Sunday, December 19, 2010

In the bleak midwinter

Winter arrived early. Its hard to imagine that we have been in the grips of this cold snap for 3 weeks now.

Back in November it became unseasonably cold but the ducks could swim freely and all seemed well.

Then the snow came. Actually not all that much here in Manchester but not very far away in most directions there have been record snowfalls. Still there is enough to have a few short local outings on my cross country skis.

Finally, me and a few neighbours have been chipping away at the slippery ice that has accumulated on the sloping driveway to our flats. All the hard work was done by 4 o'clock which meant it was time for tea and a jolly good natter.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Storm Gathering Saturday & Sunday

Friday's strong winds gradually died away overnight leaving the sea smooth with enough swell to keep things entertaining. We launched from the sandy beach next to Beadnell Harbour. Once we paddled round the point we followed the coast heading north for the Farne Islands. Most of the thousands of breeding sea birds have now left the island leaving cormorants, shags, eider ducks and a few migrating wading birds.
(photo Mark Tozer)
We made our way from the Inner Farnes out across Staple Sound where the swell was greater and picked up breaking heavily in some of the narrow Channels.  Landing briefly on Longstone the group headed back along the south side of the archipelago. The Pinnacles of Staple Island were being bombarded with walls of water foaming and surging creating spectacular waterspouts.

Journeys' end was at St Aidan's Beach just outside Seahouses. The beach was sheltered from the most powerful swell leaving some delightfully clean 2-3ft waves. Even though the light was fading, it was difficult to leave the water and the waves behind but Ollie reminded us that we had a bus to catch!

The nearby Chainbridge Honey Farm had provided their 50 year old 'Routemaster' London bus to take us from the 'Pot-a-Doodle-Doo' wigwam village to the 'Barn at Beal' education centre. Upon arrival we were all treated to samples of Lindisfarne Mead, locally made cheese and steaming bowlfuls of hot stew. The traditional slideshow showcased the local coastline and kept quite lively with alcoholic prizes served up between occasional scenes of nudity!

Back at the wigwams fun, frolics and alcoholics carried on late into the night (photo Mark Tozer).

Sunday's paddling was based along the coastal cliffs between Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish town of Eyemouth. To start with there was more surf to play in but the swell was obviously dying away. This meant that we could embark upon a myriad of rockhopping challenges and various kayak caving adventures.

Our lunch stop was Marshall Meadows Bay which is a huge sandstone amphitheatre. Part way up one of the cliffs there is an inclined tunnel that leads to the caravan site that overlooks the area with panoramic views along the coast.

Further on up the coast, we made our way between, behind and sometimes beneath rocks all the way to Eyemouth. All too soon the gathering was over. Many were saying their goodbyes here whilst packing up kit in the descending evening cool before heading off home.

Many thanks to Ollie Jay and Active4Seasons for hosting and organizing the gathering and all of the associated fun and games. A whole bunch of like minded people now have a whole bunch of new friends.

There are more photos of the event on the facebook gallery here...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Storm Gathering Eve

The long journey from Manchester started at 7 o'clock this morning. The first stop was at Preston Brook to collect a couple of P&H Delphins. There was also a special treat in store. Fresh out of the mould was a prototype of the Delpin's composite 'big brother', 'Aries'. I'll be playing with this beauty for most of this coming weekend.

After a long drive to Berwick-upon-Tweed, I met up with Ollie Jay at Spittal beach for some fun in the messy wind blown surf. The sets came rolling in handsomely.

The rising tide brought us run after exhilarating run in the golden autumn sunshine. Eventually, the strong southerly wind sapped our strength and it was time for tea!.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wild Northumberland

A couple of weeks ago Kirstine and I headed off to the Northumberland coast for a few days break. The weather was varied which meant there was scope for a little bit of everything. One of the highlights was a walk right round the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It has such a varied coast with sand dunes, small cliffs and boulder strewn beaches. The photograph above is of the northeast point called Emmanuel Head.  

