Mon 09 to Sun 22 Jul
John Driver from West Kirby introduced an obvious but overlooked concept to me. He reckoned that any expedition - be it paddling or otherwise - has three big make-or-break factors that can be controlled:
- Your gear
- Your food
- The people
Right now I'm in Formby just north of Liverpool. In the past two weeks I've been helped more than ever by complete strangers.
In Newport there were lifeguards Johnny (on the way to becoming one of the grand master wizards of lifeguarding) and Ffion (on the way to becoming an underage alcoholic apparently) who fed me hundreds of cups of tea.
Newquay saw Kerry [a man] and co. from Cardigan Watersports look after me. While in Aberystwyth Maureese of Seabrin B&B gave me a place to shelter from the rain and explained why the Welsh don't get on with the English before waving me off in the rain the next day.
Aberdovey Outward Bound provided Alice (who gives me cups of tea and let me sleep on her sofa), Fiona (who went round the UK in 2005 and has lots of stories) as well as lots of other very attractive female staff!
One I reached Anglesey things got even better. Despite having man flu and a swim (was a numpty launching off rocky beach at the end of the day) in Holyhead I not only met Nigel Dennis (a living sea kayaking legend and a nice guy to boot), Phil Clegg as well as Axel (cheerful Dutch five-star coach who gave me an über map case) before drinking several pints of Guinness.
Next up was Gareth Jones who drove for one and a half hours from Llangollen to meet me at Red Wharf Bay. He put me up for the night and paddled with me pas Great Ormes Head. It was great not having to talk to myself - saved the singing voice!
Even better that night, Dave, Gareth's brother, invited me to stop with his family in Prestayn. There I found an industrial-sized barbecue and an awesome hot tub - definitely the way to end a paddling day. Considering that Gareth and Dave had only ever heard from me from a forum (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk) it was a hugely warm welcome.
I leave Wales that day crossing to West Kirby. The plan had been to stay with Barry Shaw but sadly he was off in Anglesey. Instead he arranged for me to stay with John Driver (an experienced expedition paddler and a great cook) and family. John takes me out for a Friday night beer with friend Rose. He's a great host, even though his 15-year-old daughter was out at one of her first parties!
So I reckon John was right: you can go anywhere in the world but it's the people that really make a difference. This is even more important to me paddling alone with no team mate or support to share stories and down times with.
Thank you to everybody who's helped or shown interest so far - it's a great thing and it really makes a big difference to the trip.