Sunday, January 08, 2017

Festive Paddling

The festive paddling season started off with the Liverpool Canoe Club tradition of an early trip at Llandudno followed by a Christmas meal. The winter sun stays low in the sky which makes for a spectacular ceiling with thin layers of cloud.

It was great to finish early in the afternoon while there was still a little warmth form the sun. After we had got changed it was time to head over to the Grand Hotel for drinks and a 3 course Christmas meal.

Manchester Canoe Club hold a Boxing Day race and tour on the River Goyt. We assembled at Brabyns Park where we launched upstream of the 2 weirs. There were a couple of comical swims before the group made the rest of the 3 kilometre, grade 2 descent to the club site at Dale Road. Once back at the clubhouse we fortified ourselves with a festive buffet of pork pies, assorted sandwiches and mince pies.

Later that day I made a quick dash over to Anglesey for a few days of sea kayaking. I was joined by Andrew and we quickly planned a few days of paddling to make the most of the limited winter daylight hours. The stretch between Porth Dafarch and Rhoscolyn provided us with lively seas whilst our day on the north coast was much more serene.

On the third day we launched at Porth Eilian to explore Point Lynas and the East cost. Andrew was feeling adventurous and decided to try some maritime cave scrambling at Freshwater Bay.

Finally, on the way back to Manchester we paid a visit to the Great Orme at Llandudno. This time it was much more quiet the my previous visit with Liverpool Canoe Club 2 weeks earlier. Many thanks to Andrew for his company. It has been a wonderful festive season and now i'm looking forward to the lengthening days of Spring!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Lancaster Round Revisited

I haven't been paddling along the Lancashire coast since my Northern England & Isle of Man guidebook was published in 2011. This is a trip that combines the sheltered tidal waters of the Lune Estuary with a stretch of the historic Lancaster Canal.

I met Amanda at Glasson dock beside the Victoria Inn. I was disappointed to find that the pub closed down several months ago. It is hoped that it will re-open soon but all too often, once these places close, that stay that way. We arrived in plenty of time and needed to wait for the tide to rise before we could launch. It was great to find the muddy estuary shore teeming with bird life!

The launch was exciting. The fog was so thick we could't see the opposite shore so we took a couple of bearings and headed off into the gloom. In fact the fog was so thick that we lost sight of both shores within minutes of setting off upon the rising tide.

The strong currents brought us swiftly up the estuary towards another historic Lune side pub. The Golden Ball Hotel was known as 'Snatchems' during the 18th Century in the days of smugglers, pressgangs and the Lancaster 'hanging judges'.

Progress became a bit more difficult when we ran out of tidal assistance as we passed St Georges Quay and the centre of Lancaster. We pushed on beneath the Lancaster Millennium Bridge, Skerton Bridge and up to Skerton Weir.

After portaging the weir we left tidal waters behind us. Next, it was time to stretch our legs (and other muscles) and trolley our kayaks 20 metres up on to the Lancaster Canal which is carried across the river by the 18th Century Lune Aqueduct.

The canal then runs back through the middle of Lancaster, through deep wooded cuttings and out into rolling countryside. It was an eerie dusky scene with new mist beginning to settle in the hollows and on the water. Continuing towards the village of Galgate we watched a kingfisher catch his fish supper. We could only dream of ours because we were still over 9 kilometres from the end of our trip.

After reaching Galgate Marina in almost complete darkness, our final challenge was to make the right turn onto the Glasson Branch and complete the descent to Glasson Dock. It may only be 4 kilometres to the end but there are 6 locks to portage. Steep slippery banks are difficult enough in broad daylight but we had complete darkness and the thick mist made our head torches next to useless.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Amanda for her company on the trip; it was her idea! From the start in misty golden morning light we had an adventure with diverse settings and varied scenery all within a journey of 26 kilometres.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Autumn Colours

The beginning of Autumn was a seemingly endless string of dazzling sunny days and warm evenings and many of us made the most of an extended summer. Soon enough we see the sun setting earlier, rising later and the leaves beginning to change colour.

This years wet spring and summer followed by dry, warm and sunny autumn days but cool nights provide the right conditions for the kind of vivid colours that we have this year. It helps that we haven't really had much in the way of strong winds to prematurely tear the leaves from their branches.

There are so many signs along the river bank that nature's beasts are making a final effort to stock up and prepare for leaner times ahead.

I've been making the most of good paddling conditions as ever. This included attending the Tyne Tour hosted by the Hexham Canoe Club. This event has a little bit for everyone. Scenic river paddling, excellent social scene and a wonderful firework display.

Now that many of the leaves have fallen from the trees, the silver birches are taking centre stage in the late afternoon sunshine. This evenings plummeting temperatures tell me that winter is just around the corner. Time to look for my hat and gloves!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Wild Camping on the Anglesey Coast

The ultimate attraction of sea kayaking is ending a perfect day of paddling with a camp on a deserted beach. This timeless form of adventure brings an overwhelming sense of freedom.

