Archive for June 2008
I was just reading John Gilmour’s blog – right this moment while I’m sitting on the couch with my feet up (watching Britain’s latest tennis nearly-but-not-quite), the crew of Swanage’s Inshore Lifeboat have launched. I wish them a safe and successful evening, but I don’t envy them.
That reminded me that I haven’t shown you this yet (picture above). The money was raised by those of you who attended my talk on the weekend of the book launch. Thanks to you all, and thanks again to Palm Equipment, Ocean Paddler Magazine and Seacornwall.com who donated some rather lovely prizes for the raffle.
Another weekend spent at home in Purbeck with the wind ripping along. Indeed, it has barely stopped blowing since last weekend, and looks set to continue.
A few of us went for a paddle around Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour today, but it was a bit of a grind and I’m fairly sure that we made more progress backwards than forwards.
The endless wind has kept me ashore on quite a few occasions lately, making me rather worried that I’m not going to be very fit for Scotland when I set off for my Very Big Trip in three weeks’ time. On the bright side though, I’ve spent most of the weekend (and previous weeks) MTBing, so at least I might be halfway fit for Something Big that I’m trying next weekend.
Clovelly is a unique village in north Devon, its cobbled high street so steep that donkey-harnessed sleds were used to transport goods from the small harbour. Keep careful hold of your icecream.
Tyneham village is a short walk inland from Worbarrow Bay in Dorset. In 1943, it was decided to use it for D-Day training exercises. The Army requisitioned the village and surrounding valley from the Bond family who owned the estate. Residents were given one month in which to gather their belongings (which, as they were tenants, usually amounted to little) before eviction. The Bonds were promised that the land would be returned to them after the war.
The Army simply reneged on their promise, and the land is still owned by the military today. The village was poorly maintained by the soldiers, and fell into ruin. Only the church and schoolhouse remained roofed. The Elizabethan manor house was completely destroyed, with stone features being carted off to decorate the houses of certain senior staff. A display inside the church insists that the village needed to be kept as a vital training ground for the Cold War, but others have suggested that Tyneham’s main appeal to the Army was as a unofficial private pheasant and deer shooting estate for officers.
Under pressure from high profile protests, in the 1970s the Army allowed public access to Tyneham and began the task of preserving what was left.
We visited whilst paddling past this weekend. We noted that a huge amount of preservative work has been done in the past few years, both in terms of opening up more of the village and in terms of explaining about life in the village through information panels. Particularly poignant are the photos of the ‘children’ of Tyneham, visiting as pensioners. Those few still alive retain the forlorn hope that one day their homes might be returned to them.
More info in this splendid book.
“This weekend’s weather is very unusual for this time of year”, noted the guy infront of the weather map on telly. He wasn’t kidding, with torrential rain and gale force winds expected across England.
We* were rather annoyed, as we’d planned to head to west Cornwall and paddle around the Land’s End peninsula. As the forecasts worsened through the week, we scaled back our plans to a trip around the Isle of Wight, then to sheltered local trips.
It wasn’t such a bad weekend at all. On Saturday we launched under slate grey skies and drizzling rain to paddle from Kimmeridge to Lulworth Cove and back. With mild winds and swell this proved to be splendid rockhopping fun. We got home just before the heavy rain and strong winds came, and enjoyed a rather hefty lobster that we’d obtained from the Lulworth Cove fishmonger.
Today, the sun was blazing but the washing was being blown off the line. Softies that we are, we went walking.
After our stroll, we lunched at the splendid Square and Compass pub. The pub overlooks the sea and is in the village of Worth Matravers, where the bodies of the crew of the SS Treveal** are buried.
*I was stuck paddling with girls … again. Where are all the blokes in this sport?
**Buy my book.
There are no natural harbours along the north coast of Devon and Cornwall for about 25 miles either side of Hartland Point. Before the advent of the railway in the mid nineteenth century, the only economic way to shift heavy loads around was by sea. There were a number of man-made harbour quays to offer sheltered mooring (e.g. Bude, Hartland Quay, Clovelly). However, in most places, goods were delivered or loaded through ‘beach work’. Ships would simply run aground on the rocky shore during the ebb tide, and then float off at the next high water. Hopefully. Coal and lime were delivered this way; practically every single point at which the sea can be accessed along the north shore features old lime kilns.
A perfect weekend! Hartland Point is the centrepoint of about 20 miles of truly astonishing coast, straddling the North Devon/Cornwall border. The rock strata along the cliffs are contorted into vertically inclined zigzag patterns, with a jagged reef extending into the sea. Sandy beaches are few and far between, and landing is rarely easy or comfortable; thankfully I had a borrowed boat! Improbably, a small harbour was constructed in the midst of these forbidding shores; Hartland Quay. However, storms washed the stone quay away in the late nineteenth century.
