Sunday, 16 April 2017

Multi day kayak, Nottingham to Hull

On our way
An adventure full of hardship, perseverance, disappointment, friendship and surprise. Paddling to Hull from Nottingham for the Bloodwise charity provided the full range of flavors from industrial wastelands to beautiful rolling hills. Challenging locks keepers and naked men to lambing and drifting silently through some of Britain's most amazing countryside.

For a 75 mile paddle you may think some planning would be in order, but 24 hours before we set sail, the kayak was still hanging from the garage roof, dusty and silent, the tent still rolled tightly, secure from the mice in its plastic storage box. Life's been busy, and whilst the trip has been somewhere in my mind for about 2 years, time just hasn't been there to use on going through kit lists, checking for tent pegs or charging batteries. Packing water was an after thought as I went through the door, grabbing for bottles and the first aid kit.

On top of this, I seriously doubted my ability to compete this trip, I'd been off the sugar for lent, but that was the only healthy thing I'd done for months. Frantically, about a week ago, I'd done 20 press ups to see if the body was still working, but rather unsurprisingly, it hurt, and not just the muscles, but there was a stiffness to it all that I suspect getting older brings. I'd hoped that a couple of runs would get me loose and ready, but I hadn't been able or willing, and now it was too late.

Early on a Friday morning I'd struggled from my bed and without the time to warm up to the day I'd lifted Wimbal onto the roof of the car, managing to twist my left wrist in the process. I was totally convinced this would end my chances right there. But once you're started, the river takes you, and I figured at least I can sit there, not paddling and do a happy 3 knots while my wrist recovered.

I met Rob, my graying paddle partner at the river side, he, like me wasn't in tip top shape and we both groaned like old men, taking our time to pack the kayaks in fear of damaging further our ageing bodies. Our wives waited patiently in the cold as we jammed our last minute water and energy bars into the rapidly decreasing hatch space. This is where planning is valuable, but we both had enough experience to know how much stuff we can get into our hatches. After about a half hour, everything was safely stowed, all be it bulging and pushing on the rubber deck seal, but it was holding and the food would be slowly eaten to provide more room for the remaining kit. It was time to way anchor and push off, through the geese and swans and face a challenge that we had failed a few years earlier.

I started slow, purposefully drawing the paddle through the mill pond river, cautious not to over exert too early and to allow me time to wake up and stretch the required muscles. I've paddled this section of river a lot, so like most places that are familiar to us, they pass by quickly. This was no different. Both drop off cars had passed us by on the river road with waving hands pushed through windows and it wasn't long before the river left the road and the only people we could see were the early morning walkers swinging mini black bags of dog waste. Surprised in most cases to see two bright kayaks gliding through the river, leaving nothing but a wake, like the first footsteps in a morning snow.

A few years back I'd completed my VHF course and since then found no real occasion to use it. The odd radio check and weather broadcast. So nerves were running high as we approached the first lock. It's possible to hail the lock keeper and request a lift downstream, but we'd heard tell that kayak passage is frowned upon. We both knew from experience that hauling two 80KG kayaks up the ladders of a lock wall is the fasted route to failure. It's just too hard when you're tired. So it is important to sweet talk the lock keeper into opening the gates. This isn't easily done on a radio as protocol must be followed and it was for this reason that I chose once again to call through on the mobile. It worked, two minutes later we were sitting comfortably in the lock, secure in its reassuring grip, slowly lowering us to the river below. You can't really hear things in the deep pit of a lock. It's smooth walls create a distracting echo, so I think we succeeded in asking the lock keeper to radio ahead to the next lock to warn the keeper there of our approach. With this kind of support and the push of a light breeze, we should make Newark for lunch.
Newark Weir and lunch

25 miles per day was the goal and to achieve this we'd have to paddle a steady 4 miles every hour for just over six hours. Add in lunch and some awkward moments with the dry pants and we easily added 2 hours to the paddling day. It's a long time to be moving your arms, and in the past at the end of a day like this I could relax in a warm bath and eat protein till I was sick, but on expedition, the second day is slightly harder and the third even harder. Your body figures out what's happening and starts to adapt. It realises that the sprained wrist can't hold you back, and so it fixes it. The stiff shoulder somehow loosen and the creaking back becomes flexible. It doesn't take long. Possibly 2 days and I would be in full flow, able to paddle from dawn till dusk will little discomfort.

