Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Spurn Head

I managed to get a paddle in on Saturday before the weather broke in such dramatic style on Sunday. I went to the east coast to paddle around the iconic headland and nature reserve of Spurn Head. I met up with Richard, Sabina, Ron and Kate at the Spurn Heritage Coast Visitor Centre at Kilnsea Beach.

Spurn Head is a fragile spit of land made up of sand and pebbles bound together with marram grass and sea buckthorn. In places this 6 kilometre long spit is less than 50 metres wide. Spurn protects the Humber like a huge breakwater keeping the stormy nature of the North Sea at bay.

The coastal erosion here means that the shore is receeding at around 2 metres each year and the way down to the beach can be a little awkward.

Once out through the surf we enjoyed the assistance of the south-going tidal stream as we passed numerous anglers on our way to the point.

We stopped for a play in the overfalls where there is a sand bank and an area of shallows called 'Stony Binks' close to the end of the headland. From here we could see the old Bull Sand Fort which stands in the middle of the mouth of the Humber. The fort was built in WW1 as part of the coastal defence network.

Once round the end of Spurn we were in smooth waters paddling past the pilot station and jetty, 2 disused lighthouses and the only lifeboat station manned by full-time residential staff. I was spotted by the coxwain, Dave who I had met earlier in the year when 4 of us finished the Kayak Coast 2 Coast trip here raising over £2000 for the RNLI. We had just a brief chat before moving on to paddle up the inner shore of Spurn.

Birds were swarming all around us as the sinking sun lit the inner shore with a golden autumnal glow. The water was strangely smooth yet we could hear the boom of surf dumping on the outer beach, just accross the road on the other side of the spit.

Finally, we reached the shore next to the Crown and Anchor pub and after 14 kilometres of paddling we only had 700 metres to walk to our cars.

Monday, October 19, 2009

St Bees in the Sun

The settled weather of last week continued into the weekend giving Saturday the potential to be a glorious day. With this in mind I was easily tempted out to the west Cumbrian coast for a paddle round St Bees Head.

The name of St Bees is most likely to be linked to St Bega who arrived upon these shores during the 7th Century from Ireland via the Isle of Man. Records of her travels keep cropping up along the shores of northern England. We set out from the beach at St Bees close to the lifeboat station and the beginning of Alfred Wainwright's modern day pilgrim's way.

The red sandstone cliffs here rise over 80 metres vertically from the sea. South of the main headland the buttresses are regularly spaced along the cliff line like huge curtain folds.

The sea was unusually calm and we chatted to some climbers who were taking advantage of the warm autumn sunshine and getting a few routes done.

There was only one thing for it when we arrived at Whitehaven harbour. We headed for the chip shop!

We spent too long on lunch so the journey back was a little more hurried than it looks in the photo above.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Industrial North-East

The coast between Yorkshire and Northumberland is one of little known beauty and poorly hidden beasts. Brian, Peter and I met at the historic headland at Hartlepool on Friday morning for a paddle to Teesmouth. The launching spot is down a set of steps through a sandstone archway the old town wall onto a small beach called Fish Sands. As we paddled along the shores of Hartlepool Bay we kept ourselves entertained in the surf that was breaking gently on the smooth sands of Seaton Carew.

The industrial tangle of Teesmouth makes a dramatic backdrop to an otherwise flat coastline.

On Saturday we were joined by Glen and his partner Dee. Whilst us lads set about paddling from Blyth to Cresswell,  Dee helped with the logistics before looking for some horses to ride. Heading north from Blyth the coastline has all of the trappings of heavy industry (more past than present). The scenery begins to show signs of rural life where the River Wansbeck enters the sea on the approaches to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. 

To help prevent coastal erosion Newbiggin Bay has a new breakwater complete with a huge sculpture of a couple gazing out to sea.

Lynemouth Bay lies to the north and hosts the aluminium works and power plant creating an awkward interruption to the otherwise slow but sure transition from industrial to rural coastline.

Journeys end was on the unspoilt sands of Druridge Bay just outside the rosy village of Cresswell in Northumberland.

Sunday morning saw us heading to North Shields at Tynemouth for a trip north along the coast to Blyth where we had started our trip the day before. We Paddled out of the River Tyne entrance and turned north beneath the iconic silhouette of the Tynemouth Priory. We paid a brief visit to Longsands beach where Glen swam in the challenging 6 inch surf.

We passed St Mary's Lighthouse before battling with strong offshore winds as we passed Seaton Sluice on our way to finish the day at Blyth Beach.

Finally, on Monday Brian, Peter and I finished off with a short paddle round Coquet Island before starting the long haul home back west.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Earl-aye on the Solway

Since the excitement of last year's Solway adventures with Sean passed, I have been keen to make another crossing from Cumbria to Scotland.

