Thursday, 31 March 2011

Scarborough March 2011

The start of season meet for the North West Sea Kayakers was based round Scarborough last weekend. It's not really a start of season meet as many of us carry on paddling right through the year but it's a great excuse to have a good time and catch up with some of the gang from further a field.
The sea was too lively on Friday for a paddle so a walk was the best option along the cliffs at Sandsend and the wave cut platforms covered with fossils. The cliffs were scarred with Alum mining and processing. Alum was used in the middle ages to stabilise natural dyes instead of wee. By the shore the Alum leaches out like dense cotton wool though fossilised mud that is  slatelike and layered.
giant horsetails

having a break
Alum is toxic so the area for processing were bare and lifeless but the huge gouged out hollows were left as wildlife habitats. The ponds swarmed with singing toads having a mass tumble in the weeds and sun.                                                         
The very unstable cliff is pock marked by dug out holes left by brave people with dented heads looking for jet which is fossilized monkey puzzle tree.


On Saturday morning a group of us set of from Scarborough heading south towards Filey. The sea undulated with a smooth deep swell which formed beautiful tunnel waves before they broke and boomed from the cliffs. We kept well away. Things became more lively as the wind picked up and paddling into this always feels like paddling in drying cement- tedious and energy sapping. Some of our group found it heavy going and as we approached the headland at Filey Brigg I could see swell breaking heavily on the reefs. It was a difficult but inevitable decision to turn back and deal with surfing all the way back to Scarborough. It is exhilarating to feel every part of me focusing and gliding over dancing waves..the nearest thing I will get to walking on water. Fulmars with their fat rugby bodies and kohl smokey eyes floated to check us out and guillemots, one razorbill and a pair of frantically flapping puffins passed us by too.
post paddle pow wow with silly shenanagans
 As usual we held the eating olympics that evening as one of the best bits of paddling is the amount of refueling one needs and it was absolutely delicious  ( thanks to the Robinsons!)

I had decided with that I would walk again the next day with some pals as I thought the residual swell caused by a big North sea fetch would be too much for my little arms. We walked over the cliffs at Flamborough Head and the sights were stunning. A colony of kittiwakes hustled for space on the cliff edges and a pair of choughs glided effortlessy though the breeze. It's funny how birds are named afer their the kittwakes and chough.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Hillfort Glow

On Saturday evening I was part of an event that may not have happened for a thousand or more years. I was part of a mass experiment,  organised by The Heather and Hillforts Project of the Clwydian Range,  which used light beacons to signal from one Ironage Hillfort to the next across North East Wales and Cheshire. This was made more magical as it was close to the equinox and the moon was sureally beautiful as it was  the closest it has been to the earth for 20 years and appeared like a watery watermelon out of the horizon to the west.
Moel Arthur from Penyclodiau..see the rampart 'collar'

A small group of would be hillfort dwellers (us!) walked up from Llangwyfan pass to the cairn at the top of Penycloddiau Hillfort. Penycloddiau is huge and it's double and triple ramparts wash up the sides forming large heather waves of earth and stone. These would have been topped with high fences with gated entrances long ago. It is 26 hectares and has a small lake fed with a spring in the middle. There was space for a fair size village here a thousand years looks over the mountains of Snowdonia, the Berwyns, The Ormes, The Irish Sea, The Dee Estuary and over The Cheshire Plains. If anyone was coming to get them they would be spotted in plenty of time.
Penycloddiau (our) flare

Flares were let off at the  hillforts at Corwen (Caer Drewen), Moel Fenlli (by Moel Famau), Moel Arthur (next to our hillfort and we could see the gang standing on there), Moel y Gaer (Rhosesmor), Maiden castle (Cheshire), Beeston Castle, Helsby, Burton Point and Kelsborrow.
Meol y Gaer flare and melon moon

The idea was for all the other hillforts to signal with light beacons and torches to the 'flare' hillfort when we saw their flare. It was great craic and so beautiful and exciting to see the wild landscape alive with distant flasing lights all secretly sending their light code into the dark.

flashing like mad ejets

At the end each hillfort let off another flare in quick succession and  the whole landscape sky was hung with flashes drifting down to earth....beautiful, magical and sparking all sorts of stories of long ago people in my imagination.

