Thursday, April 21, 2011

Skyes the Limit

The van's packed, the cottage is waiting and we're all primed to head up to Sligachan for a week on Skye.  Due to the annual allignment and the fantastic timing of Kate and Wills we're taking advantage of 2 long bank holidays to get 11 days paddling and walking for 3 days leave.  With the promise of plenty of headlands, islands, caves and geos it's looking like a fantastic weeks paddling as long as the weather shapes up and stays sunny.

Back in the Saddle

It's been a while since I've been out properly on the bike, October in Afan was the last time I rode for real, so it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I ended up organising something of a large ride round the penmachno trails on Sunday.

A mixture of Shrewsbury Canoe Club members and Entec bods met at the Conwy Falls Cafe ( ready to head off into the Penmachno forest to ride both of the mountain bike trails.  The weather was as good as we could hope for with the sun shining down and once we topped out we were treated to fantastic views down the Conwy Valley and the across to the mountains in the North.

The Penmachno trail is one of my favourite man made trails benfitting from a mixture of a fantastic location mixed with a trail that is sympathetic to the local conditions built so that you can make it as hard as you want by winding up the speed that you ride it.

The group joined the trail at the far end of Loop 2 joining at the start of a long section of continuous singletrack, starting in the trees ...

before making our way out into the more open traverse.

The riding quickly took it's toll on both bikes and bodies.

6 months of paddling had taken their toll on the legs of a few of us in the group and by the time we reached the far end of our ride, the start of the normal route, Dan and I decided to cut our losses and head back for the tea and cakes whilst the others finished the route off.  Riding back down the valley we came across a giant cuddly racoon stuck up on a telegraph pole.  There are some strange people in them there hills.

After polishing off a lamb burger and seeing Dan off the others soon arrived having managed to get a bit lost, having to crosss a field and having a shotgun let off by a friendly farmer to encourage them on their way.

Despite only managing to get half the ride done it's certainly fired the enthusiasm to get back on the bike, with the days drawing out and the promise of dry trails locally it's time to get out in the evening.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

North Coast of Anglesey

Having whetted his appetite with a Sea Kayak Nav Course (courtesy of Mr Tozer Myself and Bill had been trying to get the ideal trip to break Dave in to the world of sea paddling.  Dave is an experienced ww paddler but the whole pointy boat thing is a little alien to him.  With neap tides, light winds and sunshine forecast a trip along the north coast of Anglesey seemed the ideal trip, with cliffs, beaches, a bit of tidal squeezing and lunch in the fabulous Porth Wen brickworks then if you don't like this then you won't like the sea.

Six of us set out from Cemaes with the start of the flood to paddle along the coast round point Lynas and finishing just north of Moelfre.  The wind was a little brisker than expected and with it opposing the tide we were in for a choppy paddle as we headed east. 

A trio of Romany's setting off.

Bill and Dave setting out

We made our way along the coast ducking in and out of the rocks and gullies along the shoreline ...

and enjoying the lumpy sections as the tide was squeezed past the headlands against the wind.

We stopped at Porth Wen for lunch.

Ruth surrounded by lunch.

Bill infront of the brickworks

Hauled out on the beach.

The wind had died down and swung to the north as we headed past east mouse towards Point Lynas in the distance ...

before being whisked past through the tide race.

The remaining paddle was a little disappointing with the scenery not really matching up to what had come before and the back eddy running stronger than we'd expected into our faces until we reached the take out.

It did tick off the fourth lighthouse of the year as i rounded the point.  The lighthouse on Point lynas has been around since 1779 as a pair of oil lamps on a tower.  The light was built in it's current form in 1835 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.  The light is situated at the bottom of the tower the same arrangement as that of the disused light on the Great Orme.  You can now rent the old keepers accomodation if you fancy a stay.

Skiing Tignes

After a great week last year we returned to Tignes again stopping with Snowstar in Chalet Chardon once again.  In Tignes Le Lac the chalet combines a good food with an amazing view from the window and a lift and run on the doorstep.

Looking out of the window

This year we went with some trepidation having heard rumours of poor conditions.  The drive up the Isere valley the rumours proved founded but Tignes came up trumps and despite some slushy conditions below the resort there were only one or two runs closed. 

Not bad for a poor year

The weather proved a little tempramental but it didn't stop us getting out.