Jon, Dave and I assembled at the slipway in Maryport harbour and got on the water as the tide was almost half way in. Following a week of delightful weather Saturday morning greeted us dull, grey and breezy. Leaving the shelter of the harbour we engaged the open rolling sea but our destination was barely visible 18km away through gloom.

With over half of the crossing done, and with onset of better weather the Scottish shore became more visible across the wide open expanse of water. This is when we began to realise that we had under estimated the strength of the Solway tide. 

We missed Southerness Point by at least 2km and settled for the nearby beach close to the Thirl Stane natural arch.


The waters of the Solway have a reputation for becoming alarmingly rough with little provocation from the prevailing weather and soon after we set out on our return wind against tide conditions soon became tricky.

Each of the crossings ended up being 20km taking a little over 3 hours but the breezy weather and choppy seas made it seem longer. Better weather came only a short while after we had battled our way over the Solway from Scotland.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

recent highlights

A couple of weeks ago I met up with Kate Duffus who is a sea kayaking coach based in south Cumbria. A while ago she devised a navigation exercise in the northern part of Morecame Bay. The idea is to find a sandbank called 'South America' and a couple of islands; one called 'St Helena' and the other called 'Falklands'. These features are only detailed on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 scale map and are only exposed at low water on a spring tide.

We found St Helena hiding beneath thousands of starfish but South America was so huge we couldn't paddle round it to find the Falklands. For more of the story have a look at Kate's account.

This last weekend Kirstine and I joined Terry for a paddle from Whitby along the towering cliffs to Robin Hood's Bay and back.

The cliffs are colossal and rise to over 60 metres.

Whilst Terry was posing for photos the naughty seals kept popping up in the background and pulling funny faces.

We found the perfect place for a balanced nutritional meal at Robin Hood's Bay to give us plenty of energy for the paddle back to Whitby.

Manx Hideaways

A few weeks ago Kirstine and I went to visit Keirron at his Adventurous Experiences base.

The wind never dropped much below force 5 so we made for some short rock-hopping trips along sheltered shores.

We re-discovered fun things to do from way back in childhood times...

...and explored deep scary caves. It was all a bit of a whistle stop tour but good to meet up with old friends.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Whitehaven and Cunning Point

I took a small detour on the way to west Cumbria to help out with water safety on the swim section of the 'Iron Man' triathlon event.

I was astonished to see 1600 people going for an early morning swim. The foaming mess of arms and bodies at the start must have been a bit scary for some, and the noise was like raging white water rapid. The first swimmer completed the 2.5 mile course in around an hour and the last just over 2 and a half hours. With the swim over and breakfast time looming I rushed to Cumbria to meet Kate and Jess for a paddle round St Bees Head.

We headed for Whitehaven where there is a good launching spot just inside the harbour. The water conditions and wind were a little more than we bargained for so Jess stayed in the harbour.

Kate and I went for a short paddle north along the coast to watch the para-gliders hanging on the rising air currents over the steep cliffs near Cunning Point.

On our return to Whitehaven we found a scary sea monster had stolen Jess' kayak and was paddling confidently outside the harbour entrance.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A sunny paddle round Walney

I set off with a group to circumnavigate Walney Island off the south west part of the Cumbrian coast. Walney is around 13km long, under 2km wide and lies across a narrow channel from the industrial town of Barrow-in-Furness.

We set off from Earnse Point when the tide still had a way to come in. Walney is made up from glacial deposits and the west side is one long beach made up of sand, shingle and pebbles.

The south part of the island is a nature reserve where Eider Duck nest in relative peace under the protection of their Herring Gull neighbours.

We passed Piel Castle but felt obliged to get an update on the renovation project on 'The Ship Inn'. While we were there we it seemed rude not to stop for a drop of lunch.

The flood tide was building in the Walney Channel so we hurried back on to the water to make our way north.

We were barely half way to Barrow when we discovered this leggy beast bearing down on us.

This is what remains of a slag heap that used to be much bigger. This is where hot waste was dumped from the foundry at the north of Barrow. The glow from this heap could regularly be seen from the Isle of Man at night.

We stopped for a short break at the north end before nipping across the have a look at 'Lowsy Point'. There are a collection of huts amongst the dunes and grassland.

Some are residences and some weekend retreats, but all of them are someones beloved pride and joy. It does seem as though some of the buildings are held together with mostly pride, and not so much text book construction techniques.

We left Lowsy Point on the ebbing tide with just 4 km remaining before we landed back at Earne Point, where the ice cream man was waiting for us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Entrance to the River Tees

The coastline between Saltburn and Hartlepool requires a degree of imagination to blend with a sea kayakers' sense of wilderness adventure. The extensive surf beaches form the boundary between the wild rolling swells of the North Sea and the wild tangled industrial interior. We arrived at Saltburn to find a larger than expected swell generating around a metre and a half of surf.