 On one of the more blustery days I went hunting for some surf. In most places it was just too big and intimidating so I headed for the shelter of  St Mary's Haven near Low Newton. The surfing was good fun in the new P&H Delphin even though conditions in the haven were a little tame.

When it rained, we headed north of the border to Eyemouth in Scotland (but only just!) We had a classic haggis and chips lunch before heading for the Eyemouth Maritime Centre which has a fantastic display of old smugglers boats and relics.

 This time of year there is plenty of bird life in and around the estuarine mud flats around Holy Island. The next time I will be back to these shores will be to attend the 5th Storm Gathering meet. Which will be hosted by Active 4 Seasons on the weekend of 30th-31st of October.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Snowdonia Mountains and Coast

The mild temperatures and the promise of clearing skies inspired a trip to the hills of Snowdonia. My brother, Chris and I chose to explore the remote valley of Cwm Egiau, which lies east of the Carneddau. As soon as we left the road head the mist came down restricting the visibility to less than 30 metres at times.

There are few paths to follow in this wild valley so our combined navigation skills were put thoroughly to the test.

The summit of Foel Grach was the first peak that we had aimed for. When we arrived we were greeted with an energy sapping wintry gale and penetrating drizzle. We sheltered in the refuge where we were joined by another sodden soul. Following a brief exchange of navigation tactics, Chris and I decided to beat a hasty retreat down into the valley, back the way we had come from.

Once safely down out of the wind, the weather began to rapidly improve. Just our luck! We walked the last couple of miles to the car in warm sunshine.

So as not to feel short changed from our early retreat from the hills, we headed off to Anglesey for some coastal views. Llandwyn Island is beautiful on any day but so much the better when bathed in golden autumn sunshine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Canolfan Tryweryn

Many moons ago Canolfan Tryweryn was a regular haunt of mine and the class 3-4 white water rapids were a familiar and routine challenge. My return today followed a car journey filled with anticipation punctuated with moments of apprehension.

The river scenery so perfectly beautiful in the golden Autumn sunshine with misty shafts of light piercing the woodland canopy. In many places you can see the rocks and pebbles on the river bed as the waters run clear from the Llyn Celyn dam. The water is powerful and fast-flowing. Entering the evocatively named 'Graveyard' I am immediately reminded of how fast things happen here. Any loss of control and I am whisked along, bouncing over, and crashing through tumbling water and churning waves.

All around me life on the river seems every bit as I remember. Some poor inexperienced soul is shocked to be suddenly swimming in such an uncomfortable and unforgiving situation. Others are having fun surfing standing waves and playing rodeo with the river's insatiable features. Years ago I would be one of them and perhaps with practice I will be again. Today I pass them by.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scarborough to Robin Hood's Bay

This is a stretch of coast that is beginning to capture the hearts of more than just local paddlers. The iconic headland complete with castle, stands between North Bay and South Bay. Both of these have sweeping sandy beaches that are popular with surfers, as well as the bucket and spade brigade. We headed off north in search of rockhopping, secluded bays and towering cliffs...

Rockhopping can be found immediately to the north of Scarborough at the headland of Scalby Ness. Swell surges through reefs and amongst jagged rock structures from here to the evocatively named 'Sailors Grave' in the shadow of Cromer Point.

Claughton Wyke is a small bay with cliffs rising on each side. The southern entrance has a submerged reef upon which swell can unexpectedly break and unleash powerful breaking surf. This caught all three of us unawares. Two of us escaped the breakers but the remaining poor soul was dealt a punishing swim followed by a barnacle dance.

The next bay is called Hayburn Wyke and is far more welcoming. There are tall cliffs and tree lined slopes with a small waterfall that cascades down onto the pebbly beach. No reefs, no punishing breakers, just some smelly seaweed. Comparatively heavenly!

Curious seals surrounded us as we neared Ravenscar and the entrance to Robin Hood's Bay. As ever we tried to take pictures but for the most part they were camera shy, or perhaps just teasing us.

We set a good pace for the return to Scarborough. The enticing view of the castle and headland drew us closer. As we rounded the headland the unmistakable chip shop aroma hung in the air. Soon after we landed we each awarded ourselves a generous helping of fish, chips and mushy peas.

