Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Easy Paddling on The Lake District rivers

My friends Zoe and Mark made good time on their journey from down south and as we popped the cork on a bottle of Friday evening 'Cava', plans were hatched for some weekend paddling. The easier and more scenic rivers of the English Lake district were to be our targets.

On Saturday morning we were joined by Kirstine and Phil. As Kirstine had only very limited experience on rivers, our first river was the Eden in the North-East Lakes. Phil, like me has paddled many of the rivers troughout the UK and the French Alps.

The Eden Valley has a reputation for its stunning beauty and for typically 'English' and 'Quaint'! Nevertheless, the surrounding natural beauty could not defeat the butterflies in Kirstine's stomach, nor the nerves that were generating them.

Once Mark and I had left his car downstream at Armathwaite we drove back up to Lazonby to get started. Once on the water we organized ourselves. Mark and I would take turns at leading and Phil generally watched out at the back.

Once we had successfully run two or three rapids the anxiety from the beginning of the trip left Kirstine to be replaced with excitement.

Kirstine was clearly full of anticipation for what lay around the next bend in the river.

The middle to lower section runs through a stunning gorge with towering sandstone cliffs.

After we finished on the River Eden, Zoe insisted we do another river so we headed off into the central Lake District for a sort run down the River Rothay. The Rothay gives a relatively short but interesting run which we started where the river drains Grassmere. It had been raining all day in the central lakes, a fact we had been oblivious to in the Eden Valley, over to the east. The river was burting its banks and I was glad Kirstine had decided one river had been enough for the day. The river continued fast between trees until we found respite upon entering Rydal Water through reedbeds.

Gentle mist began to lie across the water adding to the beauty of the surrounding scenery, which gave some distraction from the monotiny of paddling across nearly a mile of flat water.

The pace quickened as we left the lake, down the river to continue through the Rydal Estate with its many 'DO NOT' signs. Some heavier rapids led us on towards Ambleside, trees continued to make our journey difficult, Zoe briefly became intimate with a bank side Sycamore. The tree's lower limb bayed her to swim, and Zoe (politely) obliged. I chased her boat downstream through the trees, one eye on the boat another on what else the river could next present. I was now on my own on the river. Mark, having secured Zoe to dry land, was now chasing me (and the boat) on foot. Every now and then I would be concious of by-standers on the riverbank. The river was running fast and I was confident the I could shunt the swamped boat to the side, but it was nearly a mile down stream before the kayak came to a reluctant rest.

There was only a short 500 yard paddle to Windermere and our weary finish in the half light in Waterhead Bay.

Sunday Morning

The Sunday morning was bright and breezy, water was still pouring down from the fells so we headed off to the Beautiful 'Duddon Valley' in the south western Lake District. The River Duddon is a little more challenging that what we had paddled on the previous day, with the added excitement of some decidedly 'tricky bits'.

Mark was the only one to run 'Gill's Folly'. A scene of many 'Out of boat experiences'.

I have paddled the River Duddon many times but never so early on in the (whitewater canoeing) season. My lasting memory for that relatively un-eventful day was one of the friendly anglers. There can be fierce conflict between anglers and canoeists. Fortunately on that day everyone shared the beauty of the Duddon and all its challenges, with a cheery wave and mutual greetings, symptomatic of human nature at its best!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Paddling Round The Great Orme - Windbroke!

Back in the late 80s and early 90s I used to play Bass Guitar and Percussion in the then revolutionary music scene in Manchester. One of my long standing friends from those days is the acclaimed Irish Flautist and Uielean Piper Michael McGoldrick. I had been showing off the kayaking guidebook that I have recently completed, 'Welsh Sea Kayaking'. Mike was so impressed he asked me to take him out for a paddle.

We arrived at the west shore of Llandudno on Saturday morning and hauled the mighty Aleut 2 double sea kayak from the roof of the car and down to the beach in readiness for our trip round the limestone cliffs of the Great Orme. We were joined on the excursion by another Mike, a flutemaker from Australia on a holiday and fact finding mission. (Australian,) Mike Grinter followed us on foot along the road that runs along the cliffs.

Soon after we set off we began to see plenty of Birdlife. This photo shows hundreds of Oystercatchers.

