Sea kayaking – six months in

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In which Sarah Horton reflects on her much beloved adventure on the waters of Western Britain. And reports in on this week’s experiences back round Anglesey once again.

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I am now used to paddling ‘home and away’ as much of my kayaking experience this year has been on the sea, in Anglesey and Cornwall, but also closer to home here in Liverpool, in the docks.

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And although this can’t match the adventure and challenge of the sea, I find great pleasure in observing the familiar from a completely different angle.

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This year I decided to ‘learn to sea kayak’ after seeing these kayaks in summer 2013 from the cliffs near South Stack on Anglesey.

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How long did I imagine it would be before I did anything quite so exciting? I had no idea, so when I first got into a kayak this year, on the 11th of May 2016, little did I know I was beginning such an amazing adventure.

As in all adventures, highs, lows and frustrations have followed. After three weeks on my beginners course on the river Dee, I had my first weekend in Anglesey, a fantastic experience – blog post here.

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My confidence was on the up, here was something I might be able to do. Then on week four of my course on the river Dee the coach didn’t turn up, and no-one wanted to look after the ‘new girl’ – as I felt I was. Even at age 52, I felt just the same as the schoolgirl who was rubbish at sport and so always got put in goal for netball, never being picked for anyone’s team. The confidence I’d gained on the sea was very fragile, and it was a hard and demoralising experience; I never returned to the Dee club.

Undeterred – and still determined – I took my ‘one star’ course with Liverpool Canoe Club. I made my next trip to Anglesey in July – blog post here, two weeks later to Cornwall to Falmouth – blog post here. My confidence was returning. And for my next three Anglesey trips I’ve had one to one coaching with James Stevenson, which have been hugely enjoyable, and increased my learning and skills – and my confidence. I’ve just returned from a trip to Anglesey and it seems amazing to think that I’ve done this much – and continued to work as a self-employed funeral celebrant – in just under six months. James joked that we should ‘tick off’ the sections of coast I’ve paddled, so here they are:

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My trip to Anglesey in August involved the friendly seals – blog post here, in September things became more challenging – blog post here, but I also realised that this activity had become really important to me. I returned this week, at the beginning of November, to take things forward again with James, who is a great coach.

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I arrive in Menai Bridge on Monday afternoon, purposefully early, as I’ve always wanted to explore this road. It looks so enticing…. Beach Road.

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And down this road are several lovely houses with a view of the Menai Straits. I’ve often observed this lovely little house from the water.

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And this house is named after the water – the Swellies – the name of the waters between the two bridges.

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It’s a beautiful autumn afternoon, fully autumnal even so soon after the clocks have changed. I am mildly envious of this lone kayaker on the water, but know that I have two full days of kayaking to myself to come.

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I have come here to visit this place that I have seen from the water, Church Island. It is home to St Tysilio’s church and graveyard. (The same Tysilio mentioned in that very long train station name not too far away.)

When kayaking with Roger Chandler, we landed on the shore near here once and had our lunch back in July, and I always wanted to return for a proper explore. It’s beautiful.

So much slate here too – I always notice that in Welsh graveyards. And here a slate bench to pass some time on. With a view out into the straits.

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And, after a climb up the steps, at the top of the island is their war memorial.

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Their name liveth for evermore.

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Time to leave this lovely place.

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And, as I leave the churchyard, notice a memorial to three people who were killed during the construction of the Menai Suspension Bridge.

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Then a short stroll into Menai Bridge, along the continuation of Beach Road, and the bridge never failing to look impressive, before settling into my temporary ‘home’ further along in Beaumaris.

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And, the next day, the kayaking….

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James and I meet at Menai Bridge and study the map and the weather and tides. We decide to go up to Rhoscolyn, and start our day here at Borthwen.

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I am in a different kayak, a Delphin which is a plastic boat. The blue boat – the Romany – I have had on previous trips with James has been damaged, and will be repaired over winter.

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We happily follow the shore and cliffs, enjoying sun and cloud, arriving at Silver Bay for our lunch.

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Life, as usual, is discussed, and then we make our return.

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I pass my camera to James and he takes photos of me making our way back along the coast.

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And, I reflect, I have come such a long way from the ‘new girl’ who couldn’t get her kayak to go straight…. and I have a lot to thank James for the sense of confidence and satisfaction that I have achieved.

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The end of a good day.

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And the paddlers we met this morning arrive home at the same time, and the friendly paddler banter is observed.

The next day….

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It’s another lovely day. Still. Sunny. We meet as planned at Trearddur Bay and are going to do my first ‘shuttle’ trip. This means you meet at Point A, leave the kayaks, then travel to Point B (the end of the trip), leaving the van there, and then take transport back to Point A to begin the trip. I find this hugely confusing… wondering where I need to leave my ‘things for after the trip’ (dry clothes, towel etc…) but do actually manage to begin our trip at Trearddur bay with a kayak, paddle and essential kit, only to discover my camera is in the van at Borthwen (our end point). Ah well….

However, as we make our way from Trearddur Bay along the cliffs, I start to recognise some of the scenery. Ronnie and I walked along here in April 2014. It’s a geological phenomena, in fact it is Pre-Cambrian, some of the oldest rocks on Earth, and the cliffs are amazing. This is a photo I took from the cliffs on our walk, noticing the many colours of rocks.

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James and I stop at a shingle beach next to these rocks for our lunch. I remember the beach as the variety of rocks were incredible. In today’s sea trip along this coast we’ve explored caves, gone under arches, some choppy waters around headlands, and explored islands. We went into a cave occupied by a seal who was surprised to see us! We have sun, wind, seaweed and then lunch on a deserted shingle beach. This is why I do this. Life feels incredibly important, special, precious – to give myself the ‘treat’ of this. It’s very special.

This is White Arch, the photo taken by me from the cliff in 2014. Today we paddle under it. And – to me – this is as exciting as that photo from South Stack years ago with the kayaks. That I am the person, in a kayak, on the water. And it’s only six months since I first sat in one.

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Another photo from the cliffs that Ronnie and I walked. James and I paddle out to those islands, where we see seals. Not possible on foot! That’s Roscolyn Beacon on the island, an ancient shipping marker.

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Without my camera I don’t have anything else to show you of this day. But it was a magical day. Perhaps my ‘best’ day on the water? We end at Borthwen. Today I am in the green Romany boat.

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I have been the navigator today. I also did the tidal planning charts. Which were ‘perfect’ – said James.

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Such a great day.

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And then we packed up the kayaks and went home.

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The end.

But of course it’s not the end is it dear reader? Merely the end of the beginning. So I feel sure Sarah will be back, even as winter closes in, to tell us of her further adventures on the water.

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