Monday 20 December 2010

Too cold for paddling (or I'm going soft)

With Britain gripped in an Arctic chill, I decided to go somewhere a little warmer. And here's where I ended up. With hired gear and no skills, I threw myself down near vertical (at least it looked near vertical) precipitous mountainsides and emerged with just a few very small bruises to show for my effort. I must have enjoyed it cos I'm going to give it another go tomorrow.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Back to the salty stuff

After a few weeks of river paddling, open boating and caving it was time to return to the brine. The North West Sea Kayakers end of season meet was just the opportunity. What is a paddling season anyway? Surely it's an all year round thing. The sea doesn't dry up like the rivers do, so why stop paddling?

Saturday was a short bimbly pub paddle, starting and finishing at Moelfre (east coast of Anglesey) with a break for refreshment at Red Wharf Bay. The forecast was for strong SW wind so the choice of east coast gave us plenty of shelter. I paddled with Ray, Jason and Jimski. Not a lot to say about it just a few pictures.

Jim shows off the new light sabre on the fromt of his buoyancy aid

I try to photograph a cormorant hanging its wings out to dry.

Sunday had a better forecast so we headed off for Penmon and a trip to see the seals on Puffin Island. Here's what we saw.

Seals on the beach

Seals on the rocks

Very cute baby seal on the rocks

And again



And an incredibly bright rainbow (the photo doesn't really do it justice)

Friday 8 October 2010

More Underground Adventures

This week, the intrepid band of mud grovellers head for a pothole called Pool Sink. The entrance to this cave begins as a somewhat unnerving slightly-more-than-body-sized hole, with a couple of acute bends, just for the heck of it. Once this bit is done, the cave opens out into a lovely high meandering stream with small cascades to climb and four vertical pitches

Here's Chris just starting the descent of the second pitch.

And here he is again, at the bottom of the pitch.

This is what we went to look at, a highly decorated passage just off 'Straw Chamber'. The ceiling is covered in straw stalactites and helictites, and they're all glittery white.

Here's a close up.

Finally, all good things come to an end, and we have to leave. Here's Chris nearing the top of the fourth pitch.

And here's me just reaching the surface.

What a great way to spend an evening! All that remained was the long (well, it seemed long) walk back across the fell to the car and a very welcome set of dry clothes. Caving is a fantastic winter activity 'cos you don't need daylight. Thursday nights are caving nights from now on. I'm going to write up as many trips as possible and may eventually put them in a separate blog but for now, they're going to get mixed up with the paddling. You never know, I may entice one of you salty sea dogs into an underground adventure...any takers?

Friday 1 October 2010

Something a little different

Having spent almost every waking moment this year either paddling, planning paddling trips, writing up paddling trips or washing salty paddling gear I was somewhat shocked to discover that my Cave Instructor Certificate is due for revalidation soon. My caving log is full of great trips but none of them are this year. Time to put that right.

Dave and I decided on an afterwork exploration of Cow Pot, part of the massive Easegill system, also known as the Three Counties System as it straddles the border of Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Just starting the descent of the daylight pitch.

A bit further down.

Dave gets to the bottom of the first pitch.

Then a section of easy crawling.

After another two pitches, named 'sneaky' and 'the crap trap' and a fair bit of wriggling, swearing and getting stuck we reach the Easegill main drain. It is somewhat sobering to see where the waterlevel was yesterday.

Foam was all over the place, sometimes twenty feet above our heads and a good reminder of the power of water. I wouldn't want to be here in the wet. We went for a short stroll down the stream to the sump and a brief forray into waterfall passage. The noise of falling water in the confined made conversation impossible. Eventually it was time to make our escape back the way we went in.

Here's Dave emerging, hot and bothered from the top of Sneaky pitch.

Me in the crawly bit.

Approaching the deceptively awkward wriggle before the final pitch.

Still wriggling.

Having not been caving for so long, I felt like I had used every muscle in my body. The final pitch out was easy and we were soon walking back to the car in the dark. Great to have an activity not dependant on daylight.

Now I've just got a load of muddy ropes and kit to wash. I think salty sea gear is preferable to mud!

Monday 6 September 2010

South West Sea Kayak Meet 2010

Congratulations to Mark and Heather for organising another great bash. There were loads of people, loads of boats, loads of beer, great company, great paddling and great atmosphere. What more could you want...and the weather was pretty perfect too. Here are some pictures.

Loads of boats ready to launch at Hallsands beach

Tim puts the new P&H Delphin through its paces...