We had hardly left the lock when the VHF crackled with the voice of the lock keeper. True to his word, he was informing Hazelford that we where en route, but had no idea how long it took a couple of middle aged men to paddle the 5 miles and so was unable to provide an ETA. It was good enough for me, and an invite to test my virgin radio.

Miles later we approached the lock at Hazelford, the island here I've nicknamed rabbit island on account of there being no predators and the result being there are hundreds if not thousands of rabbits. I pushed the talk button on the VHF and muddled my way through my first transmission, regardless of what I said, the lights turned green and the towering lock doors started to creak open, and once again, we were gently lowered past the death grip of the weir and into safety. The slow and deep meandering of the Trent through the valley just after rabbit island is so far my favorite part of the river. It was the inspiration to get back into paddling in my mid life and today, with still water and glowing sun reminded me this is why I love paddling.

There are 5 locks between Gunthorpe and the sea, but because of a branch to the Trent around Newark, we would only have to paddle three of them. We'd completed two and only one remained. It was a good distance away and just before the first camp, so for now I had relaxed and could enjoy the journey. From Hazelford to Newark is a pleasant paddle, day boaters and tourists had joined us on the river and waved as we passed by. Other kayak parties were interested in our exploits and offered advice about where to stop and camp, but we had our plan and needed to stick to it.

The loop around Newark is in high water a paddlers paradise. Outside of fishing season the river is yours, no cruisers can be found here. It's the natural course of the river, with weirs to paddle, gravel banks you can't quite see and gentle rapids to tackle. It keeps to awake and provides variety on what is otherwise a trip of endurance. Today the water wasn't high or low, somewhere in between, so the flow was steady and the gravel banks hidden below a tell tale ripple. Easy to paddle and it moved us around Newark silently. Before long we had rejoined the navigation and paddled to make Cromwell before the lock keeper went home for the night. A long portage was not be welcome after so much paddling.

A lock keepers duties involve more that button pushing and chatting on the radio, there are logs to keep, grass to cut and reports to be made and on the whole, the lock keeps are trained volunteers. That is except for the tidal locks, these men (and they are mostly men) are professional and are paid for their efforts and as such they are more vigilant. On arriving at Cromwell we could hear the hum of a mower and correctly assumed that the keeper was mowing his grass. It would take a few minutes to get his attention from our low vantage point. We did however manage to wave our paddles and he drove the small tractor to the lock edge. It had been a long day and a challenging character would not be welcome, and indeed it wasn't. You can see it in people's eyes from the get go and it's important to know when to be humble, this was one such occasion and with a little coercion he too agreed to help us on our way.

Night one camp - just enough room
We knew of a flat piece of land just about a mile away, perfect for two tents, and to be honest not much more. The tide was high and that certainly helped us remove the kayaks from the water. Wild camping in England can be frowned on, but I find that if you wait till dark and leave early and check you take everything with you, you rarely get issues.

It was cold when we woke. Ice had formed on the tents and kayaks, and warm inside my sleeping bag, it took some will power to pack up and go. The mist was hanging over the water and was pushed aside when an early cruiser chugged into view, a good morning wave and he was gone, invisible behind the veil of fog that awaited us. We too were on the water early, and with stiff bodies from the 25 miles the previous day we ploughed through the cold, frost bitten hands clinging to every stroke. The sun broke at about 730 when we had been on the water for a half hour, and it's soothing rays warmed my hands enough to ease the pain. It was forecast to be 18 degrees today and I had caught the sun across my face the day before, so as soon as I had chance, I covered the exposed parts in factor 30.

To stay on schedule, we would have to complete another 25 miles today and would be camping just outside Gainsborough.  But we arrived early, 2:30 in the afternoon and the tide was due to turn. I learned  years ago that it is really not worth the effort paddling against a 4 knot tide, you make little if any progress and burn all of your energy whilst standing still, so we chose to take an early stop about 4 or so miles short of our planned camp. The area looked remote enough and their was once again enough flat land for two tents. Pushing on at this stage would mean at least another 8 mile paddle to clear Gainsborough and there was no guarantee of a camp spot down stream.
Cold Morning awaits us

