Sunday 31 May 2015

The Rum, Eigg and Muck trip that wasn't

In the days leading up to the first of three expeditions I had planned to guide, my heart sank as the weather forecasts got progressively more extreme. The plan had been to go out to Rum, Eigg and Muck by ferry and paddle our way back to Mallaig over the course of five days. The best plans are made for changing, and so five of us set off from Loch Ailort heading towards Penmeanach Bothy where we thought we would get some respite from the predicted force 8 winds overnight.
Next morning the sky was leaden and the wind had not abated. We spent the morning gathering firewood in preparation for another night in the bothy. By the afternoon conditions had improved allowing four of us to go for a play in big swell in the gap between Eilean a' Chaolais and Rubha Chaolais.
The bothy again provided us with a comfortable night away from wind and rain. Next day, the wind had dropped and we set off for further adventures.
Paddling past Glenuig and Samalaman Island we noticed the dark humps of marine mammals in the distance. To our delight they came closer and before we knew it we were paddling amongst a pod of dolphins. They swam in between our boats, circled us and then decided that we were of no interest and left. Everything happened too quickly for photos, and sometimes I think its better to simply enjoy the moment.
Here's a bit more evidence that the area is full of wildlife. We didn't see the otter that made these footprints but we were very much aware of our amazing surroundings.
This was our first campsite of the trip, and a stunning place to stop.
As the sun set behind Eigg and Rum we found more otter prints in the sand, explored the beach, ate lots of food and had a very comfortable night.
Thursday morning gave us our calmest weather so far, so we explored along the coast northwards in the direction of Loch Moidart.
Had lunch at castle Tioram and then made our way to my favourite campsite at Smirisary. Here we met a French paddler, who was out by himself in his inflatable kayak. Next day he paddled with us into Loch Ailort as far as Roshven. We then headed further into the Loch to our starting point. Most of the day was paddling into strong headwinds but the last couple of kilometres the wind turned in our favour and pushed us quickly, our paddles held up as makeshift sails.
This wasn't the trip I had planned or had hoped for, but it was a good way to make best use of a week of very mixed weather. Thanks to Colin, Ian, Pauline and Genevieve for making it a week to remember.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Paddy's Milestone

Ailsa Craig, or Paddy's Milestone is a prominent lump of granite sitting about 15km west of Lendalfoot, near Girvan. What paddler could resist the draw of an island that looks so close?

Laura and I set off for what we thought would be about 2 hours paddling. It was the sort of crossing where the target didn't seem to get closer at all.

Eventually we arrived and were relieved to find that the landing would be easy. We had planned to set off early enough to allow a return paddle if we didn't fancy our chances landing. This would have been a very bad place to damage a boat.

There are a number of old buildings on the island and we soon found a sheltered place for our tents. Next job was a bit of exploring. Following a path we came across this sign. You can probably guess what we did next.

The bridges and walkways took us to the site of the curling stone quarry. There was plenty of evidence of curling stone cutting.

As the temperature began to drop we retreated to the shelter of one of the old buildings where we cooked dinner and sat around a small camp fire. I wasn't sure we were going to find wood on the island so I carried some over, ready cut to fit in my tin can fire bucket. I needn't have bothered, there was masses of dry wood washed up.

As the sun dipped we were treated to a lovely pink sunset.

Next morning it was again cold and dry, we made a quick porridge breakfast and set off back the way we came to Lendalfoot. This time with the wind behind us we enjoyed an occasional surf. It wasn't obvious which bit of shore we were aiming for but Laura's directions were good and it wasn't long before we landed at the vans for a well earned coffee and lunch.

Thanks Laura for planning this and making it happen.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Springtime paddling in Northumberland

The ammoniacal stench of what seabirds leave behind greeted us as we passed downwind of Inner Farne island. Rank after rank of guillemots stood to attention on the tiered cliffs, while smaller numbers of puffins floated in rafts below.The puffins laboriously took to the air on our approach and flapped their way into the distance with all the style and grace of an airborne housebrick. The noise was incredible, each bird species with its own vocabulary of screetch and squawk. Quietly Jim and I cruised around the island, our paddles adding a rhythmic layer to the ornithological orchestra all around.
I can't help thinking that there is something comical about puffins in their bright colourscheme of the breeding season. Their beaks seem out of all proportion with their heads and their tiny wings flap nineteen to the dozen in an attempt to get aloft.
As we rounded the northernmost part of the island we were met by a multicoloured array of kayaks pulled up on the slippery landing area of Inner Farne. The group was huge so we didn't stop but paddled quickly across Staple Sound to Longstone, where Jimski and I had an appointment with a pack of chocolate profitteroles. Lunch consumed and Jimski decided it was time for a swim.

Meanwhile I went exploring round the rocks of Longstone and found this sleepy chap.

Longstone lighthouse in the sunshine.

On our journey back to shore we detoured via Inner Farne where this time we landed to visit the Terns. Here is Mr Arctic Tern trying to attract the attention of a potential Mrs Arctic Tern with a present of a sand eel. She doesn't look too impressed.

