Thursday, 30 August 2007

But where was Nessie!!!!

Days 111 to 118
Thu 23 to Thu 30 Aug

As I mentioned in the previous post I'd decided to go up around the Caledonian Canal, however I still wasn't completely sold on the idea so I decided to make for the Crinan Canal aswell. This cuts off the Mull of Kintyre and would save me two days which I could then have back if I decided the weather was nice enough to go round the top!

Bit of a slog to reach Arisdaig (the Southern end of the Canal) with a 55km stretch seemingly facing force three to four winds all day - felt like I'd worked for every mile! On the plus side I did manage to see around 30 seals in one place, sadly that one place was when I was answering a call of nature floating just off the Isle of Bute - can anybody spell stage fright!

I'd completely underestimated how long it would take me to paddle through the Canal. Although its only 16km long I hadn't really thought that it would have locks on it! I hitched a ride through the first eight of these with the crew of yacht Rhum - running up and down ladders and opening sluice gates. However, each lock took at least 20 minutes and what I had imagined as being a two-hour paddle took all day. It wasn't helped by a British Waterways staff member telling me I had to portage around the remaining locks!

However, as I neared Crinan I passed a small, brightly-painted wagon on the bank. Here Canadian imigrant artist Fraiser beckoned me over and gave me a signed postcard, telling me how Simon Osborne had stopped with him as he paddled around the UK a few years ago. Things turned even more surreal when I arrived in Crinan to find a group of grinning Welsh lifeboatmen on the bank. It turns out that Ross, Mick and Jo who had put the boat up overnight in there RNLI station at Porthcrawl two months ago [sooooo long!] were up here on a sailing trip. Once again the lads showed off Welsh hospitality with seemingly endless cups of tea, mackerel sarnies and maybe one or two beers.

The next day brought low cloud, moderate winds, lots of rain and low spirits to most in the Canal basin and I set out into the grey to reach Oban. This was one of my favourite days so far seeing the islands of Shuna and Luing and paddling through Dorus Mor (a tidal race where the water flows at 12km/h during neap tides!) and under the stunning bridge over the Atlantic. Really reminded me of Alaska with the occasional float plane flying around (when the weather cleared).

Oban was a lovely town and one I intend to visit again - I quickly met up with a bunch of Ozzies travelling around in a bright yellow bus with 'Wild and Sexy' emblazoned on the sides. It turns out that they where on a six-day Haggis Tour and proved very worthwhile drinking partners! Especially thanks to Colin (a moto-cross fan at heart) and Emma (another paddler). However, here I had the hardest desicion of the trip to make - to go up the Canal or go via Mull, Skye and Cape Wrath.

After much pondering and with a heavy heart I set off up Loch Linhe to Coran (a narrowing in the loch some 500m wide) to take the Canal. Over the next two days I make my way up the 96km of the canal (with 29 locks and 106 feet of verticle lift) passing through Loch Lochy (immaginative name - but visit the Eagle Floating Pub near Laggan) and Loch Ness (be warned it's much much longer than you think it is). Sadly the only large beasts I saw as I paddled up the loch where RAF C130 transport planes low flying along it, though a group of six paddlers from Nottingham in three open boats did make more interesting conversation. I must also say hello to Phil - I meet him just outside Fort Augustus and it turns out he was walking from top to bottom of the country - good luck to him.

I'm in Inverness now and looking forward to getting off the Canal with it's locks tomorrow! It feels strange to have cut off so much in just three days but in a way I'm relieved to see the home straight so close. I just wish I could have done the whole lot.


Sunday, 26 August 2007

Halfway to Scotland

Days 91 to 110
Sun 05 to Wed 22 Aug

Apologies for how late this blog is - I've been having trouble getting signal for the Internet!

This is just a quick recap blog to get back up to speed and it needs to cover a few points:

Good points:
  1. My GPS reads 2207km so I'm now over half-way - yippee!
  2. I'm in Scotland!
  3. I have a new trip mascot - Marty the Martian
  4. It's sunny!
  5. The scenery is stunning and getting better all the time
  6. I'm away from Blackpool (sorry if you live there)
Bad points:
  1. I'm badly behind time
  2. The boat's leaking a bit again
  3. My VHF radio is on the blink
So how do I turn the bad into good? Well... I've repaired the VHF using wire wool (yay!) and found the leaks in the boat.

The time issue however still looms. I got Rhianon (my long suffering RAF officer girlfriend) to check with her squadron's weathermen and their crystal balls and the news wasn't promising. Low pressures are expected for the next six to 10 days with NW Scotland bearing the brunt.

