Saturday, July 11, 2015

Off to the races

Over the last three weekends I have been off to the races! The first was to tried and tested Conwy Ascent Race. This wonderful event has been hosted by Dyfryn Conwy Paddlers for many years and is always well-attended.

The Le Mans style start makes this event a real favourite for me. Tripping, stumbling and splashing your way into a 15km race usually results in a bit of chaos and entertainment. All good fun! The race ends at Dolgarrog in a civilised manner with endless cups of tea and giant sandwiches.

The bird life on the Farne Islands is amazing this time of year but the annual Midsummer pilgrimage to Northumberland just wouldn't be complete without the Coquet Island Race! The Coquet Canoe Club were proudly showing off their new facility on The Braid at Amble. Its always great to meet up with my northern friends and have beers in the lovely pubs in Beadnell.

Finally, I took part in the Hilbre Island Race for the first time. This event is hosted by Liverpool Canoe Club at the Dee Sailing Club. As we glanced across the Dee Estuary before the start, Wales disappeared in a monstrous rainstorm. On this occasion, it seemed to be more a storm endurance test than a race. Highly enjoyable! The sun even came out to dry the bedraggled paddlers and organisers.

Cackle TV - Kayaking the Aleutians

It isn't often that I sit and watch TV and I certainly wouldn't normally bother to write about the experience. However, on this occasion it seems right to mention the latest offering from Justine Curgenven's Cackle TV.

I have watched plenty of Justine's previous films. They always tell great stories and there is rarely a dull moment. Kayaking the Aleutians is no exception. The expedition was an audacious challenge especially considering Sara Outen's limited sea kayaking experience.

This film tells the story of two amazing women on a paddling adventure to make your eyes water. Exposure, exhaustion, exhilaration and nudity!

One morning, Sarah bears all to go for a wash in a stream. The first inkling that she got that there was something fishy going on, was when a grizzly turned up looking for lunch! In the meantime, in true journalistic style, Justine reached for her movie camera. It turned out that Sarah had gone skinny dipping in a salmon river. 

It takes skill and dedication to keep filming on expeditions when exhausted, or in scary situations. The depth of the story is greatly enriched when Justine and Sarah take time to meet people along the way in  the isolated Aleutian communities. The get welcomed ashore with traditional music and dance and afterwards get to sample some wholesome Aleutian food.

Kayaking the Aleutians is available to buy from the Cackle TV website. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Padlefestivalen - Sea Kayak Festival in Norway

Missing my connection in Oslo was hardly the best way to begin my introduction to Norway. However, Scandinavian Airlines were very helpful and got me on my way to windswept rainy Bergen. I was met at the airport by Ronny Riise from God-Tur kayak store who together with Ashley Williams organises Padlefestivalen.

The weather on the island of Langøy was much better than in Bergen so it made a great end to Thursday to paddle around the neighbouring island of Algrøyna. This island and its associated reefs and skerries would be the central location for the activities for the coming days. The evening talk was about paddling in southern Greenland given by Camilla Ianke from Northern Exposure.

On Friday Morning I teamed up with local kayak guide Anja Rydning to run a workshop in something called 'Brottpadling'. I was relieved to discover that this was nothing to do with paddling kayaks made from bread. During the session I found that 'Brottpadling' is a mixture of rockhopping and surfing over shallow reefs and through rock gardens. The area to the north west of Algrøyna is perfect for this. 

Photo: Camilla Ianke
In the evening more people turned up for the weekend sessions as I prepared for deliver my talk on paddling amongst the ice and mountains of East Greenland.

On Saturday I was let loose with a group of strong paddlers who had signed up for a session entitled 'Open Ocean'. We headed out of the sheltered areas and worked our way as far north as we could without falling off the map. After a short snack break we then headed south along the outside of the reefs and skerries. 

The swell exploded powerfully on any of the rocky islets. We were planning to end the day by visiting the beautiful island of Løno. However,  during our lunch break the wind and sea state increased. This made it easy to decide to leave our final destination and head back to Langøy. This meant paddling round the south west tip of Algrøyna where the seas were getting rather exciting. 

