Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bardsey the Island in the Currents

The Welsh name, Ynys Enlli translates as island in the currents. In the days of Celtic saints and their travels, three pilgrimages to Bardsey held the same merit as one to Rome.

It has been over two years since I last visited this amazing place. Throughout this Spring, weather and commitments have conspired against my return until this last weekend. Trevor, Stephanie and I left Porth Ysgaden with the ebb tide. There is little in the way of human activity along the North coast of the Lleyn giving our journey a wild and remote feel.

As we approached Braich y Pwll at the end of the Lleyn, the distinctive silhouette of Bardsey slid into view. We explored the rocky shores on the west side before landing beside the slipway just as the heavens opened.

We were welcomed ashore by Steve who is the farmer on Bardsey. The pace of life on the island is slow and we took our time wandering around and exploring.

This included staying out until after dark listening to the Manx shearwaters, then getting up early the next morning to climb to the 167 metre summit of Mynydd Enlli.

Photo: Trevor Shepherd
Before heading back, we visited the ruins of the 13th Century abbey where a memorial cross stands to commemorate the 20,000 saints who are buried hereabouts.

 Our return to the mainland took in the eastern cliffs that provide nesting places for guillemots, razorbills and puffins. Soon afterwards the smooth waters led us crashing through the overfalls at Braich y Pwll and riding the late afternoon flood tide back to Porth Ysgaden.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Stephanie and Trevor for their company, and to Steve and his family for their kind hospitality.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Farne Islands - Ducks, Auks and Seals

There are between 15 and 28 islands in this archipelago depending on the height of the tide. Each Spring these islands off the Northumbrian coast come to life with the arrival of the tourists but in turn, the tourists come to see the hundreds of thousands of breeding sea birds.

The local boat operators that work out of the nearby port of Seahouses are keen to make the best that they can during what is a short season. The nesting season begins in late May, but is all over by early August.

To kayakers with an interest in wildlife, this is paradise. Not only do the birds and seals keep us entertained, but the powerful currents create tide races and overfalls completing an ocean playground that stretches across 16 square kilometres of sea.

The Farne Islands occupy a special place in British, and worldwide natural history. To explore this place quietly by kayak is a privilege and a pleasure.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium 2014

This May Bank Holiday event brings paddlers to Anglesey from far and wide for good reason. Not only is the range of workshops, talks and courses exceptional, but the setting is second to none. The Anglesey coastline reliably provides the variety paddling conditions and gracefully plays host to this worldwide event.

I started the weekend with a trip round 'The Stacks' in breezy conditions. This is the first time that I paddled the 'Jura', which is latest design from the Venture Kayaks boat shed.

The following few days were spent day tripping, rock-hopping and surfing around some of the stunning stretches of the Anglesey coastline, as well as attending some training workshops.

Life never seems to stop at this festival! Once off the water there is barely time to rest before it is time for dinner. There were inspiring evening lectures about amazing expeditions by Ginni Callahan, Eila Wilkinson and Pete Bray. After all this intense activity there would still be time to wind down with music, dancing and (of course) drinks in the famous 'Paddlers Return' bar.

As I was preparing to set off for home, I was told that places were already being booked for next years event...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Small Isles at Easter

On the Thursday before Easter, Chris, Sam and I surfed the wave of holidaymakers and thrill-seekers bound for coast, countryside and mountain leisure destinations. We travelled through the night and arrived at the Silver Sands campsite near Arisaig shortly after 2am. 
Later in the morning Stephanie arrived and having packed our kayaks, we set off on a 5 day tour of 'the small isles'. Our first challenge was to cross 10 kilometres to the north end of the Isle of Eigg with a strengthening south-westerly wind.

On the following morning we left the Bay of Laig on the west of Eigg to continue to the Island of Rum landing in a small bay with a bothy called Dibidil. The east shores of Rum provided us with constant entertainment with cliffs, caves and kelp infested rock-gardens. From the north end of Rum, we intended to make the short hop west to Canna on the next day. However, with strong easterly winds forecast, we decided to scale our plans down a little. 
The Island of Soay was our next destination. The southern shores were less dramatic than those on Rum, but still intriguing and entertaining all the way into Camas nan Gall. We stopped in this inlet for snacks before crossing to the small port of Elgol on the Isle of Skye.

From Elgol we passed the cave of Bonnie Prince Charlie and made it to Taskarvaig Bay where we would be sheltered from any easterly winds. We settled down for the night knowing full well that we would have a challenging crossing to the mainland the next day. 
The first 10 kilometres of our final day were straight forward as we benefited from the shelter of the west facing cliffs. Upon arriving at the Point of Sleat we realised the strength of the easterly wind. Not only was there a force 4 wind blowing against us, we could barely make out the port of Mallaig through the haze. We scratched our way along the coast to Aird of Sleat. From here we would be exposed to the full force of the wind on the final leg of our trip.

The crossing was mentally taxing as well as physically challenging. We eventually landed at Morar Sands just to the south of Mallaig. After we had rested and eaten, we had just 3 kilometres to paddle to reach the Silver Sands campsite from where we had started.

It didn't seem to matter that we had cut our trip short by a day. Sometimes you just have to bow to the whims of mother nature. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chris, Sam and Stephanie for their company on this exceptional journey around the small isles.