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.
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?
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.
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.