A couple of hours of waiting around and up drove the farmer, clearly interested to know what we were doing, but he carried on and tended to his sheep. Meanwhile a fully naked man had appeared on the far bank and as soon as he saw us he casually walked behind a tree, where he stayed for the next two hours, long enough for me to question whether I'd seen him at all. The farmer returned, interested I think to see if we had moved on and once again he drove past. We decided to go and talk to him and ask permission to stay the night. I was nervous of his answer, a "no" and we would have to move on, commit to another 8 miles at least in the fading light and battle the incoming tide. So I put on my best diplomatic face and walked across his field towards his truck. I was greeted by a sheep on its back being held by the farmer and a lamb half introduced to this world. "Bloody hell" I thought, this is the last thing he needs right now, a couple of paddlers making small talk before thy hit him with the million dollar question. We watched for a while and he carried on with his job, and the conversation started with him being interested in where we had appeared from. After a few minutes, I dropped it in about the tide not being in our favor and could we wait around in his field till morning. Of course we could and good luck with your trip boys.

Night 2 camping just short of Gainsborough
This was excellent news, we no longer needed to skulk behind the levy, but could perch ourselves higher and watch to see if naked man would reappear. He did, a couple of times and it was getting darker and colder. I started to worry, perhaps he wasn't well, someone's granddad lost in his mind, unable to remember where he'd placed his y fronts. We went for a closer look and checked the map to see if he had other escape options. He did and he had gone. We agreed that if he reappeared we would call the police and let them handle it. The night was naked man free.

The next morning I awoke to find that half of my drinking water was sloshing around as a muddy mess at the bottom of my kayak. The seal had perished and it had leaked out. I only had 2 liters remaining, not enough for a man sat in a chair for a day let alone one paddling for what was now 30 miles. But what choice did I have? None, there would be no riverside shops and if there had been, the banks were far too steep to get to them, so I'd have to ration it and see how that went. On top of that the tide was out - WHAT.

My frozen kayak
This meant the first few hours would be spent creeping against the mass of water racing up the river, how this had happened I'm not sure, attention hadn't been properly paid to the ebbing and flowing and now we would pay for that. Sure enough progress was slow, and the first 2 hours saw 2 miles pass by us and my arms were aching, stop and you lost ground at four times rate we were gaining it, a terrible miscalculation. But then the flow of twigs and logs that had been battering the boats for the last two hours stopped and the tide went slack, progress went up four fold and then the tide turned, pushing us at break neck speed up towards the Humber, trees flew by at 8 mph and within the next 2 hours we'd covered 14 miles. This made our total around 62 miles, a mere 13 miles remained. But there was a problem.

There was after breaks, only one more hour of outgoing tide, and it was slowing. We had a free ride for 6 to 8 miles before the tide was against us again. That left at the worst a further 7 miles to go. Our morning progress had proved we could only manage a speed over ground of 1 MPH against the flow, so that meant a 7 hour battle against the tide. Now the tide changes direction every 6 hours or so, so a good 6 hours of hard paddling and and maybe 15 minutes to take us at speed to the exit point. This wasn't sensible. The sensible thing would be to sit at the side for the incoming tide and jump back in when it turned, but we hadn't got the time for this. It was Sunday and work was in the morning. We looked for an exit and found one which required rope work to hoist the kayaks up a good 20ft of muddy wall, it was the only port in a storm, so we took it.

The Exit Point
It was disappointing not to meet our goal, even if it had been one we had set ourselves. But paddling until your exhausted when you have no way out is madness and dangerous. Trusting that you will find a jetty when your tired and being pushed the wrong way is far too risky, better to take the safe option and live to fight another day. We were both full of energy at the point we chose to stop, but knew to continue would soon see that disappear. If the tides changed every 7 hours, we would have made it look easy, but sadly, they don't.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Erewash loop in a Kayak

Cutting through some diverse scenery just to the West of Nottingham is the Erewash loop.

Distance: 8 Miles
Grade: Easy (on a normal day)
Weather: 20-35KNTS To the East - dry 5 degrees C
Departure: 7:30


We parked at Trent lock on the North side of the Trent, there are several pubs here for later and parking is free. If you're lucky, the gates will be open and you can go through the car park and drive right up to the launch point just by the canal.

