Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Burrs

As winter begins some of my paddling is becoming more inland based. There are a few entertaining venues close to home. One such place is The Burrs Country Park near Bury. There is a cafe which serves hot drinks, cake and snacks. The Brown Cow pub is nice and warm for apres paddle drinks and pub grub.

The river Irwell provides a short stretch of grade 2 water that begins with an 18 ft sloping weir. Great fun to slide down.

Either in your kayak...

Or without your kayak!

There is also the convenience of a canal so when you have reached the bottom of the site, you can paddle all the way back to the top to do it all again. However, the canal is infested with weed!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Onset of Winter

Nothing compares to the calmness of a coastal wintry scene. Shafts of angled sunlight cast a soft golden glow across the beaches and rocks. Once the Autumn gales fade the sea becomes oily smooth, but without the intensity of high summer, these shores are quiet and utterly peaceful.

Photo: Sean Jesson
Leaving Rhoscolyn and heading for South Stack was almost spooky with gentle swell surging amongst the rocks. Penrhyn Mawr broke the silence and North Stack presented its usual set of challenges.

Photo: Sean Jesson
We completed our circumnavigation of Holy Island by taking the ebb out of the Cymyran Strait and cruising past Silver Bay back to Rhoscolyn. It seemed that the oily smooth waters were just as we had left them.

The next day, Sean and I headed off to Church Bay aiming for the Skerries. This is where the contrast between summer and winter would be greatest. During the summer months the skerries is a madhouse. Thousands of sea-birds nest here; mostly terns and puffins.

As we arrived, The Skerries were all but silent. The neap tide meant that even the rushing sound of the sea was muted. We avoided the seals because there were young pups among them. One of two of the bravest came to check on us. The only sea-birds were a handful of cormorants and the occasional rock pipit. The remains of the summer vegetation now dead and broken littered the ground. In winter this is a bleak and desolate place.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

7th UK Storm Gathering - Oban 2013

Photo: Jennie Richardson
Having had an amazing blustery day in the Caingorms the previous day, arriving on Friday afternoon through showers of sleet and rain did little to inspire me to join Ollie Jay who was playing in the Falls of Lora. Instead, we stopped for a nice warm brew in the Oyster Inn over the road then headed into town to browse the wares offered by Sea Kayak Oban.

On the soggy Saturday morning 70 participants gathered in the Kilbowie Outdoor Centre to meet the coaches for their chosen sessions, trips and workshops. I accompanied Dr Mark Tozer into the Sound of Kerrera with a group that set about exploring the different techniques and tactics to deal with the challenges of sea kayak leadership.

At times it was difficult to think about leadership when mother nature kept showing off with dramatic skies, lumpy seas and rapidly changing weather.

Sea Kayak Oban presented the evening lecture which was by the National Geographic Adventurer of 2012 Erik Boomer and his partner Sarah McNair-Landry. After hearing about Erik's adrenaline fuelled white water adventures we shared the delights, disappointments and successes of their trip across the southern part of Baffin Island. A Truly inspirational evening.

Once back at the centre the party began to get in full swing in the games room. Bar football, air hockey and table tennis tournaments got more exciting with every beer that was drunk.

Sunday brought me sharing a group with Chris Lockyer at the Falls of Lora. Initially we practised crossing eddylines and ferry gliding but as the current increased we practised rolling, rescues and whirlpool avoidance!

In the evening there was no avoiding yet more convivial banter, games and frolics. The games room was mayhem so I joined in a game of Jenga.

Monday saw us all departing the centre into a blustery day and on to our final paddling activities. I was with Jim Wilson leading a more laid back session than most. We hid from the worst of the wind and waves in the Sound of Kerrera. The next Storm Gathering will be in 2015... but where will it be?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Halton Rapids

Halton Rapids is the final stretch of white water that the river Lune has to offer before flowing into the sea at Lancaster. There is over 500 metres of grade 3 water with playful holes and waves. Recently the BCU North West Region have made arrangements for car parking, toilets and showers close by.

I joined a few of the nice folk from Ribble Canoe Club for a couple of runs. We certainly made the best of the time stopping to play at almost every hole and wave. After we washed up below the rapids it was time for a quick brew before walking our kayaks back up to the top for another run.