There are a few more photos from the day's adventures here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bottled in Rhoscolyn

I embarked upon a spontaneous weekend to Rhoscolyn, close to Holyhead at the western end of Anglesey. Along with some good friends, I engaged some of the less hospitable waters that the Irish Sea can throw upon Welsh shores.

It is such a joy to paddle in the swell and chop. The breaking waves and sea air, combined with warm southerly breezes are so exhilarating and invigorating. Yet, it is well to remember that these conditions are not for the faint hearted, nor the less experienced venturer...

The local seals chose to take it easy and have a snooze in their typical 'bottle' posture in the shelter of Borthwen that day. After all, Mother Nature knows best.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chorlton Beer Festival

The dry sunny weather has left gardens and lawns parched and a hosepipe ban looming. Another of the first signs of summer is Chorlton Beer Festival. It is usually best to sample the fine ales on the opening Friday evening session, as by half way through Saturday, some of the more popular potions may have been guzzled away.

The event was impeccably organised by the Trafford and Hulme branch of CAMRA. There were over 50 real ales to choose from as well as around 30 traditional ciders and a selection of Belgian beers too.

Thanks to St Clements Church providing the perfect venue, this annual festival continues to thrive and has become a real focus for a broad cross section of the community from Chorlton and beyond.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Woodmill Sea Symposium

This inaugural event was hosted by the Woodmill Canoe Shop at the adjacent Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre. The venue is situated on the banks of the River Itchen where it meets tidal waters in the Southampton suburb of Swaythling. The weekend workshops included: first aid, navigation, VHF radio, rough water handling and guided trips. The 'paddle to the pub' was by far the most popular of the guided trips on offer.

Saturday evening brought an opportunity to borrow a short boat from the canoe shop and try a few moves in the play spot of the Itchen Weir. The traditional slide show preceded an excellent barbecue. Generous portions of meat and bread were used to stem the flow of alcohol to our senses. Later, desert was cooked over a huge bonfire. Seered marshmallows and spiced rum... Yum!

The highlight of the paddling was the trip around The Needles at the western end of the Isle of Wight. Dodging the ships in The Solent, rounding the mighty chalk stacks and riding the tide races in brilliant sunshine. This may seem like a simple recipe, but these ingredients work every time!

The event was really well organised by the staff from the shop and outdoor centre who are a really friendly and helpful bunch. It is worth keeping an eye on next years calender as the organisers hope to make this an annual event.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Stackpole Sea Kayaking Festival

Following a week of kayaking and walking in north Pembrokeshire, Kirstine and I met up with around 80 other sea kayaking enthusiasts at the outdoor centre known as 'Stackpole for Outdoor Learning'. The centre is set in beautiful grounds, just back from the coast in the rolling south Pembrokeshire countryside.

The emphasis of the weekend was on 'Paddling Lightly', or in other words; enjoying our sport with the minimum impact upon, and with the greatest respect for our wild and beautiful marine environment. The modern sport of kayaking can involve heavy use of motor vehicles. But last weekend's events showed that with careful planning impact upon narrow lanes, small car parks and the wider environment can be minimised.

The events on the water were largely organised by Pembrokeshire's collective 'Sea Kayak Guides'. The staff at 'Stackpole for Outdoor Learning' were amazing too. Louise Smithson and the rest of her team were extremely efficient, especially when it came to meal times when great food was turned out in plentiful dish loads.

Peak UK and P&H Custom Sea Kayaks turned up in force to support the event and brought kit and boats to try & buy, a splash of colour and a bouncy dog called Georgie!

On the Saturday the blustery weather kept the paddlers in sheltered waters of the Cleddau and other sheltered shores. In the evening we were kept well informed by a local wildlife expert and local sea kayak guide Nigel Robinson. Afterwards the adventurous Olly Sanders recounted tales of how he clung to walls, paddled amongst icebergs, caused an explosion in a hunting cabin and watched helplessly as his compatriots were kidnapped by murderers.