The Route

If you start at Trent lock, you want to be heading down the canal first, otherwise you won't get up the Erewash without some tough paddling, so common sense tells you to launch up-gates of the lock. The water was high for us, so launch was easy. and a nice easy paddle takes you to your first portage. This part of the route is quite built up, but from your low vantage point, you won't realise this know for most of the canal. Port to the right of the lock on the tow path, the kayaks fit through the barrier that's there to stop the bikes flying by, so just wherever is easier for you. It's only a small lock, so 50 feet is all you'll have to walk.

The next stretch is more of the same with some of Nottingham's industrial past drifting by, the odd dog walker and jogger is all we encountered and the barges where all in their moorings, so the canal was our playground.

The second portage is where you leave the canal for the river, and it really is a short walk, no more than 100 Meters (I was expecting more). Follow the footpath that runs East and you'll find a foot bridge, about 25 Meters to the North is a small beach which is perfect for a seal launch, the river was running at 3-4 Knots and is only 4-8 Meters wide. There are a lot of meanders and can get quite tricky in places with low branches and fallen trees. You'll discover a weir with a 2 ft drop not far down and whilst you could easily follow that section which takes you to the right, we chose the left fork.

This takes you on a journey with many obstacles. It was just after the winter floods, so fallen trees lay only a foot from the rivers surface, and we did mange to navigate some of these, but some had to be portaged through muddy banks and bushes. The river bends can be quite tight and narrow here so all your skill will need to be applied, especially if the river is running fast. But this was easily the most fun that I'd had in a kayak in years.

The river opens into Atenborough Nature reserve and you find yourself with an open water challenge. Finding an exit point is tricky and not immediately obvious. There are several options, and you can simply hop over the tow path on the far side of the lake and join the Trent, or you can paddle around the lake and join the Trent about a mile further up. I'd suggest going with option 2, which of course isn't what we did, and found ourselves paddling for an age against wind and flow. Progress was about 1 Knot and hugging in behind the trees saw us eventually make it to the Final portage of the day. It took two attempts to cross the choppy waters and one of our group lost a good 400M being blown back down river and whilst waiting for her to make up the ground I got the kettle on and made a brew.

I think it's fair to say that at this point we considered walking to the car, but decided to carry on down the cut and back to the parking. If we had it hard, there were canal boats being pushed sideways down the river and into bridges, and I don't think I've ever paddled this hard to go a mere mile.

On another day, this would be a great little route, but with the wind, rain and flood waters it was a tough day.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Standard horizon HX 851 VHF

I've been holding off doing a kit review for a while now, mainly down to not knowing a lot about the kit I was using, and not having the experience. But I've amassed some great kit over the years and tried and tested it all in some pretty hairy places.

I'm starting with my trusty VHF, the Standard Horizon HX 851 and hope to post more as time allows.

I'll give you a little background as to thinking behind buying this unit, but take a look at the video for some of the features.

The reason I opted for this unit was mainly down to its DSC capabilities. I was at a point where I started to venture into tidal waters and wanted to make sure that should the shit hit the fan that I had some means of raising the life boats and helicopters in a nice and easy way.

Theres some great resources on the web about the Horizon and there are certainly cheeper units out there, but heres a list of some of the differences:

  • DSC
  • Waterproof
  • Strobe on contacting water
  • It floats

Now if you want one of these units you will in the UK have to pass your SRC exams from the RYA

They also have an app available which is a great study aid...

Get the app

The exam is really easy if you're able to recall some pretty simple procedures and takes a day of your time.

The HX 851 will need be registered with OFCOM in the UK, this will get you an MMSI number, which is basically a hard coded phone number for the device. You have one shot at punching this number in, so take your time. To do this you'll need to register at and apply for a ship portable radio license.

If you enjoyed the video - take a look at my youtube Chanel.

Standard horizon hx851

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Bitches from a boat

Whilst down in Pembrokeshire, I took a RIB to check out the Bitches, They're in the centre of the map below for those that need a pointer - Just of the SW coast of Wales. They're Kayak legend and deserve respect, so rather than just hopping in the kayak to be faced with the unknown, I took this short trip and video to assess the situation. Situation - a little ropey. The flow can run up to 20 MPH through here and there's very little place to land. In fact, the port behind the camera is the only place on Ramsey island that you are allowed to land, so the Kayakers in this shot have found possibly one of only two landing spots.

View more vids on my youtube Chanel

This is one for next year...

