Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Up the Channel with a Paddle

Days 42 to 50
Sat 16 to Sun 24 Jun

A new blog entry has been added for days 18 to 24 - 'Meeting Dan the Dolphin' - please see below!

I leave Bude in Devon with a full stomach and a nervous feeling about the day's weather - I don't want to get caught exposed on the cliffs.

Coming round Hartland Point the sun is out and day is lovely - and easy 20 kilometre crossing, made better by the escort of 20+ dolphins.

That night Charlotte from Bewdley Rowing Club comes down and we have an enjoyable evening on sandy Saunton Beach watching surf ski races as part of Croyde's Gold Coast Festival.

The next day is a fast run - 55km up the coast and the Bristol Channel to Porlock Weir. It's a speedy run (over 10km/h average) with a great view of Wales to the north.

As I near Porlock the craggy cliffs (with great names like Hangman Hill) change to fjord scenery - plunging right into the sea. Kev [the father] is waiting for me and we eat dinner in the Ship Inn before staying in the Anchor Hotel.

My luck runs out here and high winds kick in across the country - Worcestershire seems to be underwater. Four days of climbing the walls in the tiny estate village, watching telly, visiting Minehead (DON'T!) and chatting to the locals has me catching cabin fever.

Friday brings lower winds and I set off for Nash Point and Porthcawl. I arrive some five hours later after a moderate crossing and a radio interview by telephone. Joe and Ross from the RNLI station let me store the boat in the shed and as I'm wheeling it in mum and my little brother David walk down the pier. Not expecting that!

A nice night ensues with a meal in the Royal Oak (mixed grill looked huge). David and I then took on Karaoke Ken and narrowly missed a night out in the Apollo [apparently aka Appalling] Club. What a welcome to Wales!

A sore head and limp breakfast greet me the next morning (at least I could hold it down - unlike David who was talking on the great white telephone). Back at the RNLI station Ross advises me on the Swansea Bay crossing and I leave at 11:00.

32 kilometres takes me six and a half hours. I'm knackered and I haven't stopped paddling all day. The weather was force five headwinds and the seas felt huge (six to 10 feet) often breaking - the biggest I've paddled in and I was scared for a bit. I was last in Oxwich Bay when I was training at Christmas and I wish it was as calm now as it was then. That being said, the smoked salmon sandwich that was waiting for me on the beach was a great pick-me-up - that is what support teams are made for.

So, Sunday morning and the winds have dropped. The target is Tenby. It's a bit choppy but passing Port Eynon I'm joined by Dave on a sit-on-the-top kayak. He escorts me up the coast through the swell, pointing out locals bits and pieces like the dovecot in the cliff just shy of Port Eynon on the way.

The sun's out at Worm's Head and I see an area known to thousands of geography students in all its glory. I pass between the Worm and the mainland earning a dirty look from a seal as I pass.

Yet another long crossing through gentle swell to Caldey Island. I pass the monastic retreat before landing at Giltar Point by Penally. Dinner is pasta, meatballs and mushrooms, chatting to walkers and watching thunderstorms roll across Camarthen Bay.

A pint in the Cross Inn and a chat to the locals before I walk back across the army firing range, golf course and train line to my bed on the beach.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The Cornish Coast

Days 32 to 41
Wed 06 to Fri 15 Jun

Wake up on the beach and after an interview with Pirate FM I'm off into lumpy seas. Start Point is very bouncy and I can feel my knees shaking against the hull.

Then I'm round and passing the yachtie heaven of Salcombe. It's a short day today as I'm waiting for new maps to arrive in Plymouth. Sightseeing, I put on to Burgh Island.

I've been told that the Pilchard Inn brews a fine pint and does good food. Sadly I was lied to - the Pilchard didn't do either in this instance. Out of cash, I was kindly hosted by the staff of the Pilchard who let me sleep on the veranda. They even rustled me up a silver service steak from the hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote two books). Thank you to all the staff for their hospitality.

Onto Plymouth and I pick up my maps after an evening in the Marina Club (thanks to Fiona the barmaid and Mike the florist for the BB updates!). Fowey is the next stop - a gorgeous harbour with steep sides and the occasional large ship.

As I arrive the RNLI heads out - turns out two kayakers had talked a woman down off the cliffs.
Crossing the mouth of the Falmouth Estuary the next day, a huge bank of fog moves in and stop at Porthowell where I meet Ian and Jackie who are holiday diving - they offer me accommodation in Skye when I paddle round Scotland.

