Thursday, July 26, 2018

Return to White Water

Many years back I used to paddle regularly at Canolfan Tryweryn which is the white water canoeing and rafting centre near Bala in North Wales.

Its a great way to keep cool and escape the heat and glare of the summer sun because the fast flowing waters of the riverare mostly shaded by trees.

I had not paddled here for over 4 years and some of the rapids are quite challenging at Grade 3 and 4. I was nervous to begin with but I soon got into the swing of things and began to remember how to read the flow.

I managed the to paddle the whole day without capsizing and came away with a renewed confidence in my white water paddling abilities :) I will be back soon!

Many thanks to Joe Parkin for his company on the water and to George Reekie for the excellent photos.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Bardsey Midsummer

The island of Bardsey lies off the end of the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales. From the mainland, Bardsey looks like a mountainous, craggy and forbidding place. However, the southern, seaward side has gently sloping pastures, a few houses and even a little woodland.

The slopes of this island are steeped in history. In the days of Celtic saints and three travels, three pilgrimages to Bardsey held the same merit as one to Rome! The ruins of the abbey date from the 12 Century and King Arthur is rumoured to have perished here.

I can never resist a trip to Bardsey. The crossing by kayak is always a challenge. This time of year I'm drawn by the call of the Manx shearwater. These fascinating pelagic creatures migrate here from the south Atlantic. They only land to nest. A single egg is laid in a burrow on steep ground. When the chick emerges the parents will only return to feed it in the burrow during the hours of darkness. This avoids predators such as gulls and peregrine.

Their ghostly, croaky, crowing is said to have frighened ship-wrecked sailors back into the sea. These were days when superstition superseded science. After all, they are just sea birds; not the grip reaper!

It was a pleasure to spend the darkest part of the night on the summit of Bardsey marvelling at the sound of thousands of shearwaters calling, landing and squabbling. Then... in a moment when first light broke over the Lleyn, the shearwaters hushed as the herring gulls awoke.

Late in the morning, normal daytime business resumed making the magic and mystery of the night time seem like a half-forgotten dream.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Road Trip to Scotland

With Easter fast approaching, it was time to make a plan. It had been a while since I had visited the west highlands of Scotland so I joined some folk from Liverpool Canoe Club on their Easter break based in Kinlochleven.

Photo: Dawn Brankley
Once over the border it was time to stock up on supplies... it is always better to buy local produce where possible. By the time we reached the bunkhouse it was nearly midnight but there was still time for a bite to eat for supper and couple of beers.

Kinlochleven is a small village about 7 miles from Glencoe. It is conveniently located close to excellent walking, river kayaking, skiing and sea kayaking.

Photo: Kathy Morton
Our first day was a sea kayaking trip from Arisaig to Mallaig. This is a stunning stretch of rocky coast with skerries and a few sandy beaches. The view out to the west is a perfect backdrop made up or the Ardnamurchan peninsula and the islands or Eigg and Rum. We took our time exploring along the way until we reached Mallaig harbour where we took shelter in the Fishermans Mission. The coffee and cake made for excellent refreshment before heading back to Arisiaig in near-perfect conditions.

The following day was due to be a little more breezy so we chose to have a shorter day in and around Port Appin. It was windier that we expected and bitterly cold. Our windy paddle came to an early end rounded off nicely with a few drinks in the Pier House.

Having had two tiring days on the water, it was time to venture out on foot. The original plan was to explore the upper reaches of Glen Coe but we were enticed by some white water kayaking action on the river Etive. There were a couple of groups paddling a series of steep drops and waterfalls. The best fun was the final drop called 'Right-angle Falls'. Many of the paddlers clambered back up the rocks for a repeat run. Some even took the 4 metre plunge without their boat.

Photo: Dawn Brankley
The sunshine and settled weather had been kind but the forecast for the coming days was for strong winds, sleet and snow. The decision to head back south wasn't taken lightly but it was the best thing to do. As ever with my trips to Scotland, I'm always left wanting to go back for more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Frozen Storm Gathering

The 9th UK Storm Gathering was held in North Pembrokeshire on the weekend of March 16-18th near to St Davids. The idea of Storm Gathering is to bring together like-minded paddlers wanting to develop their skills and to network with others seeking to improve their sea kayaking.

I arrived late on the Friday evening through sleet and snow showers just as the first day was drawing to a close. It was bitterly cold! The next morning I settled in with a group of paddlers who were wanting to improve their rescue skills. With low temperatures and wind from the East, we decided to focus the workshop on towing skills and staying dry! Other groups went in search of more challenging waters and to the edge of their comfort zones.

Photo: Tavi Murray
We found a suitably sheltered stretch of coast at Pwllgwaelod and along the western side of Dinas Head. During the morning session we explored the different methods of contact towing. In shelter at first, then later in more challenging conditions. At Lunchtime we were lucky enough to be warmed by a rare spell of sunshine whilst preparing ourselves for an afternoon of rope work and towlines.

We experimented with towing in confined spaces, rough water, in twos and threes and then more until the whole group was 'husky towing' two fortunate slackers back to Pwllgwaelod beach.

As we landed the wind chill bit hard. It had been 7 Celsius when we launched. It was 4 degrees when we landed and once again it had begun to snow.

Photo: James Pigdon
After the evening meal I began to prepare for the evening's entertainment. It was to be a quiz based on expedition kayaking. Just before kick off I ventured outside for a breath of fresh air. I found myself in a winter wonderland. Snow drifts had begun to form around the buildings and along the lanes. The quiz led to an entertaining evening of long drinks and tall stories that went on late into the night. 

There was little appetite for paddling in the morning with sub-zero temperatures and strong winds. One group went out. Others opted for indoor based expedition planning and navigation workshops. My challenge was to get home through rural mid-wales whilst trying to avoid snow drifts and road closures.

This was by far the coldest Storm Gathering I have ever attended. Mother nature always provides special challenges at these extraordinary events.