The towering cliffs of the Great Orme are riddled with caves and gullies and are wonderful for exploring. I managed to manoeuvre the kayak so that Mike was quite close to a gurgling blowhole, with which Mike was quite intrigued. All I had to do is wait for a larger wave to come and then, "Whoosh!" Mike was sprayed with gallons of seawater from the back of the amazing farting cave. Keeping the theme of flatulence I raised a question I had wished to pose for some time. On Mike's second album 'Fused' there is a tune called 'Windbroke'. Of course its nothing to do with 'trouser trumps', its Mike's dad's expression for being out of breath. This expression was frequently used as Mike's flute playing skills exceeded those of his father who found himself breathless and unable to keep pace with the young embryonic McGoldrick talent.

Hooray! we made it! Once we had landed beside the Pier on Llandudno promenade beach, it was time to get out the camping stove and make a rewarding pot of hot coffee followed by a large pot of Chilli Con Carne.

It wasn't long before Australian Mike joined us from his walk along Marina Drive and we celebrated with yet more steaming mugs of hot coffee. Mike McGoldrick was feeling a little pooped after his kayaking adventures, so Australian Mike took over in the front seat for the return journey Mike McGoldrick walked the sort cut back to West Shore.

The return to West Shore began with smooth glassy seas, (Australian) Mike was amazed by the abundance of birdlife along the shores. I explained that it is relatively quiet at this time of year. During Spring and Summer you can hardly hear yourself think for the cacophony generated by the thousands of seabirds that nest on the cliffs here.

As we rounded the end of the Great Orme, we noticed dark clouds gathering so we stopped to put on some extra clothes. We battled against a force 5 sqall then waited in a sea cave until the rain and wind abated. The sqally conditions had left the sea quite choppy which made for some added interest for the last mile or so.

In true style the shower clouds parted and the sun came out right on time, just as we reached the beach at West Shore.
Bathed in golden late afternoon sunshine, there was just enough time for another tune or two, to mark the end to a wonderful day of adventure around the Great Orme at Llandudno.

For more information on sea kayaking around the Great Orme and other areas of the Welsh coast consult the great new guidebook 'Welsh Sea Kayaking'

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Circumnavigating Holy Island (Anglesey)

I think I'm really lucky to have my birthday in the middle of the summer. It means that I can celebrate in the outdoors with a weekend of splendid activities with some of my favourite friends.

My 2006 celebration took me on an evening trip to the Skerries followed by a couple of delicious pints of Guinness outside the Church Bay Inn.

The following morning Trevor, Mark, Maurice and I met with Helen and a couple of others at Rhoscolyn on what would be an ideal day for a sea kayaking trip round Holy Island. Holy Island or Ynys Gybi is separated from the western side of Anglesey by the remains of an almost estuarine shallow sea.

The 32km journey typically takes 6-7 hours and must be done in conjunction with some cunning tidal planning.
We Left Rhoscolyn all lathered up with lashes of sun cream about our faces and arms in defence from the blistering sunshine. Heading out west across Penrhos Bay we were all in buoyant mood, chatting as we paddled towards the treacherous waters of Penrhyn Mawr.

We approached with respectful caution even though conditions were relatively benign. I had bounced through the first couple of waves when I looked to my right to see how others were enjoying the excitement of the overfalls.

For Mark, disaster has struck! I saw his upturned hull and signs of his paddle wafting as he made a couple of unsuccesful atempts at a roll. I was surprised, not only by the abundance of flotsam (sodden egg sandwiches, shoes and cheese slices) surrounding the disaster area but also the amount of time it took to reinstall Mark in his rightful position. The ensuing investigation found that his rear hatch had not been properly closed before going to sea, thus allowing water to flood the rear compartment.

The approach to South Stack always brings a gasp of delight, especially as the vertical cliffs of Gogarth and North stack appear beyond.

We had some time to make up after the earlier aquatic adventures, so the leg from North Stack to the end of Holyhead Breakwater turned into a bit of a chore.

