Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Pembroke Dock to Cosheston Pill

Most of the Cleddau estuary, including Cosheston Pill, is within the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation, with amazing biodiversity, waders and wildfowl.  We  had already scouted out Cosheston Pill as a destination  and noted that it dries to a tiny stream, so definitely a trip for a rising tide.
Although there are several slipways in Pembroke Dock, the public facility at East Llanion is by far the best for the trip upriver to the tiny village of Cosheston.  As well as being free, there is a good concrete slip and plenty of free parking.  The nearby Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre also has a cafe and toilets.  You do need to keep out of the way of any organised groups, but when we launched there was nobody else around.

An easy paddle in ideal conditions, it took about half an hour to reach the shallow mudflats, where little else other than a kayak would be able to continue.  We also had to take care of the thick river weed, which floated in clumps making paddling difficult at times.  Once clear of the boatyard at Llanion the only sound was a solitary Curlew.

Flocks of Canada Geese flew low over the water as we approached Cosheston, where I was just able to pass under the small road bridge.  The river was too shallow the other side and there was no safe landing point, but the paddle back was easy with the tide in our favour. Large fish were jumping right out of the water ahead of us where the river widened.

This was the first time we had used the facilities at Llanion but we will definitely return as it is a great place to access the Southern Cleddua. 

Looking upriver to Cosheston Pill

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Ullswater – The Lake District

Ullswater is one of my favourite lakes for an evening paddle when the crowds are gone and the sun sets over Helvellyn.  At eight and a half miles long with over twenty miles of shoreline Ullswater is the second largest of the lakes – but less than a mile across at the widest point also relatively safe for the less experienced paddler.

We have launched from the shingle beach between the yacht club and the steamer jetty, but this can be crowded in the season so it's useful to find St Patrick's Boat Landing (near the village of Glenridding) where you can usually park and launch for a very reasonable cost.

Once on the water there are interesting little islands to explore and spectacular views that change quickly as the sun moves behind the mountains that surround the lake.  We have walked the path along the southern side and it is definitely much better to kayak, as there are sheltered inlets that are hard to access from the land.

If you get back in time there is a great cappuccino to be had at the Boat Landing café – a perfect end to an idyllic paddle.

Ullswater Lake

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Up the creek – Landshipping to Millin

One of the great things about kayak journeys is that you can see places that would be difficult or impossible by any other means.  I am prepared to bet that even people who have lived in Pembrokeshire all their lives have never seen Millin Pill on the River Cleddau from the water.

It is a two hour round trip from Landshipping and very shallow up the creek, so you need to check the tide tables and find a good rising tide.  We launched early on a perfect spring morning in bright sunshine and a gentle breeze.  It is best to park up the hill in the village so you don’t obstruct the narrow lane to the good slipway, which is maintained by the local sailing club and has an honesty box.

The Cleddau is over twenty one miles long and has so many tributaries it is quite easy to lose your bearings, but the creek leading to Millin is easy to find, as from Landshipping you head right, around the headland. As it is a nature reserve you need to be careful not to disturb the wildlife, so we paddled at a leisurely pace into the main river, where the only sound was the occasional distant curlew calling.

When you bear right into the creek the river quickly narrows and most boat owners can’t go further than a high voltage cable that is strung across the water at a life-threatingly low height. (There is a warning sign on the bank, but it says PERGYL (DANGER in Welsh) and the rest of the warning is concealed by water reeds).  Even on a rising tide parts of the creek are barely a foot deep but still OK for kayaking.  There is an interesting island which is navigable to the right, then the river gets really narrow, with overhanging trees before you reach the end of the creek at Millin.

On the way back we were watched by a large Heron that perched high in a tree and we saw large Mullet leaping right out of the water to reach the gadflies. Recovery was easy, as the slipway extends well into the river, so this undemanding paddle into one of the quietest reaches of the river is one I would highly recommend.

Millin Pill

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Tramore, Ireland

Living in South Wales means it is easy to get to Ireland, so it was good to finally get round to checking out what the country has to offer kayakers.  We took the Stena Line ferry crossing from Fishguard to Rosslare and drove through Waterford to the small coastal town of Tramore, where we found a small camp site close to the sea.  Launching meant manhandling the kayaks down a steep footpath but once on the shingle beach we soon got in the water – our first launch in the Irish Sea from the ‘Irish’ side.

It was a beautiful morning so we headed along the coast, which had towering cliffs and lots of interesting inlets to explore, until we reached the small walled harbour.  A fisherman looked surprised to see us, so it seems kayakers are not a common sight in the area. He asked where we had come from and I said Cardiff.  (He looked suitably impressed but it was only afterwards that I realised he thought we’d paddled all the way!)

