Sarah goes sea kayaking: The Marshlands, by boat

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In which brave Sarah goes out into the more than choppy waters of the Dee Estuary and the boundaries of her comfort zone are well and truly pushed.

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December 2016. The Shining Shore, Dee sailing club slipway visible in the distance.

One of my favourite places in the whole world is ‘The Shining Shore’ – the shining waters and mudflats of the Dee Estuary. Me and Ronnie have walked all along this shore, from Parkgate to West Kirby, and have a default walk which starts at Thurstaston, goes inland  through lanes and woodland, and emerges on the beach and the cliffs at Thurstaston for the last stretch. We’ve done it so many times in the last six years I feel I could probably do it blindfold. We also walk further up the shore, further inland where the marsh is gradually encroaching, and we call that part ‘The Marshlands’. And yet each time we walk here there is always something to see – wildflowers, the change in the light, the birds in the estuary…. Here’s a selection of photographs of this part of the world from the last five years.

Over the years we’ve observed the cliffs erode, the marsh becoming larger. And the tidal flow in and out of the cut through the marsh. During our years of walking I didn’t imagine that I would enter the marsh through this cut. But this weekend I did.

My latest kayaking adventure starts at the Dee sailing club slipway, nearing high tide on Sunday 26 February 2017.

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My Romany kayak. Ready to launch as high tide approaches, the waves are coming in.

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Looking like an OK sea state.

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I am one of a group of 16 paddlers on this trip today. Most of us have spent three Saturday mornings this year together at the dock in Liverpool doing an ‘Improvers sea kayaking’ course. Our coaches are Gareth Jones, Alan Peachment and John Fay. John can’t join us this weekend due to a back injury, so Gareth and Alan are joined by some other club members to take the ‘improvers’ on a sea trip. We had hoped we could paddle to Hilbre Island today – further up in this estuary, but it’s been too windy and there is swell in the tide so we’re turning left and making our way towards Parkgate.

So, I’m looking forward to viewing a favourite part of the shore, but from the water. I was hoping to show you photographs I’d take from the water of the cliffs we’ve observed over the last few years walking here.

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December 2016

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But, dear reader, the sea state I showed you as we entered the water became much more serious. Here’s a photo taken by Sarah Jones who has been the ‘official photographer’ of our course. (Thanks Sarah).

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Photo: Sarah Jones

There was a lot of swell and confused waters. It was a bit overwhelming for me… but part of my kayaking adventure is that it is exactly that, an adventure. And I am pushing the boundary of my comfort zone. It was, to be fair, pushed a bit more than I would have liked. So, no photos, as I grip the paddle and concentrate on keeping my bow into the incoming waves. (Hitting a wave from the side increases chance of capsize, so a sea kayak performs well if it can push through oncoming waves.)

As the seemingly endless waves continue, one of my coaches Alan has very kindly stayed right with me and tells me that ‘soon’ the sea state will change as we will be in the channel. I know there is a channel here, as I have seen it many times during our walking, at various states of tide. Here is is:

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October 2013

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November 2012

So I am quite relieved (that’s an understatement) when we do finally get into the channel, the sea is much easier. Soon after we then arrive at Heswall boat yard, also home to Sheldrakes bar, and we are going to stop on the shore here for our elevenses.

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It feels strange to approach this familiar bit of shore from the sea.

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And to paddle ‘in the marsh’. It is very shallow.

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I am more used to this stretch of shore looking like this:

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December 2016

After our break we head back into the cut. The tide has turned now and the ebbing tide is hard to paddle against, and we are also paddling into the wind.

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We don’t make it as far as Parkgate, but raft up briefly here, by the blue railings. The seaside town that is now a marsh.

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This strange bit of shoreline where the railings sit like a ghost resort.

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October 2013

We turn back and head back to the boat yard.

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As the tide is quickly ebbing out we have an easy paddle back, the wind pushing us easily back, and then a very muddy landing in the marsh.

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As usual friendly paddling banter is observed.

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A fellow paddler, Mark, has returned by sea and has a van, and we are waiting for him to pick us up. We then go by van to the Dee sailing club, get our cars and return here. And we pack up our boats.

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Time to leave here, with a very muddy boat. And back at the Dee sailing club we have a drink and a chat. As I leave the club house the estuary is now looking very different at 3pm, so five hours since we set off, it doesn’t look like it could have been such a hostile environment.

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Looking down towards Parkgate – the white buildings just visible in the distance.

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Memories of so many happy times on this shore, now seen from a different perspective.

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December 2016

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December 2016

Thank you to my new friends at the Liverpool Canoe Club for a great day on the water. Thanks to coaches Gareth, Alan, John with support from Mark, Ian and Keith.

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Photo: Sarah Jones

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