I called the port authorities on the VHF radio to get clearance to enter the busy harbour. After waiting for a couple of ferries to pass we continued to paddle south, to the next significant target on our journey, Stanley Embankment. We needed to pass beneath the embankment before the tide turned, and for this reason we had been paddling for nearly 4 and a half hours without landing. (Although Mark had managed to stretch his legs during his previous out of boat experience.)
So, having passed Stanley, we landed on the shores of the Inland Sea for a well earned siesta in the sunshine!

Since leaving Rhoscolyn we had followed the flooding tide round the Stacks and into Holyhead Harbour. From The Inland Sea we would now be following the ebbing waters south beneath Four Mile Bridge and along the Cymyran Strait. The Shallow waters of the Cymyran Strait make parfect feeding grounds for Arctic and Sandwich terns. Oystercatchers make plenty of noise as you pass the sandbanks but the curlew's quiet nature and mottled plumage makes them harder to spot despite the fact that they are Britain's largest wading bird.

As we emerged from The Cymyran Straits into the open waters of southern Anglesey we embarked upon the home strait, and the last 3km to completion at Rhoscolyn.

For more information on sea kayaking in Wales you might consult the new guidebook 'Welsh Sea Kayaking'.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Chillin' out at Hell's Mouth

Hell's Mouth is the anglicised name for the huge south-west facing bay close to the end of the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales. The Welsh Name is Porth Neigwl. After all the activity surrounding my recent kayaking and writing exploits has died down, it was time to relax and enjoy one of my favourite campsites. Treheli Farm is just below the tiny Village of Rhiw and is spectacularly situated with panoramic views accross the bay.

Hell's Mouth was once described in the Guardian newspaper as the best bay for beachcombing in the U.K. I'm not sure about that claim but the walks along the beach usually turn up plenty of strange trinkets and bits of odd shaped bits of wood.

The nearby Village of Rhiw is steeped in history and folklore more of which can be viewed at www.rhiw.com - This exrordinary website also has collectios of stunning photographs, old and new.

Chris and I arrived at Threheli late on Friday evening. Once we had pitched the tent there was time for a late beer before turning in. The next morning we took plenty of time drinking coffee before exploring the beach.

Later in the day we took a short drive to Aberdaron, and then towards Uchumynydd for a walk. The western edge of Aberdaron Bay is characterised by tall craggy cliffs and inaccessible bays. Eventually we reached the headland of Pen y Cil, which forms the southern end of the Lleyn Peninsula. We stayed for a while gazing accross to Bardsey Island and watching the powerful tidal currents.

Warm evening sunshine greeted us upon our return to Hell's mouth. Following a ruling from the local council fires are no longer allowed on the campsite, so we decided carry our food down onto the beach and cook on an open fire down there.

Sunday was another splendid morning but in order to make the best of the day we packed up soon after breakfast and headed off for a walk upon the headland at the eastern end of the bay. From Trwyn Cilan we watched about 100 surfers enjoying near perfect conditions on an indian summers afternoon.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Skerries - A superb evening trip.

Trevor, Mark, Maurice and I arrived at Cemlyn Bay on the north coast of Anglesey in the late afternoon and began to prepare for our sea kayaking trip to 'The Skerries'. This small group of islands lie about 3km offshore in amongst some of the most powerful tidal streams of the Welsh Coast. We had beautiful weather making conditions for a perfect evening paddle.

During the crossing we passed 'Furlong' and 'Coal Rock' buoys. The seas were smooth and we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine.

As we approached 'The Skerries' we were amazed by the noise generated by the hundreds of Arctic and Common Terns that breed on the islands each Summer. Some of the Atlantic Grey Seals escorted us into the lagoon, whilst some kept a watchful eye on us from their rocky vantages.

Once we landed we set about some tentative exploring being careful not to wander into Tern nesting areas. If you get too close, the birds will let you know in true 'Hitchcock' fashion.

We met with the wardens who live in the lighthouse during the summer months whilst studying and keeping watch over this important breeding colony.

We left 'The Skerries' as soon as the tide turned. The evening light provided us with some spectacular photo opportunities.

As we approached West Mouse the tide had really got going.

Finally we reached the beach at Cemlyn shortly before sunset.

For more information on sea kayaking trips to the Skerries consult Chapter 10 of the new guidebook 'Welsh Sea Kayaking'.