Moel Arthur and Moel Fenlli flashing at us

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bardsey March 2011

 I was asked along on a sea kayking trip to Bardsey with overnight  stay.  I love Bardsey but did wonder if I would be up to the challenge as it was with a very strong group and the sea can be alive with tidal currents especially on spring tide and although the long range forecast was good at this time of year anything can happen with weather.
But the reasons to go got the better and I jumped into getting ready for it. I have been in challenging seas before  and coped well ...I just needed to grab more chances to build up my self belief.
And wow did I make the right call  as  I have been mulling over the beautiful scenes of Bardsey and the Lleyn Peninsula  and how well me and my boat coped with the sea conditions and holding my own in the group.
The trip was organised (brilliantly as usual) by Kev and Gill for  her 50th birthday.  There are some tricky elements to consider ( the black art) as the tidal force changes the line of padding and missing the island is a real possibility and by how much depends on the speed of paddler, wind, tidal rate is rocket science to me sometimes!
Kev and Gill (whoops-water on lens)

Bardsey is 'Ynys Enlli' in Welsh which means Island of Currents. Enlli means 'to win' in welsh and those tidal races that swirl around the headlands of the end of the Lleyn Penninsula and Bardsey do feel like they intend to take no prisoners if the mood strikes them.
This was my third trip to Bardsey and as always it seems to envelope me in a little timeless capsule when I am on the island but the feeling of endless space is overpowering when I stand on the highest point, Mynydd Enlli.

The journey along the cliffs of the Lleyn was gentle enough and we had some tidal help from the ebb. But as we approached the end we had to head at a more westerly angle  to avoid being pulled into Swnt Enlli ( Bardesey Sound) by the force of the tide. We had to get past Maen Bugail (a rock) before we could start turning for the island. I could hear the roar of water gnashing it's teeth at me as put more welly into my stroke to avoid the maw of the sound.

Kev with Bardsey in the backround

As we lined up with the island we then hugged the shore to pull up on Porth Solfach for our first footfall on Bardsey. After a quick bite on butties we headed south meeting some seals on the way. Some have beautiful spaniel like faces with large soft brown eyes, some are shy and stay away or slide off rock into the safety of the water and some follow our kayaks, snorting  loudly to shoo us away. I always try to keep a repectful distance. One big lad tangoed me with a faceful of water when he surfaced and splatted me with water.
spot the seal

A short paddle on a glassy sea led us to Henllwyn where the slipway is and Richard (who works for the Bardesy trust and surveys birds) brought our stuff on a mini little truck to the cosy house (outside grass loo, no electricity and no shower but perfect)
the  cosy house
cosy house with us lot and Richard and Gizelle (Bardey Trust people)
After a desperately needed cuppatea we headed off to walk to the light house with working fog horn. The last time I stayed on the island it was bellowing out a mournful tune into the small hours. Each fog horn has it's own tune and Bardsey one is carved into my brain after a sleepless nite.

It has been a place of pilgrim for centuries and it is said that 20,000 saints are buried by the old abbey.

Pilgrims are said to have left from the south west side of the end of the Penninula where there is a holy freshwater spring that comes out of the cliff by Porth Felen
'Respect the remains of 20,000 saints who were buried on near this spot'

The farmer who lives on the island (who sea kayaks as well) said when area around abbey was excavated countless skulls were found.

We all shared a hearty meal with the whole population of the island that Kev and Gill had invited along- the lovely family with 2 teenage children and Richard and Gizelle, the bird survey people. They were hopeful the 'Manxies'-manx shearwaters would show up that evening as they tend to return to nest early Spring and like to come back when it is really dark as they cannot cope very well on land and waddle into their burrows. However, they stayed out to sea.The last time I was on the island the sound of their calls was like ghost cackling in the night and it would send chills down your neck.
I woke the next morning to the sound of a wild wind howling at my window and I thought I'd better have a good look at the sea before setting me and my boat in it.

The end of the peninsula from top of Bardsey
After sticking sausages in the oven we headed for the top of the mountain to check out the sea state. it was swirly and I found it hard to figure out what the messy looking water was up to. From on high we decided on a journey route and marched down to our sausage bap breakfast.

Once on the water it was lively enough straight away (by my standards) but the banter was cheerful and lively so I  felt full of adventure and up for it and I just loved the feeling of my new boat and me riding the tide and roller coaster waves as we headed north east towards the high cliff of the land in the distance. We kept a really tight group so we could see each other and communicate more easily just in case......!
Getting into the right position is vital as if you miss your place you could end up going off to Pembroke so constant power and focus is needed and my adrenadine was keeping me and my boat right on track.

We didn't head straight into shore but took the long way home between the goal mouth of the Gwylans (islands) and had a lunch stop at Porth Ysgo where 2 large birds of prey were being haranged by crows.
Gwylan Fawr and Gwylan Bach
Gill, Christian, john with Bardsey and Pen y Cil behind

Eventually we landed at Aberdaron and the usual car shuttle connected the right people up with the right kayaks and cars.

Another top trip was praised and pondered over a table full of tea, cappucinos and scones on the balcony of the hotel overlooking the beach in the gorgeous sunshine.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tree Creeper

I spotted a tree creeper this evening while walking on bottom path of Pwyll Gwyn Woods. I recognised him as he did exactly what his name tag says...have never seen one before.
Lovely evening bathed in amber sunlight from an effervescent sunball