Monday, December 17, 2012

Wintry Day at Puffin Island

Amongst all of the freezing temperatures, rain showers and strong winds of late, it is always possible to find a lull in the weather and a sheltered stretch of water.

Barry, Stephanie and I found the northern end of the Menai Straits just perfect for a mornings paddle in the shadow of Snowdonia's sugar-dusted hills.

We crossed Puffin sound to find that the grey seals were as playful and inquisitive as ever. All along the rocky shore line there were herring gulls and shags, whilst flocks of small wading birds darted amongst us only inches from the waves.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Anglesey Winter Sunshine

Last weekend's weather was exceptional. Between the squally showers, the low winter sunshine danced and dazzled on the water, effectively up-lighting the cliffs near Trearddur Bay.

The passing of each shower provided a rainbow with the colours amplified against a slate grey stormy sky.

We spent most of the day rock hopping along the shores between Porth Dafarch and Rhoscolyn Head. The residual swell presented a series of challenges in timing and I added a handful of new battle scars to my Delphin.

Landing shortly before sunset gave the perfect end to a wonderfully energising day on the water.

The following morning we headed to Moelfre for some shelter from the forecast westerly winds. Almost immediately we were treated to a jaw dropping display from a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins.  At one point they were all around us jumping several feet clear of the water doing back flips and somersaults.

For a while we hardly noticed the truly atmospheric surroundings with the backdrop of Snowdonia's mountain ridges coated with the first snows of winter.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kendal Mountain Festival 2012

Having attended the Kendal Mountain Festival many times before, it was really exciting to be coming to the UK's leading adventure sports event as a film maker.

 It was such a privilege to be showing my film 'Gino's Greenland' on the same billing as Justine Curgenven's 'Tierra Del Fuego' film and 'Hanuman Airlines'.  'Hanuman Airlines' tells the story of Sanu Babu Sunawar and his amazing journey from the summit of Mount Everest to the Indian Ocean.

It was truly nerve racking to be introducing my film to a cinema packed full of people. I felt so proud to see my images of Greenland on the big screen and to feel the reaction of the audience during key moments of the story.

Its times like this that make all of the hard work worth while. From the planning of the expedition, preparing kit, the filming and endless editing. I don't mind admitting that I felt like giving up during the final stages of production of 'Gino's Greenland'. However, my experience as a film maker at the Kendal Mountain Festival has made it all worth while. Its a great festival run by loads of enthusiastic, friendly and encouraging people. If you have never been before, put it in your diary for next year.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the paddlers who were on the expedition with me.  Chris, John, Jules, Dave, Stephanie, Martin and Kirstine not only put up with my filming but took their own special parts in the story. Thanks also to Lucy Martin from the Scott Polar Research Institute for the use of Gino Watkins images. The story would be nothing without them. Finally, thanks to Henry Iddon and to Kirstine whose encouragement got me through those difficult final stages of the production. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Gino's Greenland Film Premiere

I am pleased to announce that my latest short film 'Gino's Greenland' has been accepted as a finalist at the Kendal Mountain Festival.

The Kendal Mountain Festival is an excellent opportunity to see the latest adventure films from around the world. I will be presenting 'Gino's Greenland' as part of the 'Wild Water' programme on the afternoon of Friday 16th November, as well as the evenings of Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th.  Enjoy the trailer and hope to see you there.

The dramatic and unique Arctic environment of Greenland holds a particular fascination for kayakers as the sport has its origins in the icy fiords, where kayaks were first used as a way of life by local hunters. British explorer Gino Watkins was one of the first westerners to visit remote East Greenland in 1929-32; he used traditional skills which he learnt from the locals.

Intrigued by the history as well as being attracted by the rugged beauty of the landscape its unique wildlife, a group of sea kayakers head out to find what remains of Gino’s Greenland.
The Kendal Mountain Festival is an excellent opportunity to see the latest adventure films from around the world. I will be presenting 'Gino's Greenland' as part of the 'Wild Water' programme on the afternoon of Friday 16th November, as well as the evenings of Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th.  Enjoy the trailer and hope to see you there.