The previous day's flat calm has turned choppy as I round the Lizard (after a tea break in Cadgewith). The Lizard feels really remote and I stop for the night next to Marazion and St Michael's Mount near Penzance.

Then it's Land's End and I'm rather overawed by it. As it's neap tides at 05:00 I decide I can't make St. Ives in one day so stop in Sennen Cove. Land's End is lovely - rugged scenery and the atmosphere is great. However, ship wrecks show that it's not always so cuddly. I also see my first basking shark at 15-metre range.

Leaving Sennen for St. Ives I move up to cape Cornwall. Here are six more sharks including one 25-foot beast who hits the side of my boat with its dorsal fin. You really have to remind yourself it's not Jaws - I'm convinced it didn't know I was drifting there till it brushed me. However, I feel guilty for getting that close - it's not good.

St. Ives is lovely and the harbour master Steve gives me a tour while the boat is stored at the RNLI station. I also meet up with Simon Osbourne and his missus. Simon paddled round the UK a couple of years and and we swap stories.

Next morning they come with me to give me a rescue refresher - the first time I've tried it with a fully-loaded boat. Just as well as I swim on my first roll! However, a couple of pointers (i.e. slow down!) and I nail them and the roll/re-entry. A relief as this is a weight off my mind.

The next days take me to Newquay (Blackpool wannabe), Port Isaac (lovely, and I saw Martin Clunes filming for ITV - also home of great crab salads) and Bude (where the boat overnights in the breakfast room of the three-star Falcon Hotel).

I should spend longer talking about Cornwall - it's been on the most fantastic places I've ever paddled and the people were very friendly - but time marches on. Also great beer - Doom Bar is a fine pint.

In the words of California's guvnor: "I'll be back..."

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Into Deepest Darkest Dorset

Days 25 to 31
Tue 29 May to Tue 5 Jun

Well certainly brought rain to Isle of Wight for bank holiday - the coldest holiday weekend on record apparently.

After Swanage the next target is to round St. Albans Head and its races and past Lulworth Cove to Weymouth and Portland Bill. This I quickly do passing the UK's main tank firing range and a petrified ancient forest off the Kimmeridge Ledges.

Weymouth turns out to be a busy town with a harbour of ferries, diving tour boats, fishermen and yachties. It also has a thriving music scene as Helen (landlady of the Sailors Return pub) shows me when she takes me out with friends to see the town. At 3am I remember why you should never drink with somebody who owns a pub...

Next day I make a 06:30 start to round Portland Bill (nearly an island but joined by a 500m strip to the mainland). Interestingly it turns out that the word 'rabbit' is a curse here. In a tradition dating back to its mining days the locals will only say 'bunny'. The last Wallace and Gromit film couldn't be shown here.

The most boring part of the trip follows - a 20km slog up Chesil Beach. Tiredness, boredom and a hangover mean I fall asleep in the boat and I put into West bay at a happy campers Butlins (complete with S Club 7 wannabes).

Off again the next day and as I need to visit Rhi [girlfriend] in Gosport I need to find a train station. Map says Seaford has one but closer inspection shows it to be a tourist tramline. However Dee the venerable star of Axe Canoe Club comes to the rescue letting me store the boat in their well-equipped shed. She even drives me to the station!

Exmouth is the destination the next day, after a long detour via train to Bristol (whoops) and once again being rescued by Dee. A night camping on the dunes of Dawlish Warren looking at the lights out to sea.

In the morning I'm rudley awakened not by the dustmen but by the park rangers who inform me that this is a no camping area - its an early start to Torcross. I reach the large stone beach in lovely sunshine.

I was last here on a uni field trip getting drunk on the beach and its still brings back a smile. However the calm waters around the beach hold other memories - in 1944 over 700 US servicemen died here when German torpedo boats sneaked through Royal Navy defences and sunk two landing craft.

Tonight however is much more relaxed with a dinner in the Torcross Hotel (bit Fawlty Towers for me) before a nightcap in the Start Point pub and falling asleep under the stars on the beach with the lights from Start Point lighthouse shining out over me.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Meeting Dan the Dolphin

Days 18 to 24
Wed 23 to Mon 28 May

So Friday brings blue skies and high winds - force 5-7 south westerlies. Useful when you want to go SW! Mum is coming down for the weekend so I take a day around Dover. It seems to be a town full of travellers - in two hours sitting having a coffee I think I heard more languages than are present at a UN conference (including an American gentleman insisting he couldn't leave Dover without having tasted real Dover fish & chips).

