Northumberland

There is great surf here, now, on Northumberland coast. This is what we heard in a coffee shop in Craster today. Great if you are a surfer, not something why you should visit if you are a kayaker not liking the surf. Or if you sit in heavy loaded boat. If you still want to visit Northumberland then in the coffee shop mentioned above they do one of the best walnut and coffee cakes so far. That is if you like these as much as Michal, who sampled a great bit during this trip.
If you are not mad about cakes, then the castles may attract you. We saw them all. The Lindenfarne on Holy Island, where we slept last night.
Holy Island is one of Britain’s tidal islands. It was inhabited since early age, there is a castle, ruined monastery and small village now. They also produce a “mead” here, which we have to come back to sample.

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The next castle was the Bamburgh. According to Time Out Great Britain: Perfect Places to Stay, Eat and Explore 2009 – “….the finest castle anywhere in this country”.

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Next was the Dunstaburhg castle. According to Michal, one of the most photographed in british photography magazines.

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Well, today the one most photogenic was me.

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If history is not your think, then natural heritage may in the form of Farne island. There are between 15 and 20 or more islands depending on the state of the tide. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 19 metres (62 feet) above mean sea level.

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One of the great attractions of the Farne Islands is the story of Grace Darling and the wreck of the Forfarshire. Grace Darling was the daughter of Longstone lighthouse-keeper, William Darling, and on September 7, 1838, at the age of 22 years, she and her father rescued nine people in a strong gale and thick fog from the wreck of the Forfarshire, which had run aground on Harker rock. The story of the rescue attracted extraordinary attention throughout Britain and made Grace Darling a heroine who has gone down in British folklore.
The day we finished in Amble. By chance we found and pulled at Coquet Yacht Club. We were very apprehensive to come here. Are yacht people friendly? Do they recognise other vessels than theirs? Are they posh? Are they kayaker friendly? Do we smell? Would they mind us camping here? These went through our heads. Phill greeted us from the balcony, pointed us to bathrooms and invited upstairs.

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We had drink, dinner, chats. We have been sitting here for the last four hours.
These yacht people are great. Thank you.

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East of Scotland

We have paddled for few days since Aberdeen, four to be precise. The landscape changed again. Cliffs are still a big part of the picture swapped by dunes at times, what changed significantly, are the towns.
Crossing from East Haven across the entrance into the Firth of Tay was interesting. The two long sand bars made the surf to rise significantly in otherwise calm sea. Reaching Fife on the other side brought the change in architecture. The towns started to look very European, a bit like Hanseatic Cites. It was probably caused by the narrow yet high buildings with red roofs. I wonder if also here the fishing boats came from across the North sea laden by roof tiles to ballast their boast before they exchanged it for fish.

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We crossed from St. Monans, it has very nice atmosphere, towards North Berwick. Again, from a distance the town looked like south Europe.

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The paddle past Isle of May reminded me of the information I read about it at Cape Wrath. Ships entering or passing the firth had to pay fee towards the upkeep of the lighthouse and its keeper. Alice from Tiderace sent us a text to go and visit Bass Rock. We stayed in a distance and admired the rock covered in carpet of white dots which are the gannets. No, we decided this time to paddle in peace rather than having thousand of birds flying around us.

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The day finished by a visit of an impressive historic port of Dunbar and passing two power stations.

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We now will have to tackle the dunes and sands around Holy Island. Today we also may be crossing the border, not only of another wind area on the Met Inshore weather map, but between Scotland and England. I can say now that we started our home run.
Looking back there are many places we would love to revisit in Scotland, but we really want to come back here, to the East. The human history of the place projected in its landscape draws us back. Even the little harbour, really just a tractor track in sand, of East Haven, which on the map had public convenience only, was once a thriving fishing village. The prettiness on Firth of Forth and the many distilleries of Moray Firth we had to miss will definitely see us again in the future.