Paddling Closer to Home

My local stretch is the upper reaches of the river Mersey as it winds its way across its flood plain in south Manchester. I was brought up hereabouts. Throughout my childhood the river and the surrounding swamps and rubbish tips used to smell quite bad.

These days the tips have been cleared and replaced with nature reserves. This urban river runs much cleaner too. In recent years more paddling has been taking place. Macclesfield and District Canoe Club hold their Mersey Descent event each year and Manchester Canoe Club also hold races on the river. A tremendous effort effort has been put into creating a Mersey Canoe Trail with portage steps around some of the more tricky weirs. A map can be downloaded by clicking this link. It was great to meet someone paddling as I was out for a walk on Sunday. We stopped to chat, talked about the weather, then went our separate ways. Its just great to see my local river coming back to life!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Essentials Sea Kayak Festival

Having been invited by the festival organisers to do some guiding and show some films, I had been looking forward to this event for a while. As soon as I arrived at the Anglesey Outdoors centre on the Friday evening I realised that this was going to be a wonderful get together. The Paddlers Return Bar was buzzing to the sound of excited voices in an eclectic mix of accents from around the UK and Europe. Hearty handshakes, big bear hugs and chinking pint pots went on late into the night.

On Saturday morning I teamed up with Justine Curgenven to lead a group of intermediate paddlers from Rhoscolyn to Trearrdur Bay and back again. The gentle westerly breeze kicked up the race at Rhoscolyn into a challenging roller coaster ride so we didn't stay there for long. Instead we rummaged our way between, beneath and behind some unlikely parts of the Anglesey coastline.

Justine's talk in the evening was about her adventures with Barry Shaw in Tierra Del Fuego. Amazing photos, film clips and stories from two years of expeditions showed that even the best plans can leave unforeseen challenges.

Sunday was sunny and calm. Olly Jay and I teamed up to lead a group along the west side of Anglesey.

The rockhopping there was excellent and the sporadic swell added some extra challenges.

Later on Marcus Demuth gave a talk which was an amusing yet candid insight into how his steep learning curve led to some unexpected challenges on some of his expeditions.

On Monday, the final guided trip was at Rhoscolyn with Mike Maybury.

At first we found some excellent conditions for rockhopping but later the increasing swell made conditions difficult. We found ourselves staying away from the classic arches and gullies.

Since the weekend I have remained on Anglesey to join some of the BCU courses and enjoy the blustery conditions that Autumnal Anglesey has to offer.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Sweden Part 3 - A Feast from the Sea

The prospect of poor weather hailed an early end to our sea kayaking adventures but there was one more surprise left. A break in the weather allowed us to visit Everts Sjöbod (Evert's Boathouse).

After we had explored the this old fashioned wooden building, we got dressed in all-weather clothing and climbed aboard the traditionally-built 1952 fishing boat 'Tuffa'.

We were taken out to a more remote part of the coast where the lobster fishing is good to a site there baited lobster pots had previously been laid. Fishing has been in the family of our guide for many generations and he demonstrated how to haul up the pots. It was then my turn. Once I had successfully hooked the buoy I began to enthusiastically haul away. Our guide then called out "32 Metres!" I curbed my enthusiasm and drew in the line at a more sober rate. By the time the pot rose to the surface I was exhausted! Lobster fishermen must be much fitter and stronger than me.

After collecting a good catch of lobster, crab and crayfish we headed back to the boathouse where a table had been laid. I'm pleased to say that the delicious spread that was laid out before us was a good match for our appetites. All that hard work on 'Tuffa' had developed a voracious hunger. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sweden Part 2 - Kayaking the Bohuslan Coast

The coastline of west Sweden is littered with hundreds of islands. The Bohuslan region is blessed with shores of smooth pink granite rock slabs and domes interlaced with intimate coves and secluded beaches.
The shallow sheltered seas between the islands form a network of canal-like passages. This timeless labyrinth delivers an endless series of surprises. One shallow lagoon leads into to another then the next may lead to the open ocean, or a sleepy fishing village with a cafes and boat moorings.

The paddling here is wonderfully laid back. With less than half a metre of tide, there are no currents to plan for and no long steep beaches to carry kayaks up and down. Over three miles offshore from the fringes of the inner archipelago lies Vaderoarna (the weather islands). They keep the really wild seas at bay whilst acting as a kind of holy grail for more experienced and adventurous paddlers.