Thanks to the Ribble Canoe Club folk for their company on the water and many thanks to Paula Sharples for the photographs.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Anglesey Sea Kayak Festival

Autumn has come around once again. Leaves falling from the trees, shorter days and blustery weather. Yet we continue to paddle the seas albeit with a touch more caution. On this particular day Porth Dafarch was reminding us that the sea is beautiful but also powerful and mighty.

One of the highlights of the Autumn part of the paddling calendar is the Anglesey Sea Kayak Festival. Over 100 paddlers from UK and Europe gathered at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre for 3 days of paddling and socialising.

This year many of the groups hid from the strong southerly winds by exploring Anglesey's rugged north coast. The old brickworks at Porth Wen was the sheltered lunch stop of choice.

Back on the south west corner of Anglesey, the surf was pounding into Trearddur Bay providing exhilarating, challenging and sometimes scary water. Great conditions, lovely people, awesome festival!

Friday, September 20, 2013

West Wales Sea Kayak Meet 2013

Now that the nights are drawing in, the traditional drive to the coast ends with pitching tents in the dark, and then looking for everyone else. Normally, my sea kayaking friends can be found in a nearby hostelry. In this case it was the Glendower Hotel in Fishguard.

The next morning we checked the weather and divided ourselves into smaller groups before heading off to different parts of the north Pembrokeshire coastline.

I headed to Whitesands Bay near St Davids with a group to explore Ramsey Sound and the surrounding areas. On the water, the highlight was always going to be the tide race at 'The Bitches'.

Off the water, we spent over an hour at lunchtime sheltering from the chilly north breeze in the sun trap that is St Justinian. We were limited to a small number of landing places because many of the small coves and beaches are occupied by young grey seal pups.

Once we arrived back at The Phoenix Centre the Saturday evening festivities began with drinks round the barbecue in the fading rays of late afternoon sunshine. As darkness fell, the cool of the evening  gently ushered us into the bar where the fun and games went on late into the night.

On Sunday morning our Indian Summer had been replaced by dozens of hangovers, heavy drizzle and increasing south-westerly winds. I headed north with a group with the idea of finding some shelter at Cwm-yr-Eglwys. This is a great area for rock hopping and exploring gullies and caves. I'm certain that it would be even better on a nice day.

Thanks to Mike Mayberry of Mayberry Kayaking for organising the weekend and to everyone else who took part and made this event so laid back and friendly.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 7

During the last couple of days we had thoughts about exploring the northern settlement of Kummiuut or even the calving Apusiaiik glacier. However, from our vantage point on Angmassalik all we could see was densely packed sea ice. Even if we could get to one of these locations, it would be uncertain if we could get back in time for our flights home.

We eventually decided to paddle past Tasiilaq into a remote part of Kong Oscar Havn to set up camp for the last couple of days. This allowed different members of the group some time to relax and spend some time exploring some hiking trails.

One of the trails is called 'Sermilikvejen' and leads west and across Angmagssalik island to a research station that overlooks Sermilik Fjord where we had been the week before.

This was an eventful walk full of challenges that are typical of trekking in the mountains. Not only was the first river crossing deep in places, but the river bed was slippery and the water painfully cold.

We crossed several other streams and torrents flowing from ice-fields and glaciers on the higher parts of the island.

The drier meadows in between the rivers and lakes were littered with colonies of Niviarsiaq, which is the national flower of Greenland.

Other areas with wetter, richer soils have cotton grass and mosses growing. We could never stop for very long in these areas because after only a minute or two we would be discovered by the local and very hungry mosquito population.

At the highest part of the trail we found steep snowy slopes and semi-frozen lakes. The consequences of slipping here would be to fall through the ice and into deep water beneath.

Eventually we got the view of Sermilik Fjord that we had come for. Following a brief stop for a snack, we headed back for our camp.

On the final day of our trip we paddled into Tasiilaq for one final evening enjoying pizzas and a few drinks in the only bar in east Greenland.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Julie, Gordon, Bill, Royanne, Les, and Gwyn for their company on the trip. Thanks are especially due to Martin Rickard of Sea Kayak Adventures who organised this amazing expedition. I would also like to acknowledge the support that I got from Ortleib dry bags, P&H Custom Sea Kayaks, Mitchell Blades kayak paddles, Peak UK clothing and equipment, F-Stop Gear camera bags and Clif Bar.