Almost as soon as we arrived back the evening entertainment began with the 'Head 2 Head Challenge' which is a light-hearted kayak competition with different categories for SUP boards, sit on kayaks and sea kayaks. All rather pleasantly silly with rules that seem to change as frequently as the wind. This was followed by Barbecue, presentations, prize giving and drinking late into the night.

Getting motivated on Sunday was a little difficult at first but the weather was great and I was assigned to do 'Brottpaddling' again. We had excellent conditions with regular swell and a group that was game for almost anything. It was just such a shame when it was all over. I stayed on at Langøy with the organisers to help with the clean up. Most of the participants were heading home which made it an evening full of goodbyes. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Ronny and Ashley for inviting me to their wonderful Padlefestivalen, Jan Kåre for putting me up on his lovely fishing boat and to Anja for showing me around the islands and educating me in the world of 'Brottpaddling'. I made so many other new friends during the festival and I'm sure I'll meet up with many of them again soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Anglesey Sea Symposium 2015

In many respects this is the event of the sea kayaking year. Hosted by Sea Kayaking UK and Celtic Paddles, over a hundred paddlers from all over Europe congregated at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre to participate in guided trips, training sessions and workshops. Its also a great chance to catch up with old friends from near and far.

This year the weather was colder and wetter that any previous Anglesey Sea Symposium but that did little to dampen our spirits. It gave plenty of opportunities to practice rescues in rough conditions in a controlled environment.

On one of the less windy days Mark Tozer and I took 2 new designs from P&H Custom Sea Kayaks out for a spin. This included trying out the Code Zero sail.

After evening lectures were over, symposium night life was entertaining as ever with live music from local band 'The Coffin Dodgers'. They seemed oblivious to the gun fight that had been facilitated by an outlaw who smuggled water pistols into the event.

The following week was filled with BCU courses and workshops and guided trips for those taking a more leisurely approach to symposium life. At the end of each day replenishment would be found at the 'Paddlers Return' bar. For those who had passed assessments, congratulatory drinks could be bought. For those less successful, sorrows could be drowned.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Springtime on Bardsey

The island of Bardsey is a magical place at any time of the year but springtime makes this place extra special. Its Welsh name of Ynys Enlli means 'island in the currents'. Bardsey is only two miles from the end of the Lleyn Peninsula but the strong tidal streams that run up to six knots make the crossing of Bardsey Sound particularly challenging.

Trevor and I arrived through choppy waters on Saturday afternoon having set out from Porth Colmon on the North Coast of the Lleyn. Almost as soon as we had landed we spotted the first swallow. Throughout the weekend we would see many more of the summer visitors such as wheatear, chiffchaff and Manx shearwater.

Saturday morning started with short lazy walks and before long it was lunchtime. As we set off for a tour of the island a bank of thick fog rolled in. The precipitous slopes on the east of Bardsey are no place for the faint hearted. Only the most sure footed venture here and later in the Spring the nesting sea birds should be left to themselves.

From the summit of Mynydd Enlli we could occasionally see over the banks of rolling sea fog to the higher hills of the Lleyn. Later in the afternoon the fog thinned and cleared as we arrived at the Lighthouse.

As darkness drew in the shearwaters began their eerie calls. They have returned to Bardsey from the south Atlantic to breed. They nest in small burrows on the steep ground. Their tiny legs are hardly strong enough for them to stand on but are great for tunnelling.

In the morning it was time to leave. There was no wind and if we could see the sea it would be calm. Dense fog had again rolled in overnight. This set us quite a challenge for finding our way back across Bardsey Sound and along the north coast of the Lleyn to Porth Colmon. I'd like to thank Trevor for his company throughout the trip and Steve & Jo Porter for their hospitality. Ben Porter is a talented photographer and his website provides further insight into the wildlife of Bardsey Island.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Chilly Northumberland Spring

Having spent so many recent weekends having fun in North Wales, it was high time to reacquaint myself with the big skies and spreading shores of Northumberland. This was also to be the first camping trip of the year. My hopes for mild temperatures were dashed when I saw the forecast gentle easterlies and their associated bitter chill.

We arrived at the Springhill Farm campsite just after dark on Friday evening. From the camping field we could see the lighthouses of Longstone and the Inner Farne, and to the north was Bamburgh Castle floodlit in all its grandeur. We hurriedly put up our tents before heading to the pub to keep warm.