From the car park this didn't seem to be much of a daunting prospect, but contact with the first wave brought a gritty sting to the eyes, adrenaline to the blood and a fresh burst of power to the blade. Not all of us made it beyond the break which left a daunting but eventually entertaining ride back in to the beach.

Having had all the excitement we could bear at Saltburn, we relocated to South Gare at the entrance to the River Tees in search of an easier launch. The steelworks dominates a desolate landscape here.

There is an eclectic collection of buildings here in precarious existence amongst the dunes and along the breakwater shore. The yacht club beside the old lifeboat station has an old style cafĂ© that serves a traditional range of greasy delights for cold hungry yachtsmen. Kayakers are welcome too but don’t expect to find muesli on the menu.

We crossed the river past Seaton Carew and into Hartlepool Bay. The brightly painted Georgian buildings along the Hartlepool Headland made for a jolly backdrop to the end of our journey.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Quest, to bring the boat home

I have joined the P&H Custom Sea Kayaks paddlers team. I have been paddling a P&H Sirius for over 8 years now and it has seen me through some tough trips in that time. I feel the need for a change now so its time for a new boat!

I have chosen a P&H Quest LV which I collected from the P&H canalside base near Runcorn on Saturday morning. It was like christmas and birthdays all rolled into one as I cut through the wrapping to meet my new pride and joy.

What better way to get my new kayak home than to paddle the 32km along the Bridgewater Canal, though the beautiful rolling Cheshire countryside, to within a few hundred meters of my home in south Manchester.

I'll have to wait at least a week to get it out on the sea...

Thanks to Sam, Pez and the rest of the P&H team, and also to Jim from Kayaks North West for helping me with the unveiling. Thanks to Chris Krawiecki for the photos.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Great Northeast Adventure - part 2

Peter and I have come to the southern part of the Northumberland coast. We have based ourselves in the small town of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. The scenery holds less drama than up north and the local towns and villages show obvious signs of physical and financial decay when compared to the famed and tourist rich Northumbrian honeypots.

We started on Tuesday by re-visiting the area close to Amble and a more sedate viewing of Coquet Island than on race day a couple of days earlier. The air was almost still and the sea unusually flat as we made our way to the 'Fishing Boat Inn' at Boulmer. Boulmer has a reef of flat rock that protects this natural harbour and fishing is still done from here using traditional boats known as 'Cobles'.

On the way back we had a quick look at the estuary and the pretty village of Alnmouth before passing Amble and finishing for the day.

Wednesday started in similar fashion with calm seas and blue skies. We ran the gauntlet of the Tyne Tunnel, roadworks and unfamiliar streets to reach South Shields beach with the aim of paddling to Roker beach near Sunderland.

Shortly after passing Souter Lighthouse we spotted red flags on the cliff. I made enquiries but the range would be active for the rest of the day and we could make no further progress. We settled for a visit to the lighthouse before ending our curtailed trip back at South Shields.

On Thursday we headed for Seaton Sluice to paddle past St Mary's Island and Whitley Bay. The sea was a little more choppy and the swell increased as we stopped at Longsands beach for a snack at 'Robinson Crusoe's' beach cafe. Our return to Seaton Sluice was through some messy surf.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Great Northeast Adventure - part 1

A trek up to Northumberland brought me to meet up with friends old and new at Beadnell on the Northumberland coast. I set out from home early on Saturday so as to arrive in time for a paddle around the Farne Islands.

The winds had settled down overnight so we set off from Harkness Rocks towards the Longstone Lighthouse. As we drew nearer the abundant wildlife became obvious. There were sea birds all around us; rafts of puffins on the water, terns swarming over the low-lying land and guillemots standing guard upon each headland. A young inquisitive seal watched us as we ate our lunch.

Following a visit to the Inner Farne to watch the puffins clown like antics and have our heads pecked by terns, we got back on the water to head back to the beach where we started in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle.

On Sunday it was race day. So we headed off for the seaside town of Amble for the annual Coquet Island Race. The event starts on the estuary of the Coquet River, through Amble harbour, round Coquet Island and back again.

North West Sea Kayakers provided a good supply of paddlers with Kate Duffus taking the honour of first lady and John Bunyan taking second overall to finish.

Many of us are staying on for a few more days to make the most of the fine weather so to start the new week we embarked upon the classic border paddle from Eyemouth to Berwick. To start with we headed further north to have a look at the awesome cliffs at St Abbs Head.

Further south the spectacular scenery is relentless with sandstone cliffs riddled with caves, gullies and arches.

I'm heading south now to the less well paddled areas of Northumberland and then to the cliffs and stacks of the Tynemouth area.