...and discovers that it's lots of fun.

Now you can see why it's so manoeuvrable

Hard to tell where the spray ends and the bird poo begins. This rock stank!

Three people, three islands and three feasts

Three paddlers, three days and three island campsites. What could be better? Here's what Rob, Dave and I did.There's something quite liberating about setting off on a trip with no real plan where we were going. With Oban behind us, blue sky above, calm sea below the world was our oyster. We set off towards Seil, weaving in and out of tiny skerries. Every rock was topped with a cormorant or two and the view expanded as we rounded each corner. Insh island looked inviting so off we went enjoying the gentle up and down of the sea against vertical rock. With no suitable landing hunger spurred us on to a refuelling stop on Easedale. Finally we came to the point where we had to have some sort of plan so settled on the east side of Luing as a suitable campsite. The Cuan sound was flowing against us but the numerous eddies made progress relatively easy. In the pool between Luing and Torsa we crept past a seal colony, attempting to get past without a mass exodus into the water. Didn't work, soon, twenty or so pairs of dark eyes were watching our every move. Between Torsa Beag and Luing we ran out of water and had to haul the boats up a short shallow bit. Back afloat we found a lovely spot to camp, with evidence of past settlement, flat short grass, plentiful firewood and a wall to rig the tarp from. Perfect.

Here's Dave inspecting his culinary handiwork. With three nights camping and three of us, we each cooked an evening meal and tried to outdo each other in deliciousness. On the menu a la Dave was chicken breasts marinaded in ginger and lime roasted over a bed of hot embers, served with herby sweet potatoes and salad leaves with olives and feta cheese. Dave was most concerned that we shouldn't get scurvy so pudding was a fresh fruit salad.

Day two dawned clear and calm so we set out with the intention of a play session on the Grey Dogs. All good plans are there to be altered and this was no exception. As we rounded the southern extremity of Luing and the great bulk of Scarba came into view we thought it would be good to get to the Grey Dogs via the Corryvreckan. The ebb was coming to an end and we planned to creep through along the Scarba shore using the eddies. All was good until the final corner where we met tidal flow very nearly as fast as Rob could paddle. Plan B would have been to wait until the flow slackened further but Rob gritted his teeth and went for it and soon we made a lunch stop just short of our intended playground.

Here's Dave playing...

And here's our route to the midgiest campsite on earth, on Eileach an Naoimh, the most southerly of the Garvellachs. Within seconds of landing, the wee beasties were eating us alive. Our priorities were headnets, DEET, a smoky fire and then unloading.

It was Robs turn to cook and he produced smoked salmon on oatcakes as an appetiser, vegetable soup starter, followed by tagliatelli carbonara (with loads of bacon and mushrooms) and the piece de resistance, baked on the fire, chocolate brownie with custard.

Day three promised another smooth paddle so we set off on an exploration of the Garvellachs and then island-hopped our way to the Cuan Sound and made for the Bridge over the Atlantic.

Conditions were glassy smooth and we reached the Clachan Sound at low water, fortunately at neaps so there was plenty to float the boats. The final pull of the day was across to Kerrera and a campsite in the Shadow of Gylen Castle.

My turn to cook and the menu was Mexican. An appetiser of jalapeno peppers was followed by spicy bean and chorizo sausage wraps, with avocado salad, cous-cous and sour cream. Pudding was swiss roll and custard.

Next morning we parted company. I was on a tight schedule to get home ready to pack for another trip away so I paddled straight up the Sound of Kerrera back to my waiting van, while Dave and Rob took the scenic route round the island.

A short period of settled high pressure weather made this trip a lovely calm experience. We didn't cover any vast distances or paddle particularly fast, it was just a good chance to chill out a little, cook good food, drink whisky and enjoy the scenery.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

What to do with a week of rubbish weather

Having decided that I needed a paddling trip, I took a look at a weather forecast. Not great, but not a disaster either. I settled on Bute and Arran as a venue as I thought it would be a little more sheltered than the more westerly islands.

Set off from Largs feeling somewhat lethargic and plodded across to Great Cumbrae and then on to Bute. I had a headwind all the way and this may have contributed to my impression that I was paddling really badly. Maybe I was just paddling really badly. Camped at a picnic site near Port Bannatyne. It rained most of the night. This was a theme to which I was to become accustomed.

Next day dawned dry and I set of northwards towards the Burnt Islands (strange name?). I could see the small Cal Mac ferry from about 5 km away and it didn't seem to get any closer for ages. The Burnt Islands were a cacophony of bird song. Lots of young birds, yet to gain their adult plumage and squawking adults warning me to keep off. I kept off.