The stories grew taller and taller and and we drank late into the night ...

On Sunday a more adventurous group went to circumnavigate the exposed island nature reserve of Skomer. The tides here proved as entertaining and tricky as a bucking bronco. Circumnavigating the monks haven of Caldey Island, or traversing the rugged coastline between Solva and Porth Clais was quite enough for mere mortals in the chunky rolling swells of the day.

The evening started with a sumptuous barbecue before descending into a musical furore instigated by a local ceilidh band.

Bank Holiday Monday was more sedate. A few more gentle palling trips before tea and cakes and home to reality. Ho hum...

There are more photos from the weekend on the festival Facebook page.

Pembrokeshire's Wild & Rugged North

Kirstine and I took a week off to explore the Pembrokeshire National Park. Naturally we took our sea kayaks but we also took walking boots. Initially, it looked as though the weather would allow us to tour the coastline by kayak with a spot of overnight wild camping along the way. A cold stiff breeze from the north that would remain for the next 3 days soon put a stop to that plan.

We headed off for the sheltered campsite at Whitesands Bay where we based ourselves for 3 days of walking the windswept coastal path and paddling along some of the more sheltered shores.

The caves and arches close to Solva's natural harbour gave us plenty to do in sheltered waters. Occasional downdraughts from winds swirling around the cliffs kept us on our toes and served as a reminder of the overall blustery conditions out at sea.

Eventually the wind dropped enough for a trip out of Whitesands Bay, through Ramsey Sound and round to Porth Clais. A little swell from the south was enough to make the rockhopping conditions perfect on the swirling surges among the many channels and gullies.

At the end of the week, we headed south for a quick walk around St Anne's Head then off towards Stackpole Head for the Stackpole Sea Kayak Festival. Before heading for the centre we decided to make the most of the beautiful evening and met up with Pete Astles for a paddle along the red sandstone shores of Marorbier.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Delights of the Gower

Last weekend's work commitments took me to the Gower peninsula in south Wales. Without hesitation I packed my kayak and got in touch with local paddler Eurion Brown. We met up on the Friday evening at Port Eynon for a short sunset paddle and quickly discovered that this coastline is something special.

This smugglers cove has a tower built of stone set deep into its gully. If these walls could talk they would tell tall tales of smuggling brandy, tobacco and pirates booty.

The lack of air traffic left the skies clear of vapour trails. A wonderful sunset was our cue to head back to reach Port Eynon before dark.

The following day Eurion and I paddled the section from Port Eynon to Llangennith. This classic journey took us past Paviland Cave and on towards Three Cliffs Bay before rounding Worms Head. The towering limestone cliffs and pinnacles with sweeping grassy meadows between them are reminiscent of summer alpine scenes. No doubt this is why walkers and climbers are drawn to these shores.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Northumberland at Easter

The Northumberland is blessed with a wild, bleak and beautiful coastline full of adventure. Kirstine and I braved the A1 with thousands of others for the great Easter get away. By late evening we were established in our lodgings at Farne Diving Services in the village of Beadnell.

On Good Friday morning the beach at Beadnell Haven was bristling with wildlife. Eider ducks were so busy squabbling over who should mate with who that they hardly noticed me sneaking up on then with my camera.

The tide was on its way out and the wading birds were tucking into the fresh feast exposed along the sands.

Most interesting were a small group of 'bar tailed godwits' possibly part-way through migration to their breeding grounds in higher lattitudes.

On Saturday Kirstine and I paddled out to the Inner Farne to look for some more wildlife. Before long we spotted the first of what seemed like a million puffins. Kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags have also arrived in readiness for the breeding season.

Sunday morning was a little fuzzy due to a few extra beers in the Craster Arms. I left Kirstine to rest whilst I met up with local kayak guide Ollie Jay for a trip out to the Longstone. The Longstone is one of the outermost Farne islands and after stopping for a hot drink beside the lighthouse we had fun nipping in and out of the tide races that rush between the kelp infested rocks. Some of the seals followed us for over a mile until we were well on our way back to St Aidan's beach near Seahouses.