Extinguishment of seagulls caused by other birds

In the past as soon as people knew we were going on a trip, we came back from a trip or where to a certain place, they would ask about wildlife and mainly birds. When we were getting ready for this journey and during it, we had many conversations on this subject, conversations we try to avoid as best as we can.
If we were given a question of which birds we saw, we would say seagulls, yes/no puffins, cormorants. Often a question of had we seen any gannets would follow. Here we had to turn to mind reading, if it looked that the expected answer was yes, we would say so, if no, we would say that. There was only 50% chance of getting it wrong.

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Let me explain. Czech Republic doesn’t have sea and surprisingly any seabirds. We are not that mad about them to spent time and effort reading about them. More so since we started kayaking there was always something else to concentrate on.
As expected during our trip so far we have seen many birds, usually seagulls, puffins and cormorans. But at some point there were so many so further identification was needed. Small and big seagulls emerged, some of them had black on their wings, some of them had red beak. Puffins were joined by fake puffins and really fake ones. The big brown bird was always chasing smaller white ones. There were always few ducks around, too.
Now you know why we were avoiding sea bird topic.

However everything has to finish and so did the seagulls. The high wind and predicted bad weather saw us stranded in Aberdeen. It wasn’t that bad since we had roof and bed five minutes from the harbour wall provided by Finlay and Linda, friends and colleagues of Mark, brother in law of our former and future landlord.
On Saturday morning I downloaded the new issue of Ocean Paddler and there was an article about seabirds. What a coincidence. So there and then the seagulls’ faith was signed. Indeed we have seen gannets, actually we have seen plenty of them around Troup Head. The big brown bird is Skua, the pirate, always chasing others for food. Oystercatcher is not a person but the smallish black and white seagull with long red beak. The fake puffin turned out to be a razorbill.

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In the evening we were sitting with Finlay and Linda. The question of wether we seen any seabirds came. This time we could show our knew knowledge. But it turned to be even better. Linda is an ecologists specialising in sea birds, so if conversation on our part could have been very short lived, she patiently went through various places where we went and explained which birds we could see.
And so the kittiwake and not the small seagull was born, another tiny seagull with distinctive red legs and beak took his black hat off and is known as tern. The shag is no longer a cormorant. The black and white duck turned out to be guillemot, the ordinary very common looking seagull emerged as fulmar.

We left Aberdeen on Sunday to continue south. Not only the coastline was amazing but there were many sea birds. What a difference the knew knowledge made. We spent hours looking around and naming them, excited that we still remember.

Doom and gloom of the East Coast

Even before we set on this trip we were told about the east coast. Similarly during this trip when people found out that we finished the west coast they would often feel sorry for us that we still have the east coast left. We have never been to the east coast, kayaking, sightseeing, climbing, nothing. The closest we ever approached it was on a fast train between Scotland and London. On top of that reading blogs of this year circumnavigators it all sounded harsh.
The north bit its farewell to us by sending some dolphins and gannets to deliver the message.

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And then we turned the corner at Fraserburgh. Is this it? We thought.

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But not, it’s not. It can be pretty, too.

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Now, we are looking forward to see the rest of it.

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East Coast, here we come!

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Where we fools to start on Fool’s Day?

Some time ago someone told me this, referring to the day on which we started our journey. I didn’t quite see it that way, however slowly this sentence has started to play on my mind.
It all may have started at home, when our tent arrived for the second time with wrong poles. We are resourceful, and as it was four days before departure, we repaired them ourselves, thinking nothing of it.
Yet events of our journey are painting another picture.
The first problem was caused by one of our new camping mats, it lasted two nights. Fortunately our friend Alastair stepped in and agreed to bring us his. He did so on that dreadful day when we landed on Winchelsea Beach. I still remember that day as the worst one of our trip so far. On the same day our wheels broke, too. We managed to secure new ones in Brighton.