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On the walk to The Old Ship Inn at Seahouses the streets were deserted. It was a pleasant surprise to find the pub packed with locals. There is always a wide selection of fine ales in this characteristic hostelry and the atmosphere on this particular Friday evening was lively.

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On Saturday Morning we assembled on Bamburgh Beach in readiness for a trip out to The Farne Islands. We set off from 'stag rocks' through small surf and headed for the tiny rocky islet called Megstone.

Megstone was crowded with Shags and inquisitive seals which followed us part of the way to our next destination of Staple Island and Brownsman. Reaching further out to sea we found deeper swell and rougher seas on the way out to Longstone and its historic lighthouse. This group of islands is where the story of Grace Darling is secured in maritime history.

After lunch on Longstone, we returned along the dark edges of Brownsman and Staple Island. Huge flocks of guillemots and razorbills were circling the cliffs and sea stacks known as 'The Pinnacles'. The swirling movement of the birds combined with the lively swell made for a mesmerising journey back to Bamburgh via Inner Farne.

Sunday dawned with lighter winds but greater movement in the sea. The increased swell would prove to be a challenge.  We set off from the sheltered beach next to the harbour at Beadnell. The Castle ruins at Dunstanborough stand high upon a tall headland of Whin Sill to the south. Beyond lies the tiny harbour of Craster. All along this coast there are rocky reefs. The imposing swell trips upon the reefs forming isolated breaking waves known as 'boomers'. Their presence may drain the mouth of saliva and increase the heart rate, but they are easily avoided. As we passed Football Hole and Low Newton we found that the noise of the waves crashing on the Dunstanborough Cliffs made for a nerve wracking and claustrophobic approach through the last couple of reefs to the tiny entrance of Craster harbour.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Sunshine, Snow and Ice, Snowdonia at its best.

Its been over a year since I enjoyed a long day in the hills. With a divine forecast and the mountains painted wintry white I was destined for a day on the Snowdon Horseshoe. Others had spied the excellent conditions and the car park at Pen-y-Pass was almost full by 9am.

The path to the foot of Crib Goch was tricky from the start with compacted snow that had thawed the re-frozen. It was difficult to "look well to each step", because the view along the ridges and down the pass was so intriguing with the swirling mist and changing light.

In places the snow made the going on the ridge a little easier than usual. In others it made things damn scary! We took our time but eventually left the excitement of Crib Goch and Crib y Ddysgl behind us pausing briefly on Carnedd Ugain to take in the views.

We wanted to have lunch on the summit of Snowdon but as we peered across, we wondered if there would be enough room for us amongst all of the others who had the same idea. The carnival atmosphere was reinforced by a bunch of lads celebrating their arrival with bottles of ale.

The descent of the steep southern slopes required careful attention. The warm sunshine was rapidly melting the deep snow covering the gravelly path. The the coast to the west had been largely obscured by low cloud and mist. However, from the summit of Lliwedd, there was beautiful view over Porthmadog and the Dwyryd Estuary to the south.

We followed the final ridge path and left the sunshine behind us with a challenging descent picking our way across snowy ledges and small icy gullies towards the chilly shores of Llyn Llydaw. A broad path lead the way back to Pen-y-Pass. Anti-climax gave way to an overwhelming awareness of sore feet. A great day out!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Cross-country Skiing in the Peak District

Around Manchester the snow came down in fits and starts. At one point the airport was closed until both runways could be cleared of snow.

Trevor and I had planned to do some cross-country skiing near to Mam Tor in the Peak District. At first our plans were in doubt because of mild overnight temperatures. However, it was the freshening northerly winds and roads blocked with drifting snow that provided us with the first challenge.

We eventually parked the car near Mam Tor and set off across the the rolling hills so the South.

Stiles, gates and low walls were often completely buried in snow drifts. This made our journey much easier than expected.

The wind was getting strong enough to take your breath away and regularly whipping up blinding blasts of spindrift. It was whilst we were sheltering beside a wall that we spotted several people with mountain bikes. We said 'hello!' and had a brief chat. They seemed in good spirits but must have been having a very difficult day.