The bitches
The Bitches marked in the centre

Freshwater East to Tenby by Kayak

West of Tenby in Pembrokeshire can be a great spot to paddle. It's full of hidden beaches, caves, arches and an island to circumnavigate if you have the time. I took the tide form Freshwater East to Tenby, a nice easy paddle if the weather plays along. A quick call in to the coast guard is a good idea here as the MOD like to drop live rounds all along this coastline so check before you leave.

Depart at low water at Freshwater east and take the south side of the beach, as there is a slip way and you can get your car to do a lot of the carrying here. You will still have a hundred meters or so to drag your stuff, but once in the bay the cliffs start to rise and the views are great.

The route

If you have time you can visit the castle at Manorbier bay, just a short walk up the hill from an easy landing onto a shingle strip. It's a few pounds entry but there is a nice tea shop where you can get a great cream tea.

Take your time and visit the beach just to the west of Old Castle Head, it's pretty much inaccessible to walkers so you will have it all to yourself. I arrived around lunch time and there was not a foot step anywhere. I took my time here and cooked up lunch.

Private beach

The closer that you get to Lydstep Haven, the more small craft you will encounter - day trippers looking for a place to moor up for the afternoon, jet skis breaking the peace and holiday makers splashing in the sea. The beach is backed by a large holiday park so possibly best to skip this place and continue east.

As you move along the coast, it starts to to transform into a paddlers paradise. High cliffs with caves and arches, and with the right tide you should be able to navigate your way close to the clips and through some of the features. The tide was a little low for me, so I rock hopped for a while before moving on.

One of the Mini coves

You have a choice as you approach Caldey island, to go through the sound, or turn South and head around the island. There is in theory, only one place you can land on Caldey, and that is in the port on the east side. Watch out for the pleasure boats arriving from Tenby. It is however rather difficult to paddle past the pristine beeches and it is also rather tricky to relieve yourself in a Kayak!

A welcome rest before the long haul to Tenby

Which ever route you take, you're in for a rather long and boring crossing, either along the beach at Tenby, or across from Caldey island. It's a nautical mile or so and the crossing can get choppy with the right wind/tide ratio.

Heading to St Catherine's Island

Once in Tenby, you have a couple of options. There is a slipway around about 997126, or you can head further east and through the arch/tunnel at St Catherine's Island. Just around the back there is a smaller beach which also has a slipway. The second is the easier option, but of course, I chose the first!

It took a few days waiting for this trip, as the waves on the preceding three days where 3M, which is still a little outside of my ability and to be honest, a 14/15KM kayak in winds like that is no fun at all. So wait for the right conditions and there are some great hidden places to visit on this trip.

Monday, 25 May 2015

All around Anglesey

Anglesey is a great place to paddle. Anything you would want as a paddler, you can find, and because it's an island, you can most always find the rougher stuff, or if you prefer, the calmer waters.

View more videos on my channel

The wildlife is playful and I hear tell of seals that climb aboard over on the north by puffin island.

We stayed at Anglesey adventure over on HollyHead, here you can get a great feed in the paddlers return and in the week, its pretty quiet, but buckle up for the weekend and get there early as it can get busy, especially in the summer months (Marked with a pin on the map)

Anglesey Adventure
Anglesey adventure location
You will find like mined people all chatting and planning their next trip out and crossing their fingers for their preferred weather. So the advice you can get off the locals and regulars is invaluable. There is a range of camping available, from Yurts to tents to a room with a view, and no matter what the weather, there is always a sheltered spot. Not too far from the beach, and easily walkable and if you're lucky enough for a Westerly you will get some rough surf around some sharp rocks.

The Menai Straights would be a great multi day trip, but don't get too excited, if you're with the tide, its like riding a travelator at the airport - faster, but just as boring as walking. Against the tide and through the bridges can get the heart beating, but keep heading north for more interesting scenery and wildlife. If you are looking for a spot to set up camp, then Abermenai point has a secluded beach, just hooking around enough top shelter you from a Westerly. You can see it just right of centre at 615 in the map below...

Great spot for a wild camp
If it's caves that you're after, then we found a couple just East of the old brickworks, about 2 miles West of Bell bay. Here I had a chat with an interesting chap who was disabled and swims there for an hour each day - frees him from the "Spaz chair" as he put it!

