Exploring the littoral: On Sarah’s Birthday

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“Although I am always happy to recognise that I have lived another year of my life (and there were times in the last decade when that was not always to be taken for granted), birthdays have now become a reminder of the ‘missing years’ as I now think of those years of treatment. And, I still find, I am surprised at my age, as most of those ten years seem to have simply vanished – some to treatment, some to depression. I am not ungrateful that I am still well, or for the treatment and care I received during that time, but the shadows of those days remain. The recovery was long and the impact on our lives lasted for years, for both me and Ronnie in so many ways.”

Sarah, on her birthday, 2017

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I like it here, in the littoral zone. Always have. On childhood holidays the beach always had a special lure, a pull, whatever the weather. Whether it was paddling barefoot, swimming or exploring rock pools. I have always been happy in the littoral.

No surprise then to find that decades later I am still exploring rock pools and the shore, endlessly fascinated by what I can find here. One of the delights of my sea kayaking adventure is how close it brings me to nature, to the watery delights of the littoral. For my birthday weekend I am spending two days on a ‘Sea Kayak Sea Life’ course with Dr Lou Luddington (marine biologist) and Jonny Eldridge (sea kayaker and coach).

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I am welcomed to my temporary home in Anglesey by my AirBnB host Caroline, staying in Menai Bridge this time.

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Our group of nine meet on Saturday morning and spend some time discussing the littoral and strand line, and being in the marine environment. Lou also introduces us to her ‘top ten’ marine things, which is fascinating. She encourages us to think about our own ‘top ten’ after we’ve spent some more time exploring.

We then go down to the beach, at Porth Dafarch.

Where we are encouraged to explore, and bring our finds for discussion. Seaweeds, of course, but also a surprising amount of man-made items – and especially plastic.

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Lou tells us about #2minutebeachclean – a campaign set up by surfer Martin Dorey to encourage us to spend just two minutes every time we are on a beach to collect plastic. We are all very enthusiastic about this and take up the two minute challenge at every beach we stop at. (We find lots of those thin blue plastic items, I always assumed they were straws, and wondered why there were so many on beaches. They are in fact the stem of cotton buds, which have found their way to the beach through the sewage system.)

We then make our way to the south of the island and get on the water in the Menai Straits, down at the south end near the Halen Mon salt company, to make our way up to the bridges, against the ebb tide.

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Much seaweed is observed.

And this is my birthday present – the yellow paddle, my spare, happily now on the front deck with my bilge pump. Happy Birthday to me.

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Stopping for lunch, and more seaweed is observed.

Passing Plas Newydd (a posh house dating from 1470 and now a National Trust property, so I think that’s all you need to know about that).

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With its very grand boathouse entrance. Nice.

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And then the Britannia Bridge comes into view.

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The Britannia Bridge, opened in 1850.

And we land at the small harbour of Pwllfanogl. This was home to a slate dressing factory in the late 1800s, and the remains of slate workings cover the beach. A fellow kayaker tells me that slate was brought from the factory at Penrhyn, near Bethesda – his grandfather had worked there.

So ending our first day with me back at Menai Bridge. After sorting out my kit and getting ready for Sunday, I go out for fish and chips, alone, reflecting on being 54. Birthdays now, post breast cancer, are different, as I observed last year when I was in Anglesey sea kayaking, having bought myself new kayaking kit for my birthday.

Although I am always happy to recognise that I have lived another year of my life (and there were times in the last decade when that was not always to be taken for granted), birthdays have now become a reminder of the ‘missing years’ as I now think of those years of treatment. And, I still find, I am surprised at my age, as most of those ten years seem to have simply vanished – some to treatment, some to depression. I am not ungrateful that I am still well, or for the treatment and care I received during that time, but the shadows of those days remain. The recovery was long and the impact on our lives lasted for years, for both me and Ronnie in so many ways. So it is birthdays – and not the anniversary of my diagnosis – that are tinged with that sadness and the realisation, always, of the missing years, but also of the impermanence of being a human. It always seems to sneak up behind me and jump out at my birthday now, on the cusp of autumn, the dwindling of the year. And I know this sounds sobering, and it is – but this realisation, that life is only special because it’s temporary, because it will end, is stark. Which – in fact – isn’t such a bad thing to realise.

‘We are not promised tomorrow.’ – Caleb Wilde

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The Menai Bridge, completed in 1826.

Tomorrow arrives. The weather forecast isn’t great, and on the beach at Porth Dafach conditions are obviously pretty lumpy out at sea. It is also pouring with rain. I laugh with a fellow kayaker and say, ‘I’ve paid to be doing this, to be on a beach in the rain on my birthday!’ We laugh and he hugs me. I am happy to be here, I could stay here all day.

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54, and enjoying a birthday paddle, but not barefoot.

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We explore on the beach, extending our seaweed knowledge to shells…

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And, to my delight, we find this sea anemone, one I’ve not seen before – Urticina felina. It turns out Lou did her PhD in anemones and is something of an expert on them. I am in good company!

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We then make our way up the the north coast, to Bull Bay and launch our kayaks from there.

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Exploring the seaweedy rocks. I love this environment, as does Lou (in the photo above she is in the kayak in front of me wearing the blue cag).

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Heading out into the bay where we spot porpoises.

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And then make our way along the coast, towards Cemaes, a trip I have made several times before, but in different weather, at different states of tide, this is always an interesting trip.

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We stop for a chat about safety whilst exploring close to rocky shores. This is Jonny – he’s recently completed a solo circumnavigation of Ireland (in a sea kayak, and in 34 days, which is quite an achievement). I am in good company!

We carry on along this lovely north coast of Anglesey.

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Now understanding more about the colouring on the rocks (lichen in the splash zone and seaweed  – Pelvetia canaliculata – at the upper level of the tide).

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Arriving at the old brick works for our lunch. I’ve never been here at high tide before and so this is the first time I kayak through this arch – which I have always wanted to do.

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Time to leave, the day is very grey, an autumn feel has arrived.

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We arrive back at Cemaes, ending our weekend of exploration. I love a good list and so my ‘top ten’ will follow. Thank you to Lou and Jonny for a great two days.

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Happy Birthday to me.

See all of the ‘Letters from Sarah’ here.

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I stayed at Menai Fron, thanks to Caroline for a lovely room in her home on AirBnb.

Marine biologist Dr Lou Luddington – more about Lou here.

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Dr Lou Luddington

Sea kayaker and coach Jonny Eldridge – more about Jonny here.

2 thoughts on “Exploring the littoral: On Sarah’s Birthday

  1. Pam

    Plas Newydd my favourite NT property where there’s a wonderful mural by Rex Whistler. Completed just before he was killed during WW2 in 1944. Well worth a visit. Happy Birthday Sarah

    Reply
  2. Mr Andrew Wright

    Happy Birthday Sarah, great Blog. We were on Bangor Pier the other day. Council owned, and with a sign on the gate that plastic flowers are banned on the pier. Thought that was strange until we realised that the pier has memorial plaques along it, together with a vase for flowers. Of course, people put plastic ones in, they blow into the sea, and you get to pick them up or they are ingested by fish and eventually enter the food chain. What a strange world!

    Reply

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