Just round the corner from the harbour we could see a long sandy beach on the horizon, so headed for it before we realised it was a surf beach with huge Atlantic breakers crashing dangerously on the shore.  We also realised that the wind was getting up and the gentle swell that had made the paddle out so effortless was now turning into a strong current against us. In no time at all the weather closed in and the Irish Sea turned from a tranquil haven into really challenging conditions.

After half an hour of hard paddling we finally reached the shelter of the headland, having learned a few lessons about the coast of Southern Ireland.  The isolation makes it a perfect place to get away from it all - but if anything went wrong it would be a long time before help arrived!

Tramore, Southern Ireland

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Derwent Water - Cumbria

Derwent Water is the third biggest of the sixteen lakes in the Lake District and is three miles long. It is also the widest a just over a mile wide, so a good kayak trip is to cross at the widest point.  One of the most popular lakes for kayaking, there is a marina at the Keswick end of the lake where you can hire canoes and kayaks.

Easy launching at Kettlewell

Derwent Water is a favourite lake of mine, dominated by the high mountain ridge of Catbells.  We parked in the National Trust car park at Kettlewell, at the south eastern corner of the lake and launched from the shingle ‘beach’.  As soon as you get out on the water you can feel the crosswinds coming off the mountains, which make it a bit hard to follow a straight course.  We headed for a land mark at the widest point and had a good paddle across.  In the middle the lake is over seventy feet deep!  (In January 2010 the whole lake was frozen over for the first time in ten years)

Lost on a lake?

When we landed on the opposite bank we couldn’t see Kettlewell, as the car park is perfectly hidden by trees, so we headed back on what we thought was the same course - but once again the wind must have taken us further down. In the end we had to get out and ask some walkers where the car park was, as you can’t see it until you are very close. 

That is the first time I’ve ever been ‘lost’ on a lake and we probably kayaked about four miles on the round trip but it was a great day out on the water and one I very much recommend.

Derwent Water

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Blackpool Mill on the River Cleddau, West Wales

It was a trip we had been meaning to do for a long time but you need the right tides to get comfortably far enough up the eastern Cleddau as far as Blackpool Mill.  The Water Mill has a small café and a gift shop but the challenge was to arrive in time to paddle under the grade 2 listed bridge.

We launched on a rising tide at the Rhos, where there is free parking and an old slipway.  To get into the water as early as we could, we dragged the kayaks across the man made causeway to avoid the mud and managed to get afloat nearly in the middle of the river.

It was a leisurely paddle for a few miles up to the Mill, with the river getting very narrow and shallow, so we were glad to have the tide in our favour.  Although it is only navigable for kayaks or boats of very shallow draft these days, when the Mill was at its peak there were regular trading ships bringing grain and taking the flour back down the river to the port of Milford Haven.

Approaching Blackpool Mill
We reached the famous bridge with less than a foot of water left but it was enough to paddle underneath before running back with the outgoing tide.  There is a footpath on a good length of the eastern river bank but the best way to see the river is by kayak – and apart from some visitors at the Mill, we didn’t see anyone else on the whole trip. 

Under the historic bridge

Friday, 11 March 2011

Kayaking Mombasa

Mombasa on the Kenyan coast has some of the best white coral sand beaches in Africa. Growing up in Kenya meant Mombasa was where we spent our summer holidays, so it was the obvious place to round off a safari holiday when I went back for the first time in years.  I was surprised to find it is still a fairly lawless place. There were guards at the airport armed with sub-machine guns and we were advised not to leave the hotel without an escort.

Mombasa’s coral reef

I had never kayaked the Indian Ocean before so we hired a double ‘sit-on’ and paddled out towards the reef a couple of miles offshore. There was quite a swell but the water was warm and very blue.  Although Mombasa has a major deep water port, the coral the reef provides a sheltered and fairly shallow lagoon, marked by a line of white breakers, running the entire length of the beach.

I wished that we could have hired proper sea kayaks, as the double sit-on was heavy and made it a hard paddle to do any distance.  As you get closer to the reef you can see where it actually breaks the surface. Although we didn’t get out of the kayak we returned later on a snorkelling trip and you could walk on it in ankle deep water.

Poverty and seaweed

Although Mombasa is an affluent city, there is serious poverty, so the locals tend to give you the hard sell for shells and carvings as soon as you set foot on the beach. The warm water and the reef also means that the black seaweed grows in a thick band just offshore.

The enduring memory, however, is of blindingly white sand, palm trees and some of the bluest ocean for kayaking you will find anywhere in the world.

Mombasa Fisherman