based at The Barn at Beal in the rolling Northumberland countryside that overlooks the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

The calm weather was too good to ignore. Workshops were all water-based and delivered as a series of 'top tips' whilst on the move and exploring the nearby Farne Islands.

In the late afternoon sunshine, all of the teams gathered on the Inner Farne to meet one of the wardens and get acquainted with the local wildlife. We all came away understanding the importance of wearing a hat when moving through an Arctic tern colony.

Saturday evening was more relaxed with plenty to drink, barbecued food and an inspiring talk by Olly Sanders.

Following the broad brush approach of the first day, Sunday's workshops were more focussed on boat handling, launching and landing in challenging conditions, and trip planning.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Coquet Island Race

On the day before the Coquet Island Race John and I headed out to the Farne Islands to get in amongst the wildlife. Puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes are in the middle of the busiest part of their breeding season.

On Staple Island and the Inner Farne, the Terns and Shags are at their grumpiest when visitors come on the tour boats from Seahouses.

Sunday morning was race day and the usual informal friendly atmosphere greeted competitors and spectators alike.

Winning times for the 5.5 mile course are always well under an hour. The first place in the men's race went to Brian Turnbull from the Scottish Borders.

First lady was (not for the the first time) Kate Duffus. Congratulations are due to all competitors but most of all thanks to Vic Brown and Coquet Canoe Club for this lovely event.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bardsey the Island in the Currents

The Welsh name, Ynys Enlli translates as island in the currents. In the days of Celtic saints and their travels, three pilgrimages to Bardsey held the same merit as one to Rome.

It has been over two years since I last visited this amazing place. Throughout this Spring, weather and commitments have conspired against my return until this last weekend. Trevor, Stephanie and I left Porth Ysgaden with the ebb tide. There is little in the way of human activity along the North coast of the Lleyn giving our journey a wild and remote feel.

As we approached Braich y Pwll at the end of the Lleyn, the distinctive silhouette of Bardsey slid into view. We explored the rocky shores on the west side before landing beside the slipway just as the heavens opened.

We were welcomed ashore by Steve who is the farmer on Bardsey. The pace of life on the island is slow and we took our time wandering around and exploring.

This included staying out until after dark listening to the Manx shearwaters, then getting up early the next morning to climb to the 167 metre summit of Mynydd Enlli.

Photo: Trevor Shepherd
Before heading back, we visited the ruins of the 13th Century abbey where a memorial cross stands to commemorate the 20,000 saints who are buried hereabouts.

 Our return to the mainland took in the eastern cliffs that provide nesting places for guillemots, razorbills and puffins. Soon afterwards the smooth waters led us crashing through the overfalls at Braich y Pwll and riding the late afternoon flood tide back to Porth Ysgaden.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Stephanie and Trevor for their company, and to Steve and his family for their kind hospitality.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Farne Islands - Ducks, Auks and Seals

There are between 15 and 28 islands in this archipelago depending on the height of the tide. Each Spring these islands off the Northumbrian coast come to life with the arrival of the tourists but in turn, the tourists come to see the hundreds of thousands of breeding sea birds.

The local boat operators that work out of the nearby port of Seahouses are keen to make the best that they can during what is a short season. The nesting season begins in late May, but is all over by early August.

To kayakers with an interest in wildlife, this is paradise. Not only do the birds and seals keep us entertained, but the powerful currents create tide races and overfalls completing an ocean playground that stretches across 16 square kilometres of sea.

The Farne Islands occupy a special place in British, and worldwide natural history. To explore this place quietly by kayak is a privilege and a pleasure.