For Food, there are loads of places to stop off, but one recommendation was Dylans at Menai Bridge - Maybe next time...

Monday, 20 April 2015

London Kayakathon - A unique view of the city

The artificial waves generated by the pleasure boats was an unwelcome surprise for some of the group. Concentration levels where high and conversation low, it was a trial by fire, and if anyone was going to fail at our goal, it was now.

The London Kayakathon 2015 is the brain child of Sea Kayaking Cornwall's Simon Osborne, a wild looking character with an approachable demeanour. Clearly a driven and passionate man, who, after the death of his brother at an early age is driven to organise events that inspire like minded individuals to raise money for their selected charities.

Mine was Cancer research and my contribution £170 (to date) and to earn it I was going to have to paddle my lump of a kayak the 26.2 miles along the Thames. Usually this event takes place on the same day as the London Marathon, but this year, the tide wouldn't be right, so the scene was set for a week earlier and fingers where crossed for good weather.

Organising an event like this takes time, and lots of it. If rounding up available and willing kayakers from around the world isn't challenge enough, of course the authorities like to be in the loop, so I tip my hat to the organisers and thank them for a very enjoyable day.

The opportunity to paddle in a group like this is a rare one, let alone through the heart of a beautiful city. To drift under the iconic Tower Bridge whilst a line of passers by snap your photo and cheer you along. To ride the bucking waves past the Tower of London and look up at its beauty or power past the London eye whilst its occupants rummage for their cameras. To see a flotilla of yellow jerseyed kayaks ambling by ins't something one sees every day.

The comradery is refreshing, a hundred people sharing a common interest and a single objective, each with their own abilities, each with their own story, and the 8 hours we spend together presents a unique opportunity to make new friends. People have come from Irelands north shore, Italy's valleys and the four corners of the UK and together we have raised well over £15,000.

The half way point was Chiswick bridge and the pub that stands at the entrance, the aptly named ship inn (due to the car park flooding at high tide). They where very accommodating to the damp, tired and smelly paddlers that descended to use their toilets, but whatever the welcome, it was a much needed rest. I had my much anticipated pork pie and 10 minutes of shut eye before the buoy being dragged by the tide, stood up and started to lean the other way. it was our cue that the tide had changed and our free ride back into the city was leaving.

The pace had been strong so far, and I felt quite sick after lunch, so getting back into the rhythm was proving to be a challenge, but spirits were high and I'd tuned my VHF to 71 so I could now hear the instructions more clearly. We settled in and ploughed a wake with the accelerating tide back towards central London. the sun had dropped over our shoulders and was lighting our route with glorious orange against a moody backdrop. The skyscraper's windows twinkled and blinded with the reflected rays and the sun glasses came out. The return waters didn't seem as tricky, or perhaps we had found our mojo, but to me at least, it seemed that the whole group was paddling as one, and turning to see the mass of kayaks and the dancing paddles was a rare treat and a thing of beauty.

My arms were heavy, and I was suffering from Kayak bum, but the city attractions provided a distraction that allowed me to continue, and lifted by the group and the conversations, I dug a little deeper and encouraged by the people lining the bank and the bridges we soon found ourselves back at the tiny "beach" that hours ago had provided us with our river entry.

I'm already looking to the next Kayakathon and I think that the London flavour will be pencilled onto my "flowers in bloom" calendar very shortly.

If this interests you, then you can learn more at the Kayakaton website here

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Paddle the thames

Only a few weeks left to run before the Thames Kayakathon.

I'm taking sponsorship for a great cause, Cancer research UK, and If you can stretch to filling the begging bowl, I would be very appreciative.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

I'm thinking this will be a pretty tough challenge - 26 miles through the heart of London and only 5 hours to do it in. That's 4.5 knots. Is that even doable?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Kayak Jersey

If you ever find yourself in Jersey (the island - not the state) for the American readers, I can highly recommend hiring a scooter. For one thing it allows you to have a good look around the island and discover places that you wouldn't otherwise see. It also allows you to get to the start point should you decide to take a kayak trip. I'd long hoped to kayak of the Jersey shores, picturing sandy beaches lined with million pound houses and palm trees. Beautiful skies and crystal blue waters.
When I arrive, the weather forecast, just like all of the other holidays I'd been on in the last 5 years was rain and cloud (Although looking at the photos in this post you may think me a liar), luckily, I'd come armed with my poggies, hat and two piece.