Round the corner I came to the 'Maids of Bute'. This would do for a lunch stop, so I battled up through face-high bracken to get a picture.

Continued on down the Bute shore until I saw the Island of Inchmarnock. There's something really satisfying to land and camp on an island that you can't get to by ferry. Found a lovely place for my tent...
...with plenty of company. They sang strange songs all night.

Next morning set off to cross to Arran. All was well, light wind and no rain, until I got to Lochranza. From here on it was a struggle to make progress. The headwind slowed me down and made sure that the rain found its way into my cag and down my neck. It was thoroughly miserable. Once I decided that I'd had enough it was another 5 km or so before I found somewhere I could land and camp. One problem I've discovered with solo expeditioning is that I have to find very easy landing places as I can't just carry my boat over rocks. I take a trolley with me, but it can only cope with fairly smooth surfaces.

This is where I ended up; and just for once it isn't raining.

I awoke at 5am to find it dry and flat calm. By a more normal start time of 9am it was drizzling and the wind had increased, again in my face as I set off. I planned to reach the village of Blackwaterfoot for lunch, in the hope that there would be a cafe. No luck, but I did manage to replenish my dwindling rations and then shelter in a bus stop to eat lunch.

I set off again just as the sky lightened and rain eased. I had also turned a corner and now the wind was partly behind me. It made for much more pleasant paddling conditions. I finally stopped for the night on the southern shore of Arran, almost opposite the island of Pladda. Ailsa Craig appeared out of the gloom as clouds lifted and the remaining afternoon and evening were clear and sunny.

During the evening I spent at least an hour sitting on rocks looking at and photographing a pair of seals. At a guess I would say they were mother and pup. Their expressions and movements reminded me of a pair of fat tourists sunbathing on a beach. Here are some of the pictures.

Next morning I set off in sunshine, a new experience! I made rapid progress past Pladda and round the corner to Holy Island, where I stopped for an early lunch before continuing to Brodick. The funfair was in town and the whole bay was subjected to the raucous blaring music that accompanies the nausea inducing rides. I made a swift exit and continued on to a picnic site just north of Sannox. This was a fantastic place to camp, but as the water drained away as the tide ebbed I realised I had made a bit of a mistake. It was going to be nearly impossible to launch again at anything other than high water, that meant a 5am start. I began to wonder how motivated I was going to be next morning.

I needn't have worried. After a dry night, I packed away a dry tent for the first time this week and was away from the campsite within 45 minutes of getting out of bed, a bit of a record for me. It was lovely paddling off into flat calm sea in the soft light of dawn. No one else was about, and the place was mine. I made quick progress across to Bute, then Great Cumbrae and back to Largs where my trusty paddle waggon was waiting for me.

Arran and Bute lack the spectacular rock scenery that other islands have in abundance but the relatively sheltered location made this trip possible when I might have backed off other more committing trips.

Sunday 20 June 2010

The (not) Coquet Island Race

Every summer the town of Amble is host to a friendly sea kayak race. This years was a little different in that waves the size of small houses were breaking over the harbour breakwater, clearly visible from the start line in the river Coquet. It was no surprise then, that the organiser had a more sheltered route planned; up the river for a mile, turn around a bridge pillar, back past the start and down to the harbour mouth, round a buoy and back to the start. It was about 4 miles long compared to the usual 5.5 mile round the island route.

The mass start kicked up lots of waves as we were all jostling for position on the more sheltered side of the river. We were soon settled into some formation wash-hanging. The turn, around a bridge pillar caused one participant to go and take a look at the fishes while the rest of us carved a neat turn and got into our rhythm again for the dash past the start/finish line on the way to the harbour. The water got a little choppier as we approached the turn but not enough to give the rescue boats any work . All this way I had been wash-hanging an Aleut II, but gained about 50 m on them at the turn. I was unable to maintain this gap and was soon overtaken. Just shows how much assistance you can get from a wash. Tried to sprint past them at the line but had nothing left and crossed the finish line fourth overall. Got the prize for fastest lady. There were probably about forty competitors in total.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Pembrokeshire Coastline, Angle to Cardigan

After a fantastic three days at the Stackpole Sea Kayak Festival, I was left with a week off work, a great weather forecast, a coastline I'd never paddled and no plan. Here's what happened.