We landed back where we started at St Aiden's dunes aided by a favourable tidal stream and complete lack of surf. This was a fantastic day out and one I hope to repeat many times.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The Black and White Canal

There is something satisfying for me about what might be termed a 'complete' trip. That is one where an island is circumnavigated or a waterway navigated from one extremity to the other. The Lancaster Canal, or the 'Black and White' as it was known in its commercial heyday originally connected Preston and Kendal. Its name derives from the commodities traded along the route, largely coal moving from Preston northwards and limestone on the return journey. The last commercial use of the canal was for the transport of coal to the Kendal gasworks in 1947. Since then the northernmost section of canal between Kendal and Stainton has been drained and filled in and the building of the M6 resulted in the canal being reduced to a culvert in a number of places. The canal remains navigable between Preston and Tewitfield in a stretch of 67km with no locks. This makes it the longest lock-free canal section in the country.
The challenge seemed obvious, just paddle the whole lot in one go. South to north seemed preferable as with forecast winds of force 4-5 south westerly I thought I'd get more help than hindrance.

Here's David taking that all important setting off photo.

Houses in Preston backing onto the canal.

Just about to leave Preston, conditions nice and calm.

Now out in the countryside and unfortunately water drops on the camera.

More water on the camera and a lovely avenue of trees.

The weather was kind to me, virtually no rain and I was often paddling on mirror smooth water.

Just occasionally I was exposed to the wind, more often than not in my favour.

In Garstang, Galgate, Lancaster and Carnforth there were marinas full of pleasure boats. I didn't encounter many moving boats en-route but those I did come across were a little surprised to be overtaken by a kayak.

 Here's the route in full. On a road atlas it looks a long way. Surprisingly it didn't seem that far. I broke the journey down into 10 km sections as measured by my GPS as I went along. Every 10km I allowed myself a short stop for food and drink and at the halfway point I got out of my boat for a leg stretch. Oddly, the first 10km was the hardest, after that the distances flew past. The whole journey took me a little over 9 hours with an average speed of 7.3km/h.

Monday 7 April 2014

A blustery Paddle from Cemaes

The weather forecast promised that Saturday would be the best of the weekend, so five hardy members of NWSK set off from Cemaes bay to blow the cobwebs away. It was another chance for me to get to grips with my new camera. I've mounted it on my front deck so all pictures are going to include a triangle of boat complete with spare paddle. I'm also trying out a new paddle holder from Reed. Normally I carry my splits on the back deck of my boat but a few problems recently have led me to experiment with them on the front deck. At least I can see if they are coming loose.
Here we are waiting for Jimski to get launched.

 As we head out of Cemaes bay the camera captures this insignificant little splash. Not desperately exciting but I just like the picture. I'm hoping for better things in the future but it's fun to find out what the camera can do.

 Rounding the corner out of Cemaes bay the island of Middle Mouse came into view. As a group we had opted for a more challenging trip and the sight of an island sitting in the middle of a tide race was more than we could resist. We made the short hop across to middle mouse, then misjudged the speed of the flow and ended up missing the upstream end of the island and had to about-turn and make for the eddy downstream. Unfortunately as usual the picture doesn't do justice to the water conditions.

Another picture with water on the lens but I couldn't resist this narrow gully.


In all we paddled about 20km from Cemaes Bay, to Middle Mouse and on to Bull Bay for lunch before returning by a more direct route to Cemaes. As we approached Bull Bay were became aware of a mayday call from a small boat at a location very close to ours. Visibility was pretty poor and we were unable to see the boat in question. Fortunately another group of kayakers were able to relay VHF messages between the boat and coastguard and provide information regarding the boats location. This was another great example of the value of carrying a VHF and informing the coastguard of intended whereabouts. As we left Bull Bay we saw the conclusion of a successful lifeboat rescue as the small boat and crew were brought ashore.
Our trip ended with a blast into wind of about force 6 as we turned the corner into Cemaes bay. It felt good to have managed an exciting trip in blustery conditions.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Great Orme at Night

 Having suffered the frustration of traffic queues on the A55 knowing that Jimski and the others were already on the beach, it was a relief to unload, kit up and get afloat. This is the launch, into calm sea on a lovely evening with the prospect of a good sunset. It was also the first outing for my new GoPro camera.

As the camera lens gathered droplets of water we made easy progress towards the imposing cliffs of the Orme.

Cruising along under the cliffs the sea took on a glassy surface as the sun sank lower and daylight faded.

Darker still and the moon makes an appearance.

We paddled just 9km, starting from the prom in Llandudno, paddling directly out to the cliffs of the Orme to a point just short of the tip of the peninsula. The return journey was much closer inshore with the bright lights of Llandudno reflecting in the water. It is lovely to paddle at night and this trip, though short was a lot of fun and a good way to start the weekend.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Windermere Summer Solstice Race

It was supposed to be summer. It didn't feel like summer as we readied ourselves for the race- the longest lake on the longest day. The forecast was for south westerly force 4 wind all day with gusts up to force 6 and that is exactly what we got.
Here I am trying not to embarass myself at before I even get to the start line. It's a wobbly boat that I've been in just four times before, and always in very calm conditions.

Getting to the start line wasn't too bad. Trying not to fall in while we waited for the race to start was a bit more of a problem.

Here I am underway. This bit of lake doesn't look too choppy.

 That soon changed. Just look at the sailing boats. I am keeping very close to the shore as I am never quite certain that I am not going to fall out of my boat.

Another picture which just about shows how windy it was.

Just about to cross the finish line. I am exhausted. Partly because I have just paddled 17km in a race and partly because of the amounts of energy I expended just keeping the boat upright. It was a relief to finish in a time of 2hrs 3 minutes. This placed me 12th overall.