When the old dear arrives we move to Rye where we have a cottage for the weekend. Here we stay for two days until the wind drops and I put back onto the water, exiting Dover and heading for Folkestone. I soon pass Samphire Hoe where the Channel Tunnel goes underground and where all the spare soil from got dropped.

The wind is behind me and I feel it kicking me around, and as I reach Folkestone I'm getting annoyed. However my anger fades when all of a sudden I hear a whoosh from right next to my boat - I nearly fall in with surprise: it's Dan the Dolphin! I've been warned to watch out for this friendly fella who seems really curious and comes right up to the boat. He plays in the wake, crosses right underneath me and when i stop paddling to take a picture he just hangs in the water right below me looking back up before nudging the end of my boat as he moves away. After 15 minutes he's decided to move on and he vanishes.

The day ends on the far side of the Lydd firing ranges - as section I have to paddle right round the edge of due to the fact that it was in use. I've spent many hours shooting on the range here and it always seems to be cold and windswept - today is no exception.

Another day off the water with high winds and I'm back on again. I set off at 09:00 and soon fly round Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.

Crossing Rye Bay I cut a little too close to the Hythe firing ranges - the safety boat comes out to move me 500 metres out to sea and after a brief chat the crew end up donating £5. I arrive at Hastings at close to 15:00 and meet mum on the beach for chips and cinder toffee (life of luxury having ground crew!), then at 16:30 I'm back on the road again to hop across to Eastbourne.

I park up in the marina where a rather confused-looking manager lets me through the lock (first time they've seen a kayak). It's a really nice marina and it's got lots of very posh-looking houses around it. The kayak goes on a jetski pontoon and I stay in the Marine Hotel.

Next days it's a late start to catch the slack tide around Beachy Head as well as do a few media bits and pieces. It's a great sunnny day and as I wait for the lock to open I chat to a young lad on a jetski next to me - turns out he's a rugby professional from Harlequins who spends the out-of-season times sailing and playing around on the sea. He also delights in showing me just how fast he can go compared to me!

Beachy Head and the dreaded Ledge which I've been warned about by the lifeboats and nearly everyone else - in the event it's just a tiny ripple with gorgeous views down to the Seven Sisters.

These are probably the most famous cliffs in the world being seen as a more photogenice substitute for the 'White Cliffs' of Dover. As such they find themselves in all kinds of films!

As the sun goes down I realise that I won't make Brighton today and search for a place to put in. Seeing a flock of sails of Seaford I head for the clubhouse of the Newhaven and Seaford Sailing Club. It's a nightmare drag up the shingle and only at the top do I find the club uses a winch!

The club is really friendly and let me sleep in their boat park. There's hot food in the galley and a bar as well! After a pint it's a few photos and a very in-depth interview from 11-year-old Zoƫ, Toby and their dad. Questions such as "What's the boat called?" and "What's the best food you've ever had?" for the local paper. Many thanks to all the members of the club!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Crossing into Kent

Days 12 to 17
Tue 15 to Tue 22 May

Distance covered: 192km

So it's an early start on Tuesday - I stumble out and the first order of the day is a radio interview with Howard on the BBC Hereford & Worcester Breakfast Show. Not what you need at 07:30 that's for sure!

With that completed I can get on with the biggest challenge of the day - crossing the river Thames, my first big 15-kilometer crossing and major shipping route no less! Tides are at midday so I've got a while to prepare and drink tea at the Southend Marine Activity Centre. While I'm there I'm told of the USS Montgomery wreck on the far side - she was an American WW2 cargo ship that sank with a full load of unexploded bombs. Though the fuses and bombs are kept in separate parts of the ship many still wash up onshore and need to be dealt with. Worringly they say that if the ship ever goes bang it will send water 3km into the air - goodbye Southend!

At 12:00 it's time to start the crossing. A headwind's picking up and it looks a bit challenging, but I'm told by weathermen that it will calm down at 14:00 so off I set. It's knackering with big breaking waves and constant wind - my speed is only 4km/h and if I stop paddling I start going backwards! Reaching the middle of the channel I come to what I think is a marker buoy for the shipping lane and see a large cargo shio bearing straight at me - a brief panic and I realise it will just miss me! In the event a Stena Tiger passes 250m to my front: I need to change my underwear!