The last paddle of the trip

Yesterday we paddled up the Thames to finish the journey.

Firstly we tried to keep up with the bigger guys.

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Then we approached the Barrier. Looks like they tried to shut it before we make it through, but we made it.

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The cable they were pulling across the river on the day we were leaving and which delayed us by few hours is there as well.

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New cranes at Canary Wharf, scary the big buildings are coming closer and closer to us.

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They were also painting our bridge on that leaving weekend, not bad looking.

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Here, Michal is happy passing our local beach.

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We stopped in our local pub for last coffee of the trip since we were a bit early and the police came to check up on us and interview us. That famous we were.

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There is a war ship at Greenwich which wasn’t there on our outbound journey.

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And then, we were there. Or here? Well, we arrived, landed, boats were taken up the stairs, done.
People from all over Britain came to greet us: JP and Beryl from Islington, Andrew from Hampton/Scotland, Mark from Dorset, Ann from Essex/Herdforshire border and few others who live locally, including the children and young people from Shadwell.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting the kit, since later we won’t want to do it. Ann and JP kindly unpacked our boats and helped with washing all and drying. Then it was all about food and later more BBQ food.
Beryl and Sarah made cakes. Last cakes of the journey.

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Alastair then took us to his home since ours is being rented out till the end of the month.

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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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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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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.

A day off

Today we didn’t paddle. We woke up needing to think things over. It wasn’t just the wind forecast that needed our attention. Yes, it was predicted F4 – 5, 6 later, headwind, but if we wanted, we could set off, and make a slow progress. Unfortunately there were other things on our minds, which made us feeling very low and demotivated at times.

TILTING AT WINDMILLS

The story is long. It started at the beginning of our kayaking. Discovering that the UK can offer not only great traditional climbing but also seakayaking, made us feel fortunate, in the end there is no sea around the Czech Republic, and never before did we think that sea kayaking would had had any chance there. How mistaken we were. It was Jeff Allen who first told us about someone, Petr Major, who was Czech and kayaked. He was actually the first Czech, or so we believe, to embark on Britain Circumnavigation. He made it over half way, from Dover to Portree. What an inspiration!
Slowly we started to be interested in what’s happening on the seakayaking scene at home. Actually there was a lot of happening, just the writing about it wasn’t as great as in the UK.
Czech people paddled in Alaska, South America, Greenland. They are making traditional, skin on frame kayaks, and fibreglass ones, too. Others are making great carbon paddles, one of which we are using now, and greenland paddles. There are symposiums and competitions. These we saw as great achievements considering the handicap.
And so, when we set off on our journey and started our blog, we thought nothing of writing it in English and Czech. We were actually thinking how cool this would be.
Such was our naivety. Already the first sings should have warned us. As you all know we needed some support to be able to pull this whole thing off. But the idea of sponsorship was widely criticised among the Czech audience. Never mind, we thought, paddling will reunite us all.
And so, half way through we are beaten up. There is such thing as a Facebook sea kayaking group, but compare to the British ones, is very quiet. Well, we said, we would do the same as with the UK one, we write something and put it up. But the Czechs are tough crowd. And all we have been hearing are harsh words, rejections and complains that we are spamming the quiet life of the group.
Patience, we thought. Opinion of just few people can’t deter us from our good intentions. But slowly more and more people are sending us rude and sometimes threatening messages. We were coping till yesterday. Then one of the leading expedition kayakers send us a response to our request of help and advice saying:”Hi Michal, I would like to help you, but I think that with your writing you have PISSED OFF many Czech kayakers. It would be better if you stop bothering people and instead of writing you would start to enjoy paddling. I am so pissed off by your spam, that I wanted to resign from the group where you’re posting. Nothing against you, but what you are doing, is not sea kayaking but WiFi paddling.”
After reading this, we have to admit, we felt lower that we would ever imagine we would feel on this trip.

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The hidden world of bothies

“A bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.”

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We heard about them, but as their location not usually publicised we didn’t know where to look for them. We just hoped that on our way around Scotland, we will come across at least one.
Thanks to Johnny and Bruce we discovered two. The first one we visited yesterday morning,where we not only met with B & J again, but also with Alison from seakayaking Plockton and two of her clients.

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Actually we met Alison earlier that morning while camping on a beach close to her house. She was very sorry she missed us last night and couldn’t invite us to stay in her house. But we are always happy to come next time.

B & J shared the location of the next bothy and we parted our ways only to be reunited at Applecross Inn. We aimed much further than the bothy place, but yet again, our companion North Easterly made us to adjust the goal.

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And so we had first experience of a bothy. Great!

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Today we set off with another ambitious plan, and felt sorry we wouldn’t be able to stay at Rhuba Reidh Lighthouse, about which we found on Joe’s blog, as we were to pass it around lunchtime.

