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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

South West Sea Kayak Meet

One year on from the launch of the 'South West Sea Kayaking' guidebook, Mark Rainsley began scheming a first anniversary celebration. It was to be much the same as last year's shindig based upon paddling, tall tales and other matters to be discussed around a table full of Devonshire ales.

A hefty hoard of over 60 paddlers descended upon the misty village of East Prawle and set up camp in the farmers field. I was part of a small elite force that headed for the 'Pig's Nose Inn' to see what could be done about the local beer glut. We huffed and puffed but only managed to blow bubbles! (photo - The Rainsley collection)

The mist was still down on Saturday morning but with just a light southerly breeze we split up into small groups and began to explore the local coastline. I had travelled from Runcorn with Tim Lambert from P&H Custom Sea Kayaks and a trailer load of demo boats and we set off from Hallsands with a small group around Start Point. Graeme Mackreth was amongst our number sporting his latest acquisition. I wondered if this classic skin-on-frame 'Baidarka' was merely a purchase of passion or perhaps a cunning investment in research for a future boat design.

In the evening we gathered in the Pig's Nose hall for a series of short talks. Chris Wheeler started with a world tour of places less paddled. Olly Sanders delivered tall stories a plenty including an account of how he managed to blow the roof off a hunting cabin on the Greenland coast. Mark Rainsley described his Scottish adventures then I extolled the virtues of grim northern shores. The important thing is that we finished up in the bar. We all wore strange hats and got luciously drunk accompanied by songs the 1970s and '80s. (photo - The Rainsley collection)

On Sunday the sun came out! (photo - The Rainsley collection)

Tim and I paddled with a group to Burgh Island where the hotel and pub were overwhelmed by thirsty visitors. With the pub out of bounds we got in amongst the swell to explore the rocky shores and towering cliffs before reluctantly winding up the weekend festivities at Thurlestone Beach.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Try, try again

Peter and I had been planning to repeat our Morecambe Bay crossings since our awkwardly achieved efforts last year. This trip coincided with the second day of Eric Innes circumnavigation of the British mainland in aid of the ex-serviceman's charity 'Help For Heroes'.

We assembled on the beach at Fleetwood and got underway heading north allowing the flood to push us a little to the east. The conditions became choppy as the strong easterly wind opposed the tide.

Slack water occurred around 2/3rds of the way across and before long wind and tide combined to push us rapidly west. This gave us a challenging last half hour ferry gliding into the Piel channel. Once in the channel we said farewell to Eric as he continued on his way to Silecroft on the West Cumbria Coast. After 3 hours, 15 minutes on the choppy windswept waters we landed beneath the castle on Piel Island for a well earned break.

We spent over 2 hours munching snacks and sandwiches, lying in the sun and drinking tea. All too soon it was time to head back and by this time the tide had well and truly gone out. This left us with a long muddy walk to the water with our kayaks.

The plan for the return was to head south allowing the west going ebb tide to carry us out to sea until the new flood would fetch us back in towards King's Scar, Wyre Light and eventually Fleetwood. The easterly wind was relentless and it was our underestimating this that was to be our undoing. We missed King's Scar by around 4km. We were way too far out west and now a huge sandbank stood between us and our cars parked at Fleetwood.

We cautiously drew closer to each other in the lumpy seas to hatch a plan'B'. The stern of Peter's kayak poked me in the earhole. This is my excuse for my second swim in 3 years.

We headed for the beach at Rossall Point just north of Cleveleys. After 3 hours and 40 minutes of exhausting paddling we settled for landing in the wrong place leaving a 5 km walk for the cars.

If you get a chance have a look at Eric Innes blog page and consider making a donation.