The Espace Killy resport provides a hugh area to ski with everything from high exposed glaciers to tree lined skinnies, and there is usually something to go at whatever your ability and whatever the weather.  With Ruth taking it easier this year we tended to stick to blues and easy reds although what she made of Ali taking her down the Black back into the resort I can't put into print.

The European Winter X Games were in town and with several of the Journo's stopping in our chalet it seemed rude not to go and have a look.  The nighttime mens ski halfpipe finals certainly realigned my thoughts on what is possible.

The Skerries

The Skerries is somewhere I've managed to not get round to visiting, I've looked out to it from various places around Anglesey but for some reason I've gone elsewhere.  In Early March Myself and Bill decided to head over, with spring tides and only a few weeks to the spring equinox we were going to be facing some strong currents so we'd planned the route to make as much use of the tides as possible.

We headed out from Cemlyn Bay with THV Patricia at the mouth cleaning up the cardinal mark.

THV Patricia servicing the navigation mark off Harry Furloughs

Bill looking out of Cemlyn Bay

As we paddled out the tide was just starting to Ebb but the sea was smooth and glassy but with overfalls forming as the back eddy died away.  We headed due north letting the current pull us slowly westwards until we arrived just north of the Coal Rock cardinal mark sat on the deck of the Patricia.  At this point we turned and with our bows pointed at the north end of the Skerries set off with the building ebb.  A long lazy swell built with the tide as we made our way across to the island.

Bill with Carmel Head and North Stack in the background

It was only as we reached the Skerries that the full force of even the early stages of the tide made themselves known with chop and boils building as the swell and the tide combined surging between the gaps between the islands.  The tide jetted us through the swirly water to deposit us by the landing site for the lighthouse.

There has been a light on the islands since 1716 with a brazier on the top of a tower, however it didn't take it's current form until it was bought by Trinity House in 1836.  We took the opportunity to explore the island and the lighthouse as we arrived before the birds had settled in for the year.  Walking around we could hear the seals singing on the far side of the island.

Some ugly bugger by a lighthouse

We finished lunch in time for the flow to have built to it's peak as we set out for a determined ferry glide across the flow to return to the mainland, much further away now that the tide was fairly roaring past the island.

Looking back along the north coast.

Looking across to North Stack

The crossing back was as tiring as we expected keeping our noses up to avoid losing too much ground and allowing us to drop neatly into Church bay.  The eddy in the middle of the channel gave us a helpful upstream boost as can be seen from the track Bill kept.

Who's stolen all the bouys?

Heading out to the Skerries we found some theiving pikey stealing all the cardinal marks.

As I headed out the THV Patricia was busy maintaining the Cardinal marks to the north of the Carmel Head.  It was very disconcerting to paddle round Harry Furloughs looking for the cardinal mark to not find it.  It was sat onboard the boat being overhauled.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Take a Walk on the Mild Side

South Stack lighthouse, built in 1809, is a proper lighthouse, in the childrens drawing mould, with a tall white tower standing atop cliffs on an island with strong tidal races forming around it.  All in all everything that draws me to these places.

South Stack Lighthouse

On the last weekend of January we headed off to take advantage of the settled high pressure system and the neap tides to run from Treaddur bay under the cliffs to Soldiers Point in Holyhead.  The others in the group hadn't done this paddle before and we've all been a little out of action over the winter so the neap tides allowed a trip to be planned that meant we had an easy trip on one of my favourite section of coastline.

The tides also meant that for the northward trip from Treaddur Bay we could have a lazy start, I certainly appreciated this having spent Saturday night playing polo in Stockport with a resulting late return home. We arrived at Treaddur to see another group taking advantage of the end of the ebb to head towards Rhoscolyn looking very scenic in the distance.

Rhoscolyn Beacon

We had a leisurely change and shuttle beofre starting out towards Porth Dafarch just before midday, at Porth Dafarch we had a quick lunch, the wind whilst light was quite peircing even in the shelter. Once back on the water we paddled round to Penrhyn Mawr to as the run was entering it's 2nd hour, the current was noticeable but the notorious waves of the headland were rather muted as we skirted through on the inside playing in the inshore channels until South Stack came into view. The lighthouse was a little less imposing than usual with the overcast skies not bringing out it's photogenic best.

South Stack from Penrhyn Mawr

As the tide would hardly of turned off South Stack we decided to head into Abrahams Bosom to investigate the caves and rock gardens in the cliffs underneath Elins Tower.