We listened to forecast at 1pm which predicted NE F4 to 5 for the next 2 days, we had F3, so thought nothing of it. The forecast was right, soon the wind picked up and the sea changed to predicted moderate.
We were passing incredible cliffs and headlands with lost of caves, arches and other formations. Unfortunately we could not go closer or enjoy it longer as the wind was getting stronger and waves bigger, close to solid F6.

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We have climbed over many moving hills when the lighthouse came into view. We attempted to pass it to reach the slipway, but the waves were getting even bigger and sharper and hitting directly the north side of the headland where the slipway is. We didn’t like at all and decided to turn back and land on yet another big boulders beach on lest exposed west side of the lighthouse. We coming back with such a huge following sea was very exciting but fortunately uneventful.

The boulders were so huge that it needed some quick thinking action. I saw people watching us paddling, so went up to the lighthouse to look for help. After politely answering the question about where our car was ( sorry, Garry) two guys came to give us a hand. They were brilliant and the boats were on shore in no time. They saved us at least an hour of struggle and emotions. Thank you Garry and Alex.

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Seventy days on and …..

Today it’s been seventy days since we left London. Today wasn’t easy. We overslept, then Michal opened the wrong packet and instead of soup ( yes, we know, but we like it), cooked a sauce which is normally used with meat. So breakfast was a disaster. We had to get boats on the water over some bigger boulders. My knees chose to hurt with every step this morning and the boats were so heavy, that I struggled to lift them.

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In the end we managed to set of only for the headwind to start after first stroke. It was getting emotional.
Michal wisely decided to stop for lunch before trying to get to the next headland, which may have been anything between one hour and three.
While we were having lunch we saw some kayakers. They fast approached and landed. Each of them pulled their boat up easily. Some local youngsters, we thought. Then we started to chat. They, Johnny and Bruce, were part of the group of students from St Andrew´s who are circumnavigating Scotland in stages, with Johnny doing the whole circle.

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Their energy and enthusiasm rubbed on us a bit and we left feeling refreshed, even thinking that we may reach Applecross in the end ( we’ve been trying since yesterday).
The positive feeling lasted only a little bit, although we left them at the beginning of their lunch, in an hour they overtook us. The day just got back to being, well, hard.
We made it through Kyle Rhea, and our hope that we would had enough time to reach the bridge before the tide turns grew. Not for long.
As soon as we entered the Loch Alsh the headwind joined in at solid F5. Only the sight of the Skye bridge made us to push. And just as we made it under the bridge, the tide turned. We decided not to cross towards Applecross in the headwind and spent an hour looking for place to camp.
We found it in the end. Calm and no wind, bliss? No, just lots of midges. What else to say, today was a hard work.

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GETTING READY FOR THE NORTH

As some of you who follow our progress closely may notice our paddling speed lately varied although we have had good conditions. There are various reasons for it. Firstly we were following tides in sounds between islands, also there were places where we had to stop. Sometimes it’s impossible to deny an invitation. And most importantly we are getting ready for the north. It looks like an important milestone so we want to be ready for it, physically, mentally and most importantly we had to collect treats sent by friends and family.

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So here we are at Glenuig Inn.

We saw some interesting sights along the way: a petrol station on Isle of Mull,

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most westerly point of British mainland, Ardnamurchan Point,

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a shop at Arisaig Bay

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and Steve at Glenuig Inn who speaks fluent Slovak.

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Written by Michal

ALWAYS THINKING

This journey always had three main aims, circumnavigate the island, and write an interactive blog about it and mainly to help and to raise money for charities.
While the achievement of the first two aims are mainly dependent upon us, with the third one we need help.
Joshua is the young boy for whom we are raising money. We have introduced him already in our previous posts and explained what his needs are and what the money are used for.
This time we asked his mum, Tara, to write about her son.
So, please, give us a hand, and as we are nearing the half point of our journey, help us to bring our fundraising target to similar level. Thank you, Natalie and Michal.

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ALWAYS THINKING
by Tara Haroon

When we were told Joshua had PVL (Periventricular leukomalacia) which may lead to cerebral palsy and all of the conditions that go along with that we didn’t realise we were going to become experts in positioning, movement and communication. Over the past two years we have become lay-professional physiotherapists, occupational therapist, neurologists, nurses, visual impairment teachers and speech and language therapists. Of course our expertise lies only with Joshua’s conditions but in Joshua, we are experts.

So when Joshua is sitting in his new dinner chair and we can see his head dropping we are worried about head control and neck muscles shortening or lengthening. When he is in bed and brings his knees under him which causes a twisting in his spine we are worried about scoliosis. When he has a seizure we are worried that his epilepsy will change and become life threatening. There is always something to worry about.

Naturally when Joshua was diagnosed we refused to beleive it. We thought it would be fine, he’ll grow out of it. We remember sitting in the Neo-Natologists office having a discussion about ‘quality of life’. Still disbelieving and not wanting to acknowledge it we renamed the doctor, Dr Evil (his name was Ebel).