On the first of the trips with Manchester Canoe Club I was joined by Diane, Andrew, Holly and Dez. We launched onto the Menai Strait heading for the isolated beaches and dunes on the south west corner of Anglesey. Blue skies and warm sun could not distract us from the freshening southwesterly breeze. The increasing wind made our progress tough. We rested in the shelter of some trees near to Port Dinorwic and later again in the shadow of Caernarfon Castle. The final leg took us through rough water and strong currents. Having been battered by waves over 4 feet high we finally found a suitable place to camp with good shelter from the wind among the dunes.

There was plenty of driftwood for a fire and we picked mussels fresh from the shore. Beer and wine flowed with stories and jokes until the embers faded.

By morning, the wind had dropped and our journey back to Menai Bridge was uneventful; possibly overshadowed by last nights revelry around the fire.

The second trip started at the northern east tip of Anglesey. This time I was joined by Amanda, Andy, Frances and another Andy. We took a trip around Puffin Island and marveled at the inquisitive inhabitants of the seal colony at its northeastern tip. Soon afterwards the tide race in Puffin Strait gave a few emotional moments. When we landed on the pebbly beach beside the Trwyn Du Lighthouse, tea and cake was soon on order at the nearby café.

After our refreshments it was time to head out west and look for somewhere to camp. After a few kilometres of surfing down wind we found a steep pebbly beach with an abandoned quarry. The flat areas on the beach and the grassy quarry floor made for good camping with excellent views from out tents. We even gathered enough driftwood for a fire that lasted well into the night. As the evening rain came in we sheltered under a tarpaulin. It wasn't long before the sound of distant thunder rolled across the sea. This was just the beginning of a terrific storm with continuous thunder and lightning with hours of torrential rain. An amazing experience.

The storm abated in the early hours and the rain stopped in time for breakfast. However, there were streams running through the quarry and it was lucky that some tents didn’t get washed away.

The paddle out was atmospheric along a damp, misty coastline with waterfalls cascading over the rocks. The final blessing was a spell of warm sunshine, which arrived neatly in time for us to get changed and pack up.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Farewell to Shetland - a few more paddles

After the high energy of the Shetland Sea Kayak Symposium, many of the paddlers headed north to The Voter Centre near to Brae. On the Monday morning, after 7 days of paddling I decided to take a day off to go for a few short walks.

I started off by driving to Esha Ness to take a look at the cliffs and stacks. I parked up beside the lighthouse but after a few minutes a thick mist descended. It quickly became cold and drizzly, and the views along the coast became obliterated. Down at Strenness the conditions were much more pleasant and I spotted some paddlers heading for Dore Holm. This 36 metre high rock stack has a spectacular rock arch. When viewed from certain angles it is not surprising that this feature is nick-named 'The Drinking Horse'.

I’d heard all about how the coastal architecture in Ronas Voe is special but I could never have been prepared for what I experienced that day. We started on a small sand beach next to a shingle spit called ‘The Blade’ and followed the rocky shore northwest. After about a kilometre of sparse rock-hopping we paddled round an ordinary looking corner and found a grand looking arch, then a cave another and then more…

I openly declared, “It’s started!”

The coastline grew into labyrinth after labyrinth. Arches, caves, and timeless deep mysterious gullies led from one to the next. It was easy to forget where we were. Occasionally we would emerge into a broad bay with a beach. Just for the novelty we would stop to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat.
As we approached the northern tip of this stretch we saw the effects of the strong south-westerly winds. There were huge breaking waves crashing past a headland called ‘The Faither’. We braved the intimidating swell and rounded Gatli Stack before running back for cover and winding our way back around, along and beneath the shore that we had already explored. 

After all the excitement in the vote a short easy but fun trip with rock-hopping was on the menu. The rocky coast of Cunningsburgh was an easy choice and it was conveniently close to Lerwick for the boys from Orkney to catch their ferry home later that day.

Evening discussions continued late into the night in the Voxter Centre and as a result, a trip around  Muckle Roe was inevitable. We set off from the marina at Roe Sound. After heading south for the first four kilometres the coastline took on a grand stature so typical of Shetland's exposed shores.

Our exploring took us to a narrow opening that led into a huge cavern. In turn, this led out into a cove, a bay and another place. We later discovered this to be the Hole of Hellier.

Our subterranean adventures continued with passages at Harri Stack and Little Ness giving us moments of complete bewilderment, and quotes like, "How the heck did we end up here?" The final 3 kilometres were a welcome wind down. This had been a day of intense adventure.