The short drive from St Helier to our starting point, which I'd been informed the night before was to be the bay of Gorey, should have been a nice relaxing meander through the sleepy lanes and potato fields. Instead, there was a force 5-6 drifting across the island, so clinging with freezing wet hands to my underpowered scooter I battled the wind, thinking any moment that I would be joining the potatoes in the fields. What seemed like hours, I arrived cold, wet but raring to go.

Derek, my guide from kayak adventures (His Facebook page here) met me and we proceeded north to a small bay with a cafe. Google refuses to tell me the name of this bay, but it has a tower called Archirondel Tower on its north side.

It is a sleepy bay with the odd walker and a convenient car park and shower block and at high tide, the line of sea weed told me you would have to walk no more than 10 feet from your car/scooter to in the water. Today though, the tide had lowered the water line to its mid way point, so we carries the two Kayaks (both Norddkapps) across the small rounded rocks and down to the launch point.

Derek, despite my foresight in packing my own Kayak gear and hauling it from the UK, fitted me with a dry suite and fleece liner and we headed out to sea. The conditions were good, and with a easterly wind we were, for the time being at least, floating in a mill pond. I practised edging in my wobblier than anticipated Kayak and made some comfortable turns, desperate not to get wet in the first half hour (It can ruin a day).

These conditions were't to last, and as we rounded the southern headland, the wind tore in and the sea responded. The boat rode high on the crests and dipped under in the troughs and my senses stood on edge as a balanced this bucking bronco. The advice was coming thick and fast from my mentor, but between the wind and the sea, I could only catch a couple of words. I ploughed on regardless. The headlands were punctuated with sheltered coves and bays and a welcome rest, but time after time we worked our way through the driving wind and south back towards Gorey bay.

The bay is dominated by a large castle, used by the Germans in the war to see off the British, but the British never came, choosing instead to stay well out of the 14 mile range of the guns and east towards Normandy. Gorey harbour is sheltered from the sea by a harbour wall, some 40ft above us and providing some very confused water indeed. Working our way around it was like riding a wild cow walking on spikes. The reflected waves creating a roller coaster of a journey and the rain had joined the wind and splattered by glasses, so that the horizon was harder to make out.

Gorey harbour is joined by long beach, It's called this because it's long! and paddling with your head down in these conditions is what is required to navigate its length. We, however turned around about half way. Paddling into the wind gives you stability, but paddling at 90 degrees to the wind and waves during a turn is the opposite. Each wave hits you side on and you need your wits to stop you from getting wet. Once the turn is made, the journey down wind is just pure fun, catching the odd wave as it rolls under the Kayak and making the most of your newly discovered speed, like paddling in air. The journey to here had taken well over an hour and a half, but the journey back was to take about 15 minutes.
Choppy waters keeping me on my toes

When I go paddling on the river I always paddle upstream first. It's the sensible thing to do. If you get tired, you simply turn your boat around and float back home. It's what we had done in the morning and our hard work was rewarded by an easy paddle to our lunch spot. The afternoon on the other had was the wrong way around. We headed off with the wind at our backs and enjoyed a leisurely paddle down to one of the largest break waters I think I have ever seen. Turning here was to remind me never to paddle down stream first. The wind felt stronger than the morning and the waves higher and we had a good couple of miles to go to get back to the security of my scooter.

If I had been on my own, I would have taken the shortest route, and paddled from headland to headland, but my guide took me into the shelter of the bay. I'm glad that he did as it provided a much needed rest and whilst the paddle back was hard, it was nowhere near as hard as going as the crow flies.

I Would love to come back in summer, possibly with the kids. If the sea was still and the sun was out, this would be a pleasant paddle indeed. As it was, I enjoyed it immensely, but it was hard work and my body felt it. Lessons learn't - take the easy route through life, not the most direct.

I had a dry suit - He had his trunks!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Derby to Nottingham

As the crow flies and most cars drive, this is a short hope down the a 52, 18 miles or so from centre to centre. A trip that I once walked when funds where low and taxis where scarce. But today, on a whim, I and my trusty paddle partner had decided to give this another attempt by river.

About 8 months ago we had failed at the same trip and had to be recovered by robs wife and kids. I was determined to complete it this time. 