The pink granite rocks are beautifully enriched by the low red sunlight of dawn and dusk. In between these times the day time is for exploring, finding and discovering.

Wild-camping is the norm here. It is considered everyone's right to camp for at least one night. Many of the islands are uninhabited. However, it is possible to camp on many of the inhabited islands too.

Hamburgsund, Fjallbacka and Grebbestad are the main towns along this stretch. Apart from providing a welcome diversion from wilderness, there are shops for re-supply as well as cafes and bars for rest and recuperation.

I was privileged to be guided for two and a half days along the Bohuslan coast by Ulrika Larsson of Green Adventures who specialise in kayak tours and training courses in these waters.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sweden Part 1 - Rock Carvings of Vitlycke

At the beginning of my recent trip to west Sweden, the first stop was to visit a UNESCO world heritage site rich in Bronze Age heritage.


Although the site is now over 20 metres above sea level today, the carvings were made when sea levels were higher. Many of the images that were carved into sloping granite slabs would have visible from boats entering a small harbour.

The images depict boats, hunting, battles and marriage. Paint is used to highlight the images but also serves as a protective coating to prevent erosion by rain and frost.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Greenland Expedition Movies online

Throughout the preparations and during the trip we filmed our adventures. Way back in February we shipped out a P&H Scorpio packed with goodies. This was a mini adventure in itself and was documented in the movie 'Shipping Out'.

At Easter most of the gang met at Arisaig to get to know each other and paddle together along the Knoydart coast. Although the weather was not all that good, we had a great time and created the movie 'Paddling the Mists of Knoydart'.

Now that we are back we have a collection of short films that make up a three part mini series...

Part One: 'The Journey to Greenland' is all about how we came to arrive in Tasiilaq via Iceland.

Part Two: 'Heading North' The adventure continues as the expedition team heads north towards the Knud Rasmussen, and Karale Glaciers where they calve dramatically into the sea.

Part Three: 'Wind Ice and Fire'. In the final episode the expedition team heads into icy Sermilik Fjord. They find whales (dead and alive), have problems with strong winds and hear tall tales around the campfire.

East Greenland is an amazing place. The scenery, the people and the ice make it a perfect place for a kayaking adventure.

Friday, August 10, 2012

East Greenland Kayak Expedition 2012

During The Anglesey Storm Gathering in October 2011 I met Martin Rickard who runs kayak expeditions to east Greenland. I had been planning to return there since my first trip in 2007. Martin has a fleet of boats based in Tasiilaq and his laid back guiding style leaves you with the impression that you are running your own expedition.

A total of eight paddlers met up in Reykjavik, Iceland in early July. Five of us from North West Sea Kayakers and the other three (including Martin) from Shetland.

From Reykjavik, we flew to the dusty gravel airstrip of Kulusuk in east Greenland. Our flight had been delayed by almost two hours due to fog at Kulusuk, which is a common problem.

Our boat ride from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq was also delayed but eventually we arrived at a warm and dusty campsite between the helipad and the rubbish tip.

The jobs for the next day were all about getting kayak and kit ready for the off. This included collecting the kayak that we had shipped out earlier in the year.

Finally after we had crammed and squeezed everything into and onto our kayaks we headed off into the east Greenland evening sunshine to our first camp.

The next morning we woke to the sound of whales breathing in the calm waters beyond our camp. Whilst exploring the nearby hillside we found and old settlement long abandoned with the remains of turf houses and partially collapsed burial cairns with human bones inside.

Over the following days we made our way north through a network of Fjords and channels. We were aiming to reach the Rasmussen and Karale Glaciers. On the way there we camped at a place where there is an abandoned US Airforce base. The gravel runway remains a broad, flat and expansive place although it is becoming slowly colonised with tundra plants such as arctic willow and proves popular with the ringed plovers that have taken up residence.

As we continued north it grew colder and colder. Entering the basin of the Karale Glacier was like padding into a frozen amphitheatre. Huge icebergs punctuated this emptiness.