Because of this, and the fact I'm so far behind, I've made a difficult decision - to take the Caledonia canal and bypass Cape Wrath.

This will save me time and hopefully mean I don't get too badly behind due to weather.

I hate this idea - it feels like a complete failure as although I can still go round all of England and Wales, the UK circumnavigation is out. Sadly I'm just lagging so far behind though and I feel I can't risk the whole effort.

Worse still I miss an area of fantastic paddling that I'd really been looking forward to.

In a word: bugger.

To end this on a good note, I need to once again thank a whole list of people who have been fantastically supportive in Scotland. From Pete - a folk-singing Liverpudlian and friend of Nigel Dennis who I met in Whithorn - to Sally and the gang at The Ship Inn who looked after me so well in Drummore.

Until next time... (Hopefully with more good news.)

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Blackpool and Morecombe

Days 79 to 90
Mon 23 Jul to Sat 04 Aug

Leaving John's house in West Kirby i set on one of the sections of the trip that i've been looking forward to the least!! The muddy flatlands stretching up between Liverpool and the Scottish Borders.

Before starting this trip i purposefully did very little reading round of other peoples expeds so i didn't colour my views of anyone section because of areas they found difficult, this has mean't that i can judge each section with an open mind. However even with that Morecombe Bay still comes up as the one place 99.9% of paddlers hate - it has shallow water, unpredicatble tides, sandbanks, Shipping lanes and not very impressive views - right from the start of the trip i've been dreading this!!

The section started positively, I pass Liverpool and its sandbanks easily - playing tag with a seal off West Kirby (he followed me for about 2km surfacing and nudging my stern every 2minutes) and paddling through the rather disturbing collection of statues that have been Sprinkled on Crosby beach in the name of Modern Art. Reaching Formby i pass through the Great Altcar Army firing ranges and realise with a shock that i once spent 2 days sitting in a hut in the dunes as Sea Sentry making sure that no unsuspecting kayakers paddled into the range when we where firing - its was cold and dull then and from the water it was no better!!!

Lytham St Annes is the next stop, this is reckoned to be one of the rich areas around here and first glance confirms it - it does however have an awful lot of mud and i spend along time waiting on the RNLI jetty for the tide to come in enough to launch! Blackpool comes as a bit of a shock after Lytham - alot erhh tackier as i paddle through the increaseing Surf past its 3 piers, the Pleasure Beach (with the white knuckle ride - the Crazy Mouse!! good name) and the Tower. I get wiped out and nearly flipped right opposite the North Pier which earns me a few cheers from holiday makers.

I reach Fleetwood RNLI station on Tuesday and mechanic Steve takes me in and lets me store the boat in the D boat Shed. My girlfirend Rhiannon (i was told off for saying she was 'Ginger' she is a Redhead apparently!!) is down for 2 days and as the weather closes in (winds F5-7) we spend the time in Blackpool - including watching the Hot Ice show a 'danicng on ice spectacular' - her choice not mine!

The weather stays poor for the next 4 days with the RNLI staff advising me not to leave! Luckily help is at hand and my ex-housemates Mark and Neil travel up from worcester and take me out on the town for 2 nights of fun. In the process we discover that Blackpool is the Chav capital of the UK, home of Stag and Hen nights and that you can buy Stab vests in the pound shop for £100 (go figure) .

They leave on Monday and the weather clears, i cross Morecombe Bay in a SW 3-4 occ 5 in bright blue sunshine. Its a lovely crossing with Barrow in Furness's Submarine building sheds ahead of me, the Lake Districts hills to the right and Windfarms out to sea on my left. Things start to get alot choppier however as i near Walney Island on the North side of the bay, here an almost standing waves effect occurs as the tide rushes out over sandbanks - it became more interesting and i was certainly glad to make landfall. Such a relief though as i'm across the bay, really feels like a weight has been lifted!

That night i camp near Biggar and go for a drink in the Queens Arms where i meet Dave and Jenny. This local couple live just behind the pub and let me use their shower and sink to clean myself and my pans! They even give me a goody bag of food, bless them!

The weather closers down again and i edge forward through breaking waves to the end of the island, before heading out to Seascale the next day. Its a hard paddle into headwinds and 7hrs work only gets me 37km so im none too pleased, however yet again the scenery is good (Isle of Man on the Horizon and i think i can see Scotland ahead of me!!!) and the natives friendly.

In 1-2days time i should be in Scotland which is really exciting as i'll be starting the most exposed section of the trip. I'm worried about the time i've used getting here and really hoping for a good break in the weather - luckily todays forecast shows a few High Pressures around so i really hope to crank up the miles now.

Fingers Crossed