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The second sleeping mat followed soon. This one lasted all the way to Hurst Castle. Thanks to Kerri and Andy and Anna who bought new one for us and met us in Bournemouth, that was sorted, too.
Another big disaster was my dry suit. First time it gave up on Chesil Beach. Fortunately we were storm bound in Burton Bradstock and at O’Three in Portland they repaired it before we left. Only for me to discover loose stitches and a hole on right knee patch. I then had to wait all the way to Harlyn Bay in Cornwall to get new drysuit which was sent to Barbara and Ian. The same time Michal got his, repaired. His dry suit seal gave up before Portscatho.

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I have this great paddle, it’s carbon, it’s light, it’s comfy. Only the joint in the middle gave up when we were fighting big waves and headwind between Freshwater East and Barafundle Bay. Michal fixed it there and then by duck tape. We refixied it later. Amazing what an orange duck tape can do. The paddle has been good as new ever since, only can’t be splitted anymore. I was really upset about it, but only till Michal’s paddle did the same, three weeks later. You may notice the pretty orange tape on our photos.
Some time passed with no disasters, relief, I thought, we broke the spell. At Rhuba Reid my phone died, so no nautical charts for us. Fortunately just few days ago we managed to get the new Navionic version on the iPad.

We passed the next big corner at north west only to find out that Michal’s VHF is out of order for good. Mine followed soon, lasted till the hairy moment in the middle of Moray Firth and our unfinished crossing to Lossiemouth. I foolishly decided to listen to weather forecast only to realise that there won’t be any anymore. Big thank you to Fiona, who coincidently contacted us and offered to run errands without knowing what she was in for. She brought them to us yesterday.
My boat needed only a minor repair, so nothing worth to mention. But our set of luck really highlighted the day before yesterday.
We landed late, took a little while to find tent place in Gardentown, settled in the tent cooking dinner only to be interrupted by three coastguards. I am really sorry that our friend Kerri got the scary call from US telling her that our spot was sending distress call. Indeed, it was flashing SOS like mad. We only managed to silence it by pulling the batteries out. Guess we won’t use it again. The coastguards were happy they didn’t have to look for us in the middle of the sea. We then had to go all the way up the hill to search for phone signal in order to find out who else from our friends and relatives was in distress. We should not have bothered, no one. Yet again, thanks to Fiona, who got a distress call from us, we may have a new spot, soon.

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As for the tent, it can’t be used when it’s really windy, it leaks as soon as few raindrops start and two of its poles are already broken. But it’s still standing.
Were we fools to have left on Fool’s day or to have left at all?

Pretty Moray Firth

Moray Firth so far has been hard from paddling point of view, but very pretty.

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The landscape reminds us of Czech Republic, fields, meadows, hills.

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What it has extra, are all these little pittoresque harbours. Only I didn’t know, we would have to visit them all.

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On the other hand our paths again made a circle, small but circle. It is interesting how this always happens, sometimes sooner, sometimes it takes few years. This one was a quick one, less than a month.

We ended the day in harbour of Cullen. When we landed, we were ment to just refresh, have lunch and continue the battle with headwind towards the next harbour. Then, Michal saw a sign for hostel.

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The wind was strong. The hostel was right next to the harbour. My boat needs little repair. We may still continue past the headland, yet, just in case, we went to check the hostel. So a little advice, if you want to continue paddle into the headwind, don’t go checking hostels.
We are not mad about them, but this one was very pretty. So here we are.

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Next thing we did, was to go for walk. Cullen has three magnificent viaducts. They are disused railway, built in 1886 century, because countess Seafield would not allow for the railway to cross grounds of her Cullen House. So great display 19th century engineering.

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We walked on top of them, above the village bellow. On the way back we found this sign.

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Now, Cullen Skink we had some time ago in Glenuig Inn on west coast. It is memorable as it is the first time we had fish soup. Cullen Skink is made of Finnan Haddock, potato, milk and onion and is really delicious. Well, now we know where it comes from and learnt thing or two about herrings and haddocks and so on. Great the headwind made us to stop here.

