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 cafĂ© 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

Monday, 7 March 2011

Brittany - Beg Meil to Cap Coz

We were staying at the little coastal village of Beg Meil in south west Brittany, France, a short walk from the beach.  The Atlantic breakers make for some interesting kayaking  - but just round the headland is the relative shelter of the Bay of Concarneau.  

One of the places we wanted to explore was the resort of Cap Coz, about a four mile (six kilometre) paddle across the bay.  Cap Coz is popular for sailing and water sports and has a long white sandy beach. Un bon endroit pour faire du kayak!

Round the headland

We waited for a day with light winds and picked our moment to easily paddle through the surf on the sandy beach at Beg Meil.  We quickly reached the headland and  went out to sea to give it a wide berth, as the waves were crashing on it dramatically and there were big jagged rocks sticking out of the water.

It should have been an easy paddle but we were head to the wind, which had picked up again, making it a tiring effort to stay on course.  It was a bright sunny day, however, and we could see the sheltered bay ahead of us.

Across the bay to Cap Coz  

The conditions were completely different in the bay, which is a couple of miles across and has boat moorings dotted all over.  We could just about make out Cap Coz in the distance as it had little dinghys with brightly coloured sails on the beach.

We arrived at the gently sloping white sandy beach, an ideal location for anyone new to kayaking in Brittany, as it had good facilities and is within eacy reach of the historic fishing port of Concarneau, with its walled city and ancient harbour.

Back through the breakers

After spending the afternoon at Cap Coz we headed back across the bay and realised that the sea was really picking up.  We had thought it was a bit rough around the headland before but now it was a real battle just to get round. 

Once we were pointing towards the beach at Beg Meil, it was all a matter of timing.  The beach had been deserted when we left but was quite busy by that time, so we had plenty of spectators to watch us surf the breakers, paddling really fast to stay on line and returning dramatically through the breakers – fortunately without wiping out at the last moment!  Bon amusement

Rounding the headland at Beg Meil

Cap Coz in Brittany

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Helford River, Cornwall

We rented a farmhouse with a private mooring on Gillan Creek, just south of the Helford River in Cornwall.  It is very tidal and we realised that we had to launch before breakfast if we wanted to catch the rising tide.  This turned out to be the making of out holiday on the Helford, as the river is definitely at its best on a clear spring morning as the sea mist is just lifting.
In the shelter of the creek the river was like glass, without a ripple.  We could see Herons and white Egrets as we made our way out to sea past the 12th century village of St Anthony-in-Meneage with its Norman church and across the causeway that can be walked across at low tide. (We tried this later and it makes a useful short cut.)

Out to sea

Once you round the headland at Dennis Head you are actually in the Atlantic and on a clear day can see the commercial port and town of Falmouth in the distance.  Surprisingly we noticed some swans had followed us out to sea - the first time I’ve ever seen that. There were small breakers hitting the jagged rocks of the coast so I can imagine that rounding the headland can be quite challenging in rougher weather, as there is nothing between Falmouth and America. 

Into the Helford

We finally entered the Helford the water calmed down again quickly. The whole of the  Helford Estuary has recently been designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and it is easy to see why, as there is nearly 30 miles of shoreline, providing an enormous variety of habitats.

In the time we were there we didn’t even get to the famous Frenchman’s Creek or up to the head of the river to the thriving boatyard at Gweek Quay – but we will definitely return.

Map of the Helford River