Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter Contrasts

The 'Cat and Fiddle' pub sits on a precarious bend on the 'Cat and Fiddle' road that connects Macclesfield and Buxton. The webcam looks out along the road and across the moors. I have been itching to see if it is possible to ski from the pub to the summit of the nearby Shining Tor.

As soon as Kirstine and I had finished our hot chocolate pre-ski warm up. The weather began to close in.

Un-detterred, we carried on through the wild, wintry blizzard and snowdrifts in search of the junction in the paths where we could head for the (as yet unseen) summit.

When we reached the summit, we headed back down as quickly as possible to escape the fierce wind. Having been skiing in a blizzard for over two hours, I was beginning to worry if the car would be buried and indeed if the road would still be open. We had no shovel!

Back at the pub, our car was fine (if a little camouflaged) and the road was still passable.

On the next day, the weather was much nicer with golden winter sunshine. This looked like a perfect opportunity to visit the Manchester Canoe Club slalom course for some gentle river paddling.

I have borrowed a Pyranha Z One to try out with a view to buying one. The boat is everything I would hope for. It is reasonably forgiving whilst being sporty enough to remind me that river paddling requires some degree of skill.

Landlocked no.2

As strong winds begin to blow winter to the UK shores, I find myself hiding further inland for my paddling. On Saturday I headed for the nearby Bridgwater Canal. I set off early and made it to the 'Barn Owl Inn' just before it opened up. Having battled into a cruel and cold breeze, I settled for a quick cup of tea and an energy bar before heading back.

I was amazed at how easy the return journey was. The ever changing skies were caught between Autumn and Winter. This would be the last of the golden colours for this year.

Sunday brought me to meet up with some of the folk from Liverpool Canoe Club for their pre-Christmas get together. Some went for a trashing in the gale-driven surf at Llandudno. I settled for a quick tour of the lower River Dee, just upstream of Chester.

The river is surprisingly lively with a variety of paddlers, rowers and walker. The pleasure boat trips are still running too.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Autumn Colours on the River Dee

My first river paddling trip since March brought me to Llangollen on the banks of the River Dee in north Wales. The full spread of Autumn colours were laid out from one side of the valley to the other, brought to life by the golden sunshine and a crystal blue sky.

Dave, me and the two Andys arrived in the car park below Llangollen Bridge where we would eventually finish the trip. We started our adventure by carrying our kayaks a short way up the street to the Llangollen Wharf from where the canal provides a scenic paddle up to the Horseshoe Weir, two miles upstream.

Once on the river the fun began. I have really missed the feeling of paddling on rivers and it felt so good to be bouncing along, breaking out into small eddies and surfing friendly waves. The sound of water rushing amongst the jagged rocks and the increase in gradient told us that we were approaching 'Serpents Tail'; the first of the Dee's 'rapids with a reputation'.

This cold deep gorge is where many students and canoe club rookies get their first taste of powerful white water. Soon afterwards the river mellows into a broader part of the valley with beautiful scenery all around. The peace of the river was broken with the approach to Mile End Mill. This popular kayaking and rafting centre is often crowded. This day was no exception. With bank to bank rubber and plastic and no room in the eddies, perhaps it could be possible to walk from one side to the other. We moved on... Another broad stretch lead us towards 'Town Falls' with a string of expectant spectators on Llangollen Bridge (no pressure then). With low water levels the main falls looked tricky. Two of us chose the chicken chute. Of the two that ran the falls, one rolled; both survived.

The final 200 yards led to the car park and the end of our paddling that day. The final decision to be made would be which pub for 'apres paddle' snacks, drinks and embellished tall stories.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mud-day mud-day mud-day

My last day of guiding at the 6th Storm Gathering sea kayaking event was spent in the Menai Straits. The trip went well with Steve and I dispensing a string of 'top tips' as we paddled from Gallows Point towards the Swellies. We soon realised that by the time we would arrive back at Gallows Point it would be low tide revealing 400 metres of muddy shore.

Steve and I dropped the group at an easier landing beside the Gazelle Hotel. We then continued to Gallows Point to get the van and trailer. I was quietly hoping that we would get away with a shorter carry somehow.

However, the tide has recessed just as much as I had feared. Carrying and dragging the boats across the muddy shore was painfully hard work. We got plastered in mud, and that mud really stinks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rock Hopping and Trip Guiding

Strong southerly winds have continued to entertain the storm gatherers on Anglesey throughout this weekend. I have had the pleasure of sharing guiding duties with Greenland expert Martin Rickard and Manchester based coach Richard McEvoy.

The north coast of Anglesey has been the perfect venue for introducing paddlers to these shores.

In the last couple of days we have explored every nook and cranny between Bull Bay and Porth Wen. We have threaded the eye of every needle there is and slotted into caves of all sizes.

Some brave moves left Neil high and dry, and a little embarrassed.

Before landing some have taken the opportunity to do some rolling practice.

...and some have been experimenting with some more unusual paddling techniques.

At the end of each day paddlers have returned with indelible beaming grins.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Storm Gathering Celebration

Following a stunning array of activities on the water, we began the traditional Saturday evening bash. The 'Round the Stacks Quiz' was more than a paddlers pub quiz.

The evening descended into chaotic rapture when Kate Duffus and Justine Curgenven competed for men's underwear whilst bound and blindfolded.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Storm Gathering Eve

Friday before the storm (gathering) saw Paul Kuthe, Tim and I setting off along the cliffs between Bull Bay and Porth Wen. The cliffs gave us shelter from the strengthening southerly wind along with plenty of rock hopping fun.