Tuesday morning at the Stackpole Centre, and Mark Tozer was running a three star course. The significance of this was that he would be taking a minibus to the coast, with space for one more. Thus my start point was to be West Angle Bay. Initially I had planned to start at Stackpole Quay but the thought of getting shot at or arrested for paddling past the Castlemartin firing range did not appeal. Likewise, getting trashed in big surf at Freshwater West was bottom of my to-do list.

West Angle was a good sheltered launch, but that was not to last as I headed out towards Rat Island (lovely name) and the shipping lanes of Milford Haven. Pete Astles (Peak gear) came with me as far as West Blockhouse Point. We had to wait a while for this small boat to enter the Haven before we could make a dash for the other side of the shipping lane. It felt a bit like a game of chicken.

Once we reached the far side, Pete said goodbye and turned right to paddle a short round trip and back to Angle. I turned left and headed for the exposed point of St Anne's Head. I had to keep a fair way offshore as big swell was crashing into a rocky coast, sending spray skyward. The next bit of coastline was demoralising. Waves were still big and unbenownst to me, I was paddling in an eddy, reducing my speed to a mere 4km/hr. I was heading towards the red cliffs of Gateholm Island.

After Gateholme, my speed improved and I started thinking about a place to spend the night. The map showed places with names such as Rainy Rock and Deadman's Bay, but by now I was within a stones throw of Jack Sound, the gap between Skomer and Midland Isle and the mainland, and so despite knowing that the tide would be against me, I thought I'd take a look.

Flow was swift but by sneaking up the eddies I was able to pass through Jack Sound and round Wooltack Point for a little respite at St Martin's Haven. As a tour boat spewed at least fifty passengers onto the landing stage I decided this was not the sort of place for a surreptitious wild camp and continued on to St Bride's Haven. This was more like it. A quiet beach, few people and a small patch of flat ground by a restored limekiln for my tent.

Next morning I awoke to blue sky, little wind and a choice; straight across St Bride's Bay to Ramsey or round the edge of the bay for more interesting scenery. The scenery won, and I set off towards Stack Rocks and Broad Haven.

Following the shore is definitely more fun than a crossing. You can at least be certain you are making progress, and the view changes constantly. I was in a very relaxed mood as I cruised along the back of St Brides Bay, watching the surfers at Newgale. Perhaps I was looking to the right a little too often, as all of a sudden a towering wave came out of nowhere to my left. I turned my boat to face it and paddled as fast as I could, to make it over just a second or so before it broke. The roar as is crashed was incredible and I was rather glad I was safely to seaward. Could have been interesting and once again the sea reminds me to keep alert.

From Newgale there were fantastic cliffs all the way to Ramsey Sound. Loads of arches and caves, layered rocks folded and buckled and tiny bays accessible only by kayak. As I reached Ramsey sound, an hour into the south going flow, I thought I'd have a go at getting through. The water was flat but moving fast as I eddy hopped my way towards St Justinian. Round the corner Whitesands Bay was heaving with people, so I sped on past to Porthmelgan, a small sandy beach accessible only on foot along the coastal path or from the sea. Above the beach I found the perfect campsite, complete with four legged friends.

Next morning, another beautiful day, I set off for the first time with tidal assistance. It was a good feeling being swept round St David's Head. The rest of the day was a fantastic series of cliffs, caves, arches and small bays. I went for a brief explore at Abereidi to find the 'Blue Lagoon', an old quarry, now flooded. At Strumble Head I had a choice of narrow gaps between islands or round the outside. The narrow gaps won.

After Strumble Head, I made for Fishguard Lower Town. I'd paddled a long way and felt I deserved an ice cream.

Back on the water I set off to find somewhere to spend the night, and passed some amazing rocky sculptures....

...and then found an ideal campsite.

A slaty pebble beach (boat friendly), flat grass, fresh water and ample firewood. What more could I want. A little later I had a visit from a contingent of Haverfordwest Canoe Club out for an evening paddle. I am more than a little bit jealous that they have this sort of scenery for an evening paddle.

The final day of my solo expedition was remarkable for the rock formations. Words aren't needed but here are a few pictures.

I finished my journey in the Teifi estuary. This was a week of amazing weather and a coastline I had never paddled before. It was also the first time I had paddled the Cetus LV loaded for expeditioning. I was initially a little worried that it may be too low volume to accommodate all the paraphernalia of camping but I needn't have worried. I even had room in the back for my trolley. I could have carried more, but would then have struggled with the launching and landing. The boat handled well when full but is definitely more fun empty.