We joined our friends Chris and Julia for the weekend. Julia isn’t a natural camper(!) but was reassured by the marvellous Stoke Barton Farm campsite. They will purchase The Times for you (the mark of a truly civilised place) and they serve hearty breakfasts of local produce in a huge dining room inside the farmhouse. If Carlsberg did campsites …
I’m afraid that I didn’t do North Devon’s Hartland Quay nearly enough justice in the book. Sorry.
When I moved to the south-west in 1993, I thought I knew it all – the only attractive parts of Britain were West Scotland, the Lakes, North Wales, and maybe the Pennines if you were desperate.
Swyre Head is 664 feet above sea level, the highest point of Dorset’s Purbeck Hills. It overlooks the finest of the Purbeck Coast, with wonderful views further to Poole Harbour, the Isle of Portland and the Isle of Wight.
Swyre Head has the further distinction of being in my back garden. Well not quite, but to get there I just head up my street to where the road turns into bridleway, and keep pedaling (uphill). Tonight I was airing my new bike, bought after the old one died embarrassingly last week, literally falling apart Keystone Kops-style.
Looking west, you see the curve of Weymouth Bay around to the wedge-like profile of the Isle of Portland.
Yes, I know this is a terrible photo. But the white object is St Catherine’s Point lighthouse, 35 miles away to the east on the southernmost tip of the Isle of Wight. Incidentally, some paddlers from over that way have been good enough this week to write a review of ‘South West Sea Kayaking’.
West, the Black Tower of Kimmeridge Bay is now nearly rebuilt.
To the south-east, the big tide race of St Albans Head is overlooked by the Coastwatch lookout and the ancient chapel.
These days, I’m not quite so sure that I know it all.
Something terrible has happened in South Cornwall. At least twenty-six apparently healthy dolphins have stranded and died. The dolphins appear to have panicked and swum ashore into shallow tidal creeks between Carrick Roads and the Helford River, stranding along about 16 kilometres of coast.
A tragedy of this scale is almost unprecedented in our waters. It’s too early to ascertain the cause, but much is being made of the fact that a Naval Exercise was taking place in the area at the time.
I’m hoping to head off on this years’ Big Trip soon. But not soon enough. Starting six weeks from now in the last week of July, I have six weeks in which to attempt to complete the entire West Coast of Scotland in one go, solo. This paddle is part of my rather prolonged paddle around Britain and has been postponed on two successive years. I’ve cleared my whole schedule and absolutely won’t let anything interfere with my plans this time!
It’s six weeks away, and I’m already clawing the walls with nervous anticipation. I wake up thinking about the West Coast. Every good weather day spent at work (like today) makes me despair. I worry that the years’ good weather has already been and gone. I worry that I’ll just face wave after wave of low pressure systems right through August into September. I worry that I’m not fit enough. I worry that every minor ache and strain in my body will develop into something serious. I worry that I haven’t spent enough time in a boat preparing. I worry about 1001 things, all of them entirely credible and possible reasons why the trip won’t succeed.
I want and need to get out there, now.
“Saigon… shit; I’m still only in Saigon…”
After having to work through Saturday on a beautiful day, it was good to escape for a paddle in the evening. I headed out of Kimmeridge late in the day, accompanied by Mrs R and Andy L. We camped at Chapman’s Pool and dined on poorly barbequed burgers and sausages. Good job it was too dark to see them …
In the morning we joined Ade and Claire, who had been camping nearby, for the paddle further on to Swanage. They are both avid kayak anglers, but seeing as they never actually catch anything, they were keen to try using their kayaks for a bit of journeying instead. We headed around St Alban’s Head and explored every nook and cranny along the limestone cliffs. As noted in my book, this is my favourite and most regular paddle … yet I still see something new every time; this time it was some razorbills (basically they are guillemots with silly ‘aviator google’-like markings) and a cave that I could swear was never there before.
Whilst we paddled, we listened on VHF to a situation unfolding nearby. The RIB Cobalt made a Pan Pan distress call to warn the Coastguard that they were drifting without fuel, being blown offshore by the stiff F4. ‘Pan Pan’ is the distress signal used when things have gone pear-shaped, but life is not in immediate danger. The Coastguard did not respond for a few minutes, and I was about to ‘relay’ the message to Portland Coastguard when they finally picked it up and informed Cobalt that they would summon Swanage lifeboat to assist. The lifeboat quickly showed up; no doubt John Gilmour will supply details of how their shout went.