Paul Kuthe - Paddling coach from Oregon USA
Paul Kuthe - paddling coach from Oregon USA

Just as we set off from the bay, channel 16 crackled out the words "securite, securite, securite" which preceded a gale warning.

We kept our paddling journey short but sweet. That's enough excitement for today. We now wait to see what the Storm Gathering (proper) with have in store.

The Menai Challenge

The Menai Challenge is an open time trial for sea kayakers and is the brainchild of local paddler John Willacy. The standard course runs between the slipway at Gallows Point south of Beaumaris and the slipway near to the Anglesey Sea Zoo across the water from Caernarfon. The advanced course runs between the same points but includes a return lap of The Swellies.

At no point did I believe that I would break any records but I was keen to give it a go to see what time I could manage.

In the end I completed the 21km course in a respectable time of 1 hour, 52 minutes and 49 seconds. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoons paddling. Have a look at the website and give it a go!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shelter From The Stormy Seas

Yesterday the sea was too rough to go paddling so I went for a refreshing walk along the cliffs that lie either side of Rhoscolyn Head.

The waves were spectacular and the wind whipped up spray and foam high into the air.

Overnight the wind has taken on more of a northerly direction and the drop in temperature is quite marked.

Today I have been paddling in the shelter of the Menai Strait in the company of Pete Baars from the 'Summit to Sea' kayak shop, and Franco Ferrero from 'Pesda Press'.

It seemed as though the weather could not make it's mind up. Short blustery showers were soon followed by dazzling autumn sunshine.

We stopped at 'The Gazelle' hotel for a warming cup of hot chocolate before heading back to Y Felinheli where we had started.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Blistering Gale

Today started breezy with gales predicted in the afternoon. This made it easy to designate this as a rest day. Following a leisurely breakfast of bacon butties washed down with plenty of coffee, I set off to the canoe shop in Valley to say hello the owner, Pete Barrs.

One mug of tea and a good natter set me up for an afternoon of short blustery walks. Trearddur Bay was truly wild with huge foaming waves surging over the rocks and on to the beach.

The waves were smaller than I expected at South Stack but the wind was blistering as it tore past a myriad of rocky promontories.

Sunny Weekend Surprise

The North West Seakayakers end of season meet is often held in the midst of some horrendous autumn weather. This time we were blessed with a mini Indian summer.

It was breezy but warm in the golden sunshine and on the Saturday there was just enough swell to make the rock hopping fun and sporty.

On Sunday the southerly wind dropped just enough to allow a group of us to paddle from Rhoscolyn to Rhosneigr where we had tea and cakes in the sun. Before heading home many of us chose to bid farewell to Rhoscolyn by paying a visit to the celebrated 'White Eagle' pub.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Last weekend the weather was less than suitable for taking a trip to the coast. I stayed landlocked but managed to get nearly 30 miles of paddling done. I often paddle the Bridgwater Canal between Stretford and Warrington to keep active. I can trolley my kayak from my home to a convenient launch site in less than 20 minutes.

Sometimes when I see houses for sale along the way, I wonder if I would like to live beside the canal. It would be a little like having leisure facilities right on your doorstep.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Mists of Man

During the last couple of days of our visit to the Isle of Man, Kirstine and I set out to explore the south west shores.

On Wednesday we started from Port Erin and braved strong southerly winds by sheltering beneath the cliffs of Bay Fine before taking a sneaky peek at Calf Sound.

Along the way we took the opportunity to explore the many deep caves along the way.

On Thursday, we started from Port Erin again but this time we headed north. With the wind and tide behind us, we quickly found ourselves beneath the towering cliffs of Bradda Head.

The Manx mists descended giving the towering rocky buttresses and eerie air. It was an exciting bouncy trip with gusts of Wind whistling around our ears. It was a great relief to reach Fleshwick Bay where we landed briefly for a quick bite to eat. We knew that the return would be challenging so we set off in determined fashion.

The wind buffeted off every headland slowing our progress but our persistence paid off as we crashed through the last few waves entering Port Erin for the last time.

It's sad to be leaving Keirron at Adventurous Experiences and his family at Ballabrooie behind. We have had a wonderful time here and we'll look forward to another visit very soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Isle of Man - Sea to Summit

When visiting an island, it can be easy to be consumed by the urge to circumnavigate.

However, during this particular visit, the weather will not be suitable. Taking a day off paddling we headed to the east coast town of Laxey with the aim of walking from the seafront, up the glen and over the moors to the summit of Snaefell.

The first challenge was to navigate our way through the narrow winding streets and lanes.

The best local landmark en route was 'Lady Isabella', the famous Laxey wheel. From there we found a quiet back road that led to a footpath that runs to an old abandoned mine at the head of Laxey Glen.

This is where we met the cloud base and lost the shelter of the steep sided valley.

This is what I would refer to as proper British hill walking conditions...

...the pass-time of stumbling around in a cloud looking for a mountain!

Eventually, after much stumbling we found the top of Snaefell, where it had always been, towering 621 metres over the Isle of Man.

Not only that, but the cafe was open for business (which we duly patronised) and there was a train waiting to take us back to Laxey!

The carriages are made mostly of teak and are all around 100 years old.

It is a noisy and ricketty experience as the train groans and creaks it's way back down the Glen along a precarious narrow gauge line to the coast.