The Very loose plan was to extend on our last attempt and start from darley abbey, just north of derby on the river derwent. It's the site of a roaring weir and a cracking pub. And travel to burton Joyce, just east of Nottingham. It's a trip of mixed grades and beautiful scenery, sleepy villages and industrial towns. There a several challenging weirs along the natural course of the derwent, and some of these will require commitment.

The decamp is an easy one and there is a short walk across a field to a pleasant launch spot just in the shadows of the last rapid. It's a great place and very buitifull, and we where able to spend a few minutes playing around on the weir, sitting on the effortless crest of wave.

But time was getting along and it was already 11 am and the days at this time of the year are short, so we turned our boats and headed south. Immediately the low sun stung my eyes and I realised that my sun glasses had been left back at home. So I ferreted around for a pair of tinted goggles which had been left in my car from a pool session. 

The river was flowing at a good rate and in these narrow spots we where maintaining 6 knots with little effort. People waved as we meandered our way through country parks and under city bridges, bemused by these two bright orange boats breaking the frost on this chilly day.

In derby centre there is a large weir, a good 15 ft drop and as the river was running fast it had quite a pull. Just to the right is a stepped exit point and within 5 minutes we had re entered the river and on our was again. Quickly leaving the city behind the view eased and we where's own surrounded by fields and country paths. The river wiggles and winds and provides the paddler with options on which rout to take. There are wide meanders around weirs which lead you through almost steams with low hung trees and plenty adventure. There are low bridges which require imagination to navigate under, and then there are the weirs and Rapids which offer no portage opportunity. It's these unexpected gems that make this trip one of my favourites. I had forgotten about several of these, and rounding several corners, you can hear the roar in good time. You heart start ps to race and you select your line. The stoppers are head night and you know your spray will be shorter should you capsize here. The force of the river pulls you and in these long boats your plan needs to be made early, small tweaks to course are all that's allowed. But I make it and throw up a celebratory paddle. Looking back I see rob and I know he's thinking "shit, now I have to go" but he flies through the rapid and the adrenalin subsides.

There are 7 or so of these before you join the Trent, and each one is a treat.

Dinner is served at 1pm on a muddy and cold bank, and I couldn't wait to get back in the kayak, my hands where freezing and struggling to lift the zip on my pfd. But they soon warmed when placed snugly in a damp poggie.

The derwent is the reward on this trip and soon you join the Trent, it a wider and slower river that carries you under large bridges and through the industrial scenery of Nottingham. It's a unique view of the city and a lazy paddle past scout huts and hillbilly river houses. There are a few good pubs along route and a couple of navigational decisions meeting a wrong turn could see you miles off course,

There is an option to join the canal that moves north through long eaton and a short hop will see you on the river soar and paddling to the open expanse of Attenborough gravel pits, to later rejoin the Trent, but we where on a mission and light was getting low so we took the more direct route and stuck with the Trent. We lost light around beston lock and 6 hours into our trip, we still had a long way to go and the temperature would now drop, but I didn't want to miss this opportunity so far committed. There are 5 locks to portage before our destination, and each time we got out we had the discussion whether we should call the rescue landrover, but the truth was that the 30 minute wait for the rescuer would be unbearable in the cold weather and neither of us wanted to have to stand shivering at the side of the river, so at each lock, the decision was the same. Better to keep moving.

There was a stopover wobble once we where through Nottingham though, we'd been paddling in the dark for over 2 hours and it was getting seriously cold. We both thought that we had completed the challenge (even though we hadn't) and we sent from Trent bridge to Holme pier pint bobbing like corks, just trying to keep our hands warm. It was a deep dig that we needed to get around the Holme lock and had it not been for the open lock toilet and hand dryer I think we may have called it a day. But it's amazing the simple things that can lift your spirits. Now dryer, a little warmer and a renewed spirit, we carefully placed the two kayaks back in the Trent and drifted off into the darkness.

Paddling in the dark was a new experience for me. Illuminated by a single aaa torch and a glow stick you can easily come off balance, especially when you stare up at the stars, and there where a few moments there where I thought I would have to swim. We finally reached burton Joyce 9.5 hours after leaving derby. Covering a distance of 34 miles. It was the longest day paddle that both of us had ever done and great training for the Thames trip later in the year...