I took it easy on the last couple of days. I made a final pilgrimage to Mousa and did some sightseeing around Lerwick. I drove onto the ferry and settled down for a coffee and only half heard the announcement that we would be taking the northern route past the towering cliffs and Gannet colonies of Noss. This was a perfect end to two weeks of adventure on Shetland. I have seen so much but there is still so much to see. I must return soon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Shetland Sea Kayak Symposium

Sid Sinfield arrived on Shetland by air. His bags arrived some while later. This was a relief to us all 3 of us. To celebrate, we sat down to a lard laden fried breakfast and strong coffee whilst making our paddling plan for the day.

The island of Mousa and the Noness peninsula lie a little over 16 kilometres south of Lerwick.  The island has a good selection of arches, caves, geos and reefs that we had seen out west, but here they are smaller in scale. However, at 13 metres high, the Broch of Mousa is Scotland's most impressive and best surviving Iron Age tower. 

We spent our mid-afternoon break exploring this amazing structure right the way to the top from where there was a terrific view across Mousa Sound to Noness. We finished off by paddling around Noness into Sandwick. The afternoon sunshine glittered in the spray as the rolling swell exploded at the foot of the cliffs.

Paddlers began to arrive at the Bridge End Outdoor Centre early on Friday morning. Although the symposium didn’t begin until Saturday Kate, Sid, me along with a few others organised some informal guided trips. My choice of a 20 kilometre circumnavigation of West Burra was perfect! There was plenty of entertainment along the way with no shortage of spectacular rock architecture.

On Saturday I ran a workshop in practical navigation. I chose to return to the island of Mousa which has some great coastal landmarks and the tidal stream in the sound changed during our time there.
In the evening we feasted on a food buffet delivered by the local Chinese restaurant. This was followed by an excellent talk on the wildlife and geology of Shetland. The evening was rounded off with plenty of traditional Sheltand fiddle music and washed down with plenty of wine and beer!

Fuzzy heads on Sunday morning slowly gave way to a day of Rockhopping. We found our way to Skelda Voe and set about revising some of the basic moves. Stern rudder, low brace turns and sweep strokes were duly brushed up. Before we knew it the group was getting in amongst it all. Close to Roe Ness we found an entertaining cave system with a right-angled turn and before heading back to Easter Skeld we scratched Johnny Sinclair’s Nose.

It was a happy day out but to add to the euphoria the organisers of the Skeld Regatta welcomed us ashore with some delicious leftover Cakes! This would have been something to brag about if it wasn’t for Sid’s group being entertained by Orcas at the end of their trip a short way along the coast.

For the final week, we would be travelling north to the Voxter Centre close to Brae. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Shetland's Wild West

The isles of Shetland occupy a part of the ocean that seems to get everything thrown at it the mother nature has invented. The coastline is as varied as the weather here. Sure there are intriguing rock gardens and smooth sandy beaches, but what paddlers come here for is the rock architecture.

Me and my long-standing friend Kate Duffs arrived on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen and by lunchtime we were exploring the misty cliffs between Walls and Sandness. This wild coastline has towering cliffs with deep inlets, natural arches and sea stacks like drowning rock spires. Much of this scenery was out of bounds with the powerful swell crashing explosively on the rocks. We paddled on open mouthed.

A reduction in the forecast swell height and kinder weather tempted us to visit the island of Papa Stour. Our journey started on the sheltered east side with a morning of gullies, arches, caves and extended subterranean passages. However, the ultimate drama was waiting for us at the northern tip of the island. We were presented with a huge vertical east-facing cliff. We knew that the entrance to a long passage leading to the other side was hereabouts but there were 4 entrances! We started to investigate from left to right. The first entrance led to nothing, the second led entertainingly into the third. Finally, the fourth showed promise. Could this be the 'Hole of Bordie'? As we paddled into the darkness there was more sea state and a steady breeze. The sound of the waves crashing in the enclosed darkness was deafening. I was scared. At last I caught a glimmer of light on Kate's kayak ahead. I paddled on. Into the light. As we approached the exit were greeted by a lively ocean and visibility less than 200 metres.

The west side was littered with more to explore but the mist and the heavy swell limited our enthusiasm to get intimate with many of the arches and stacks. They will be here for another day on another visit.

Strong south-westerlies made the island of Vementry and obvious choice for the third day. We started our journey from West Burrafirth so that we could enjoy the cliffs and skerries of the Neans peninsula before exploring Vementry's spiky, jagged coastline. The north tip of the island has the remains of a gun emplacement from the first world war. The views from this promontory to Muckle Roe and across St Magnus Bay to Esha Ness are breathtaking.

The rest of the day was divided between battling strong winds and exploring sheltered bays and geos. Afterwards we began to prepare to move south for the Shetland Sea Kayak Symposium at the Bridge End Outdoor Centre at Burra.