Claire Paddling into one of the Caves in Abraham's Bosom

Ruth in the rock garden beneath Elin's Tower

We popped out of one of the channels to be faced with the sight of South Stack lighthouse standing out into the sea. The cliffs overlooking the light were lined with seabirds already, try as we might to tread lightly some of them left their perches and circled overhead, a fine sight if a little awkward.  With the calm conditions we decided to squeeze through the rocks in the channel between the island and mainland, and emerged into to Gogarth bay to be met with the huge cliffs. The benign conditions meant it was possible to get right in close to them to really experience the full scale of them.

Ruth & Claire in Gogarth Bay

Mark in under the cliffs

As we closed in on North Stack the cliffs became punctured with caves begging to be explored. It was only polite that we obliged them! You can't paddle in without the formulaic out of the cave photo so here we go.

Ruth in the cave mouth

In the inshore channel at North Stack some small waves were forming allowing some easy surfing, the weather and water temperature did dampen the enthusiasm to stay for too long, and you've got to leave something to come back to in the summer. Rounding North Stack the wild nature of the cliffs dies away to be replaced by the more industrial views as we approached Holyhead. At Soldiers Point we faced the hardest part of the trip, carrying the boats up the steep, loose rocky shore to the cars.

St Tudwals Islands

The lighthouse on St Tudwal's Island was built in 1877, and sits on St Tudwal's West.  It's not the prettiest light in the world as it's only a stumpy little affair standing only 11 metres high but the islands and the surrounding scenery make up for that.

St Tudwal's Island Lighthouse

As we drove westwards along the Llyn Peninsula there wasn't a breath of wind and the sea was mirror calm.  Late in January with a chill in the air we were never going to have to worry about the usual crowds you find in Abersoch but it was surprising to find it as empty as we did as we unloaded the boats.

The spring tides swept us on to the top of the the East island where we headed down the East side with the low cliffs to one side of us and the mountains of Snowdonia in the haze across the bay.

Ruth with Snowdonia in the Background

The South end of the island produced higher cliffs and several interesting caves to explore, as we investigated the caves we were investigated by the locals. Last seasons seal pups were lively enough to want to get involved and played around the boats as we paddled back up the west side of the island.

Cave Photo

Checked out by the Locals

We paddled across the sound to the West island to be greeted by friendly signs telling us in no uncertain terms that we were no welcome, you'd have thought mr Gryll's would have been a bit more welcoming to intrepid explorers.  After rounding the West Island we decided to head South round the headland to take a break on the beach in Porth Ceiriad, this stretch of coast provided more cliffs and caves but just felt much less wild, which was a little disappointing.

Mark heading into a cave back on the mainland

After a pleasant paddle we were just left with the paddle back to Abersoch, unfortunately the wind had been rising through the day, and we were left with a pull back against the wind and tide.  The beach huts along the beach in Abersoch brightened up what could have been a slog and we were soon repacking the cars ready to head home having warmed ourselves up for the year and ticked off the 1st of my lighthouses.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Welsh Lighthouses

I enjoy paddling in the wild areas of our coastline and for me nothing sybolises this as much as the lighthouses that surround our coastline.  Standing proud above storm swept headlands, marking the tideraces and rocky outcrops that are the highlight of my sea paddling trips.

With this in my mind I thought I'd aim to paddle round all of the Welsh lighthouses this year.  A check of the lighthouses shows that around Wales there are 14 'proper' active lighthouses.  There are a number of active lights on the end of harbours which I'm ignoring for the sake of this exercise, mostly because I can't be bothered with paddling round the Holyhead and Fishguard breakwaters but also because a ligghthouse the big white tower on the cliffs or rocks.

Running anticlockwise around the coast from the North East the lighthouses I'm intending to visit are:
  • Point Lynas
  • The Skerries
  • South Stack
  • Bardsey
  • St Tudwals
  • Strumble Head
  • South Bishop
  • The Smalls
  • Skokholm
  • St Annes Head
  • Mumbles Head
  • Caldey Island
  • Nash Point and
  • Flat Holm
I've ummed and aahed about including The Smalls within the list because of the how far it lies offshore but having looked at the options it may be possible so for completeness and just because of the story behind it I feel it needs to be included even if I don't make it out there.

The list also misses out several iconic 'lighthouses' such as the Point of Ayr and Twyrn Du but as these are no longer active then, just as the Smalls are included then these aren't.