We camped on a smooth outcrop, strolled onto the spiky surface of the glacier and stared open mouthed at the might of the icy wilderness.

In the following days we headed west towards the town Tinitiqelaq and Sermilik Fjord, which was full of ice.

We dodged the bergs and floes and beat our way through the brash ice. The easiest landing was on a low, flat 'tennis court' sized ice floe.

Later the wind changed to a strengthening offshore breeze. This prompted us to quickly land and find somewhere to camp. The wind grew stronger as we pitched our tents. A wild gust took one of the tents from its ledge, into the air and down onto the sea. It landed perfectly upright on the water and being of a free standing design, remained that way, but gently drifting out to sea. As it left the shelter of the immediate shoreline it began to tumble and cartwheel. As it accelerated spectacularly into the distance, three of us gave chase. It was eventually retrieved relatively unharmed having blown over a kilometre out into the fjord.

The remaining days took us back into Amassalik Fjord and back to our base camp at Tasiilaq. It felt as though the expedition was drawing to a close. We consoled ourselves by exploring a recently abandoned village now used as a winter dog sledding base. Followed by a beautiful camping location from which we watched whales spouting in the fjord.

Strong winds kept us from entering Tasiilaq harbour until mid-evening on our last paddling day. The following day was spent cleaning out the kayaks, shuffling round the dusty town and reminiscing about our wonderful adventure.

Thanks are due to Martin, Jules, Dave, Chris, John, Stephanie and Kirstine for their company. I'd also like to thank Clif Bar, P&H Custom Sea Kayaks, Mitchell Blades, Peak UK and F-Stop Gear for their support.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Conwy Ascent

The Conwy Ascent Race is run every year by Dyfryn Conwy Paddlers which is a club with a contingent of K1 racing paddlers, but also some sea kayakers. The Beacons car park near Conwy Marina was a hive of activity with kayaks being unloaded and carried to the steep shore. The theme running through all of this mayhem was one of camaraderie in the face of adversity. The south-westerly wind was building and threatened some choppy wind against tide conditions in some of the early stretches.

As soon as the briefing was over the staggered starts began. A few waves breaking on the shore made for a soggy start for some K1 and K2 paddlers. When they eventually got underway, it was the turn of the sea kayaks. I love the 'Le Mans' style start. A mad dash for the shore, drag the boat to the waters edge, jump in and paddle like mad! (The spraydeck can wait until later).

Upstream of the Conwy Castle and under the bridges, the waters began to get choppy. I was thriving on the conditions. I quite like battling into the wind (for short stretches). However, up ahead I noticed that one of the rescue boats was taking a K1 and its unseated occupant ashore. Then out of the spray I could a Double sea kayak helping a K2 crew. I stopped to help until another rescue boat arrived then, having lost several places resumed the 'race'.

The finish at Dolgarrog was followed by tea and sandwiches. Most paddlers dispersed by road but a few of elected to return to Conwy on the water to take in the late afternoon sunshine.

This is a great event and I'm sure to be back next year. I'm not sure what has kept me away for so long.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saints and Islands of Southwest Anglesey

A warm and settled day greeted our small group as we arrived at Newborough beach. Llanddwyn Island was our first stop. The low craggy shores provided some excellent rockhopping fun with some gentle swell running in from the south.

Llanddwyn is not strictly and island because it is only cut off from Newborough Forest by only the highest of spring tides. The 'Island' takes its name from St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers, who lived there as a hermit during the 5th Century.

Having spent some time exploring, we headed off across the bays of Malltraeth and Aberffraw in search of St Cwfan's Church-in-the-Sea. There has been a church here since the 7th Century but the present building dates back to the 12th and 13th Century.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Yesterday's downpours kept me close to home for most of the day. I couldn't get inspired to get outdoors much. I made a trip to Kayaks North West to get some spare bits and pieces before settling down to watch an afternoon movie.

Later in the day the rain broke up into showers with a few sunny intervals. The change in the weather was echoed in the garden. Bird song was at a frantic dawn chorus level and not surprisingly there were slugs and snails everywhere.

The still evening air was filled with refreshed scent from the early blooms of summer. I have to keep in mind that the place that I live in is beautiful as well as those special places that I have visited, and hope to explore.