We spent one final day in Reykjavik exploring the city's many cultural attractions, relaxing in the naturally heated swimming pool and visiting an 'English' bar to remind ourselves of the culture that we would be returning home to.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 6

Entering Angmagssalik Fjord, we began to close the loop. The next couple of days had a bit of sad feeling as we were in the home strait. However, there was still plenty to keep our minds focused.

We had entered icy waters again and we effortlessly slipped into our now well-rehearsed close paddling formation. The ice was so dense in places that it made progress difficult. We could see where we wanted to go above and beyond the cluttered jumble of bergs. Between us and each successive headland would be a complex maze of ice moving slowly with the tide.

We visited the abandoned island settlement of Qernertivertivit. This place is used in the winter time as a dog-sled base. During the summer,  a couple of the better kept houses are used for holiday accommodation.

Our final camp before returning to Kong Oscar Havn was on a spectacular headland with some historic ruins.

The still evening air meant that we could frequently hear whales breathing but the densely packed ice meant that we rarely saw them. The presence of the ice meant that we returned to a rotating 'bear watch' system.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 5

After visiting Tiniteqilaaq we at last found ice-free waters. We rounded the most northerly point of Angmagssalik Island and began to paddle through a passage called Ikasagtivaq.

It is about 20 miles long, 2 miles wide, and bound on each side by jagged mountains that tower 1,000 metres over the water. Ikasagtivaq is relatively straight so the view does not change all that quickly giving this particular leg of the journey a monotonous feel.

If I ever felt like I was getting bored, I would remind myself of how spectacular this huge scenery really is and of the fact that I was living in its picture.

We stopped for lunch at a place where a stream meets a rocky foreshore. The falling tide revealed some beds of substantial mussels. I put away my rye bread, tube cheese and cup-a-soup and grabbed a few handfuls and dropped them into some boiling water. This was the most delicious lunch break ever!

Upon reaching the eastern end of Ikasagtivaq we found more ice had drifted in from Angmagssalik Fjord. Possibilities for camping along the main channel were non-existent so we explored a small inlet called Sarpaq. As we entered, it became obvious that this place was far bigger than the map had depicted. It was a small sheltered inland sea. The gently shelving shores and grassy ledges made it perfect fro camping.

That evening we had a shooting contest. We lined up some (empty) beer cans on some nearby rocks. The idea was simple. We each had three rounds. The one with the lowest score would buy the first round of drinks when we got back to Tasiilaq. I was the only one with no hits out of three. That night, I thought anxiously about my credit card bill...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 4

After exploring Ikateq, we climbed the hill that overlooks the village. From there we got a better view of the ice that littered Sermilik Fjord. It was obvious that we would be able to paddle north without too much difficulty but looking to the west, the other side of the fjord was a different matter.

Cathedral sized blocks of ice obscured our view of the other shore which was over 6 miles away. We headed north towards a place where the fjord is narrower to find a higher vantage point so that we could get a better view.

It took 2 days to reach a place called Pupik where Sermilik Fjord is narrowest. We camped in a nearby bay, and looked endlessly across the ice laden waters. We could now see clearly into Johan Petersen Fjord, which was completely blocked.

We were disappointed to abandon our plans to reach the Greenland ice cap but we made a new plan to circumnavigate Angmagssalik Island as a consolation. This would mean paddling further north to reach the settlement of Tiniteqilaq.

The next day we found a wall of icebergs blocking our way. Martin and Les paddled ahead to see if they could find safe route. The rest of us waited beside a small island. I climbed to the top for a better view. When Martin and Les returned we came to the same conclusion. There was no way through so after only 2 hours paddling we returned to where we had camped the previous night. We spent the rest of the day walking the hills and ridges behind our camp.

The following day we tried again just after high water when the gaps in the ice are a little bigger. After following a couple of dead leads and having had some anxious moments amongst towering icebergs we found clearer waters which eventually led to Tiniteqilaq.

Following the days excitement, we bought beer in the village shop and the set about finding somewhere scenic to camp for the night. Sleep came easily that night soon after the moon rose above 1000 metre peaks that we would be passing the next day.