Physiotherapy started when Joshua was 6 weeks old. He was tiny, about 6lb and was just a regular baby. A new baby, doing what new babies do. Cry, feed, sleep and cry some more. At first as milestones passed and Joshua wasn’t reaching it we put that down to him being early, we believed that he would catch up.

When we noticed Joshua wasn’t tracking and following with his eyes was when we began to know that something wasn’t right. Our baby couldn’t see. Not with any consistency. He has glimpses, he definately sees better in a darkened room that a bright one.

We are always grateful to the team of therapists who support Joshua. Even when we thought it was unnecessary, we continued with the therapies, just in case. Knowing that extra help can’t hurt any child, we embraced it. Boy did he need it. We are so grateful to his physios who have worked to maintain range of movement and help teach us methods to reduce Joshua’s tone.

We have learned more from Joshua about patience and love. that has definately kept us sane and kept us going, trying to learn as much as we can to give Joshua the best possible chance to learn as much as he can so he can reach his full potential.

People have also been a great source of inspiration and support. We have had friends organising social fund raisers. Friends who donated time and money to help Joshua receive extra therapy from Bobath. And friends who have participated in sponsored events, like swimming, running the marathon, walking and even a mad couple who currently seakyaking around the UK to raise money for Joshua. We have amazing friends who show unwavering support and love for Joshua and give us strength and motivation.

Of course we have learned so much from Joshua’s therapists, but one of the many benefits of Bobath is the intensity of each block. Having physio every day during the week not only gives Joshua a chance to master a skill but it gives us the opportunity to learn how to hold, support and encourage good patterns. We are his daily carers and it is crucial that we understand the benefits and risks of different activities. We impart knowledge to others who support him but we have the skills and knowledge do that.

We are back to the Bobath for a week block next week. I’ll be sure to write up something about his progress.

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Through the Sound of Jura

Ever since we left London, I was going to Scotland. It seemed so far away and a long journey, then suddenly we are here !. The arrival was more sudden then what I would have liked. There was a feeling of satisfaction, we made it so far, and a little feeling of, yeah, we achieved, we are almost at our half point. This all made it hard to get motivated again. Why should we paddle any more and why so hard and where to? Yes, we know where we going, back to London, but this  seems to be a very distant target.
Fortunately, during this time of low spirits we received an email, it was from Cathy and Stuart, from Sea kayaking Oban. They were inviting us to stay with them on Easdale Island. The new purpose for the  following days paddling was given, and as always, once we had the idea where we were going, we wanted to be there as soon as possible.
Easdale Island is north of Jura Sound, where tides move very fast as they have to squeeze in narrow gaps around Luing Island. Of course, if you need them, they have their own time table. From our pooh campsite it was about 80 km and with only six hours of tide in our favour, we knew it was going to take us more than one day.

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But the morning in the pooh campsite with the wind blowing against us and the troops of white horses on the water, it was clear, that we were going for a cake instead. However, wind eased a bit in the afternoon and we could get ready to leave at six. We played Martin Lee king and pushed against the tide and still noticeable wind till nine, when tide turned.

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It turned into a calm evening paddle with a beautiful sunset over Jura. At eleven, when it got darker, we decided to look for a campsite.
We found a secluded beach somewhere around Point of Knap, and on it was a tent with someone who turned out to be a great snorer. But still we felt sorry for him, since he had to walk for miles to get to such place and still had the party gate crashed.

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One important thing, the MIGDES have officially found us. And having spent one morning packing with their help convinced us that that night we are going to sleep in a house!
We left shortly before the tide turned in our favour and whizzed through the sounds worried, that by Luing the tide would turn against us and we will never make it to Easdale. Beautiful, everything around was beautiful, that we are missing the words to describe it.

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However there are many words to say about Coryvrecan Sound. This is between Jura and Scarba, we had no intention of going anywhere near it, but still we could feel the pull from it. And to make it more eventful, the sun suddenly disappeared behind the  clouds and the wind picked up. After passing an island opposite Coryvrecan Sound many confused streams and eddy lines were playing with our boats. And when we stopped paddling we could hear the roar of the sea. In the end we passed the entrance all right, and more than being in actual danger, it was the reputation of the place which played with my imagination.

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Now with the time running tight we pushed harder and soon were north of Luing. The tide was fast but we could not keep our boats straight as again many eddy lines and confused streams were playing with them. So we enjoyed skidding like cars on ice seeing that we were going more or less where we wanted to, towards Easdale.

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And once we passed the lighthouse on Fladda we relaxed knowing that we would make it there, and took time to admire the landscape around.

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We came earlier than expected, so we made ourselves at home waiting for Cathy and Stuart to return from work.

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We went to explore the island. It was a thriving slate quarry in 19th century.

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And slate is lying everywhere around here.

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The island is very picturesque with restored former workers cottages. Some of them are holiday cottages but there are still about 50 adults and 20 children living here permanently.

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