Moray Firth Adventure

We left Wick on Friday and made around the corner into Moray Firth. The next day we were facing a decision to cross or not to cross, or more precisely, where to cross. Plan for Saturday morning was to wake up at six, see what’s happening outside, pack as fast as we can and possibly decide to cross from Dunbeath towards Lossiemouth.
Well, already the first part of the plan failed. Michal couldn’t get up moving the alarm to later and later. So we were ready to launch at ten. By that time the fog settled and rain started, so not good crossing conditions. We started to follow the coast. We didn’t feel like crossing anyway.
However the fog lifted soon and we could clearly see the other side of Moray Firth. And so we started thinking, if we were to continue with our original plan, go to Helmsdale and cross from there, we would have to paddle everything back. Suddenly we felt like crossing, besides, the conditions seemed good, too.
We stopped at the next possible place. Had lunch, prepared data into GPS and left. It was just after one o’clock, estimated time for crossing was nine. Little bit late to land, but nothing we have not done before.
The wind started an hour into the crossing, little bit first, yet soon, it picked up and became strong side wind with fairly big waves. We carried on. After about four hours and 10 NM into the crossing we stopped to reaccess our situation. We slowed down, so now our estimated time went from five to eight hours. Quite late. Also the conditions were making it very tiring crossing. And for some reason my layer under dry cag was completely wet with no chance to change. So we decided not to continue. But we’re not very keen to paddle back either.
There was one more option of finding that Tarbat Point. The one we were heading to originally, but dismissed. Only we didn’t know we’re it was. Well, we knew roughly were it was on the map, but road maps are not great for open sea navigation; we couldn’t see it, and no, we didn’t have it in GPS. Sometimes it happens that you may think if something, dismiss it as very unlikely and regret it hugely afterwards. Before we left towards Lossiemouth, there wasn’t a reason to need Tarbat Point. Suddenly open the midlife of Moray Firth there was. We turned, following estimated bearing where we thought it may be, and decided to go for a hour, to see if we can see in open sea. Our speed thanks to the now tailwind increased to four knots.
Yes, we did see it and yes it was exactly where Michal estimated it to be.
So Lossiemouth had to wait.

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Today we left to cross towards Bourg Head. The crossing was uneventful from paddling point of view, but eventful otherwise. My mind just wasn’t up to it. And so the tempers flared and emotions were very high. I decided that that was it, and in Hopeman, the place we were actually approaching I am done. Finish. No more paddling. I was going home ( where ever that may be at he moment) and leaving for greener pastures.
We landed in Hopeman and while having coffee we checked comments on our blog. And there was this one from Ann:

“I’m not sure my husband and I would look such a happy couple if we’d kayaked half way round Britain so fantastic, You look a picture of harmony. I’m sure it’s not always thus!!”

Well, what can I say. What a coincidence. We finished coffee, got back into boats and saw this sign:

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I was so upset that someone dares to call my maximum speed Dead Slow, that I forgot about finishing today. We continued all the way to Portgordon. Which ended to be nice, calm, almost harmonious paddle.

Wick to Dunbeath

If I wasn’t seasick and desperate for the toilet I would have time to admire the magnificent cliffs and take photo of them to post it here.

Michal says there was long and gentle primary swell from behind and significant secondary swell from the left site. It was bouncing back from the cliffs providing us with clapoties from right regardless how far from them we were. With some wind waves from the front it created really confused sea state. It was the most chaotic water we have paddled so far on our trip.

Wick, old and new

Wick, discovered by the Vikings who used it as a harbour, has been administrative centre of Caithness for 500 years. Wick was a place we wanted to avoid, as there isn’t good place to camp, and we just wanted to be much further south. Besides we briefly visited Wick on Sunday with Andrew.
But mother nature had different plans for us and so here we are, in Wick. We heard about Wick as harbour in connection with the one in Staxigoe. When that became too small, Wick harbour started to be used. A quay was built in 1768 in order to promote the town as a centre for herring fishing. At the beginning of 19th century as many as 200 fishing boats were based in Wick and the annual catch had increased to 13,000 barrels of salted herring. The town was thriving, soon becoming the busiest fishing port in Britain.
In the second half of the 19 century there were 1100 herring boats operating out of the harbour and we were told that you could walked from one side of the harbour to the other without stepping into the water.
Herring fishing is seasonal business and during the summer period the population of the town would increase from 6000 to 15000 as many migrant workers, some from the western and northern isles, came in to help process and pack the fish, mend nets, and provide all the other services demanded by such a high level of economic activity.
But with the herring stock decreasing came the decline and by 1930s there were less than 30 fishing boat in the town.

Spending two days in Wick, we could see and admire its former glory.

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Wick today is very quiet, although in at its busiest times the town had 47 inns selling 800 gallons of whisky each week. This became a concern for clergymen and in 1920 licensed grocers and public houses were banned from selling alcohol. This of course lead to establishment of illegal drinking dens – Shebeens.
However local distillery, Pulteney, founded in 1826, survived and still produces its whisky.

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To put all this in perspective, Wick’s total population today is around 8,000.

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Our stroll today took us to yet another tidal pool. As we realised during this trip, these were very popular in Britain, mainly in Victorian era. This one is still used till these days and is regularly maintained and painted by “Friends of Trinkie”.

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We also had a quick glimpse at the sea and no, not a paddling day today for us.

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Turning South

This morning was calm and beautiful so knocking down our campsite and packing our boats was almost an enjoyable affair. We didn’t have to rush as flooding tide was about to start at around 10am. Having the opportunity to see the tide turning the day before did help, since it was happening more than one hour earlier than what’s written in Almanac.
Just as we were leaving the fog came, and soon the visibility was very poor. We set off and closely followed the coast hoping for the fog to clear, fortunately it did. With the fog lifting we not only saw Stroma and more of Orkney but four kayakers, too.

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Soon we were passing John O’Groats were it was a must to stop and take The photo. John O’Groats is so commercial that   you have to pay to use the toilets, we climbed under the barrier, and they serve Costa coffee, not in the toilets, of course. That one was hard, but we gave it a miss, too. Here it proofs what a hardy kayakers we became. The thing is, Natalie can really only have soya milk in her cappuccino and that has been really hard to get in those various cafes we stopped at on the way. The last soya one was at Mowgan Port! (Cornwall), so missing Costa, which serves soya was a real sacrifice. All this to save time to explore Duncansby Head. It is an amazing place full of caves, tunnels and birds.

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There we also met the same group of kayakers, they were local. We received  a recommendation from Bill to head straight for Staxigoe. Apparently a nice place where Joe camped, too, or so Bill said. With no good spot in Wick and the next one 20 km further down cliff coast we decided to see it.
He was right, slipway, picnic table, rubbish bins, flat grass, all that circumnavigators need. So late lunch became our final stop. We pitched tent, then met Bill again, he came to see us. Then we had one of the delicious cakes, thank you Andrew. Then we felt asleep, proofs how tired we were.
Yet we had to wake up from our nap and go to the house on top of the cliffs to get water. It all ended up in a nice chat with the man, we forgot to do formal introductions, but shared whisky, beer, tea and more cake. Later we met his wife, too. While we learnt about the history of the place. It used to be a first herring port in Britain. Here ships from Holland would come and bring red roof tiles (ballasting their ships) and take barrels of salted herrings back with them. We found out that not only did we have pickled herrings from jars, but that kippers are also herrings. Well, you have to learn something new every day.
In return we shared names of all the circumnavigators who may pass this place in the future, closer or distant. The people said they would be there, waiting.